Nigerian civil servants’ personal memoirs

Cover AkindeleAmong the books collected during the ASCL library’s acquisition trip of last year to Nigeria are some (auto)biographical documents about working in the Nigerian civil service. Two of them are Memoirs of mixed blessings (2009) and Living the dream (2015). What is it like to be a civil servant in Nigeria?

An uncertain environment

‘Memoirs of mixed blessings’ is the very readable autobiography of Theophilus Oluwole Akindele, an executive engineer who made it to Director-General of Post- and Telecommunications. At the age of 86 Akindele recounts the events of his working life, drawing a picture not only of the civil service, but also of the political and economic circumstances at the time (though only briefly addressing the Nigerian-Biafran War). After tensions with the upcoming army man Brigadier Murtala Mohammed, Akindele is sent on compulsory leave in November 1974, ‘reeling with shock and disbelief’ about ‘the power play, the greed and the self-interest that seemed to have won the day’ (p. 235). He is, however, asked to return by the government of General Gowon already in February 1975, as it turns out only to be sacked a few months later, when Murtala overthrows Gowon in a military coup. Without particularly stressing this, Akindele makes it clear that occupying an influential position in the Nigerian civil service comes with serious difficulties. His moral and religious reflections are well-balanced by the account of the challenges he has faced.

Nothing new under the skyCover living the dream

‘Living the dream’ (2015) by Tajudeen O. Aremu is a very different piece of work. Not claiming to write his life’s biography, Aremu, by the time of his retirement Head of Service in Oyo State (Western Nigeria), focusses not so much on issues of content, but rather on some social and relational aspects of being a civil servant (including home relations). It is his aim to give a comical account by which the serving officer will be ‘assured that there is no new thing under the sky, as whatever is happening now has happened before’, while the newcomer can draw lessons for ‘survival’ and the achievement of a successful career. One thing that Aremu – perhaps involuntarily but all the more clearly – communicates is that the Nigerian civil service is a man’s world. There being nothing new under the sky does not actually seem particularly reassuring …

Other works

Other works on the Nigerian civil service acquired during the 2016 acquisition trip to Nigeria include The art of selfless service: a biographical account of the public service career of Mr. Akinwunmi D. Ambode (2014) and We served our generation: perspectives and reflections on Western Nigeria civil service (2013). An earlier biographical work on a senior civil servant (Head of Service and Secretary to the Federal Government until 1977) is Allison Akene Ayida: Nigeria’s quintessential public servant (2004).

Heleen Smits