By Tunji Olaopa
The breath of the late Professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje’s contributions to development policy and governance reform is so breathtaking that one can never dream of exhausting its deep nuances. From personal to public, Professor Mabogunje has embodied all the elements of a fulfilling life lived not only for oneself but also for others and for Nigeria; a country he loved with the very essence of his public service, nothing less than a spiritual vocation. He was a patriot par excellence like no other. And that became a quality that also translated into a passion for mentoring. From my first meeting with Mabogunje until he became Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), I had learned a lot from him about governance, politics public and engaged policy research in a way that has impacted my advocacy for institutional research and on governance and reform. Professor Mabogunje was fired with passion to make Nigeria work. And he struggled with the apparent dysfunction of a state that rejected all forms of reform efforts from its committed patriots. In this article, I wish to add to the growing list of accolades after Mabogunje’s passing by describing his major legacies which are essentially concerned with how Nigeria can become functional in terms of governance and development.
Mabogunje became known from an unlikely disciplinary point of view: geography. The story of how he came to geography as a discipline is told in his autobiography A Measure of Grace (2011). In short, that is to say that at a time when the intellectual effervescence in the field, from the 1960s, was at the forefront of a global disciplinary revolution concentrating geography at the edge of the quantitative and theoretical revolution , being providentially thrown into the orbit of this revolution made Mabogunje “the African home of revolution” in geography. His grounding in historical geography at the university has shaped Mabogunje’s focus on development and policymaking, with a depth and breadth that has affected how issues in these areas are conceptualized for the benefit of society. ‘State. In his words, “it was the chance of the first that enabled me to begin to have an impact on development policies and programs in Nigeria”. Of course, there was first chance; but it was a determined focus that allowed Mabogunje to focus on solving Nigeria’s development problems. He would go on to become the first African president of the International Geographical Union, the first African to be elected a foreign associate of the United States Academy of Sciences, the first and only African to have won the prestigious Vautrin-Lud prize, the the highest distinction in the field of geography, to name a few.
No scholar and development planner concerned with the development of Nigeria would ultimately be forced to deal with land reform. As a factor of production, land plays an essential role in development policies. And this is where the Land Use Act of 1978 caught Mabogunje’s attention. As the policy of its time, the law became necessary to highlight the government’s statist ideology of assuming the “dominant height” of the national economy in development planning. Under the force of Keynesian macroeconomics at the time, it seemed normal to see government and governors as guardians of the land in their state; hence the Land Use Act. However, this law has greatly hindered what could motivate economic development, such as mortgage financing that allows individual transactions. In terms of the dynamics of capitalist wealth creation, the law urgently needs revision that allows individuals and communities to access land ownership without having to go through the bureaucratic hurdles required by law. Mabogunje’s recommendation is simple: make Nigeria’s land assets a significant part of the economic aggregates that define its wealth and development. It is therefore imperative to achieve coordinated land surveying and regularization to facilitate land ownership and conduct of business. We are still a long way from this common sense policy.
Mabogunje lightly made the same criticism of the 1976 local government reform. This reform was wrong from the start because, for Mabogunje, it confused “economic efficiency with administrative efficiency”. This is similar to thinking that the population and size of a local government area determine its effective yields. By focusing on the population, the 1976 reform ignores the agency capacity of these establishments to effectively mobilize and deploy their social capital and their values of subsidiarity for internal development. Furthermore, the uncritical rate at which local government areas were proliferating meant that they would not be able to access the same level of funding from the Federation Account which is dependent on unequal access, even for the states. The imbalance in the Nigerian federation makes it inevitable that local government reform will not achieve what it should in terms of making local government the true third tier of governance; the base where development must take root and take place for the citizens. Mabogunje firmly clung to the federal idea of making the LGAs a consolidated point for development. He insisted that if a genuine local government is to be managed and administered by representatives of the resident population, it should be mandatory that in response to the democratic imperative, each LGA must be accountable for its activities and budgets to a municipal assembly of stakeholders, including neighborhood or neighborhood chiefs or leaders of various local economic organizations and professional associations, religious and traditional leaders, leaders of women’s organizations, NGOs, etc. represented by each colony and dependent city. This is the very essence of the OPTICOM initiative championed by Mabogunje and Aboyade in Aawe, Oyo State. This initiative deploys the idea of civic engagement and social reciprocity to facilitate organization, technological innovations, credit establishment and market access for rural development.
A detailed focus on agrarian reform and rural development seems inevitably to lead to an in-depth reflection on poverty and the political dynamics that would facilitate its improvement. Mabogunje’s patriotic concern for development drew him to the political implications of his research. What links rural development and poverty reduction for Mabogunje is the idea of popular participation which is essential to democratic governance. The Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), championed by Oba Sikiru Adetona, provided Mabogunje with the context to link popular participation to rural and infrastructural development and poverty reduction. The IDIPR demonstrated the need for multifaceted stakeholder participation that transcends bureaucratic reliance on the public sector alone. The strategy must fundamentally realize a synergy between the resources of the State and the social capital and the other availabilities inherent in the communities. The concerted and coordinated strategic action plan calls for focusing on critical pillars such as basic infrastructure and social overhead provisioning; business development; job creation and skills upgrading; promote traditional activities in the local economy; promote tourism; lobbying for attitudinal change and cultural renaissance; intensification of cooperative activities; and institution building.
Even though the public sector requires the highest level of support to achieve the level of development required by Nigeria’s development strategy, it also means, for Mabogunje, that the civil service must be efficiently and effectively able to perform its imperative role. And so one would not be surprised at some of the reform issues that Mabogunje has emphasized. Most fundamental, from the perspective of its development vision, is the public-private partnership that could be deployed to bring the various critical stakeholders into a concerted relationship for improved development. The real issue is therefore not only the capacity of the public service to establish contractual relations and partnerships with consortia and non-state organisations; it is essentially the reform of contractual obligations and the need to fulfill them. Institutional parameters need to be built into the reform documents that will ensure that the government, through its MDAs, meets its contractual and partnership responsibilities. It would also mean, by administrative necessity, that recruitment and promotion in the civil service must be based solely on merit. Mabogunje’s membership in the 1972 Udoji Commission is helpful in its recommendation for reform. He insisted, for example, that the principle of federal character should only be deployed as a condition of entry. It should have no role to play in upward and intersectoral mobility. Only in this way could the Nigerian civil service be repositioned so that it can attain the status of the all-India civil service where the highest echelon “can stand tall in terms of management with the best anywhere. in the world”.
Professor Mabogunje was intellectually and politically astute enough to understand that if anything is going to happen at the level of the institutional reforms he championed, it has to happen at a deep constitutional level. Nigeria needs fundamental restructuring in order to advance institutional and governance reforms. In this regard, the 1963 Constitution provides a viable constitutional model for rethinking the possibility of a competitive federal system that will stimulate regional development. The change required must be such that it will not turn states into beggars at the federal government table. States must be strong unifying units that have the means to initiate innovative development programs. This can only come from constitutional amendments that will allow states or geopolitical areas to contribute 50% of their mining revenue to the federal stock exchange and gain a constitutional concession to collect levies on, say, VAT, without this being taken up by the FG.
Anyone with a modicum of development and governance expertise will immediately see how the thoughts inherited from Professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje tie together into a coherent development framework for Nigeria. These thoughts still flow freely in the development space of Nigerian politics, waiting for a shrewd government to harness them. This is what constitutes immortality for this colossal and patriotic genius. These ideas could also be the first steps towards greatness for Nigeria if only we heed them and act on them.
*Teacher. Tunji Olaopa
Retired Federal Permanent Secretary
& Professor, National Institute
For political and strategic studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos