Let me start this piece with boring you with some personal details and fragments of my autobiography. They will help to contextualize the drift of the article.
When I entered the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1980, as a young teenager fresh from secondary school, part of my expectations was to learn enough of jaw-breaking words – the type that Achebe called the ‘English that filled the mouth. Professor Okwudiba Nnoli, who taught ‘Introduction to Political Science’ (‘Pol Science 101) insisted that everyone in the class must buy, read, summarize these three books – Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Okwudiba Nnoli’s Ethnic Politics in Nigeria.
It was amazing how books could completely overhaul and mould the minds of impressionable young adults. We were repeatedly warned to be wary of ‘bourgeois scholars’ and their works because they were the intellectual representatives of the propertied class whose ideas, however disguised, were just meant to perpetuate the status quo. The ‘good’ Nigerian scholars with the ‘right consciousness’ and who employed the right ‘analytical categories’ were the likes of Claude Ake, Ikenna Nzimiro, Bade Onimode, Bala Usman, Okwudiba Nnoli and Comrade Ola Oni. Former INEC chairman Professor Humphrey Nwosu was among the lecturers in the department that we barely tolerated. By the time we completed the first two semesters, almost the entire class had become a bunch of unruly radicals and there were complaints from the ‘bourgeois scholars’ in the department that Nnoli had completely ‘corrupted the minds of these youngsters’.
One day one of the lecturers that we barely tolerated came to teach about colonialism. After listing what he called the ‘evils of colonialism’, he wrote on the board, ‘The benefits of Colonialism’, hoping to discuss the other side of the coin, even if they were unintended. He had hardly completed writing the sentence when one of us screamed in disgust, ‘What?’ Suddenly hissings and sighing filled the class room and by the time you could say ‘Jack Robins’, we had packed our bags and left the classroom, abandoning the teacher to teach the ‘benefits of colonialism’ to himself. For weeks we refused to attend the man’s class until the Head of Department intervened. How could, we argued among ourselves, any educated person talk about the ‘benefits of colonialism’?
Fast forward to London, late 2002. I met the Ethiopian scholar, Mammo Muchie, who now holds concurrent professorial chair in Denmark, Oxford and South Africa. Both Mammo and I were regular contributors to the influential New African, monthly magazine. Its editor, the Ghanaian Baffour Ankomah, had brought us together when he learnt I was planning to set up a publishing company.
Mammo and I met at a time when Afro-pessimism was pervasive. Thabo Mbeki, had just popularized the notion of ‘African Renaissance’, first articulated by Cheikh Anta Diop in his collection of essays, Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development, 1946-1960. The British press had derided the notion of ‘African Renaissance’, with some mockingly asking ‘when did Africa ever have its naissance?’ Mammo and I agreed that we should use the new publishing company, Adonis & Abbey Publishers (www.adonis-abbey.com), to soldier for Africa. We agreed that the fundamental problem in Africa was the failure of the nation-building in various African countries and the lack of unity among Africans. Mammo’s book, the second I published, was aptly titled ‘The Making of the Africa-Nation: Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance. In June 2004 I set up a semi-academic, bi-monthly journal called African Renaissance, where we often brought leading African scholars – Ali Mazrui, Kwesi Prah, Helmi Sharawy, Gamal Nkrumah (Kwame Nkrumah’s son), Mammo Muchie, Bankie Forster Bankie, Kimani Nehusi, Marcel Kitissou and others to robustly discuss the African condition and reply the Afro-pessimists. Goaded by the relative success of the journal, we decided to dabble into academic journal publishing to enable African academics set their own research agenda and combat the high mortality rate of journals published by Africans. African Renaissance, a quarterly which I still edit, is today one of the longest surviving social science journals published by any African. Adonis & Abbey Publishers on their own have published or incubated more peer-reviewed and indexed journals than probably any African publisher.
Fast forward again to 17 May 2013. I am billed to attend ‘the scramble for Africa conference, hosted by the Africa Institute of South Africa, Pretoria (May 20-21 2013) and after that to give two other public lectures in Durban and Pietermaritzburg hosted by the University of Kwazulu. As I flew to catch a connecting flight from Lagos to Johannesburg, I was secretly praying that I would miss my flight. Is something happening to the fire of pan-Africanism that had for long been aflame in my soul?
In Pretoria, on a guided tour of the city’s museums and historical sites, I whispered a question to some African conferees: ‘We are all Africans and no one is listening. Among ourselves, do you really think that without Apartheid, South Africa would have been a country that works?’ This was a ‘family affair’, so we told one another what we believed was the truth. Later in the evening, I whispered another question to three other Nigerian participants over dinner: ‘If a plebiscite were to be organized in Nigeria over the question, “would you want Nigeria to be re-colonized”, how do you think our people would vote?’ There was unanimity that an overwhelming majority of ‘ordinary Nigerians’ would ask them to come back.
Meanwhile, Mammo Muchie, who was one of the organizers of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ conference, was still his old ebullient self, totally married to the cause of Africa. Why has Mammo’s pan Africanism remained resilient while I seem to be getting tired? Has it anything to do with my relocating to Nigeria? If Mammo, who had been living out of Ethiopia for nearly 40 years had returned home, would the fire of pan Africanism still be burning bright in his soul?
Today (May 21 2013), the African American I had asked his opinion about a possible colonization of any part of Africa confronted me with my own question: ‘Adibe, if there is a referendum for Nigeria to be re-colonized, how would you vote – yes or no’? I was speechless for a minute or so. I thought of telling him I would abstain from voting, but realizing the implications, quickly told him I would vote ‘No’. To vote ‘Yes’ I reasoned, would be to legitimate the racist ideology of the inherent inferiority of the Blackman to other races. It would also deny the possibility of the country ever getting its act together and doing the right thing. But there is enough frustration for one, in moments of emotional flourishes, to give up and call on the colonial masters to simply come back. What is your take on the question of whether Nigeria should be re-colonized?
My preferred framework for analyzing Africa’s problems has always been the nation-building paradigm. But in my beloved Nigeria, I am now honestly beginning to wonder whether the fundamental problem of Nigeria is in fact not the Nigerian.
Re: The Call for Asari-Dokubo to be arrested
My last week’s column on the above elicited tons of angry responses. Reading through the responses however I was not persuaded that it was right for the Governor of a State to call for the arrest of the former militant. There are at least four issues involved:
One, when political higher-ups such as a State Governor and an arm of the national legislature join issues with a former militant, they politicise such issues and help sustain them on newspaper headlines.
Two, grand standing, which is commonly used in political bargaining, must be distinguished from credible threats. What capability does Asari-Dokubo have to effectuate a threat he made in public and reported by several newspapers? If the security officers felt alarmed by the threat, we should expect them to invite him for questioning. If a Governor felt really concerned and is not sure the security agencies have taken notice of the ‘threat’, the reasonable thing to do is to alert the security agencies, not the media houses.
Three, if you go about asking for anyone who grandstands or makes a threat to be arrested, you are threatening free speech, and anyone who expresses strong opinion risks being arrested. This is why in countries like USA, there is the ‘clear and immediate danger’ test before such people could be arrested or tried.
Four, grandstanding and threats have been part of our political history: In 1948 for instance, Charles Daddy Onyeama declared that the Igbo domination of the country was a matter of time. After Shagari won re-election in the 1983 general election, the Tribune regularly carried on its front page a quote by Frantz Fanon (and later John F Kennedy) that ‘those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable’. Only recently, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, a spokesman for the Northern Elders’ Forum, claimed that the recent declaration of state of emergency in some Northern States amounted to a declaration of war against the North. On face value these statements could be construed as incitements. However, if you apply the ‘clear and immediate danger test’, they will be seen as mere grandstanding, unless it could be proved that those who made the threats were taking measures (such as stocking up arms) to effectuate them.
I love this post !! totally kewl!!! Well done! I’m coming back to this one …