By Adagbo Onoja
Though not a prayer warrior myself, I am so unsuccessful in resisting the temptation to conclude along with my former examiner that this is the fulfillment of God’s assurance that, if our ways are right, He has the power to restore the decades of decay or the decades that the cankerworms were at their destructive best. In this case, the decades that I have unsuccessfully tried studying for a PhD in Nigeria. It has been a case of so many of us dancing on one spot for so long due to a combination of factors – systemic, institutional and agentian. Now, the University of St. Andrews in the UK has offered me unconditional admission to study for a PhD.
It would not be my first time in the UK university system although I am told by almost everyone I have asked that a PhD can be such an involving entanglement. Asked to describe what it could be like, one of my former teachers at the University of Warwick said it is something one only gets to understand after experiencing it.
So, I have no illusions. I only have my own original fallback. It is in the response of the student whose teacher was warning him about his situation, comparing the situation to being in a really hot Okro soup. According to Prof Attahiru Jega who once told this story, the student, to his teacher’s surprise, responded by saying, “I will lick it”. Similarly, I would say I know I am entering very hot Okro soup in this endeavor. The Okro soup will be an extraordinarily hot one this time because PhD is, by popular reckoning, a tough academic entanglement and a funding nightmare. But my response is that I will lick it on all counts.
Though starting with a funding disadvantage because of my mismanagement of deadlines, I still believe in indeterminacy. And the strategy of “seek and you shall find”. That is what the Bible says anyway. And, as Bongos Ikwue, my musician kinsman, puts it, there is no doubt that the Bible must be right. I will knock on ALL doors that I can, especially those with shared responsibility for funding knowledge production. No amount would be considered too small because this is an apt case of the end justifying the means. After all, knowledge must be socially deployed.
My only little worry is what the folks back home might be thinking. Their feeling is bound to knock at my being whether I acknowledge it or not. I doubt that this is the news they have been waiting for because there’s a tendency to think that everyone else is waiting for political appointment in Nigeria. My guess is that they would have been happier if the news is the announcement of my appointment as some government official which is generally perceived to embody an immediate trickle-down effect. I assure the folks back home that they will even gain more from the direction I am heading. My physical absence from ‘home’ for a few years will not amount to forgetting that I was born in that hamlet where the people still drink water from a pond. And where what serves as the community primary school is simply nothing to write home about.
Broadly, the time when all hands must be on deck to rebuild a devastated country such as Nigeria now is perhaps not the right time for a journalist, academic and activist rolled into one to take off. But the challenge of rebuilding Nigeria is not a territorial challenge. It is rather one of re-imagining and articulation, which needs men and women with the training and capacity to provide the radical democratic terms by which that process in Nigeria will be fought for, won and consolidated. Doing this by taking a PhD in a discipline in which this university is always ranked in one of the top three in the UK is something that I consider very strategic for the society.
Specifically, I see the University of St Andrews as THE prelude to the second phase of what I want to do about the university system in Nigeria. I have been on the first phase of that since September 2017 at Veritas University, Abuja. It is the idea of turning out students who can defend their grounds in global terms in the courses in which they were fortunate/unfortunate to pass through my hands in their First degree program. I am not thinking of graduates good in ideological critique, great as that may be. I am thinking of graduates whose finishing in such courses reflect my own relative advantage in terms of access to literature and contacts as to be able to impress on them that knowledge is all about taking a position and defending it by bringing all sides to any issue in their analysis. That is what I would call the legacy of the University of Warwick training if I have to sum it up. Of course, I also attended the University College London but which has a different legacy for its products.
So, when I come back, (God will see me back very safely), the second phase will begin. The first phase has not been as successful as I would have liked but, even then, for the rest of my life, there will be former students to whose successes (and, well, failures too) I would have contributed something, acknowledged or not. That remains an enduring source of joy.
There are already a large number of persons to be grateful to for coming this far on the University of St. Andrews project and the past few years indeed. Just that it is still not time to express gratitude. Doing so now will amount to conducting a postmortem in the middle of a campaign. There will be the appropriate time to express gratitude to all who understand the discursive conditions of emergence of all realities, including the individual. As for those who can only explain reality or the evolution of the individual, I can only wish that providence will grant them the privilege of a Pauline type conversion from explanation to understanding of how reality works. For now, it is still morning yet on creation Day!