“I Remember” is not about nostalgia, it is not about a fruitless hankering after a past that is irreversibly gone. Rather, it is about looking backwards to the past and forward to the future from the present with the confidence that all is not lost and with the resolute determination to prepare to shape that future, with the power of ideas, the stock in trade of the intellectual vocation.
“Experts, advisers, counsellors—how many of them I have seen in my life—mostly nice, intelligent people caught in an inherently frustrating role.” – J. Kurczewski, in Political Responsibility of Intellectuals, edited by I. Mclean, A. Montefiore, and Peter Winch, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p.77
I remember quite vividly my first impressions when Ladipo Adamolekun visited me in my office at the University of Lagos in 1976 to invite me to serve as external examiner in the Department of Public Administration at the then University of Ife. I was struck by his engaging personality, his robust bonhomie, his studied aversion to dogma and embrace of diversity in scholarship, his simplicity, which I saw through as masking a self-confident and deeply passionate intellectual outlook towards life and, especially, towards public affairs and academic life, but one which does not suffer fools gladly. These impressions have grown over the years, so much so that Ladi ranks among the few members of our intellectual clerisy for whom I have the greatest respect because of their virtually life-long attachment to the liberal tradition of scholarship and public-interest engagement with politics and public affairs, despite the anti-intellectual climate that continues to stymie and frustrate the practice of the intellectual vocation in our country.
I begin in this manner because I Remember, Ladi’s autobiographical statement about the driving cultural, historical, ethical, religious and philosophical impulses that have shaped his intellectual development, offers me refreshing and validating insights, which explain and, therefore, provide a more informed basis for the initial impressions I had of him during our meeting in my office in 1976. But beyond these initial impressions, I Remember shows me clearly how central family values, religion, life-long bonding of family and friendship, and the passion for truth and commitment to searching for it, scarce commodities in our current predicament, characterised by the search for crass materialism, have combined to define and shape his development and maturity. But what also makes reading I Remember refreshing and worthwhile is that, contrary to the conclusion in the epigram above, it provides evidence, in the form of the life of Ladi, that even in such an inclement climate, the intellectual vocation, like missionary work, need not be frustrating but has its satisfying reward. For what has emerged from, indeed the subtheme running through I Remember, is the reasoned narrative of a supremely fulfilled life, dedicated to the service of state and society, and intended to serve as a model, in the form of “A Note for the Millennials”, its closing chapter. [pp. 291-321].
In this respect, what I Remember offers is a “metaphor of self,” by which is meant the primacy of the private experience of Ladi, anchored on an overarching moral and political philosophy, that not only provides meaning for who he is, where he has been and what he has made out of life as he now faces the sunset of that life, but also links it to his explanation and interpretation of the vicissitudes, the “slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune” that we have experienced in state and society these past several years. In short, I Remember is an excellent essay in self-definition; it is about the life of Ladi, its ebb and flow, ups and downs, justified and lived in terms of a higher order of public-interest service to humanity and the commitment to the search for Truth. [see, p.34, “In spite of personal inconvenience and financial expenditure, I have to go to Christ School since my service is needed”—evidence of a young adult’s sense of service”].
I Remember is a work of solid scholarship but one, which, in line with Ladi’s characteristic simplicity and attention to details, is clear, well-written in simple language, well-edited, well-proofread and witty in several places, making for easy reading with hardly any dull moment. Beyond all this, there is even a more fundamental quality to I Remember, which sets it apart from several self-serving and ghost-written autobiographies, which have surfaced in our country in recent years. I Remember is what an autobiography, properly understood, should be about and should set out to be, despite the various methodological problems raised in writing it.
To say all this is not to be uncritical of I Remember; for all autobiographies raise methodological challenges, notably of selection relating to their status as “truthful” narrations of life: what criteria should govern the selection and arrangement of past experiences to constitute a coherent whole? Can some experiences or events not be deliberately omitted, suppressed, forgotten or distorted? Part of the answer in the case of I Remember is that one can reasonably conjecture that it is, viewed in its totality, truthful in that in addition to memory and imagination, it draws on diaries and “fairly extensive Notes,” which Ladi painstakingly and faithfully has kept since the early 1960s; moreover the narrative is set within a context, which the reader can relate to, empathise with and understand. In literary criticism, as I understand it, we need to understand that truth is not simply or only in the order of facts but in the order of the process, the internal order that the autobiographer perceives within his/her deepest or true self as he/she reflects on his/her life and draws conclusions or lessons from it, within the larger public context of his/her own environment.
It is in this sense that I find I Remember so fascinating and provocative, especially in view of a number of themes and issues of contemporary importance that it touches upon. The issues revolve basically around building, strengthening, and consolidating civic virtue and social responsibility to nurture the state-formation, and through it the nation-building, project in our country. Rather than give a chapter by chapter summary of I Remember, I want to focus, as briefly as possible on some of the interconnected issues depicted in the larger tapestry woven by the various threads linking the chapters together. Doing this will throw some light on why and how I Remember is, after all, an essay on some apparently intractable public policy problems in our country, with indicative pathways to addressing them.
The first is the general sentiment in the country today that we are confronted with deepening deficits of family values, a shorthand expression for religious and ethical values, including trust, reciprocity and mutuality that are vital as elements of the social capital that should serve as the glue holding state and society together. These values nurtured Ladi as he was “growing up” and, looking backward to those formative years, he ranks them, “as the most impactful on my life over the decades:[i.e.] faith and deeds; hard work; the importance of education; and a high sense of responsibility.” [p.3]. Progress in the form of modernity has its costs; but why have we been unable to damn and control the flow of the push of the insalubrious consequences of progress? This remains a challenge posed by I Remember for in a fundamental sense the corruption of our public and socio-cultural life is not unconnected with the weakening and, in a number of ways, the dissolution of these values and moral bonds.
The second is the state of education, particularly teaching and research at the university level, in our country, then and now. Ladi is, of course, testimony to and beneficiary of the solid liberal and humanistic education that his generation and the earlier generation of students and lecturers in the penultimate decade before our political independence in 1960 typically received and enjoyed. This much is clear from I Remember, and Ladi’s stellar academic and intellectual achievements, notably his First Class undergraduate degree, his Ph.D., his path-breaking and seminal book on Sekou Toure’s Guinea, and the conferment on him of Nigeria’s own highest award for unique contribution to intellectual work, the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM). But what is clear from I Remember also is the sad decline in the university as a place for pursuing and enjoying humanitas, the cultivation of a culture of seminar and debate, in the Socratic tradition, designed as a forum for the exchange of, and contestation over ideas as the way to advance knowledge.
I have, myself, in another context, decried the philistinism, of which I was a victim, that has run riot in our university system. Drawing a contrast between this aspect of university life then and now, I Remember observes that an “important difference between my experience in Ife and what I found at FUTA was the rarity of seminars at either departmental or school (faculty) level. In general, seminars were organised within most departments and faculties at decent intervals during my Ife years. In FUTA, I struggled to successfully organise regular monthly/bi-monthly seminars for staff and postgraduate students…” It is this vacuum which Ladi’s Iju Pubic Affairs Forum, [pp. 267-271], which became an annual Mecca for those attending it, was established to fill. How do we explain this sad decline? I Remember attempts to do so, on p.30, in the broader context of the “Education Sector Crisis,” where it identifies the following three major causes of the crisis: “(i) over-centralisation, [in the case of tertiary education, when under military rule], military over-centralisation was extended to the regulatory agency for the universities, the National Universities Commission (NUC); (ii) implementation failure; and (iii) de-emphasis on the value of education and decline of the teaching profession. In the case of tertiary education, I Remember [pp.320-321] offers a three-pronged recommendation to address the decline it has experienced by “enhancing university autonomy”: (a) “review of the functions of the NUC”; (b) “an immediate end to the operational subordination of universities to both the NUC and the Federal Ministry of Education”; (c) “an end” to “centralised admission,” so that universities can regain “the right to admit their students”—“a critical aspect of university autonomy.”
The third is the state of our public service, its rise and decline, and with the decline its failure over the past several years to serve as the engine of effective and efficient service delivery in the public interest. To drive home the trajectory leading from the rise to the decline, Ladi distinguishes between three generations of the country’s higher civil servants. He observes that while “the first generation handled the idea of a public service and its ethos…close to the classical British conception…” the second and third generations were highly impacted by …military rule…” which introduced “significant distortions into the concept of public service and its ethos …inherited from the first generation [but now replaced by] politicisation, abandonment of security of tenure and primacy of “federal character” over the merit principle.” [pp. 170-171].
How to design and compact a public service where high premium is placed on professionalism and its underlying ethics and culture, drawing on comparative data across both the developed and developing world, was and remains the major preoccupation of Ladi’s academic—teaching, training and research career, his work at the World Bank and his public intellectual role, as narrated in Parts 3-6 of I Remember. For Ladi, such a design agenda must be anchored on finding a way to reconcile the merit principle with the principle of representativeness that the federal character clauses set out to promote and guarantee. While, on the one hand, suggesting that “the way forward is to establish transparent guidelines for the interpretation of the federal character principle,” I Remember also advocates “the formal and unequivocal exemption of specific rare skills from the application of the principle (as in India),” and the interpretation of “diversity of workforce in public service to include attention to fair representation for women, youth and persons with disability.” [p.297]. Perhaps I should add that the political salience of the federal character principle needs more than this to be attenuated; for the fundamental problem, which has increasingly assumed even more portent is the psychology of domination that defines inter-ethnic political competition and with it the mutual distrust that feeds it. How to overcome this mutual distrust remains the main challenge of our design of a federal architecture. The other point worth noting is that Nigeria is perhaps unique among ethnic federations, excepting perhaps, Ethiopia, where provisions such as federal character clauses to compensate historically disadvantaged ethnic groups as an ad interim measure, have been converted into permanent ones for all ethnic groups to enjoy, as part of the political economy of elite accommodation in the country.
My final point is about the development role and agenda of the World Bank in the developing world, to which I Remember devotes considerable space, given the number of years Ladi spent working for it, albeit as a “partially mainstreamed Bank staff,” [p.237]. Although comfortable with the “nine core values’ of the World Bank [ p.240], and “with the Bank’s sharp focus on poverty reduction” in its “developing and underdeveloped member countries,” [p. 241], Ladi experienced two zones of discomfort in working with the Bank: (i) “the declaration” by the Bank’s President in 1996 that, “externally voiced criticism of the Bank by staff would be automatically sanctioned with automatic exit from the institution,” [l.242]; and (ii) “the discomfiting inconsistency between the Bank’s loud and commendable commitment to helping member countries reduce poverty and policies and activities that gravely contradicted and undermined the commitment. On this second zone of discomfort, I find Catherine Caufield’s Masters of Illusion: The World Bank and the Poverty of Nations an interesting and compelling commentary on how World Bank’s policies and practices have tended to widen the gap between the rich and poor countries. Though measured in narrating and evaluating his years and experience at the World Bank, Ladi’s discussion and general acceptance of the Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs)—“I was not fully comfortable with SAPs but I would not include it among my zones of discomfort…” [p. 241] should probably have taken into consideration the ownership question raised by the critics of SAPs and the various African alternatives to them, such as Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic Recovery, 1986-1990 (APPER), and The African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programme for Socio-Economic Transformation (AAF-SAP).
These are some of the vexed questions of national development raised by I Remember. There is much more that the book offers the reader; for it is an open book that contains a rich vein of information and insights about politics, culture, development, which can be mined profitably by the specialist and the general reader. I have found reading it extremely rewarding. As the pictures of Ladi in the front and back covers tellingly show, I Remember is not about nostalgia, it is not about a fruitless hankering after a past that is irreversibly gone. Rather, it is about looking backwards to the past and forward to the future from the present with the confidence that all is not lost and with the resolute determination to prepare to shape that future, with the power of ideas, the stock in trade of the intellectual vocation. This much is the lesson from I Remember that I remember!
L. Adele Jinadu is professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Nigeria.