ISGPP, Think Tanks and the task of making Nigeria work
— 11th June 2017
The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) came into existence in February of 2016 with an inaugural conference that brought together a broad spectrum of Nigeria’s best and brightest, from academia, civil society, public and private sector practitioners and a vast number of other significant professionals. The two-day brainstorming addressed the theme: “Getting Government to Work for Development and Democracy in Nigeria: Agenda for Change”, a theme that constitutes the grand objective of the ISGPP as emerging think tank established to deploy available resources, through research and executive education, to ensure that Nigeria works better for democracy, good governance and development.
The trajectory of the Nigerian story since 1960 is one I suspect most of us would love to disown. This is understandable because it is a long stretch of political narrative that does not instigate hope for the future. After close to six decades after independence, it does not appear, unfortunately, that Nigeria has a template for a future of development and national progress. In the space of fifty seven years, we have muddled our way through a civil war, many years of military adventurism, listless civil government, and now a democratic experiment dodged by plural challenges of kidnapping, terrorism, insurgency and all sorts of internal confrontations that sapped the Nigerian state of its vitality for national development. Nigeria’s democratic governance, as it were, is right from the commencement sapped of fundamental structural and institutional dynamics and matrices that could have given it the required footing to make significant difference in the lives of Nigerians who have waited too long for the promise of postcolonial reinvention of their lives.
The social science literature in Nigeria is therefore having a field day theorizing and discoursing on the intellectual understanding of what has gone wrong with us. The bright side of this prognosticatory scholarship is that it has turned out some of the best social science theorists that the world has ever encountered, and a host of other engaged scholars and intellectuals who are genuinely concerned about the fate of the Nigerian state and society. Nigerian condition also generated eminently significant concepts, paradigms and theories which attempt to come to term with our collective postcolonial predicament. Why has Nigeria failed to make any significant headway in terms of governance, politics and development fifty seven years after the euphoria of political independence has died down? This is a deep and fundamental question the answer to which is still blowing in the air.
In 1987, Professor Richard Joseph, a foremost Africanist, published a groundbreaking book, Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria, which aimed at theorizing crisis of Nigerian democracy and especially “the rise and fall of the Second Republic.” However, the theory of prebendalism turned out to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime achievement which refuses to become obsolete because it is fundamental to the understanding of the society it meant to unravel. Twenty six years after its publication, two other eminent Nigerian scholars, Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare had good reason to revisit its basic thesis about the working of the Nigerian state and society. In Democracy and Prebendalism in Nigeria, the editors noted that even though there have been many critical encircling of Joseph’s thesis, no one can doubt either that the book has continued to have critical influence on Nigerian social science scholarship or that there remains an urgent responsibility to “take the theoretical spine of the book—and the ensuing critiques—as a point of departure for a creative and robust engagement with Nigeria’s experiments (and experiences) with liberal democracy beyond the Second Republic that Joseph focuses on.”
It was not out of any attempt at playing to the gallery that we invitated Professor Richard Joseph as the guest speaker at ISGPP’s inaugural conference. The topic of his keynote address, “State, Governance and Democratic Development: The Nigerian Challenge,” continued the intellectual tradition of cogent interrogation which has transformed Richard Joseph into a household name in Nigeria’s social science industry and Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria into a classic of fundamental theorizing. Richard Joseph’s book is exactly thirty years old this year, and it is no mere coincidence that the eminent professor will be featuring at the first seminar series of an organization he has immensely assisted in giving intellectual direction to. But beyond this, the deliberate coincidence between Professor Richard Joseph and ISGPP speaks to the unmitigated urgency to continue searching for a functional and pragmatic mix of social science theory and practice that will continue to interrogate social formations and governmental practices in manners that will give Nigerians new lease of life in democratic terms.
In Professor Richard Joseph’s intellectual oeuvres as well as those of significant intellectual others, the ISGPP has found a template for a critical partnership that raises the bar of think tanking in Africa. The essence of the vision that gave birth to the ISGPP is to generate a reform culture founded on an efficient institutional template that will enable the reinvention of Nigerian democracy and development to work better for the empowerment of Nigerians. It is on this vision that I have staked my entire twenty seven years in service, and intellectual capacities. And so, this is a vision that I am willing to devote the rest of my entire professional life and investment. A measure of success for me lies first in the successful inauguration of the vision, and second in the critical mass of people that believe that this vision has sufficient strength to bend the reality of Nigeria to what we want it to be. But since a vision is as good as the strategy that sustains it, to reverse Burt Nanus’s fundamental statement, visioning must be backstopped by a fundamental and continuing act of strategic positioning and repositioning. This is because the think tank industry across the globe is a very fertile and vibrant one within which the significance of a startup is easily lost. Africa alone has more than forty energetic think tanks with the Nigerian counterparts amongst the weakest. And to aggravate matters, the Nigerian think tanks must compete for the Nigerian government’s consulting and education and training needs with other players with many years of organisational practices. ISGPP could easily be regarded as the youngest of all these think tanks, but with a big vision of becoming Africa’s foremost school of government and public policy.