The first part of this special feature was devoted to demonstrating the contention that but for the developmental tragedy that has befallen Nigeria, her founding fathers planned the first, second and third generation universities to be world class universities. The argument is that there is nothing much beyond the quality of teachers when you want to assess a university or a university system. And that when one looks at the caliber of academics that dominated the space in the first, second and third generation universities with particular reference to which universities they came from, which universities they joined after leaving Nigeria, the scholarly agenda they set before, during and after their sojourn in the Nigerian university system as well as the diversity of their national origin, one could not but agree that those who set up these earlier universities had their eyes in the sky and that it is those who followed them who deliberately made the university idea in Nigeria a joke. A survey of the academics in the case of the first three universities x-rayed in the first part of this piece – the University of Jos, Bayero University, Kano and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, aka UNN corroborated this claim.
In the case of the UNN, the university was in a position to host the 1973 Conference of the Nigerian Economic Society, (NES). That was where both bourgeois and radical economists in Nigeria agreed that state intervention in the economy is a necessity for a country such as Nigeria. Beyond the consensus is the fact that the debate that preceded it was kicked off by Professor Kodlinye, Vice-Chancellor of the university who was probably not an economist or even a social scientist but had such a scholarly grip on the issue. It is not surprising that everyone else followed his footstep. And yet, that was barely three years after the Nigerian Civil War. By the mid 1970s, the UNN could boast of stars such as Chinua Achebe, Emmanuel Obiechina, Donatus Nwoga, Michael Echeuro, among others in its Literature Department, just to cite an instance. Of course, Prof Humphrey Nwosu succeeded Prof Eme Awa as Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, (NEC), all from the university. That’s the concluding note on the UNN.
The University of Ibadan does not need to detain us. Perhaps, proving the world class-ness of the only Nigerian university to have produced a Nobel laureate and a Chinua Achebe does not even arise. What poststructuralism has brought into the study of the social world is such that it is even now that the full force of what the twosome were saying would begin to unfold. It is now that the intuition that fired Achebe’s works as replies to Conrad’s Cartesianism would find more powerful appreciation on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. The UI training in Literature that produced the binoculars with which Achebe, for one, detected in Conrad a visualization agenda has conclusively established Ibadan’s world class status although this is not to say higher heights shouldn’t have followed. Similarly, Soyinka’s zeroing in on the post colonial elite and their political blindness is probably the best evidence for the claim that Literature flashed the warning signals on the African crisis much, much earlier than all other disciplines, especially the hard core social sciences and their infatuation with facts and figures.
But, beyond bevy of literary stars establishing it as centre of global excellence is also its pool of heavies in the Kenneth Dikes, Takena Tamunos, Bolanle Awe, Obaro Ikimes, Saburi Biobaku, Billy Dudley, Peter Ekeh, Essiem Ndom, Daniel Offiong, Onigu Otite, Tam David West among many others too numerous to recall immediately. Not only did each of these egg heads attend some of the most reputable universities in the world, they broke records one way or another. The ones in History in the above list were the ringleaders of a successful coup in Historiography. Peter Ekeh from Political Science authored the thesis of the two publics which he should revisit for the age of transparency and accountability campaigning.
It must be one of the contradictions of Nigerian politics that succession at the University of Ibadan doesn’t make the headlines while people kill to become governor or Senator. But, the University of Ibadan is certainly more established than many state governments in Nigeria today. Even if we start its story from the early eighties, we can still prove its world class status in terms of caliber of academics. The late Prof Bade Onimode would be a perfect referent in this regard any day, given the way he emerged a top African political economist, working with Engineer Ben Turok, the South African revolutionary who later became a parliamentarian. In London on a monthly basis, giving lectures and seeing to the content of the Journal of African Marxists in the eighties was a no mean achievement, that being the period the first generation of scholars who put Ibadan on the global intellectual map were taking their exit due to age, retirement or in going into government.
In spite of the much talked about distress that has greeted the university system, UI has basically managed to maintain that tradition. If we take Political Science, for example, the university had the generation signified by the Alex Gboyegas, Bayo Adekanyes and J.A.Ayoades to show in the 1980s. Now, that has been succeeded by the reigning generation: Eghosa Osaghaes, OBC Nwolises, Adigun Agbajes, the generation that would be handing over to another one in incubation now under a decade or so hence. Ibadan is where tradition has been most resistant to decay, to the point that NUC Executive Secretary recently exonerated it from the crisis of mission believed to be afflicting Postgraduate schools in the system. Away then from Ibadan!
If Ibadan was where Historians peculiarly enacted a methodological coup, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was where Historians translated the coup into practice after adding value to it. Zaria did not only endorse the Ibadan revolt in Historiography, it expanded the scope of the coup by defining anti-imperialism as the fulcrum of the subject itself. In other words, Zaria came up with a School of History that gave the Ibadan revolt a praxis angle. An Ibadan Professor of Political Science once remarked how unfortunate it is that the politics of knowledge in ABU, Zaria preceded the home video industry in Nigeria. He meant it would have been very interesting if that industry had captured and preserved what played out on the campus from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s.
Reflecting the class, ethnic and anti-imperialist tension in the North historically, radicalism in ABU, Zaria permeated every faculty, institutes and spaces. While student activism was the definitive theatre, scholarship was the most intense space where variants of radical consciousness contested each other. In the end, Zaria became an ideological battleground: bourgeois versus radical scholarship broadly as in the debate between Bala Usman and Sam Oyovbaire; radicals of one hue versus another as in the debate between Bala Usman and Yusuf Bangura and even the one between Bala Usman and Sule Bello, with qualifiers though.
Critical to the contest of ideas that defined ABU, Zaria was an array of academics from diverse academic institutions and backgrounds across the world, different intellectual traditions and ideological orientations. A comprehensive list is neither desirable nor necessary but a quick listing would most likely produce something like this: Kola Ogungbesan, Mbulelo Zamani and later the generation symbolized by the Tanimu Abubakars, Yakubu Nasidis, Jenks Okworis. Those were from English Department. There were Abdullahi Smith, M.M Tukur, Enoch Oyedele, Bala Usman, Gloria Emeagwali, all in History. Political Science contributed A.D Yahaya, whose study of class configuration in the North is the origin of the journalese called Kaduna Mafia today, although most journalists have never read the thesis which has been published into a book since; Ibrahim Gambari who attended Columbia University in New York; Okello Oculi who went to Makerere, Exeter, Stanford and Wisconsin; Sam Oyovbaire who went to the University of Manchester; Oga Ajene and Tony Edo who went to American universities, Ayo Dunmoye who went to Toronto; Bjorn Beckman, the Swedish political economist who made many important clarifications on the subject; Yusuf Bangura who obtained his PhD from the London School of Economics, (LSE) and a younger set produced by a programme of Nigerianisation of the Department: the late Raufu Mustapha, (Oxford); Jibrin Ibrahim, (Bordeaux); Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, (Paris) and Bala Jibrin, (Tokyo). Economics had the likes of Mike Kwanashie who came out with a First Class from ABU, Zaria before going to an American and a Canadian university for his graduate studies and Bright Ekuerhare who authored the memorable paper, “Recent Pattern of Accumulation in the Nigerian Economy” in 1984. From Sociology came Ibrahim Tahir, Cambridge educated but who left for politics, becoming an NPN ideologue. He ran a long ‘Cold War’ with Patrick Wilmot, the Yale educated Jamaican deported by the Babangida regime as part of the campaign against “lecturers teaching what they were not paid to teach”, whatever that could mean. It was from here that Norman Perchnock, regarded as an excellent Sociologist, migrated to the University of Jos.
Zaria listing has gone beyond taking just a sample of names because it was an involving battleground in which everyone had either a theoretical, methodological, ideological or political score to settle with someone else. For instance, the late Dr. Mahmud Tukur wrote a full fledged critique of Gloria Emeagwali’s reading list on the Third year course unit: History of Industrialisation, saying Gloria’s reading list was not ideologically balanced. These multiple score-settling business produced several useful debates Nigeria would do well to return to. Who knows if it is not the absence of such debates across the universities that might even be the origin of the belief that the universities are not what they used to be? The debate between Bala Usman and Sam Oyovbaire on “The Responsibilities of Political and Other Sciences” became a university wide debate as Eme Awa from the UNN, Adebayo Olukoshi, a First Class product from ABU, Zaria then working at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA), amongst others, joined. That made the debate to run for long. Why are there no such hair raising debates in the universities anymore? It cannot be that Nigeria has resolved all the contentious issues of nation and state making around which the debates revolved.
In fact, it would not be too far from the truth to suggest that ABU, Zaria became a victim of its success. It could be argued that the enemy images invoked in the numerous disputations that had developed in and around the campus were what played out, producing the moment that followed. That moment was defined by allegations of vindictiveness as dogs began to bite dogs. That did not make headlines but the Nigerian establishment was keenly watching it and planned profiting from what must have been very strange but interesting to it. The establishment was looking for how to bring down the universities, ABU provided it the opening because it was the source of the most alarming sort of analyses to which the Northern elements at the centre were bound to be sensitive. Some participants in the ABU drama would argue today how otherwise radical student body suddenly became religious warriors as for conflicts among them to become largely inter-religious rather than anti-imperialism. Conclusion: those conflicts between Christians and Muslims on the campus from the mid 1980s were engineered as special operations, not ‘natural’ encounters. Coupled with the exchange rate complications brought about by SAP, it was a matter of time before academics started leaving back to their countries or to universities outside Nigeria and to universities outside the North. In no time, ABU was down in terms of what might be regarded as the days when ABU was ABU.
Proving the key contention driving this report in the case of the University of Lagos only needs to mention its own share of academic stars, starting with the spectacle called Ayodele Awojobi who went on to add a law degree to his feats in engineering scholarship. The University of Lagos was a paradox. It had no unifying self-narrative or practice as UI or ABU, Zaria. That is to say that, unlike Zaria, for instance, it did not present itself as a radical university or a conservative one. But its scholars wrote texts that were referential in radical scholarship. One is referring to texts such as Wogu Ananaba or Dafe Otobo’s which gave texts produced outside the country a run for scholarly solidity as far as labour studies across the campuses was concerned. These texts were to become exceptionally useful in the study of resistance politics in the aftermath of SAP and, many years later, the Occupy Movement. Of course, UNILAG as it is popularly known was ever a theatre of radical nationalism by students but, again, this was not as frightening to the establishment as the actions coming out of ABU, Zaria which were believed to be solely informed by Marxism.
Aside from those already mentioned, there were notable scholars such as Edwin Madunagu in Mathematics but who did not return to UNILAG after the brush with authorities in the 1970s. Instead, he relocated to the University of Calabar. There were such names as Akachi Ezeigbo in Literature and Sophie Oluwole, Laz Ekwueme C. S Momoh in Philosophy. Momoh, for example, had a brief spat with the late Dele Giwa about who can talk more authoritatively on an issue area in journalism between the two. Giwa challenged his authority to pontificate on the matter which one cannot recall immediately now. His reply is that if a philosopher had nothing to say on the matter, who else might. The matter ended there. UNLAG paraded heaviest names in Mass Communication, not Political Science or History as in Zaria or Ibadan: Fred Omu, Frank Ugboaja, Alfred Opubor, Ralph Akinfeleye. Each of these either attended a big name university outside the country or had published a key text or were engaged with one international agency dealing with a key issue in Mass Communication or the other as in Fred Omu’s membership of the MacBride Commission that wrote UNESCO’s remarkable text, Many Voices, One World.
At this point, there has to be a part 3 of this report, contrary to the original plan that it would be in two parts!