If the state is considered a work in progress, it is the responsibility of its citizens to rally round it to make it function and constantly subject it, when necessary, to interrogation within the confines of legal framework, to ensure that it acquires all necessary quality and features and is effectively and lawfully managed as a functioning state to deliver public goods to the citizens. Citizens’ love for their country is fundamental to the survival of their state, and this love can be demonstrated in different forms, beyond active participation in politics. The citizens do not only show love to the state by seeking elective positions for leadership as, for example, they go to war because of their countries. It is their responsibility to demand for what is right from their leaders and make them accountable to the public. It is part of that responsible love that citizens should become the watchdogs on how the affairs of the state are run. With the exception of terrorists who are ideologically motivated to bring their countries down (even though this depends on the securitising actors), citizens have demanded for change when states have repeatedly failed to deliver public goods to the people. In Nigeria, people often speak of desire for change without really deciphering what kind of change they really want. This change mantra was more pronounced in the run-up to the 2015 general election in Nigeria. Nigeria needs change, but most often, some Nigerians’ idea of change tends to be couched in ambiguity by those championing it. The intervention of Professor Balogun’s book whose central theme is all about the so-called change in the context of Nigeria appears timely and relevant to the contemporary condition of the Nigerian people even in the post-Buhari’s administration.

Stemmed from three hypotheses evolving the socio-economic and political challenges that tend to hold Nigeria back from advancing in terms of growth and development, the book interrogates three core related assumptions: (a) whether governance and development challenges of Nigeria endured for so long because they are intractable by their nature; (b) that the challenges have endured for so long because they have been designed by the ruling class to be intractable and prevent any positive change from happening; or (c) change has proved elusive because those who manage the process of change have failed to diagnose the underlying challenges correctly and to administer the painful but necessary medications faithfully.

Professor Balogun in his usual prolific resonance, sharp-minded, penetrative diagnostic insight and patriotic intellectualism probes the socio-political, economic and cultural malaise of the Nigerian public administration. He appeals to the conscience of the elected leaders (considered as the ruling class by the author) and appointed officials in bureaucratic capacities to rise responsibly to make Nigeria work again so that citizens can renew their hope for a peaceful, habitable and progressive country for all. According to the author, what really matters first, is articulating what change really means, rather than pontificating whether there is a need for change in Nigeria or not, and how relevant change can be advanced in the country. The author clarifies that defining change is context specific and it has different forms, and can take place in what he describes as soft and hard environments. For him, change in soft environment may appear simple in theory but is likely to be difficult in practice because of lack of consensus on the institutional arrangement for change to happen. The author exemplifies this with the demand for ‘restructuring’. Alternatively, for the hard environment, Professor Balogun posits that it is one that ‘no individual or a mundane rule can change with the proverbial stroke of the pen’. For him, to effect change, conflict is inevitable. He therefore explicates different forms of change which includes change of government, personnel, tinkering, restructuring, systemic reform, and revolution to bring readers to clarity on the conceptual framework of the book (pp. 4-9).

The book: Towards A Habitable Nigeria is a silence breaker of a thinker and highly respected public intellectual of an international repute with many years of fruitful engagement with the Project Nigeria in the context of pragmatic and inclusive public service institutional reform. Professor Balogun decides not to choose the path of silence in times of impending danger concerning the survival of the Nigerian state. His diction makes the book breathe in its scholarly, frank, scenic, assertive and persuasive style, confronting the slumbering mien of the Nigerian leaders by the discussion of issues with which Nigerians must grapple if the country is to escape the current crises. That is what is expected from a serious-minded scholar. With the mounting insecurity and increasing climatic tense of fear, I believe, no right-thinking intellectual in the class of Professor Balogun with a long history of post-colonial state building activities and public service reforms in Nigeria, Africa and around the world, would be content with the state of affairs in the country. When the security agency seems to be incapacitated with respect to guaranteeing the security of the citizens, this implies an impending collapse of the system because security is the buffer for other sectoral programmes to take shape. The failure of the existing state institutions in their capacity to make Nigeria a functioning state that takes the security and welfare of its citizens as a core responsibility calls for caution. Noting that the root of this problem is corruption, Balogun attempts to securitise corruption as a threat that ‘poses a clear and present danger to the survival of Nigeria and to its medium- to long-term development’ (p. 58). He also asserts that ‘corruption is at the root of the sub-optimal performance of the police, and of the security challenge facing Nigeria. It (corruption) has also impacted negatively on the prompt delivery of other types of service’ (p. 58).

Unfortunately, the complexity of the state and ingrained biases, influences of the various cleavages couched in ethnic, religious, and ideological differences seem to portray Nigeria as a country of a different kind which requires a different kind of antidotes when it comes to the best approaches to employ to savage the country from what appears as a perpetual ravage of hopelessness, maladministration, insecurity, systemic cynicism and leadership irresponsibility. Nigeria appears to have reached a stage where citizens’ welfare is no longer a key consideration in government policy. And it is even worse that an average citizen does not think any good can come from the Nigerian government. According to Balogun, the social and political order is under threat when he notes that, ‘in the presence of the state and the government, order retreated, and anarchy marched on defiantly’ (p. vii). The Police institutional capacity to maintain law and order has waned, resulting in the vulnerability of citizens to the escapade of kidnapping and day-light armed robbery on the Nigerian roads. Balogun questions the fraudulent processes of recruitment to the Public Service including the Police with gross low remuneration and corrupt tendencies. The unfortunate low-ranking police constables and their seniors are grossly underpaid which has negatively affected their attitude to ethical law enforcement services.  In his words,

Corrupt police constables routinely mount roadblocks on the highways to remind the road users that “your boys are here”, and if the road users still do not get the message, to apply innovative, sometimes, violent, bribe-extorting methods (p. 54).

The civil service institution is under stress. The core values of excellence, professionalism, efficiency, probity and neutrality for which civil servants were known in the past have been grossly eroded and the Nigerian public policy making and implementation are now left at the mercy of a mushroom of inept individuals and out of touch management cadres. Balogun adds that, ‘Nigeria’s state construction and reform challenges have persisted neither because they are beyond solution nor because members of the “ruling class” have conspired to keep the people in perpetual bondage’ (p. 26). The author is direct in his invitation of the intellects and ethical conduct of the Nigerian leaders and followers to take appropriate measures to respond to the challenges facing the country. Though, according to him, the challenges may appear insurmountable because of the failures of the leaders and followers to apply intellect in their search for fair, equitable and rational answers to vexing governance and public administration questions (p.26). In his summation, Balogun highlights the critical stage in which Nigeria has found itself, and it is time for a close collaboration between ‘the Visible Hand of the state with its Invisible, private sector, counterpart to lift the citizens from want, squalor, misery, and insecurity’ (p. 71). In this context, he proposes what he describes as ‘Stabilization, Grow and Development Program’ comprising the following components: i.) Justice Administration, Police Protection, and Security; ii) Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Development (including the revitalization of the energy sector); iii) Human Capital Development (education, health, and housing; iv) Job creation (through investment in the resuscitation of dead or dying industries, as well as the revitalization of the food, agriculture, and mining sectors); v) Urban and Rural Development; vi) Roll-out of an Afro-centric foreign policy (with an accent on self-reliance at home and optimization of external relations gains); and, vii) Institution Strengthening (through the implementation of a credible anti-corruption policy) (see pp. 71-87).

The concluding chapter focuses on leadership and youth implementation of change wherein the author offers some lessons on the concept of leadership. To paraphrase the author, youths describe themselves as products of the digital age with full preparation to take over the leadership on the pretense of their age from analog leaders in the corridors of power. Professor Balogun cautions that it would be a mistake on the part of the youth to lay a claim to leadership on the basis of their age which he considers as ‘culture of entitlement just as the elders use incumbency to justify and entrench analog, self-seeking, sit-tight leadership at the expense of a visionary ideal type’ (p. 95).

I find this slender seven-chapter book to be provocative, scenic, probing, yet warm and patriotically seeking attention of genuine agents of transformative change in leaders (both in politics and bureaucracy) and followers within the Nigerian space to work for solution to multifarious challenges facing the country. The new Federal Civil Strategy and Implementation Plan 2021-2025 (FCSSIP25) under the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation is one of the new reform initiatives aimed at strengthening institutional capacity to deliver effective services to Nigerians. This is yielding results even though there are still lots more to do in this area. The Central Delivery Coordinating Unit headed by the Special Adviser to the President on Policy and Coordination has been equipped especially in tracking and monitoring the implementation of a series of critical prioritised projects of government. One of the new reform initiatives is the Employee Performance Management System which has now replaced the Annual Performance Evaluation Report (APER) while the Ministerial Performance Management System is being operationalised through the Ministerial Deliverables under the Presidential Priorities of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Others include digitalisation, innovation, electronic payroll system, and capacity building and talent management in the Federal Civil Service. More importantly, these new performance-based reform initiatives now make it possible to monitor, track and rank Ministries, Extra-ministerial Departments and Agencies. All these are part of the new responses to some of the identified challenges, and the government appears to be open now, unlike in the past, to partner with private entities in developing solutions to many of the structural and operational impediments responsible for the inability of Federal Public Service institutions to effectively function. While the challenges are inherently systemic, the way of thinking in the Nigerian Public Service must change to be able to find a sustainable solution to multifarious governance problems that are impeding Nigerian Public Service to serve Nigerians better. 

Towards a Habitable Nigeria is a brilliant book that must be read by people who consider themselves as Nigerian leaders in any capacity and all followers who share a positive view about the possibility of change in the quality of lives and living standard of Nigerians even in the state of dystopia. The book will also be a good resource for undergraduates, postgraduate students and researchers in public administration, public policy analysis, economics, development studies, planning including officers and consultants in the public service. Towards A Habitable Nigeria is a book for all categories of readers. It is a book that has the potential to inspire Nigerians to rethink their ideas of change in Nigeria and join hands together to make Nigeria work again!