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A roundtable on global media discourse: Contextualising Adamu

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The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Olufemi Peters, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, other principal officers here present, ladies and gentlemen.

First of all, I want, on behalf of colleagues, to express our collective appreciation to the Director of the Centre of Excellence in Migration and Global Studies (CEMGS), Prof. Ibikunle Tijani, for initiating this Round Table in honour of both the former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, for a successful tenure and the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Olufemi A. Peters, for his appointment as the Head of this great University.

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I am not too sure what the Director means by the sub-title, “Contextualising Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu”, but it appears to suggest an academic evaluation of the scholarly worth of the former VC, in relation to his research in media and communication, one of his areas of specialisation. That, I want to say from the onset, is beyond any of us here. I do not believe that we are in a position to assess the scope and depth of the Professor’s scholarly contribution.

Let me confess that as soon as I was introduced to Professor Adamu, some five years ago, when he assumed office, I sought information, online, on his academic profile. Lo and behold! What I saw was amazing! Or, to put it differently, I was humbled by the Professor’s gigantic academic profile.

Professor Adamu’s intimidating profile matches his rich intellectual endowment. I had told the Professor once or twice, in private – and I hope I can say it again, publicly, without incurring his anger – that what he lacks in physical height has been more than compensated for by his huge intellectual endowment. For anybody who has interacted with Professor Adamu, there can be no doubt that he is abundantly blessed with native intelligence which he has successfully cultivated to stand out intellectually taller than many of us. Call him a small intellectual giant, if you may!

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The academic portrait of Professor Adamu, which I paint here is not different from what most staff of the National Open University of Nigeria have experienced. There are very few men as intellectually alert as Professor Adamu. Take him up on virtually any subject matter and he is capable of rising to the occasion: he would talk science like a trained scientist, discuss music with the professionalism of a musicologist; Professor Adamu would competently engage an artist on arts and culture; he is capable of entangling legal nuances with lawyers, and challenging philosophers on any issue of conceptual analysis. However, I should sound a note of caution for those who may be tempted to confuse intellectual versatility with academic prowess.

While I can say, with certainty, that Professor Adamu has the former in abundance, I cannot make any such pronouncement on the latter until I have read most or all of his works. And, I have not done so. Indeed, much of what I have to say was gleaned from my series of interaction with him, including meetings during the process that led to the establishment of the new Department of Philosophy in this University. I was curious about his comments on Philosophy and Philosophers and what they do until I found out that, as a matter of fact, he had been internationally exposed to Philosophy and, indeed, taught a course on the Philosophy of Science/Education. On one such interaction with Professor Adamu, I had to bring a friend, a retired musician, Dele Olowu, who heard Professor Adamu wrap on a radio programme. Adamu and Olowu discussed music, from ancient to modern, national to international, and I listened to both of them, utterly mesmerised!

For the period Professor Adamu was here as VC, interactions between him and I were almost limited to academic discussions, especially as I was never involved in the administrative aspects of the University. Those involved in the administration would, I am sure, have a lot to say about the Professor’s love for the Yoruba phrase, “kosi owo”. For me, l had ample opportunities for discussing scholarship with the man. And, as it turned out, Professor Adamu has accomplished so much as scholar but would say very little or nothing about his achievements. Some may commend this as modesty, against the biblical injunction that we should not light a candle and put it under the bushel. While it may be true that the tiger does not have to proclaim his tigritude, Nigerian scholars need to cast their minds back to the controversy that raged in 1986 between the loyalists of Professor Wole Soyinka and those of Professor Chinua Achebe, concerning the role of the popular “Western media” in influencing the decision of who was more qualified for that year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. I am not suggesting that the scholar should take his works to the popular platform; only that in reality the platform does have tremendous influence. The question is: Would it be ethically wrong for Professor Adamu to use the popular media – of which he has become a member – in informing the public about his scholarly works? The negative consequences of his not doing so, nor using any other channel of communication for the same purpose, now has the effect of producing an obscure Abdalla Adamu, hiding his academic treasures at home in Kano.

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Another important point to make about Professor Adamu is that he is a profoundly radical scholar. Of course, he could not have been otherwise, for a man with two titles of a professorship in such distinct areas as Science Education and Curriculum Studies, and Media and Cultural Communication. Although the Professor holds on to the two titles, he appears to lean more on the media side than on the side of science education. For that alone, he is a radical scholar! Yet, scholarship, as Professor Adamu himself knows, is an extremely conservative enterprise, which hardly admits of deviance or radicalism. The plain truth is that scholars of a radical mindset find it difficult to gain either recognition or acceptability by the mainstream academic community. That is what makes the terrain extremely difficult for scholars of Adamu’s mould who, very often, suffer in obscurity while their accomplishments are discovered, only when they have departed far from the scene. In spite, however, of these obstacles, Professor Adamu is still able to cope and prop up his head in this hostile academic environment. And, he does so only by virtue of his natural intelligence.

Historically, the evolution of academic disciplines has been following a recognized pattern in which some academic disciplines enjoyed a higher rating than others. From the beginning, and through the Industrial Revolution, the natural sciences, technology or applied disciplines have always enjoyed higher preferences than the literary disciplines. The natural sciences, pure and applied, receive greater funding and enjoy other privileges not accessible to the social sciences and the humanities. And, even among the social sciences and humanities, the more practically useful ones such as economics, mathematics, law and business studies have always stood on a higher pecking order than subjects such as classical studies, literature, arts, and philosophy. These were the academic values and preferences imported into Nigeria by the colonial masters.

The colonial educational systems imported into Nigeria were stereotypes of the educational institutions that existed in Europe and the Western World. Thus, the University of Ibadan and its counterparts in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Uganda were the exact implants of the University of London, with conservative disciplines such as Medicine, Agriculture, the Natural Sciences, Classical Studies and European Languages, to the exclusion of Programmes of indigenous African contents such as traditional religions, cultures and local languages. Also excluded from the programmes of the imported Universities in colonial Africa were disciplines such as Business Administration, Accountancy, Journalism, etc., that were already trending in the United States of America, and disciplines such as Philosophy and Law that were suspected to have radicalizing influence on the local populations.

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Of particular relevance to our discussion of Professor Adamu is journalism. It is worth noting that until 1961, when the American-type University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with the influence of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, pioneered the teaching of journalism, the course did not exist in any Nigerian University, primarily because it was not recognized as an academic discipline. The University of Lagos followed Nsukka in 1967; Ahmadu Bello University established the Department of Mass Communication in 1992, and at Bayero University, Kano, Programmes in Media and communication studies started more recently. And, up to date, the University of Ibadan does not teach journalism, certainly not anything that goes by that name or mass media! The nearest Ibadan has is the Department of Communication and Language Arts, based in the conservative Faculty of Arts, where I was once Dean. Ibadan may have its excesses, but every University has the right to set its own standards and draw its academic boundaries.

The point to emphasize is that journalism, whether traditional or digital, is new to the league of scholarship. And in virtually all academic institutions, a new discipline hardly attracts the same level of respectability as old and established ones. That is the first leg of Professor Adamu’s predicament. It is only the Professor who can say if, indeed, his colleagues in the more conventional disciples, truly accord his academic achievements their deserved credit.

The second leg of Professor Adamu’s predicament is tied to the adage that “a prophet is not without honour save in his own country”, meaning that no matter the authentic scholarly worth of the Professor’s efforts at analysing popular culture and oral tradition in the context of the Hausa society, film and drama, his ideas would forever be perceived, even by the illiterate and those totally ignorant of his work, as commonplace and mundane, if not ordinary.

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More important, there a great deal of merit in the argument that when a scholar’s area of research is exclusively restricted by the peculiarities of language and culture – as in Professor Adamu’s rather esoteric research in Hausa Drama, Media and Communication – participation tends to be exclusive so much so that confidence in the academic quality of such works wobbles. Indeed, the belief is that a large number of academics hide their research incompetence in the pretext of interest in peculiar local circumstances, languages and cultures. In saying this, we must tread with caution because Professor Adamu’s approach is not only comparative but also transnational, even when the specific emphasis on the local materials of Muslim Popular Culture, as depicted in Hausa films, music and the performing arts. Anyway, the good thing for the Professor is that in true scholarship, there can never be a final verdict.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Sir, I do not think that this presentation will be complete without my saying that Professor Adamu is a very compassionate human being.

Congratulations, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, as you return fully to the academic world, after a successful tenure as Vice-Chancellor.

Sogolo, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja.

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