By Adagbo Onoja
A well-known Nigerian Left activist not seen for hours is a matter for concern. In this case, it was for days. To that extent, the story about Dr Dipo Fashina missing in the course of a trip between Europe/Middle East/North Africa was a perfect generator of suspense and tension.
That it turned out to be a positive alarm must be one such good news for the Left, for academia and for Nigeria for a long time. Everyone wished Prof Claude Ake survived the plane crash which killed him decades ago when planes were falling from the sky like hell. It never happened. And so many other such stories, some of it not directly about any particular person(s) or group of actors in the turbulent past 40 years of Nigeria.
It would have been too great a loss. Dr Dipo Fashina is, till this moment, generally regarded as one of the best classroom teachers Nigeria has ever produced. Although this claim does not rest on any such categorisation by an established authority to that effect, the point is that the university system is an entangled system where everything else is connected to everything else. That tight intermeshing means that it is possible for a commonsensical ranking of university teachers in the system to circulate and sediment.
Secondly and even more importantly, Fashina has been moving from one campus to another setting up new departments of Philosophy across Nigeria. In the age in which knowledge is where the battle for control of the world is being fought, it is only in Nigeria that a University of California trained Philosopher who does this will not get the highest national honour and his name spread across the country as the ultimate signifier of the possibility of goodness, or is it altruism? It might not have happened because Nigeria is a prisoner of reductionist binarism. The Federal Government or the sort of people who make suggestions/compile names of potential awardees must have been operating from the position that Fashina, as an ASUU warlord, must be on the other sider of reasonableness or a troublemaker. Locked in that imaginaire, they are unable to ‘see’ even when the ‘trouble maker’ is offering something distinctive to the nation. There can be nothing more distinctive that one individual, almost unpaid, setting up a department of Philosophy in over four different universities under or around a decade. Do we know what is going on in Philosophy as a discipline around the world today? It remains the powerhouse of knowledge, unchallenged and unchallengeable.
While the peopling of the Federal Government of Nigeria in relation to a national honour to people like Fashina might mean that there is a crisis of radius of knowing in that action, the ever power shy Nigerian Left is also to blame. What would have been wrong in a Left insistence on a national recognition for a Fashina? That is what other contending interests are doing: accessing the government on their own terms. And that is what is politics as different from the political. Without making this distinction, the Left has been Left behind to operate more or less as an ensemble of self-isolated puritans and moralists. Power is what counts even in the struggle for a new social order.
See how the Left would have been left with unproductive condolences and weeping if the story had turned out that Fashina had fallen into a terrible fate. Now that such has not been the case, could the Nigerian Left use this as a trigger to rethink.
An unexamined life is not worth it, insists the old adage. Recently, Barrister Femi Falana made a list which formed the subject of a piece by Bola Bolawale. Looking through the list, one could not avoid the temptation to conclude that if the struggle in Nigeria can still find a reworked founding document, then it must be that submission. Although Bolawale’s piece does not contain all the items Falana listed in the said submission (which Intervention did not see), even the dozen or so listed by Bolawale are enough to serve as a mobilization document for the kind of action that can send a radical democratic message to Nigeria at this point. It can be brewed into a text that will be self-selling to a vast number of people in the bureaucracy, diplomacy, business and politics about how rogue the Nigerian system is. In the early 1990s when the Campaign for Democracy (CD) was leading Nigerians to challenge authoritarian, it was not any ineffectual working class movement. It was a broad based movement with several super perm-secs of old/technocrats, politicians, middle class professionals and even businessmen. That’s the momentum that two factors have impoverished to this moment.
One is the fractionalisation that June 12 created within the left. The second is the poverty of ideology. Marx and Marxism constitute the most remarkable piece of radical insights on the nature of modernity. There’s hardly any debate about that. However, new defining texts have equally entered the struggle for remaking of the world. Quijano and Mignolo, for instance, have got the world stirring by declaring the coloniality of modernity. That statement in addition to the epistemological baggage of positivism (of which Marxism is product of, notwithstanding it’s emancipatory halo) have problematised Marxism forever. Marxism is still influential but its reworking has been extensive, much, much more than Lenin, Gramsci and Mao added.
It is not everyone who has the time or facilities to function at this level of abstraction in the politics of the struggle. This is the problem that someone like Biodun Jeyifo, more than anyone else, should have solved for the Nigerian Left by breaking down or domesticating the key texts that are underpinning radical successes particularly in Latin America in the post-Cold War. BJ is not only in cultural theory, he is also in the circuit where the influence of some of these new texts and frames of intelligibility of the world confronting degraded identities like Africa are part of the intellectual and cultural reflections as well as the politics of the everyday.
Tragically he has been keener in writing stuff that he knows that even many of the members of his audience lack the capacity for the semiotic operation that will make them appreciate them for the struggle. It is difficult to know why. Whatever is the reason, it is time to send a radical democratic message to the Nigerian system. The Left or whatever is left of it is still the only force that can and should send such a message. It is clear that, without such a message, danger will intensify.
In other that President Tinubu, Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Kwankwaso do not think that such a message is targeted at them, the Falana submission needs to be background in a language that can stir. I may be wrong but I don’t see a better background than Chapter Two of the Constitution. And the work will begin, from the National Assembly to party headquarters to CAN, JNI, the professional associations and what have we. It is not regime change or constitutional amendment, any of which could happen but a campaign insisting on democratic reform.
The problem with Nigeria is not that the bourgeoisie is in power. It is that a set of power elite that is so perfunctory about governance has seized control of the machinery of rule. Right there in Abuja a week ago, a rainfall of less than three hours triggered a flood at an elite estate which killed unknown number of human beings. And the country didn’t even notice that anything happened. The country has no idea how many were killed and it is not going to investigate, much less hold anybody to account. A Left movement without a Secretariat and a position on such manifestations of state incompetence or whose position is not the one that will make a supposed Igbos – Yoruba fight over Lagos, etc is obviously in a state of disarray or still on a journey of self-discovery.
As for the citizens, they will troop to prayer houses to report the flood to God and sing and clap in supplication for the repose of the souls of the dead, the number of which it also doesn’t know. Just this example because of its currency and you get a brilliant illustration of what the most populous concentration of blacks in the world are in.