It would not be a terrible thing to say that no such text has come out in recent times. At 10, 143 words in length, it is a massive narrative which would look too long for a popular site such as Intervention but which brings into a very sharp relief the intellectual space of yesteryears as seen by Dr Yusuf Bangura, the Switzerland based Sierra Leonean political economist who also lectured at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in the years under reference. The review is titled “Epic battles in radical development theory, field research and praxis: A celebration of Björn Beckman (1938-2019)”.
It is the story of an era but built around the key figure of the Swedish academic, Bjorn Beckman who died last November. It captures the intellectual agenda of those years, the ideological orientations behind the battles which circumscribed them and the viciousness of politics even in academia, both in Nigeria and elsewhere. It is a story of the politics of identity and difference or the manipulation of them in a particular context.
Presented as someone whose Marxism was so solid and above sloganeering, the review captures the many clashes that the late Prof Bjorn Beckman’s intellectual orientation against the leading framework in the 1980s led him into, again, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Beckman’s own orientation as a political economist made him uncomfortable with the Underdevelopment and Dependency narrative of capitalism. He contested that sort of theorising and made ‘enemies’ of its adherents. That explains his emergence as a central figure in academic politics and the clash of Marxisms between him and those he criticised. In other words, his standpoint differed on the nature and pattern of capitalist development taking place especially across Africa; the relationship that exists between the spaces of capitalism particularly the foreign and the local; what the nature of the ruling class(es) is; the potentials of the groups resisting imperialism and the direction unfolding.
Naturally, the portion of the review that deals with the battles as they unfolded at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria would certainly be most appealing to the Nigerian consumers of what could turn out an explosive review – former students of the old Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, (FASS); the scholars of that era who are still there in Zaria as well as those who have left but are still keen on such developments; the fractions of the power elite in the North and across Nigeria, students of some of the leading scholars such as the equally late Claude Ake with whom Beckman also clashed and so on and so forth.
It is a review that offers something for everyone, not necessarily something ‘positive’ as some people got what they would regard as harsh verdict. To that extent, it will not be surprising if it is “Beckman is dead, long live Beckman” in that this review could make him, (Beckman and even Bangura) the subject of another round of debate across Nigeria in particular where he lived and worked for about a decade and concentrated upon in a lot of his academics and activism. A reply to Bangura would have been taken for granted in the eighties. In 2019, the mood is generally low. Writing is dangerous and unprofitable, most likely to be read out of enemy images especially when some of the main actors have gone to meet their ancestors. So, it will not be surprising if there is no rejoinder to Bangura. The times have changed.
But the greater tragedy of the review is that it will not strike the intellectual consciousness of the average social science students across Nigeria today who are dealing with knowledge production reflecting their own age. It is not clear if there is a name for the trend of today but it certainly has almost no bearing to the trend that Bangura brought out in terms of tendencies and tension within, around and beyond Marxism in the 1980s.
For those who either benefited from university education in that era in Nigeria or had good education from somewhere else and can appreciate the resume, it is a great update which did not just map the years gone by but also the gaps that require more attention, in purely intellectual terms and in purely academic terms, as much as any of those terms can be purely.
Such a huge intellectual effort is not likely to have been written for anything less than an academic publication. If it is, however, confirmed that a popular site can publish, then Intervention may have to serialise for the record and for the benefit of ABU, Zaria ex-students who are not in the orbit in which the powerful review has been circulated but who would certainly enjoy the flashback.