Some academics are up to a book to be called Abu Ali @ 60. It is an objectionable project from the beginning to the end. Intervention’s advice to the masterminds is to look for something more imaginative to write about, using Prof Abu Ali to illustrate such a theme.
This is not about freedom of inquiry or about whether Abu Ali is a brilliant professor or not. No. Rather, it is about how the Festschrift or book in honour of this or that academic is the way academics are cheapening knowledge production in Nigeria today. It is all about lowering the gaze, notwithstanding Prof Abu Ali’s brilliance and interesting specialization in popular culture. In fact, at the rate Nigeria is going, there will soon be too many Festschrifts on the shelf, none adding any boundary changing stuff to any of the disciplines. Not only are many of them clumsy and crowded, they speak to no center of intellectual gravity.
It is a curious development that some academics might want to produce a book of essays in honour of Prof Abu Ali where no such book exists in honour of Prof Tanimu Abubakar, Abu Ali’s senior and teacher and the doyen. What sense of sequence would this be speaking to?
Second, is there no other way of academically bringing to the fore the uniqueness of Abu Ali’s choice of specialization in popular culture? Certainly, there must be. It is up to Abu Ali’s students who are experimenting with documenting him to explore such plausible options.
It must be about time to point out that all such efforts must be informed by the imperative of raising the bar, not reinforcing degeneracy and circulation of monotony that has been the trend of late.
There are some people for whom a book of essays serves the best purpose. When Prof Nicholas Amechi Akwanya was due to retire from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka not long ago, some of his students got together and decided on a Festschrift. They went beyond Literature which is Akwanya’s specialization to solicit materials in response to the requirement of inclusivity. Beyond being the force behind Okike, one of Achebe’s publishing legacy, Akwanya is also a Catholic priest with an uncommon depth in eschatological matters. A Festschrift is a perfect goodbye to the Trinity College, Dublin PhD holder.
When Prof Mahmud Modibbo Tukur suddenly died in 1988, the ABU, Zaria based Bala Mohammed Memorial Committee, (BMMC) decided to select some of his essays and publish them in a book form, with a critical introduction. That is the book we now call The Essential Mahmud. All the elements fitted perfectly. So, how come young Turks who are supposed to be opening new research grounds as recent professors are becoming the subject of essays in their honour?
While a Prof Isawa Elaigwu, a Bolaji Akinyemi and an Adele Junaid, if we must mention names, could be all time subjects of Festschrift in their age and standing today, there are people who have yet to exhaust their intellectual craziness and from whom we have, therefore, still not heard the last yet. Again, if we are to mention, the names in this category would stretch from Bayero University, Kano’s Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano; University of Ibadan’s Sola Olorunyomi and University of Abuja’s current VC. Even scholars such as Prof Adigun Agbaje, Eghosa Osaghae, Jibrin Ibrahim, Okey Ibeanu or Sam Egwu in the case of Political Science might not be appropriate subjects of Festschrift yet as no one may know what theoretical or conceptual explosion they might still be scrutinizing within their scholarly gaze. It must be admitted though that a book of essays in someone’s honour is not necessarily about temporality.
But, in this case, it will not be surprising if Prof Abu Ali himself was surprised to be approached as a subject of essays in his honour. Like governors and ministers, senior academics can also be hostage to pressure bearers! But this form of knowledge production is just becoming too numerous to be worth anything anymore in Nigeria today!