Dr Joe Abah: Two Experts, Two Bureaucrats
Dr Joe Abah, is the Director General of Bureau of Public Service Reforms and academic. In very casual style unwittingly or knowingly, re-triggered a limited exchange on one of the most contentious controversies in modern intellectual history; what is the role the intellectual in society? The triggering sardonic comment by Dr Abah (@DrJoeAbah) on Twitter yesterday said “How to become an “expert”  in Nigeria: Be jobless; go around TV stations & beg to appear on ANY programme; criticise all Govt actions. Done!” Of the many replies he got [most of them friendly] one by Mark Spencer (@Ack_Spencer). It was just as sardonic. “How to become an expert, sign up as media influencer visit all radio &TV station[s] hailing Govt inefficiencies and cluelessness”. This is the flash point of the controversy. However, the contention Dr Abah triggered is one many avoid because of the unexpected possibilities it can generate.
In the book titled the “Betrayal of the Intellectuals”, Julien Benda, the French philosopher, shook the intellectual world by stating that there are two types of intellectuals. Type A are those who stand up for ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ and Type B are those who serve ‘privilege’ and ‘power’. Nevertheless, most brand the Type A intellectual as an enemy of the realm, often sacked, often arrested, often jailed, often ostracised. Still, often beaten, often poor and sometimes killed. Because he or she dared to make a vocation of “speaking truth to power”. This is the intellectual Dr Abah mocks and dismisses. In contrast, the Type B intellectual is often a courtier of leaders, well-placed, well-paid, well-promoted, well-invested, well-connected and sometimes celebrated because he chose the vocation of “singing praises to power”. Hence, this is the intellectual Spencer ridicules and exposes.
Question: what type of intellectual is Dr Abah?
Furthermore, as with bureaucracy and bureaucrats, Prof Peter Palmer Ekeh, in his famous essay titled The Two Publics, made a point. He affirms in Nigerian society there is the Lucky Bureaucrat and the Good Bureaucrat . Lucky Bureaucrats are the ones who take more out from society [government service] for themselves than they put back into it. The Lucky Bureaucrats assume office to serve their own ends, amorality is their religion. The typical Lucky Bureaucrat is a thief and, if elite, a Big Thief. Lucky Bureaucrats are the main practitioners of the terrible corruption blighting Nigeria with savagery today. Therefore, are the key agents of the decivilisation now occurring in Nigeria. Moreover, Lucky Bureaucrats more often than not leave office rich.
Then there are Good Bureaucrats who put in more into society [government service] than they benefit from it. Good Bureaucrats assume office to serve as best as they can, guided by moral uprightness. It is the Good Bureaucrats who built up anything good that stands or has endured in Nigeria. More so, because they did their job well and did not steal whatever they could when they had the opportunity. Thus, Good Bureaucrats leave office to a lifestyle their honest income, savings and investments can afford them.
Question: what type of bureaucrat is Dr Abah?
To the first question, the answer is fast coming. To the second question, one has to wait for an aftermath.
 The “expert” Dr Abah and Mark Spencer refer to is the public intellectual. A person who in public with proficiency debates and analyses the incidences and nature of “matters of the moment.” Events happening in society and the world at large. Intellectual, muse, pundit, media influencer, commentator, analyst are all synonyms of expert.
 The word Bureaucrat interchanges with the word citizen.
This Post Has 3 Comments
Thank you for this.I agree with the commentator that said the article does not go far enough, but perhaps for different reasons. The “expert” that I refer to does NOT accord with your definition of a public intellectual that COMPETENTLY analyses issues. They usually have no pedigree and no track record other than the title “public analyst” or “social critic”. The more intellectual a person is, the more they are able to see nuances and shades of grey. Truth can be positive, negative or even in-between. Therefore, “speaking truth to power” cannot only mean being biased and negative. It also means being able to say “This was done well”, “this could be done better” and “we need to find out more about this.” To say therefore that I mock or dismiss those that speak truth to power is grossly unfair. I speak truth to power and go to work everyday expecting to be sacked. Lastly, it is not everyone that came into office not having been successful in their lives and that need government office to lead affluence lives afterwards. Many, like the Ministers of Petroleum and Budget and National Planning (and me, believe it or not!) gave up in excess of 90% of their previous income to serve in government. Returning to a good life after government service does not automatically equate to having corruptly enriched yourself while in it. You will not have to wait long for an aftermath. My first tenure finishes in August and I do to intend to seek a renewal, principally because my family can no longer afford it. So, the cryptic nature of Twitter limits the capacity for nuances. This is why I gladly retweeted Mr Spencer’s comment (as a true intellectual should), because those that praise everything that government does as “experts” are equally guilty. It is also true that some of them have picked up government appointments and positions on the back of that. To characterise them as public intellectuals is overly generous. Good morning.
Thank you for your response. I sincerely appreciate candour and the clarification you present. I concede that my indication that you mocked and dismissed the Type A intellectual and Spencer ridiculed and exposed the Type B intellectual adds some coloration to an otherwise fair article. I take that back even though the tweets in question were sardonic. However, there are some things I never ever suggested or indicated in the article. Firstly, the article was not in any way directed at the duration of tenure or nature of your job. If you have served Nigeria well then why not continue, if you can? This is the sacrifice Good Bureaucrats make for their country when they serve. Taking a pay cut is one of them – giving more than one benefits. It is a choice. Secondly, I am not naïve enough to believe that someone who has attained high office could not earn more or have a good life after leaving the position. My emphasis was clearly on the honesty of the source.
I have observed that many “public intellectuals”, the world over, learn on the job without having had an education that trained them for the vocation, they fumble along till they get it right – some become competent and many do not. What would you say about musicians who never went to music school; or politicians who never read politics, government, law or economics at university; or business people who never even went to school at all? This is where my generosity towards such people emanates from. Nigeria is a ‘hustle country’, after all.
To be most honest, I do not know the answer to the two questions I ask in the article and I make no predictions. What I do know is that you are unquestionably a man of considerable ability and there is nothing wrong whatsoever with serving one’s country.
I meant to say that “I do NOT intend to seek a renewal of tenure.”