The nature of humanistic and social scientific research is such that they make all manner of interrogation possible, from the analysis of metaphysical and theological matters to critical understanding of politics and the political, as well as the application of, say, game theory to the understanding of voting patterns. Each research has varying levels of relations to the realities of government and a state. There are some researches that provide theoretical illumination of lived experiences, and others that shed practical light on theoretical application. Administrative research and scholarship straddles both. And this is all the more so for administration scholars that are deeply and intellectually invested in the administrative dynamics of the Nigerian state and its development agenda. It is within this scholarship and intellectual context that I situate Professor M. J. Balogun and his patriotic contributions to rethinking the public administration dynamics, prospects and possibilities of making Nigeria administratively fitted to carry the burden of a developmental state that can make democratic governance work for Nigerians.

His recent book, ‘‘Towards a Habitable Nigeria: An Agenda for Change (2022),’’ provides an auspicious opportunity not only to grasp the cogent message of the book, but to also significantly situate it within a larger concern for the worrisome state and reality of the Nigerian state especially in the light of the urgent task before the incoming government. As it is, Nigerians have concluded the process that will bring a new leadership corps that will handle the Nigerian ship of state for the next four years. And the current transition is fundamental, because it seems Nigeria has debilitated to a point where any further steps close to the precipice will spell disaster. We therefore need an urgent reversal of governance and development fortune that will reconnect Nigeria with a march towards national greatness.

At first glance, the title of Prof. Balogun’s book reads like a scholarly offering from geography or urban and regional development. Habitability has recently become the buzzword in a world afflicted by climate change and pollution of all kinds. Scholars, activists and administrators are now concerned about the relationship between inexorable modernisation, urbanisation and the fate of earth and humans. The concept therefore refers to what factors make the earth suitable for humans to live in. But then, it is easy to see how such a beautiful concept can serve the purpose of a worried and patriotic administrative scholar who keeps deploying his expertise to making clearer the administrative and political conditions under which Nigeria can be made more habitable for Nigerians. Habitability in this context speaks to the socioeconomic and political variables the composite mix of which can ameliorate the untold infrastructural suffering Nigerians have been made to endure in Nigeria’s 63 years of existence.

The seven-chapter book is premised on the deep state of maldevelopment that has turned the Nigerian state into a vast and chaotic land of insecurity and lawlessness. Balogun likened our present condition to the Hobbesian state of nature, “Life in the country is getting increasingly ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,’ with ‘everyman at war with every (or almost every other) man.” The woes that attend Nigeria’s present state are too largely felt and experienced to be narrated again. Chinua Achebe summed it all with the title of his last book, ‘‘There was a country.’’ For Balogun, these downturns are all the more tragic against the background of what he calls the “pre-2015 expectations of change”—the expectations that there would be real, impactful and conspicuous change that every Nigerian deserves after years of bad governance. So, according to him, if the objective of the Nigerian state is her transformation into a “truly united, citizen-centered, peaceful, inclusive, just, corruption-interdicting, as well as merit and excellence-inclined nation,” then it behooves every responsible scholar — the task that Balogun takes on as a patriot by himself — to understand what “change” means and why it remained elusive in Nigeria.

Balogun weaves a coherent, forceful, and all-encompassing vision of the Nigerian state and the impasse it is currently in. And that detailed analysis has the force of historical and socioeconomic and cultural exegesis that makes it something to take seriously. It is a mix of Marxian critical analysis and the perception of Nigerians about how bad their state is. For him, change is not easily achieved within Nigeria’s current dispensation. And the reasons are clear but complicated. The argument is straightforward: Nigeria inherited a governance culture, complicated by a public service deficit, that has made change near impossible. And this is further complicated by ruling cadres (Balogun prefers “ruling cadres” to “ruling class”) who have logged into this culture because they essentially benefit the most from the status quo, and have refused to commit class suicide. And then, the citizens themselves are also locked into a subject mode through locking their subjective capacity into ethnic and religious sentiments under the sway of cultural and religious institutions and figures.

Change, Balogun insists, is a function of a citizen-centered agitation for freedom. And that freedom involves a recalibrated governance culture that refocuses the public service as a change agent that empowers the Nigerian citizens. Quite insightfully, Balogun argues that the discourse of change must move beyond institutional rationalisation and cost reduction. To succeed, there is a need for an active and positive dimension that involves the creation of four critical ministries: Ministry of Economic Diversification, Productivity and Reconstruction; Ministry of Public Security; and the Ministry of Public Administration and Institution Renewal.

And Balogun is eminently qualified to make this diagnosis and recommendations. He is one of the early pioneers of nationalist public administration—together with Ladipo Adamolekun, Adebayo Adedeji, Mahmud Tukur, etc.—who laid the strong and formidable academic structure for the emergence and flourishing of the study of public administration in Nigeria. Beyond this, he is also a strong pillar of the once vibrant Nigerian Association of Public Administration and Management and other communities of service and practice in Nigeria and Africa, especially the African Association of Public Administration and Management, the Conference of African Ministers of Public Service, the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nations Development Programme. And being a one-time Director-General of the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria further provided Balogun with added experiential tools with which to navigate his knowledge of the Nigerian administrative conundrum.

Towards a Habitable Nigeria,’’ is therefore a book of hope and national recuperation. But more importantly, and within the expectation of what the incoming new administration can achieve, it is a book about change management. Like Achebe and many of us, Balogun believes firmly that Nigeria faces a leadership crisis—the incapacity of her political class to make the right political moves, decisions and choices that will translate into institutional and governance frameworks and dynamics for real and impactful changes. In putting the citizens first and ensuring impactful change, Balogun provides eight features of systemic transformation required: (a) renegotiation of the Constitution, (b) design and implementation of citizen-centered policies, like devolution of powers, (c) application of rational analytics in decision and policy making, (d) replacement of the spoils system with merit-based considerations, (e) performance and ethical review of public officials, (f) e-government and the involvement of citizens in the evaluation of services, (g) recruitment of a new corps of officials and public servants with passion for change, and (h) zero tolerance for corruption.

I had a sense of intellectual déjà vu when going through these recommendations. And the reason, as my numerous readers and interlocutors will know, is because these are also the core of my own change management vision for governance and institutional reform in Nigeria. What is missing, and what complements this enormous dynamics of reform for the incoming Bola Tinubu administration, is an immediate configuration of a change space—the bringing together of a core management and ministerial team that will facilitate the essence of this change management.

The leadership concern of Balogun, Achebe and countless other patriots reflects itself within the context of a change space where leadership at various levels—political, societal and bureaucratic—relates to the vision of transforming a state like Nigeria and brings sincerity and the political will to make that change happen.

Change cannot happen unless there is a synchronous understanding about the vision that is meant to transform a state, and a change space within which that vision is calibrated into its various operational levels. This is the core challenge the new administration will be facing—putting together a change space outside of the usual patronage and bad political consideration by which politicians have worked since the inauguration of the Nigerian state. Once the incoming administration places clientelist and neo-patrimonial interests above those of the citizens—I mean when square pegs are appointed into round holes after the election—then we recommence the tedious misfortune of another four or eight years of nothingness that might tip the Nigerian state over the edge. I am therefore in agreement with Balogun that it is high time the leadership of Nigeria committed elite suicide on behalf of Nigerians.

  • Prof. Olaopa is a retired federal Permanent Secretary
  • First published in Punch Nigeria