HERE TO SERVE –Advocacy for good governance by Oseloka H. Obaze

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Oseloka H. Obaze’s “HERE TO SERVEAdvocacy for Good Governance” is a ‘resource’ whose time is NOW.  An important, dare I say, critical book that reviews and outlines the developmental challenges ravaging lives, livelihoods and the Nigerian polity.  The book highlights major challenges to Nigeria’s development with particular reference in some cases to Anambra State.  It also reviews and provides historical as well as analytical narratives on a range of significant events in Nigeria, inter alia: ‘The Threat of Boko Haram, The 2012 Floods, The Ebola Scare, The Bond of Performance in leadership, The Petroleum Industry Bill, and The Essence of International Communications & Diplomacy’.  Additionally, it covers thematic issues impacting human and societal development while proffering time-tested solutions.  With archetypal excellence, the author documents lessons learned, ‘good practices’, as well as provides much-needed imperatives of good governance and transformative leadership..

As Nigeria grapples with the challenge of genuine and responsive leadership, transparency, accountability, policy formulation, implementation, and indeed real patriotism, Obaze with ‘HERE TO SERVE,’ has clearly staked out a terrain, a landscape that CAN ONLY be appropriated to a relative few in Nigeria – a group to which he belongs – perhaps, one in which he should lead.  For this, we must be elated and thankful to Obaze for his service, conviction, genuineness and willingness to share. From the outset therefore, let me state unequivocally, that, ‘HERE TO SERVE” is a masterpiece, a MUST READ – a cutting-edge, public policy resource book for every generation.  One, which, every Nigerian, should read including as a University recommended textbook.  It should serve as a great resource for federal and state governments – all policy makers, those in search of knowledge, as well as those committed to true patriotism.

To make this review a little easy, allow me to dispense with the mundane.  ‘HERE TO SERVE’ is a 264-page hardcover, four-part collection of ‘Speeches, Op-Eds, Essays and Advocacy for Good Governance’ published by Ben Bosah Books, PO Box 671, New Albany, Ohio.  Having served as part of the global community, and given the relevance of this initiative, Obaze’s book will be released and formally launched on 5 May & 16 June 2016 in the USA and at Awka – Nigeria respectively.  It is available on Amazon and its ‘Kindle’ edition will be released on 8 May 2016.  This collection of thirty-one speeches, op–eds, and essays are drawn from the author’s 3-year contribution and service as the Secretary to the Anambra State Government (SSG) of Nigeria.

The book is divided into four (4) broad categories relating to good governance, responsiveness and human development in the following context: A) Responsive Leadership; B) Ethics in Governance; C) Policy Formulation: and D) Confronting Realpolitik.  The fact that the first publication following his disengagement from service is not his “Memoirs” reaffirms the man’s mindset and preoccupation.  A clear indication of his knowledge, authority, intellectual sophistication and experience in human development and responsive governance is his preference and promotion of sustainable policies and projects.  This ranged from engaging in preventive, conducting assessments, implementation (with clear targets and benchmarks for evaluation), and post-recovery activities, culminating in lessons learned, as well as leveraging his networks and [building synergies where and when applicable.  For example, in responding to the flood disaster, Obaze reached out to his international networks, resulting in assistance from UNICEF, WFP, FAO, and OCHA, through assessments, monitoring and evaluation {p.9}.

In the piece on “FLOOD DISASTER IN NIGERIA: THE PAINS, REALITIES, & THE IMPONDERABLES” for instance, Obaze tellingly chronicled and described the early warnings that were issued by State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the cumulative impact of the disaster, the displacement, attendant unforeseen consequences including critical variables that could not be amortized.  Continuing, he outlined the normative gaps in policy and implementation, as well as decried politicization of such events.  Thus, he cautioned, “The floods highlighted the pains and realities of the inadequacy of our social welfare and emergency response facilities, the dearth of our national capacity in the coordination of our emergency response in a holistic manner, as well as our limited ability to manage related information proactively”.  Consequentially, and acutely aware of the political and human sensitivities relating to such humanitarian interventions yet with humane camaraderie, the author, in company of other public personnel with sleeves rolled up, waded through the flooded areas, sensitizing and commiserating with displaced families.  In the sad circumstance however, Obaze clearly understood and underscored the dire necessity of – confidence building and restoration of human dignity {p.4-10}.

 

In typical Obaze style coated with genuine conviction in the ‘public good’ but, most commendably with in-depth knowledge and expertise, he proffers pragmatic and tested solutions spiked with lessons learned.  Through it all, his unflinching belief and doggedness in Nigeria and Nigerian’s ability and capacity (true manifestation of patriotism) remain indisputable.  Consequently, he noted, “What is not true and must not be allowed to gain validity is the disconcerting notion that Nigerians are clueless about how to emerge from the present rut. What is also unacceptable is to seek partisan political advantage by reflexively resorting to the blame game. In so doing, we ignore that such a disposition, even metaphorically, is hardly effective in a sinking ship, where emergency rescue measures are called for. Even if we were to characterize our nation state as a sinking ship, what we ought to be doing is rallying all hands on deck”{p.205}

Despite reaffirming his avowed faith in Nigeria’s ability to greatness however, the author is not afraid to criticize and point out Nigeria and Nigerians’ responsibility and culpability accordingly.  For instance, on “DECIPHERING NIGERIA IN THE CONTEXT OF 2015 PROGNOSTICATIONS”, the author was right in opining, “Ours is still a nation bedeviled by greed, impunity, and corruption. Ours is still a nation where unbridled affluence is juxtaposed with unconscionable poverty and the unmet needs of the larger population.  As a country, our commonality of shared interest, values, and especially security of life and property is under severe threat.”{p.206}.

Similarly, in writing on “IMPROVING GOVERNANCE IN GOVERNMENT” the author noted, “It is a paradox that Nigerians seemingly abhor rigging of elections, yet they believe that those campaigning for elective offices should offer financial incentives or inducements before they cast their votes for the candidates. Nigerians have the expectation that those in high positions in government should be honest, while on the other hand hoping that highly placed government officials have unlimited financial resources to offer at every imaginable social occasion. Where are these honest government leaders expected to get these financial resources beyond their salaries? Can we not deduce that unreasonable popular expectations just as unfettered greed can be a source of corruption”? {p.20}.

As an objective and seasoned diplomat, Obaze stays steeped in positivity and true grit, refusing to give up on people {Nigeria and Nigerians}.  Alternatively, he chooses to capitalize and reinforce the good in people with infinite possibilities.  Even from those he classified as pockets recidivists, he prefers to align with their intentions as superseding results of their actions.  Thus, while writing on ‘IMPROVING GOVERNANCE IN GOVERNMENT”, he reiterated, “As I have often postulated, there is no such thing as a bad public policy, since all public policies are supposedly well intended. Often what we confront are badly conceptualized policies, poorly articulated public policies, and badly implemented public policies” {p.26}.  Within the confines of agreed norms, standards, and in furtherance of good governance and promoting the dignity and rights of the person (i.e., human development) however, he reaffirms that national development can only take place in the context of collective public security, individual safety, and where ethics is the foundation of public policy.

Subsequently, to encourage sustainable policy formulation, implementation, thereby, improve governance, the author submitted that, “Every government — more so any government that seeks to offer purposeful government or purposeful leadership to its people—must perform three core functions: ensuring the security and safety of the people; providing for their basic social needs, including meeting their needs in times of natural disasters; and creating an enabling environment for the people to undertake normal social, cultural, and economic activities for the improvement of their wellbeing.  It was in that spirit of responsive and purposeful government, that Obaze worked tirelessly and served as the ‘Chairperson’ of the Handover Committee that ensured the smooth transition between Governor Peter Obi’s end of term and the take-over by Governor Willie Obiano {pp.93-96}.

Having spent more than half his life in the diplomatic arena, it is little wonder that the author devoted a-piece on, “GRASPING THE ESSENCE OF INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION AND DIPLOMACY”.  His unquestionable vantage position, experiences and expertise clearly placed him on the right pedestal to offer insight and advice on the essentials of international communication and diplomacy.  This, he delivered with relish and accuracy on content, ideas and advice on how to leverage communication and diplomacy particularly in the face of persistent intra/inter global conflicts.  In doing so, the author clearly outlined the need for partnership and building synergy, thereby, enriching the discourse and understanding of the role of international diplomacy.

While illustrating the importance of synergy, the author drew attention to how ‘underestimation of communication could lead to obvious challenges and damage diplomatic relations’ (emphasis) {p.183-197}.  Consequentially, he stated, “In times of peace, controversy, and conflict, most observers and analysts of trends and events are inclined to focus on the communication of their interlocutors and pertinent actors, be they states or non-state actors”.  Furthermore, he asserted, “Communication—be it verbal or written—remains the tool of diplomacy and public policymaking. Indeed, in diplomacy, even awkward body language—the so-called disposition or attitude— are quite significant components of international diplomacy”.  This simply proves that communication is a constant variable in any relationship {p.193}.  Therefore, he cautioned against ‘unintended consequences’ of badly managed communication.

Nowhere is the author’s firm conviction in Nigeria’s polity as well as his criticism of Nigerians for their lack of patriotism, culpability and near utter imprudence more evident that in the article on “DESPITE NIGERIA’S RHETORIC, A REBASED ECONOMY CANNOT TURN AROUND ITS DEBASED CIRCUMSTANCES.”  In this piece, Obaze skillfully outlines what he identified and I have chosen to classify as “THE ENEMY WITHIN”.   This relates to the unconscious perhaps ignorant use of ‘clichés’ by Nigerians, which ultimately impacts negatively on Nigeria’s advancement.  In his own words, “In Nigeria, clichés rule; Even as Nigeria marks its centenary, for many the nation itself is clichéd, and thus to some it remains a mere geographical expression despite existing for 100 years as an entity.  This noncommittal disposition to the commonweal gives vent to a sense of drift, which renders the notion of a united Nigeria an oxymoron as evidenced by the high din and dichotomy dogging the ongoing National Confab” {p.175}.

As Obaze reminds his readers, “Nigeria has a surfeit of political and mainstream clichés and semi-clichés. Depending on their usage and context, these clichés are all self-serving. But in general terms, they point to our existential realities as a nation” {p.181}. Even without empirical evidence, but given the unintended impact and reality, Obaze is right in recommending, “For now, we must admit that the unwitting use of clichés is undermining our honest and constructive national political discourse” {p.182}.   Perhaps, innocently, Obaze ventured into the realm of biblical evangelization as the ‘Bible’ in the book of Proverbs admonishes that, “The power of life and death (a metaphorical reference to ‘positive & negative’) in the tongue” {Proverbs 18:21}.  Similarly, in Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he warned, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” {4:29 NKJV}.  Accordingly, it is my hope and wish that Obaze’s ingenuity on the use of ‘clichés’, will not only highlight the negative implications, but, jolt Nigerians’ sense of reasoning.  After all, someone once said, “You are what you confess”, and this too is a cliché.

In the long run therefore, Obaze is absolutely right when he surmised, “The bottom line is that rethinking Nigeria must not be in negative terms or even premised on the discontinuance of the nation. Thinking this way subjugates rationality”{p.182}, and in a sense, it is the ‘ENEMY WITHIN’, which Nigerians must work hard to get rid of.

Despite its broad coverage of issues, a striking feature of the Op-Eds and Essays from ‘HERE TO SERVE’ is the thoroughness, analytical brilliance, advocacy tools, sufficient narratives capturing contextual and historical perspectives that allow the reader insight into events, issues, processes and interventions.  Almost in all cases, the author proffered, adopted and recommends holistic and multi-dimensional approaches to addressing and resolving concomitant challenges. Overall, the author’s enduring persuasion and commitment to Nigeria’s greatness is incontrovertible.  His willingness and capacity to assist in ushering in the much-needed transformation at all levels, is almost visceral and infectious.  His exemplary service and dedication throughout his years in office, was characterized by hard work, unalloyed loyalty, accountable and transparent decision-making – the hallmark of transformative leadership.

What makes this commendation even more apt is:

  1. The chutzpah, only Obaze and an infinitesimal few of his ilk possess, which he

 demonstrated in answering the ‘call to service’ at the time he did.  He left a

 “World” class job at the United Nations, and the comfort so many desired to go

 to what some regard as a ‘No-Go’ area; and

  1. The humility, dedication, sensitivity and steadfastness with which Obaze

 served.

Such humility was clearly evident when Obaze responded to his ‘people’s investiture at Ogbaru, by acknowledging God’s mercy, saluting those less privileged and reminding his listeners that only FATE stood between him and the less privileged in society {p.24}.

As has been reported by both Governors Peter Obi & Willie Obiano, and the people of Anambra State where he served, Obaze did an outstanding job and did so with grace.  Thus, I was delighted when I was given the undeserved privilege to provide an abridged review of the book – “HERE TO SERVE”.  Soon enough the initial excitement wore off very quickly.  It wasn’t for lack of clarity or content as the foregoing narratives outline.  However, even though I had had the privilege of reading and listening to some of the author’s pieces over the years both at the United Nations and elsewhere, I soon realized that in a collection of such rich, masterfully crafted, highly knowledgeable narratives including policy formulations on a range of thematic issues, it felt almost ‘unfair’ to be asked to provide a summary.

This is so, because, in conducting such a review, one certainly runs the risk of attempting to single out a particular topic or article – when each piece is a ‘magnum opus’.  In my estimation, any attempt to do so would certainly peeve scholars and readers alike and rightly so.  With speeches, Op-Eds, etc., certain characteristics are necessary, to wit: beauty of language, flow, coherence, clarity, content, in-depth analysis and, of course, a mastery of the subject matter.  In each of the pieces in the book, the author holds the reader spellbound with content, coherence and flow of language, effective prose, and an undeniable exhibition of knowledge of each subject matter.

Perhaps, what makes the book truly unique and exceptional is best reflected in Ben Chu’s assertion that, “The medium matters a lot when it comes to writing. Newspaper columns (Op-Eds, Speeches, etc. {Emphasis}) need to be very special to justify being turned into a book. They must possess a certain timeless quality, which is extremely hard to achieve.”   The author’s ‘HERE TO SERVE’ possesses the timeless quality, often providing the historical context, excellent analysis, unbridled dexterity on issues, and elucidations rare with many who have served and/or currently serving in Nigeria.   Its culmination into a book therefore is appropriate and critical especially in the face of dwindling know-how, responsive leadership, and good governance in Nigeria.

In conclusion, let me state emphatically, “HERE TO SERVE” is not only an exceptional work, a narrative of thematic issues, challenges and events that chronicle Nigeria’s developmental path and the imperatives of good governance.  It is an insightful masterpiece from a seasoned diplomat, a passionate philanthropist, a sensitive teacher and writer, who offered his service selflessly and with utmost ingenuity.  Most importantly, his delivery, is laced with the willingness and resolves to impart knowledge, to, a generation of Nigerians.  Against this background, ‘HERE TO SERVE’ is an excellent resource and practical guide for those genuinely interested in service, ‘public good’, accountable, transparent, and transformative leadership.  As Madiba Nelson Mandela once said, “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination.  But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”   This is Obaze personified!  To his good head and heart, the author added a literate tongue and pen.  We salute him! What is more adoring to his admirers however, is, the author’s effectual resistance to the self-aggrandizement and ostentation that has become the blight of those in positions of power and public office in Nigeria.  Obaze was truly ‘Here to Serve’.

Let me therefore join the voices that have already commended the author for his contributions and service.  Perhaps, the valuable implication and import of the author’s service as chronicled and acknowledged thus far should be, that, we declare the Obaze, a “best practice” for patriotism and good governance in Nigeria and beyond! Despite his brilliance, resolve, analytical and fluent writing skills, which he combines with passion, attention to detail and doggedness, Obaze is a rare breed of man – truly quintessential.  Blessed with quiet, but, strong and independent spirit, he exudes an irresistible charm and charisma so disarming even as ‘Mother Nature’ takes a good swipe at him with the ‘grey’ – a distinguishing and striking feature not missed by Samantha Chavez & Robyn Orme as they set the cover of his book.  For allowing us to be part of this significant and selfless endeavor, thank you.  As the Igbos would say, Daalu!  Jide ka iji.

 

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Elsie B Onubugu, an international lawyer is a UK government expert on ‘Security & Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative’ {PSVI}, and a former Senior Policy Adviser with the United Nations.

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