Modupe Adekunle: The Comrade Head of Service
BREAKING Barriers: A Autobiography (Diamond Communications Network, Abeokuta; 2015) is the title of the autobiography of Mrs. Modupe Abibat Adekunle who retired from the Ogun State civil service on September 30, 2015, upon her completion of the statutory 35 years in service.
This book has been published to put on record, the highlights of her experience as a career public servant, and also to tell the story of her life as she attains the age of 60 on November 11, 2015. It is essentially a civil servant’s narrative: completely shorn of politics, polite, appreciative, stays within the limits of obligations, not giving any state secrets away, not violating any rules and regulations, and full of lessons. It is a book that all categories of readers will find useful and instructive, be they parents, young persons seeking a life of meaning, civil servants, public administrators, labour unionists, or the general reader.
Mrs. Adekunle takes us through a linear, chronological account of her life in nine chapters, but at first blush, the title of her story attracts special interest, and perhaps deserves a little interrogation. Breaking Barriers, says the cover page of the book, with Mrs. Adekunle’s photo, a broad smile on her lips, on a background of pink colour. For those familiar with the art of suggestion, the cover of the book is a teaser, an invitation to curiosity. In a society where despite the many advancements that have been made by Nigerian women in all walks of life, gender inequity remains a problem and the objectification of women an abiding social nuisance, when a woman says she has broken barriers, and smiles triumphantly, the tendency is to assume that she has broken through the proverbial glass ceiling and that her story is one of triumph against gender discrimination. But this is not one of such womanist or feminist books. The barriers of Mrs. Adekunle’s personal world are of a different kind.
Nowhere in her narrative does she give any impression or tell any story about having been discriminated against on account of being a woman. On the contrary, her world is peopled by appreciative parents and brothers, a supportive husband whose story she tells with the relish of a young lady meeting her Prince Charming, colleagues with whom she enjoyed excellent work relations, doting in-laws, and life-long friends. The day she was born, November 11, 1955, her father, S.M. Duze, was so excited he ran out of the hospital with joy. He already had five boys. He wanted a daughter. When she arrived, he couldn’t contain his joy. That affection we are told, “remained throughout his life time.”
As a labour leader, she presided over the longest workers’ strike in Ogun State: her account of the 31-day strike that brought the Ogun State Government to its knees is worth reading for the insights she offers into unionism, negotiations, collective bargaining, the challenges of leadership, the importance of communication, and the attitude of the followership in an industrial strike situation. Her revelation that the support of workers is crucial even when as a labour leader you are defending their cause is noteworthy, for there could be situations whereby the workers themselves could sabotage the strike. So, she writes: “This happened so many times till we realized during one of the strikes that nearly everyone was back at work and the union leaders were the only ones not at work… the followers weren’t following”.
Her days of frontline unionism came to an end with her appointment as a Permanent Secretary in January 2010. On December 21, 2011, she was appointed Head of Service. In these senior positions and as the foremost civil servant in the state, Mrs. Adekunle’s report of her tenure further indicates a commitment to workers’ welfare, and ensuring that bureaucracy is brought in line with the development objectives of the administration to ensure effectiveness, efficiency and a people-oriented management system at all levels.
She remained on duty till her last working day, and in looking back, she says: “I retired as a much fulfilled woman” (p. 124). The testimonials reproduced in the book show clearly that she was highly regarded for her contributions. Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the Governor of Ogun State says she is a “quintessential civil servant” and adds: “Looking back, I testify that Mrs Adekunle discharged the duties of her office with dedication and uncommon loyalty.
She worked so hard and well that she naturally emerged as the Head of Service. She has etched her name in the annals of the history of our dear state. In decision making, once she is convinced on the right and proper course, in the larger interest of her constituency, the Civil Service, she stood by her convictions and was never afraid to take a position, even if such position appears to be unpopular in the short term.” Elder Adekunle Anwo further testifies that “those who were privileged to work with Mrs. Adekunle will readily recall that she was a team player, a strategic thinker, a socialite, a visionary and courageous leader of immense intellect, very innovative, painstaking, proactive and creative.”
So, where are the barriers, then? As stated earlier, there is no indication in this book, of Mrs. Adekunle ever being discriminated against in the course of her career, on the grounds of her being a woman, if there was any such incident at all, she didn’t consider it material enough to write about it, but she was a victim of political victimization on account of her involvement in union activities. For about ten years, she was passed over during promotion exercises and her juniors were promoted over and above her. She reports that “during most of our standoffs and negotiations which were usually with the State Government, I was in the forefront and very visible”. Her reward for this in another instance was her being posted to an office that had no toilet facility and she had to go to other offices to use their toilets. A toilet could not be provided for her office because “this was not covered under the budget”. In the end, she triumphed.
Another barrier that is worth underlining, was the protracted battle she had to fight against political leaders, with no public service experience who insisted on violating “Public Service Rules”, and would rather treat civil servants shabbily including the example of a certain Governor who, had he been allowed, could have brought “someone from the motor park to become a Permanent Secretary”. Mrs. Adekunle insisted on the rules and stood her ground under such circumstances. What she fails to add perhaps is that sycophantic, anything-Oga-wants, civil servants are the very ones who often misguide such political bosses.
This is a book about service and leadership. It is also invariably about people, family and parenthood. Mrs. Adekunle writes about her childhood, growing up years, her own family and children, her husband’s family and about friends and colleagues. She comes across as an all-round fulfilled woman at 60. Whatever travails she may have encountered, she does not write with any trace of bitterness, and although she says she, unlike her husband, likes to extract a pound of flesh from adversaries, she does not do so in this book. It is a calm narrative, full of humour, a sprinkling of childhood-era folktales as told by her parents and brothers (these days, parents no longer tell their children stories, DSTV, computer games and nannies have replaced parents), all richly illustrated with photographs of significant moments in her life, from Enugu where she was born to Abeokuta where she is now at 60, wife, grandmother, and retired Comrade Head of Service.
Perhaps, the book could have been further enriched if Mrs. Adekunle had attempted an assessment of the civil service as it is today and offered suggestions as to how it can be further reformed and strengthened. For, let’s face it, the civil service in Nigeria is still in dire need of reform and innovation. But she has restricted herself to telling her own story so that others may learn from it. “I have personally told my story”, she tells us, “not for the fun of it but in anticipation that you will be able to grab something from it. After evaluating my life, the barriers and the successes, I have come to the conclusion that there is no challenge in life that is insurmountable, including health and financial challenges….” This is quite true. Different categories of readers have a lot to learn from Mrs. Adekunle’s story. Breaking Barriers deserves the attention of the reading public.