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Scholarship and public intellectual in a post-colonial state – Part 2

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Gordini Gabriel Darah

Continued from last week.

Having been a scholar and an activist at the Obafemi Awolowo University where he led the Academic Staff Union of Universities, he moved to The Guardian where he became the chairman of the Editorial Board in the hey days of military dictatorship in Nigeria; days when one got punished for publishing anything that ‘embarrassed’ the government even if it was true.

After the military yielded ground to democratic forces, he returned in 2001, to the factory for scholarship, this time, Delta State University, Abraka to continue researching, teaching and mentoring as a Professor of Oral Literature alongside advocacy for resource control on behalf of his long neglected Niger Delta people.

He was to be called up to become Chief of Staff, Government House, Asaba during the tenure of Chief James Onanefe Ibori as Executive Governor of Delta State after which he returned to his duties in the University alongside advocacy in Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF).

As a man who has not only been a scholar but has also been on the two sides of the divide of the public intellectual – the state and civil society- Professor G.G. Darah is eminently qualified to tell the difference.

It is our prayer that God grants him good health, long life, and above all the commitment of the intellectual to document for posterity his experiences and thereby enhance our understanding of what happens to the intellectual when he goes public on either side.

Does he remain an intellectual even in Government House or does he become an intellect worker?

We now turn to the concept of the post colonial state. Of all three concepts, it has received the most scholarly attention and controversy.

Like its parent concept, the state, it has generated so much controversy over its features, functions and implications.

In western liberal political thought, the state is a necessity, a moral good, an all-inclusive association to which all men and groups within a defined territory must belong and within which only they can ever hope to attain the good life.

It stands above all other groups and imbued with power to mediate conflict among men and groups.

This view of the state is however, challenged by Marx and Engels who argue that the state is an evil, tolerable only in its socialist form but should wither away once communism is attained.

Engels argued that there were societies without states and that states came with private property which in turn led to the division of society into classes.

Consequently, the capitalist state cannot be a neutral umpire in the conflicts among men and groups because: “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

The controversies are even deeper over the post colonial state.

They begin with whether they can even be referred to as states at all in the first place going by the definition of the liberal state such as has been provided by Max Weber as “ a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

20 Why? The answer is to be found in the circumstances of their birth and nurture in European economic interests and colonialism.

How? The states were created through violence, their territories and boundaries were arbitrarily demarcated and people from different communities were forced into them and ruled under colonialism for varying number of years before their structures and institutions were handed over intact as post colonial states.

What are the consequences? Crises and contradictions! The post colonial state from day one was enmeshed in legitimacy, territorial and identity crises among others and could not lay claim to monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force over the “mere geographical expression” 21called its territory.

At once, the post colonial state was illegitimate, violent and irrelevant to the needs of the people as it had been structured to continue in the service of its ‘creator’.

The struggle for the political control and by implication of the economic resources on the departure of the colonial masters have continued to generate more crises and conflict, resulting in civil wars, militancy and insurgency in several post colonial states in Africa.

Such crises have often been intensified by external influences and global economic crises at different periods.

They have been further compounded by a number of social and natural problems like corruption, draught, desertification, flooding and diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS.

All of the above have contributed adjectives that help to define or qualify the post colonial state especially in Africa.

They include the “illegitimate state,” “irrelevant state,” “predatory state,” “warlord state,” “rogue state,” “weak state,” “shadow state,” “disorder state,” “collapsed state,” “failed state,”22 etc.

The post colonial state has also come to embody several paradoxes and contradictions including such as are expressed by “poverty in the midst of plenty,” “weak but strong”

In all, the picture of what we mean by the post colonial state in this lecture is best presented in the list of some thirteen characteristics most recently outlined by Otunnu some of which are as follows:

1. It is a recent creation of European expansionist political violence and lacked strong roots in civil society;

2. There is no distinction between the regime, the ruling party and the political incumbent, and the state is a vehicle for the benefit and self interests of the political incumbent and his domestic and international allies;

3. It dominates society;

4. the regime has been captured by one person or one group, with the systematic exclusion of a section of the population.

Run through patronage and clientilism;

5. It is a major source of insecurity; 6. heavy reliance on violence by the regime;

7. lacks nationhood and is predatory;

8. It is a supplier of low-priced raw material and purchaser of high priced manufactured goods;

9. It lacks hegemony;

10. More often than not, the political incumbents do not assume power as a result of winning free and fair elections;

11. Dependent on other states and international organizations for economic, military, medical and political assistance;

12. Major state institutions including the military and judiciary are controlled by those in power and serve their interests;

13. In such a state, “the political incumbents generate and sustain instability and disorder as a political instrument, in order to maximize the predatory plunder of national resources, some of which may be used to purchase legitimacy from a segment of the population.”

What we need to add to the 13 characteristics above to complete our working definition of a post colonial state is that its ruling class is reactionary and its ideology, to quote Paul Baran again is infused with heavy doses of “anti-intellectualism, irrationalism and superstition.”

It is inimical to scholarship and promotes mediocrity.

Scholarship, the Public Intellectual and the Post colonial State: Concluding Remarks

Boundless opportunities are provided for scholarship and the public intellectual in a post colonial state.

The plethora of environmental, technological, health, social, economic and political problems in all post colonial states particularly in Africa make the production and distribution of sound, reliable and liberating knowledge or scholarship imperative.

More importantly, they require not only sound scholars, but committed intellectuals who will need to bring their learning to the public arena where they can be turned into practical solutions.

At one time or the other, willingly or unwillingly, a number of scholars have been compelled to form study groups, social, economic, and political fora or summits where ideas are generated, position papers prepared, and on the bases of which recommendations, demands and advice to relevant authorities have been made.

However, as the late Professor F.M.A. Ukoli, pioneer Vice- Chancellor of our great Delta State University said, what “invariably happens,” is that “there is a lot of intrigue and jostling for position within these bodies.

Many people use them as stepping stones for greater things – appointments to ministerial and commissioners posts, chairmanship and membership of boards etc., and once those goals are attained, it is ‘goodbye committee’.”

During the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida in Nigeria, the desire for political appointments by scholars reached its peak with the emergence of what we may call, “scholars and intellectuals of fortune,” people who threw all the values we had identified in this lecture as markers of a scholar and scholarship overboard and were prepared to continue in the “kitchen cabinets” of military political leaders and be referred to as “yeye Professor” by the barely lettered wives of their bosses

There is no doubt that the post colonial state has not provided an enabling environment for scholarship to thrive.

This is one of the many paradoxes of the post colonial state. There has been a phenomenal increase in the number, varieties and spread of universities and research institutes or what we had called factories for scholarship.

But as with every other enterprise in several post colonial states, they have not been effective and efficient in carrying out their mandates due to a number of structural, social, political and economic constraints including underfunding.

What, for example, with a university faculty building in 21st century Nigeria that has electric power supplied to it as a rule for only two hours a day, 8am – 10am, and sometime not at all!

Not to talk of the poor internet connectivity.

If a scholar in such a university even gets a research grant (which normally would not include the cost of buying a generating set) you may not expect too much from him or her.

The result is obviously as Professor Ayandele has captured it:

In spite of the higher degrees, research publications, not a single political thinker has emerged from the ranks of the academic elite…they exhibit total ideological barrenness….

On the whole, it is clear that no revolutionary group with ideologies has emerged among the educated elite in Nigeria; that the students and staff of universities have been, essentially, bread and butter agitators, rather than fathers of ideologies to which they would be exemplarily and passionately committed.

Neither is there much room for the intellectual in the public arena in a post colonial state save in the limited and highly risky space allowed for activism in civil society.

One or two illustrations may be appropriate here.

The office of Vice- Chancellor of a federal or state university is one which one may say is reserved for scholars and intellectuals in a post colonial state like Nigeria.

It is therefore one position in which the desire to tell the truth and courage, two of the attributes of the intellectual should be on display. But what do we hear?

Some Vice- Chancellors are made to sign for amounts of money two or three times more than is actually released to them by state and federal authorities.

What do they do? They collect whatever is released to them and go on state or national television to eulogize the authorities for supporting their institutions with monies they never received.

The same applies to heads of other higher institutions and research centres.

The few who would refuse to do such things are either not appointed at all or if already appointed are shown the way out for mediocrities waiting in the wings.

That the post colonial state is not the place for intellectualism has been very well captured by the observations of the Lagos- based Dutch journalist, Femke van Zeiji in 2013 which we take liberty to quote extensively:

I used to think corruption was Nigeria’s biggest problem, but I’m starting to doubt that.

Every time I probe into one of the many issues this nation is encountering, at the core I find the same phenomenon: the widespread celebration of mediocrity.

Unrebuked underachievement seems to be the rule in all facets of society.

A governor building a single road during his entire tenure is revered like the next Messiah; an averagely talented author who writes a colourless book gets sponsored to represent Nigerian literature overseas; and a young woman with no secretarial skills to speak of gets promoted to the oga’s office faster than any of the properly trained colleagues “Nigeria is the opposite of a meritocracy….

You get to be who and where you are by knowing the right people….Performing well, let alone with excellence, is not a requirement.

In fact, it is discouraged. It will be too threatening showing you are more intelligent, capable or more competent than the oga at the top (who, as a rule, is not an over-achiever either) is career suicide….

It is safer to cuddle up comfortably in shared mediocrity than to question it….Add to this the taboo of criticizing anyone senior or higher up and it explains why so many join in the admiration of the emperor’s new clothes.

Yet, in spite of the unfavorable conditions of the post colonial state to scholarship and intellectualism or what in our local environment, Professor F.M.A. Ukoli chronicled as the “Abraka debacle,” we must not give up.

It is indeed true that under the prevailing social, economic and political conditions such as prevail in Nigeria today as an a example of the post colonial state, it becomes “more difficult for the intellectual to withstand the social pressures brought upon him, to avoid surrendering to the ruling ideology and succumbing to the intellect workers’ comfortable and lucrative conformity,” we must continue in the pursuit of truth courageously.

It is under such conditions that scholars and intellectuals are to prove their mettle. As Paul Baran puts it:

Under such conditions it becomes a matter of supreme importance and urgency to insist on the function and to stress the commitment of the intellectual.

For it is under such conditions that it falls to his lot, both as a responsibility and as a privilege, to save from extinction the tradition of humanism, reason, and progress that constitutes our most valuable inheritance from the entire history of mankind.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are in a post colonial state bedeviled with several problems.

This has opened unto us who have had the privilege of higher education, a great and effectual door for scholarship and intellectual engagement with the state and society.

But there are adversaries. The choice is ours either to be intellect workers or embrace the commitment of the intellectual.

I should like to leave you with the assignment to interrogate yourself as to who you are.

Are you a scholar, intellect worker, or an intellectual?

Thank you.

Dr. Ehwarieme, a Social Science scholar, teaches in the Department of Political Science at the Delta State University, Abraka.


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