The descent of evil itself on Nigeria is such that a birthday as understood by ordinary standard of reasoning is out of it. Of course, staff and students of Veritas University, Abuja have been sending solidarity messages to Prof Mike Kwanashie, for example, at his current birthday, it is a subdued thing. In any case, Kwanashie is beyond any single campus anymore, more so that his present birthday resonates inter-textually with similar birthdays going on simultaneously across the country. Most notable in this regard would be that of Prof Toye Olorode and Eddie Madunagu. The threesome are basically in the same category, whether one decides to understand them collectively as subscribers to radical transformation of Nigeria or whether one chooses to understand them collectively as academics.
That makes it a great thing to see that Prof Kwanashie is still actively involved in academia at Veritas University, Abuja. Even at 80, Prof Olorode would still have been actively involved now but for the inscrutability of the Nigerian educational system. He has the physical energy, the mental completeness and every other thing that counts as far as teaching at the university level is concerned. The system is the loser when he or his types are excluded. In the light of the complications of knowledge delivery today, anyone at all would be happier if his daughter or son or relation were to be a student under any of these names. Today, the world is resistant to reading long stuff, preferring images, graphics and ‘executive summary’ or power point presentations. Technological mediation of knowledge transfer has added its own problems to the turn and everything is further compounded by a confounding knowledge transfer egalitarianism that could be potentially dangerous. All these converging at a time when ontological and epistemological issues are least settled has made members of that generation nearly indispensable wherever they can be found. One may be wrong but this would seem to be the basis of a Vice-Chancellor declaring recently that no one could take away one of such older academic that he had managed to attract to his university.
That was the Vice-Chancellor of Veritas University, Abuja saying what we should be hearing nearly every other Vice-Chancellor saying in the context of the crisis of quality observable in the system. For, the truth is that mediocrity, over-bearing ignorance, quackry and sycophancy are big problems in the system in spite of the huge stock of stars in the system. The stars have been overwhelmed and, in the meantime, there does not exist any solutions outside of the infusion of members of the departing generation who simply had better orientation than what is going on. We can see the difference throughout Nigeria where the right persons are in charge as Heads of Department, for instance. These are the few places we do not see the conflation of the role and responsibility of the teacher with the role of a preacher or the moralist. A lecturer is a lecturer because s/he is not any of the above. The diffuse nature of reality may make this statement to look problematic but there is something called the mandate of knowledge which underlines the knowledge transfer process. The mandate of knowledge does not support the quick draws, the disjointed empiricism, (this expression again), the rising disciplinary parochialism and the cut and paste or unschooled reasoning that dominates the space today.
Could this be the unstated reason for the gale of celebration of the members of the departing generation mentioned earlier? We have mentioned the quiet celebration of Prof Mike Kwanashie. Later this week, Toye Olorode at 80 will be the subject of a Public Lecture to be delivered by Barrister Femi Falana. Prof Attahiru Jega will preside over the lecture itself. In May, it will continue with a celebration of Eddie Madunagu at 75.
It would not be wrong to argue that it is the socialists staging a comeback in Nigerian politics at last. After all, the socialists predicted the current hellish existence in Nigeria defined by class, ethnic, religious and regional enemy images, violence and news of bloodshed all over and deep fragmentation of the elite. They did in the barbarism that Claude Ake, in particular, argues would be the reality if Africa did not go the way of socialism. Barbarism can hardly be better typified by what is going on, from Borno to the Northcentral, then Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, then back to the Northcentral and so on.
The paradox has been the absence of the socialists as a collective actor when the barbarism started unfolding. Neither by way of voice nor organizationally has that constituency been a loud actor when compared to the socio-cultural organisations that have seized the discursive space with their own regimes of truth. In the absence of the collective socialist voice, the frame game has been essentialist monologues, the very condition for deepening barbarism as have occurred in Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and many other African countries.
That absence, therefore, went against the grains of the expectation that if they predicted it, then they alone might have the best understanding of how to unpack and unmake the mess. So, the temptation to wonder if the socialists are not staging a return to praxis at last with the gale of celebration of iconic voices in socialist politics in Nigeria cannot be dismissed.
So also would it not be totally out of sync to argue that the silent and politically loud birthdays are also statements on the lasting impacts and desire for more of that generation as far as the university system is concerned. Nigerian academics of today who were students in the 1980s and even up to the mid 1990s under the departing icons being celebrated now would, if they are honest, confess being confused about certain things encountered in the system today. This is because it would be impossible to think that an Asisi Asobie at UNN, an Idowu Awopetu or a Toye Olorode, all at Ife or an Attahiru Jega in BUK or a Festus Iyayi at UNIBEN or any of the Kwanashies in Zaria would themselves understand some of the new forces, traditions and conducts that are struggling to become the new normal.
Emphasizing the educational component is not to de-emphasise the ideological-political component of the celebrations, silent and loud. Although, shifting the discussion that way immediately confronts the difficulty of locating where the unfolding culture of celebration of heroes might be coming from, there seems to be a soul searching exercise no one calls by that name. What would appear most important is how it is coinciding with the barbarism that they predicted if the socialist alternative were not taken. To the extent that socialism is how socialism is talked about, the gale has significance in relation to a return to struggle or the desire to, irrespective of whether the camp can mount a challenge to the forces in control of the political space today, begin to seriously contemplate that alternative, again.
This goes against the unwritten rule of not praising or condemning any Vice-Chancellors until s/he is done with his tenure but it looks justified to argue this. It must be in recognition of the educational significance of these birthdays that it may be important to, at the risk of institutional parochialism, single out and amplify one recent trait from Veritas University, Abuja. It is the trait of going all out to attract big names in academia. Doing so falls under qualitative rather than quantitative achievement. As far as a university is all about academia, there are no higher accomplishments than attracting big names. And this is why.
In Dependency Theory, the biggest name or about the biggest name is Ander Gunder Frank, the author of the holy book of dependency – The Development of Underdevelopment. The testimony of his students, however, is that Frank was such a ponderous lecturer and a problem for some students. But, let us imagine that he were still alive and one smart Nigerian university were able to lure him here, would that university not be where everyone seeking to study Sociology of Development seek to go for graduate studies? Would that university not be where even foreign students seek admission just to be taught by Frank and possibly supervised by him? That’s how it works!
Therefore, even as unhappy as Nigeria, let us nevertheless and very briefly, say Happy birthday to those who have earned it in more ways than one!