All too often we have seen ‘good’ men and women go into government and come out unrecognisable.
It’s becoming a regular debate these days: should Nigerians who are keen on being agents of (positive) transformation have anything to do with / in government?
There are generally two considered sides to that debate. First is the ‘Stay-outers’, who think that government, as is currently set up in Nigeria cannot bring any positive change; that public service in this country exists largely to serve as the graveyard of genius and hard-earned reputations.
The second camp is the ‘Engagers’, who argue that visionary people cannot afford to abandon governance to the visionless, power-for-the-sake-of-power-people, the mediocrity-suffused, and bandits, and that change-seekers should take the risk of engaging the system, with the ambition of making a change.
It is difficult to blame the stay-away camp; Nigerian history is littered with the carcasses of reputations, of persons who sauntered into government with their heads held high, and came out (or were thrown out) not only having achieved nothing, but in some cases having actively become part and parcel of vile, sycophantic, empty-headed systems.
Ibrahim Babangida was an expert at co-opting the finest of intellectuals and activists into his government. By the time he was done, names like Wole Soyinka and Tai Solarin had submitted to his toothy charms. (The jury remains out on how much these persons could do to influence Maradona’s ultimately tragic trajectory).
Governments since then have continued the tradition: Abacha arguably had an even longer list of reputable names in his government. They came, saw, but mostly conquered nothing, succeeding only in conferring a sheen of legitimacy on a government engine that ran on the blood and tears of the governed.
The ‘engagers’ insist that change cannot be accomplished by working exclusively from the outside. It is an argument that is difficult to fault. Government is a powerful tool for the (re)creation or destruction of a state or society.
This is especially true in this part of the world, where rudimentary systems of accountability confer on government almost limitless power, as well as almost limitless access to resources. [Think of the security votes that our political office holders control – and what that could do in the hands of a man or woman with vision. In developed countries politicians have to struggle to appropriate public funds – even for the public good – here in Nigeria the man in charge runs the treasury like a generous expense account].
All too often we have seen ‘good’ men and women go into government and come out unrecognisable. Intelligent persons climb over to the other side and start spouting such virulent strains of bulls**t that one is forced to wonder if a brain-and-heart transplant is one of the conditions for public service in Nigeria. All around us are sad examples.
So what’s the way forward? To join government or to stay out and find ways to work from the outside?
I’m on the side of those who think we need to reclaim government from the hands of pretenders and bandits, and that to do this, some of us must go in there. And I will now go back to something I said last week, to the effect that those of us who seek to play a role in government sometime in the future should start preparing ourselves now.
You may wonder: why the seeming obsession? Simple: someday (most likely not before 2015) I myself look forward to serving in government. I do not yet see myself campaigning for elective office, but I already have dreams of working in a strategy / policy / communications role in a campaign team or a government that is driven solely by one desire: to make a positive difference in the lives of the governed. (It will not be a perfect government, for there are no perfect governments).
Knowing this I have spent, and continue to spend a lot of time thinking about the pros and perils of public service in Nigeria. Therefore, next week I will share some thoughts on what steps I think we, as young people can take, to better prepare us for the minefield that is public service in Nigeria.
ToluOgunlesi | (On)going Concerns
Ogunlesi has worked in management consulting, corporate communications and journalism. He was awarded a 2009 CNN Multichoice African Journalism prize, and recently served as Features Editor and Editorial Board member for a national newspaper. He regularly contributes to local and foreign media on Nigerian affairs, and tweets at @toluogunlesi | www.toluogunlesi.com