From Abuja where a think tank’s platform which interrogated the distinction between Procedural and Substantive Democracy degenerated into an analytics war early February to Bayero University, Kano where the beleaguered North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, (NATO) was the subject of a public lecture last week, the slowly reviving debate culture in Nigeria is returning to Veritas University, Abuja next Monday when a National Conference on “Governance, Separatist Agitations and the Survival of the Nigerian State” opens on the campus. It is a return to Veritas University in the sense that its Centre for Peace and Development, (CEPAD) had called a national conversation last November in the same Abuja. This time, it is the university’s Department of Political Science that is calling the conversation which is coinciding with the release last week of the rather interesting article “Can the Nation State Survive?” It was written by Sir Mark Lyall Grant, introduced by Chatham House which published the piece as British Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2009-2015 and then National Security Adviser from 2015-2017.
Grant posed again the question he said he always put to his American colleagues while he was at the UN: would the United States remain what it is now in another 100 years ahead. He was always told by his American counterparts that it is bound to remain what it is now in territorial terms. But his poser is how such could be the case for a nation that has changed shape 13 times in its 241 years of existence. The point he seeks to make is, however, not about whether the US would remain or change shape in future but the reflection that “all nations are at a crossroads” because the idea of the nation state the world is used to is not immunized against rupture.
But while Grant’s sense of the threats to the nation state are new challenges such as international regionalism, localism, transnational corporations, the internet, religion and migration, (surprisingly, he didn’t mention the global civil society and its politics of ‘the multitude’), Veritas University’s Department of Political Science is, understandably, fixing its gaze on the Nigerian State and asking the question of how governance might disable or enhance it in the context of the threatening variable of separatist agitations. In other words, both Grant and the egg heads at Veritas are thinking ahead about the survival of the state and statism.
Like the Abuja war on Democracy or the Bayero University, Kano lecture on NATO, Veritas University’s conference is featuring leading voices in scholarship in contemporary Nigeria. Apart from Prof Mike Kwanashie, the Vice-Chancellor of the university who would be playing the Chief Host along with Professor Okon Eminue, the Head of the Department of Political Science, there will be Prof Sam Egwu, the University of Jos Political Scientist. Although Prof Egwu has temporarily stepped aside from academia to the service of the Nigerian State, he is the last known National President of the Nigerian Political Science Association, (NPSA) and, therefore, has pedigree. In fact, his appearance as the keynote speaker raises expectations of a major analytical pronouncement not only on the theme of the conference but on the role of the discipline at a very confusing moment in Nigerian history. Not only has the role of Political Science been a subject of debate among Nigerian academics, it has even become more urgent in the light of recent brickbats on the self-awareness of the discipline vis-à-vis the African condition. The audience at the opening ceremony would also be listening to Dr Patrick Ukase from Kogi State University, Lokoja, who would be delivering the lead paper.
Although the conference has been in the planning room for some time now, it is taking place at a time some of the issues attracting academic searchlights have become issues in conflict. As such, there are certain conference papers that might end up generating a lot of intellectual fireworks around them as the conference unfolds. The factors which makes a paper to become controversial are too varied to even speculate but, in the present context, all eyes are bound to be on the papers such as “Good Governance and the Survival of the Nigerian State”; “Democratization and Challenges to Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria, 1999-2018”; “Beyond Political Hysteria: Theoretical Analysis of Rebellion and Separatist Agitations in Nigeria”; “Neo-Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Agitations in Contemporary Nigeria”; “Contentious Issues in Restructuring the Nigerian Federal System”; “The Rohingya Muslim Crisis in Myanmar: Between ‘Clash of Civilisation’, Human Rights and Islamophobia”.
Others are “Corruption and Sustainable Development”; “Poverty and Migration in Nigeria”; “The Place of Private Security Companies in Curbing Electoral Violence in Nigeria”; “Management of Community Conflict in Southern Kaduna: The Role of the Police”; “Conflict and Food Security in the Benue Valley”; “Neo- Biafra Separatist Agitations and the Nigerian State” and “Zoning and the Presidential Aspirations of Ethnic Minorities of Northern Nigeria”
It is a mark of the changing academic climate in Nigeria that, throughout the two full days of intellectual cross-fire, no paper presenter is bringing in class analysis nor dealing with grand theoretical issues, with the possible exception of Prof Tar and Sunday Adejo’s joint paper looking at the Rohingya minority Muslim Crisis in Myanmar from the competing broad lenses of ‘Clash of Civilisation’, Human Rightism and Islamophobia. It speaks to the decline in grand theorising globally.
At the earlier conference on Peace and Development last November, senior citizens, Bishops, political leaders and other participants wondered what would happen to the discussions at the conference, whether they would get to see any impacts of the ideas there on public policy. The same might still come up next Monday’s opening ceremony. There has been no word yet on that in the conference details released by Dr. Philip Vande, the conference anchorman.