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Tunji Olaopa: A scholar and a public servant - Toyin Falola

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Tunji Olaopa: A scholar and a public servant - Toyin Falola Dr. Tunji Olaopa

Text of the Introduction of Dr. Tunji Olaopa, Keynote Speaker, “The Yoruba Nation and Politics Since the Nineteenth Century: A Conference in Honor of Professor J. A. Atanda” at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, October 9, 2017


​You do not need to have been paying a lot of attention to notice a trend of gaudy and ostentatious play of humility among some Nigerian political officials. Here and there, you hear a politician, safely ensconced inside a bullet-proof vehicle or a private jet he has procured to protect himself from the wrath of the people whose salaries he has not paid for six months, describing himself as “the public servant,” or “the servant of the people,” or even “the chief servant.”

With loud campaign posters and other visual materials, these people who have conferred upon themselves an appellation of service make a showy declaration of their servanthood, even if the gravity of the task they have appropriated eludes them.


Today, ladies and gentlemen, I want to show you someone who exemplifies the objectives of public service; someone whose education, career, and public service is a manifestation of the true reality of public service; someone who has dedicated his life and his intellectual efforts to public service even though he does not walk around with a signboard announcing any and every one who has the good fortune to encounter him that he is invested in such a moral duty to God and to country.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Dr. Tunji Olaopa, the public servant extraordinaire.


​Let me start by saying that in my life I have had the pleasure of working with many people on a countless number of projects. These individuals, one can say, are hardworking, have a spirit of excellence, and are entirely committed to a noble cause with a zest akin to religiosity. Dr. Olaopa, today’s keynote speaker, is one of them. In fact, he stands out from the pack.

I have a lot of things to say about this impressive man and if I were you, I would grab a drink because this is going to be a long ride. There is a great deal about Dr. Olaopa that can be unfolded at an august gathering such as this one but time will not permit us. However, I shall try to maximise the little time that I have to describe a few things that set him apart, not just as a theorist and a career public servant but as a practitioner with class and distinction.

Talking about Dr. Olaopa entails a careful navigation of the history of his life, his career, his public service, and how all these strands of his personal history tie up into a distinguished life of service to the public.


​​Dr. Olaopa’s tertiary-level education from first degree to Ph.D. has been about two interwoven subjects: political science and public administration. He started his education in Awe, in Oyo township, on the wings of his mother’s sacrifices and discipline, and ended up in the University of Ibadan for his first and second degrees.

From there, he proceeded to obtain his doctoral degree in Public Administration at the Commonwealth Open University in the United Kingdom. Right after his first degree, Dr. Olaopa began to work with public research institutions from which he gained invaluable insight and experience and which further propelled him to the upper echelons of civil service administration in Nigeria.

He has been the Chief Research Officer, Policy Analyst and Speech Writer at the Nigerian presidency; Assistant Director/Secretary of the White Paper Panel for Nigeria’s 1995 Ayida Public Service Reform with desk responsibility for implementation; Coordinator, Education Sector Analysis and Head, Policy Division, Office of the Minister in the Federal Ministry of Education; Deputy Director/Head, Technical Secretariat, Reform Strategy Team, Management Services Office.

He was also the Director of Programmes, Bureau of Public Service Reforms; Special Assistant on Reforms to the Head of Service of the Federation on Public Service Reforms; Director, External Linkages & Reforms Department, Office of Head of the Civil Service of the Federation; and Director, MDAs Department, Bureau of Public Service Reforms. He has been a permanent secretary several times in the State House in Abuja, in the Federal Ministry of Labor and Productivity, and in Youth Development.

​​From that summary of his career, one thing is evident: this man has spent his life in service to the country, Nigeria. He has built a magnificent repertoire of knowledge and skills in governance, and institutional analysis and development; public sector reform and restructuring; design and management of civil service reforms; administrative reform strategies and change management; policy analysis, sector diagnosis and strategic planning; research design and review; community mobilisation and management of communication strategy; preparation and supervision of technical assistance projects; capacity-building needs and impact assessment and learning/knowledge management; and the list goes on.

His devotion to working for the public good is not simply a matter of pursuing a career. It is an attitude that is embodied in him and that is why after leaving the federal civil service, Dr. Olaopa co-created an institution, the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), to harness his vast expertise with that of others to further his lifetime goals of engendering efficiency, productivity and reform in the Nigerian civil and public service.

He currently serves as the Executive Vice-Chairman of this ground-institution. ISGPP, by the way, is a think-tank that is devoted to research, analysis, and teaching. The organization focuses on issues of governance, public administration, public policy, and other critical issues that are needful for the development of the country.

The ISGPP is composed of egg-heads, researchers, and consultants who are dedicated to divining ideas germane to boosting governance and public policy making in Nigeria. Dr. Olaopa’s work in ISGPP is part of his commitment to deploy his education and experience in the public sector in order to find the intellectual resources that can support public management and administration, promote good governance and improve the quality of policy discourse and its administrators in Nigeria.

A prolific academic and researcher, Dr. Olaopa has published 12 major books on governance and public sector reforms. He has written 23 monographs, and he has dozens of publications in scholarly peer-reviewed journals. As a syndicated columnist, Dr. Olaopa has worked tirelessly to push policy ideas on various topical issues to the public.

There are times when I log into several Nigerian media websites in a single day and I find Dr. Olaopa’s well-researched articles on different subjects published in each of them. I marvel at his commitment to public education and intellection, and I admire the zeal he puts into all these activities. When I said at the beginning of this segment that Dr. Olaopa represents the best of public service in Nigeria, I meant it because you are looking at someone who has given himself entirely to the cause of raising the bar of public administration in Nigeria and he has never missed an opportunity to apply his intellectual resources to achieve this honorable goal.

He does the hard work of extensively researching every issue he writes about and delightfully advances deeply pondered solutions to the Nigerian dilemma. He is untiring and his optimism that real change is possible motivates people like us who, weighed down by the burden of Nigerian reality, find ourselves occasionally descending into cynicism and despair.

​​Ladies and Gentlemen, I can speak from now till tomorrow and I will still not exhaust the depth of my admiration for Dr. Olaopa and his steadfastness towards the ennobling task of understanding the questions posed to us by governance in Nigeria and providing the answers to not only enlighten the public, but to boost the quality and professionalism of government administrators.

His goal is to work towards guaranteeing the paradigms of reforms – at cultural and institutional levels—that will enhance development and national transformation while breeding the morale and attitude vital to sustaining our gains. Dr. Olaopa continues to search for those ideas and visions that can be sown into our political culture to activate the processes of social engineering, national transformation, and global competitiveness.

If Dr. Olaopa’s vision sounds too ambitious, know that this is because his learning and career has imbued in him the faith that we, too, the children of this country called Nigeria, can reach the Promised Land. He believes that our society can deploy the force of intellection, philosophy, and ideology towards public administration to generate paradigms of political and social productivity that are vital for our growth as a country and as a people.

Ladies and gentlemen, even though I have a lot more to say about Dr. Olaopa I shall have to stop here. I have more in my mouth and even a lot more about him in my belly, but time will not permit me to say everything I know that needs to be said about this public servant who exemplifies the very best of public service.

If anyone alive today is deserving of providing a keynote address at a conference honoring a great mind, public servant, and human being par excellence, Professor J. A. Atanda, it would be none other than another great mind, public servant and temperate human being. Therefore, please help me welcome to the podium this crème de la crème of intellectual excellence, Dr. Tunji Olaopa.

Professor Falola is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin. 

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