Prof Abu Ali, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria academic who was the subject of a recent snap in Intervention is back in the news. This time, it is the news of him serving as the keynote speaker for the 2022 Annual Conference dedicated to Oyin Ogunba, a one-time president of the Literary Society of Nigeria, (LSN).
The theme of the conference from the flyer sent to Intervention is 21st Century English and Literary Studies: Trends and Dynamics”. This theme departs considerably from recent similar conferences, calls for papers, Festschrifts and ‘essays in honour’ of this or that personage, 95% of them looking back rather than imagining and attempting to colonise the future.
The annual ritual of the Department of English at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife is scheduled for second week of March 2022. The significance is that the conference gives an Abu Ali an opportunity to unfold. Such is exactly how it should be, not the crude constructivism of rural publications that closes the unfolding of emerging professors even before they have advanced to be recognised for putting any research agenda on the table.
Prof Abu Ali’s unfolding at this time is important because one of his areas of specialisation – popular culture – has just emerged as a definitive site of struggle for democracy and emancipation. Any scholar in that realm, from Literature to International Relations to Geopolitics down to Critical Security Studies therefore embodies potentials for putting something substantial on the table, given the role of popular culture in the making of the subsisting great powers – the US and China.
For Prof Abu Ali who must have been a graduate student in the mid-1980s to have made a dash for popular culture puts him and any other academic who made such a move as a potential to watch. This is because popular culture was the unlikely choice at that time, having been dismissed in terms of anything radical by the Frankfurt scholars whose views were still influential across much of academia then.
This is the imperative of frowning at attempts to ruralize the Abu Alis around the campuses in Nigeria by publication minded academics inventing heroes all over the place and risking the cheapening of standards. When they are challenged, they call their challengers purveyors of ‘bad belle’.
It could be bad belle just as it could be good belle. The point is that ABU, Zaria is not a yesterday university. As a member of the first generation universities in Nigeria, it must operate above a certain level even as low as things might have degenerated.