There had been nothing like it before and there has been nothing like that after it. The object of reference here is the inaugural session of the Damina School in 1997 which had in attendance the cream de la cream of Nigerian academia: Yahaya Hashim who was then the Director; Jibrin Ibrahim who was serving as the intellectual coordinator; Rotimi Suberu from the University of Ibadan; Ogban-Ogban Iyang from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Sam Egwu from the University of Jos; Attahiru Jega from Bayero University, Kano; Asis Asobie from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Akin Oyebode from the University of Lagos; Jimi Adesina from the University of Ibadan; Ibrahim Muazzam from Bayero University, Kano; Dr. Amina Mamman and whoever one might not remember immediately.
These egg heads were there to panel beat about 30 laureates conceptually and methodologically. And the program was named The Damina School, what one can call a Nigerian variant of the Summer School as run across Europe. The certificates they issue have doubtful status in the knowledge industry but some of the better organised summer schools are as rich as a Masters Degree program. The inaugural session of the Damina School organised by the then newly established Centre for Research and Documentation, (CRD) in Kano was nothing less than that.
This background was the basis of the element of sadness when the immediate past Director of CRD took the podium at the recent memorial for Prof Bjorn Beckman by his colleagues, friends and critics in Abuja Nigeria. The sadness arises from an obvious crisis of fortune, not necessarily of the CRD but certainly of its Damina School. If it were still holding as regularly as it was originally planned, there is no way it would have been all quiet on that score.
Unless it is proved incorrect to say the summer school hasn’t been holding regularly, that is another basis for sadness, considering the spread of its laureates. Dr. Ebenezer Obadare, the US based critical Pentecostal scholar is a Laurete. Prof Remi Aiyede of the University of Ibadan and a strong member of the generation taking over leadership of political science in Nigeria has been there. Prof Aisha Ismail of Bayero University, Kano is another. Prof Wale Adebanwi, the first black scholar to occupy the Rhodes Chair, Oxford University is not left out. This is not to take this listing of its lauretes to NGOs, politics, media and so on.
The listing provides a solid evidence that it was succeeding in the task of supplementing the universities in terms of equipping selected rising members of the intelligentsia with the capacity to frame the issues, the capacity without which the intelligentsia’s capacity to play the change agent will be a pipe dream. The 1997 version was simply fantastic in terms of the issue in focus and the diversity of resource persons brought in. The theme for overview is the controversial Theory of Political Development without which Political Science is not Political Science in Africa and much of what used to be called the ‘Third World’ before the European Union, for instance, outlawed the concept of ‘Third World’ in conformity with their own normative gaze on international politics. Unlike now when ‘fishing’ is a constraint, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim did a wonderful job of situating it. Those who took good notes of what he was saying then will find it more interesting, scholarly and meaningful reading such notes today. Every other resource person offered something interesting which are more meaningful today than they must have been to a largely Marxist, activist rather than scholarly minded beneficiaries. The debates on the ideological essence of the theory of political development, on identity, on the intellectual agenda of the authors of the canonical texts in that realm, etc will be no less refreshing to those who reflect on them now, although so much have happened to scholarship in that space too that would have to be taken on board now.
Thirdly, the death or temporary cessation of the Damina School is a bad tribute to the assemblage that put it together, particularly to Prof Beckman and Prof Raufu Mustapha, two of the crew who put together the idea. It was the reason Prof Ismaila Zango, the former Director of CRD came along with Dr. Ahmed Mohammed, the incumbent Director, to speak at Beckman’s memorial. In other words, CRD and the Damina School signify the tradition of great strivings and public spiritedness of yester years in contrast to the selfishness and myopia that has taken over the society today.
The national spread of the facility was a statement in itself, a very good reason why it should have been rising rather than falling.
Lastly, it was a bold, unique defence of the mandate of knowledge in a most relevant manner. By assembling the very best of resource persons under one roof, the collective behind both the CRD in general and the Damina School in particular were ensuring that those who would not go outside Nigeria for further education missed almost nothing.
There are numerous other reasons why it should not have faded. After 1997, it continued for quite sometimes, up to 2011 or something like that. Nigeria must be a very interesting society that such a program could cease or die and nobody appears to be up in arms that it must not fall. Of course, it is possible someone has asked and tried to do something.
So, what is to be done? Many of the brains behind it are still around and might even have started doing something. Things are much easier nowadays than the mid 1990s when CRD materialized. In the mid 1990s, talking of a national component of funding was out of the question. Today, it is not that strange even as majority of the key movers of philanthropy in Nigeria are still not too conscious of the power/knowledge nexus and the imperative of funding knowledge production. But that, too, is changing.
A knowledge production axis is emerging in Kano that could transform into a formation that other regions of Nigeria can learn from: BUK; Mambayya House; CRD, CITAD and where else? The Kano-Zaria axis still has a number of resource persons that can be relied upon to keep such a formation functional.
In South Africa and, perhaps,soon in Oxford, it is right and proper for Rhodes to fall but not Damina School in Nigeria. Damina School must not fall! By the way, why don’t Nigerian universities run Summer schools?