By Benjamin Kofi Nutor
As part of the 20th Anniversary Event of the African University of Communications, Dr. Benjamin Kofi Nutor of A&M University, College Station, USA, interviewed Professor Toyin Falola, his former college professor, on November 25, 2022.
Kofi Nutor: What is the history of your engagement with the Ghanaian state and academy over the many years of your illustrious career?
I have been going to Ghana since the 1970s. To me, Ghana is home. The first is in a research capacity to understand the place; the second is as part of the activities linked to the West African Examination Council; the third is for academic conferences and meetings; the fourth is for policy work; and the final is for social events. Apart from spearheading many academic conferences and partnering with many academics from the country to develop policies and conduct research to advance the collective values of Ghanaian society, I have significantly contributed to their socio-academic issues, which help to increase the possibility of bonding between and across Africa. My history thus goes back into time as much as I can remember, given the awareness that our determination to get Africa on the global map of the knowledge economy is inspired, especially by the work of outstanding Africans, some of whose origin is traceable to this country. A larger part of my engagement with the country’s state is dedicated to throwing research activities open to enhance and redefine people who would understand and not undermine the deepened significance of their cultural values and identity. Many scholars from this place have been a source of inspiration. Therefore, many have been steadfast advocates of liberatory scholarship for Africans in every ramification. The world of modern African academics would be devoid of genuine meanings and values if the works of Kwasi Wiredu were excluded from the knowledge market. African knowledge epistemology will make minimal sense if Ama Ata Aidoo’s relentless works are overlooked. When the contributions of Kwame Nkrumah aren’t accorded the necessary attention, it makes a mockery of the African epistemic worldview. To have organized events in Ghana and attended others there means that I have maintained a deep-seated academic fraternity with Ghana for a long time.
I have written books on Ghana, such as Culture and Customs of Ghana, and republished the major essays of Adu Boahen, whose funeral ceremonies I attended in Accra, Juaben, and Kumasi.
Kofi Nutor: What does the chieftaincy title conferred on you by the Ga State mean to you, considering the many other chieftaincy titles, honorary degrees, and presidential awards you have received from numerous countries over the years?
To say that I am overwhelmed by the conferment of chieftaincy titles by the Ga people does not paint the actual picture of my mood during that time. The conferment of chieftaincy titles on people in Africa holds several sociocultural and sociological meanings beyond what Western education can accurately account for. Apart from the underlying kinship baptism done with that honor, one would realize that it also opens limitless opportunities for the beneficiary and benefactor to extend goodwill and affection. Africans communicate acceptance when they offer you their indigenous titles, which shows that they decide to deepen their relationship with you without expecting benefits. Although, as you have indicated, I have had different titles and numerous honorary degrees, among others, given to me by several peoples and cultures. However, when African people other than my indigenous identity confer such honor on me, it implies they appreciate my contributions to humanity and recognize the bravery put in place for me to achieve these feats. We cannot underplay the fact that such conferment attests to their desire to repose their confidence in me and that they look forward to extensive relations between me and the country. This, therefore, means that they have inadvertently increased my responsibilities. Even though this would naturally increase my efforts and add to the routine of my academic work, it has offered me a clean slate on which I can inscribe my relevance and importance for my benefit. I have developed one personal culture for myself during my academic engagements: the more I work, the more I utilize my God-given capabilities in me. If I now have a people who recognize me with such honor, they have activated my desire to do more because there is this general saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. That serves as a pedestal upon which my energy to accomplish more is constructed. For this, I duly appreciate them and would be forever grateful.
Kofi Nutor: What would be your advice to young African academics who want to use their scholarship to make an impact beyond the academy?
One of the most important things to tell people is that they should understand the crucial importance of time. Understanding one’s time is necessary for the possibility of making use of its attendant values. Every human season has its attendant values and disadvantages. In our own time, for instance, the culture of reading is highly celebrated and even desired, owing to the lack of credible or morally acceptable alternatives to engagement. In essence, once you read, you can be sure of being intellectually resourceful enough to produce content that would transform your world and simultaneously fetch you money. However, with the advent of the current totalizing globalization, this custom received a rapid shift. Definitions of human and economic values shifted with this development. The location of economic opportunities was gradually changing with the emerging realities. The need to move with this trend cannot be underplayed, given that the most important thing in life is access to economic opportunities that can sustain us. As an academic, therefore, one should be flexible in the contemporary time.
Meanwhile, flexibility is possible only when an individual is eclectic in their approach to every engagement. To become relevant in modern academics, one needs to be abreast of happenings around one’s academic field and, by extension, take a couple of other areas too. This would drive the individual to attain more intellectual success, eventually promoting their interests and prompting them to achieve more. Education is still relevant, and young academics should be encouraged if education is not paying them as handsomely as other career choices benefit their contemporaries. As an academic, you are using your intellectual properties to rebuild human society, resulting in your conceptual ideas becoming useful or being something you can observe in the human world. Thus, hang on and do more. The advantages would come.
Kofi Nutor: How can African states leverage the humanities and social sciences for national development in addition to the current emphasis on STEM disciplines?
STEM emerges from the scientific knowledge economy, which does not include the humanities and social sciences. To ask how African states can leverage these two areas of knowledge economy is to euphemistically lament society’s declining leaning on them. One will be miffed if a completely disconnected society from social sciences and humanities becomes a model because it is nearly impossible to achieve desirable success when a country refuses to integrate subsequent ideals fermented from social sciences and humanities. In many human societies, quite many people still ask about the importance of these aspects of knowledge to the advancement of human civilization. The regrettable shortcoming is that such people or society suddenly believe that advancements in scientific accomplishments naturally become the indices of evaluating progress. That would be incorrect because you can make most attempts to travel to the moon and build numerous robots to do your job for you. Still, when you lack basic human values, moral principles (as defined by your identity), and ethical ideals, you are already on the path to ideological degeneration. The fact that many African leaders and states do not understand this has brought about unwholesome social decadence in our human world. To realize that one needs empathy so that one can make efforts to better the lives of others with whom one shares the planet, one needs the civic education that is inherent in different African proverbs, moonlight stories, and wise sayings, all of which are now fading into oblivion in our collective environment. If your child can make an airplane but would not mind impounding what belongs to the public for their own personal use, it does not matter if their own airplane fetches them money; what they would be looking for when they attain political offices is how they would convert state resources to their pockets. In fact, the declining force in associating with humanity and social sciences has produced many African leaders today. You might ask, why would someone take monies they know they cannot exhaust in their lifetime while the masses of people are suffering? What distinguishes them from the gluttonous ijapa (tortoise) that stores what he’s incapable of eating in his throat?
Kofi Nutor: What were your thoughts when Nigeria asked Ghanaians to leave Nigeria?
Great sympathy, great objections. Indeed, it formed part of the preface to a new book, African Refugees, by Indiana University Press. My thoughts remained negative about the event, knowing that humans should naturally not be hindered from migration or prevented from association, given the understanding that migration and movement are two natural things that cannot be disconnected from humans, animals, or even plants. Studying nature would lead us to discover that we are animals that move at will. Asking Ghanaians to leave Nigeria is an attestation of our misunderstanding of who the real enemy is. The population of Ghana and Nigeria was not even up to a quarter of the Indian population during the politically forced exodus. Meanwhile, India is doing fine as a single country. In essence, sending people out of the country was a political schema to cover the leadership inefficiency and administrative incapacity of the leaders. How do you believe Ghanaians are the problem after independence, which you all fought shoulder-to-shoulder to force from the hands of the colonists? In what language would you justify the intellectual emptiness inherent in the argument that Ghanaians are mopping up your economic opportunities when you don’t create quality-aiding structures? Apart from the fact that there is a need for mutual friendship (noting that the commitment of people differs) among many African countries, the understanding that free migration is needed within and across African countries makes it appalling that Ghanaians are ushered away from Nigeria. It shows that people are running away from responsibility.
Kofi Nutor: Is it possible to develop Africa through the contributions of African-Americans?
Yes. Sources of development are many, internal, external, a combination of both. When developmental ideas, no matter who the producers are, come from exogenous sources, their influence may be limited and may not be problematic, as in the case of the European legacies. However, when ideas come from a people or a movement, they could potentially have a very great impact. This is the secret behind human civilizations that have stretched far in history. Africa faced development issues the moment external civilization infiltrated their philosophical, political, and economic space. Africans are one of the few races in the world whose history of development, advancement, and quality improvement spans beyond millennia. The fact that the last 500 years of their history have been marred by stagnation and underdevelopment does not suddenly deny their potential for rapid and upsurge rise into stardom; what they require to be great is the ability to make difficult decisions and stand in unison. Admittedly, African Americans’ contributions can consolidate Africa’s development, but, in reality, they cannot solely inspire it. In other words, whatever they decide to bring would always have an important impact on their development plans, including the benefits derived from history and culture.
We regard ourselves as Africans; thus we share in the challenges. What Africa needs is the identification of its challenges and the provision of solutions to them. These solutions must reflect contextual thinking and values that span multiple generations to withstand future pressures. African-Americans can send money to African governments, but they cannot devise ways by which African leaders would spend the funds. There is a need to conceive what development means to various African leaders and, therefore, give the necessary political support for their desires to instigate actions that can bring about the required improvements and development of the continent. As in the case of the alliance between Kwame Nkrumah and De’Bois, we need ideas, knowledge, and concrete actions.
Kofi Nutor: What do you think about the negative ideas about Nigerians in Ghana?
Everything boils down to the wrong understanding of what Africa should be and how it can achieve continent-wide greatness. There is a need for African solidarity. Such cohesion cannot be underplayed, as it would underpin the establishment of systems that would be useful in rejuvenating their economic and political values and transforming them from the very captivity of colonization-induced declination that has become a bane of their development. Africa is indeed destined to be great, but that greatness can only be activated when they accept themselves as one, which they are. Many African countries can trace the genealogy of their languages to a similar background, while their cultural ideals also share a common identity. In essence, they have more things binding them together than separating them. If Nigerians are perceived as enemies in Ghana, it will generate unnecessary controversy that would open the door to unnecessary and avoidable vendetta. Conscious efforts should be made to discourage such negative perceptions created against Africans within African countries, irrespective of their differences in ethnic or cultural identity. Except for those involved in diabolical activities from which they derive financial gain, there should be no reason to stir problems where none existed in the first place. In all places in the world, governments make extraordinary efforts to ensure that individuals, insiders or outsiders, do not contaminate their good name with their economic engagements. If you have Africans with legitimate sources of income, xenophobic hostilities are not the best way to receive them. Otherwise, we would shoot ourselves in the legs while feeding our egos. We need to be accommodating of other Africans if we want people across the world to respect us.
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Kofi Nutor: In what way is Ghana expected to champion development in Africa?
In the current global order, reaching monumental development is impossible without the humongous financial resources to spend; however, true development can occur without having vast financial resources at one’s disposal. Money is needed to drive progress, as the exceptional development of a people can be significantly driven by the level of money in the country. But the fact remains that not every country with money is well-developed, and not every developed country has money. In essence, one can achieve striking developments in different dimensions. There are different things that Ghana can do to make itself the frontline state in Africa’s developmental issues. One, Ghana should conceptualize development within the appropriate context of cultural and financial capacity, which would penetrate the crucible of their civilization without leaving many indigenous people outside of it. This means that when they are sure of what they call development, they should now use their cultural and financial capabilities to construct it in a way that would factor in the decisive majority of the country. For example, if the development of intellectual capacity is what individuals conceive of as development, they’ll need to contextualize their financial strength and seek ways in which it can be used to achieve very strong results in that domain. If you think human development is important but the first thing you build is infrastructure, undeveloped humans will soon misuse the infrastructure you create. Also, Ghana can decide to become the food basket of the continent. Once they are confident this is their ambition, everything they do will be geared toward actualizing this agenda. That way, they would have saved the continent from the significant challenges that would arise if it relied solely on other continents for its consumables. The list goes on.
Kofi Nutor: How can Ghana revive the African knowledge economy and political transformation of the past?
Today, Ghana has made itself known for creating awe-striking materials that represent a vibrant aesthetic culture by making kente fabrics. Wherever you find kente, you can be certain that it originated in Ghana. That attests to the fact that they have something from which they can exert their intellectual ingenuity to create and derive copyright values. Ghana has produced historians of international repute in Professor Ogot Adu Boahen, among others, and philosophers of global standards in Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Nkrumah, who doubles as a profound political figure ever produced in the country. There are many other areas where they have also made similar significant contributions to the continent’s knowledge economy. Therefore, it is important at this level for Ghana to revive this culture by being deliberate about its actions. The knowledge used to make kente fabric can also be replicated in other areas of human experience, possibly producing ideas and values that would become global commodities. What would never be in contention is that countries that have made exceptional transformations are deliberate in their engagements; they are conscious about their activities. They do not arrive at their conditions through wishful thinking. Instead, they put their minds to work and encourage discipline among their leaders, which will forever take them on the right trajectory. Barring the global arena being overtaken by economic challenges and ecological problems, Ghana has demonstrated that it can pull important stunts that would lead to its greatness. If they remain steadfast, they can arrive at the expected level of greatness they deserve as a country.
Kufor Notur: Are there areas where Ghana can pioneer efforts to advance the continent’s civilization?
Of all the African cultural identities that have ever built sustained civilizations with exceptional records of manpower organizations and resource management, coupled with native technology that helped preserve the people’s civilization and their defense against external predators, Ghana has a profound record. This means that they are actively capable of creating exceptional content needed to enhance their civilization, as that has been done sometimes in the past. The fact remains, for example, that such civilization would always serve as a motivation for something more elaborate and greater than what they have done. What inspires greatness is generally simple. For instance, people are inspired to be great when they are energized by the history of greatness that has been recorded once by their predecessors. They take inspiration from it and consider how they can best incorporate it. Let us consider how they organized their political system to preserve their civilization for centuries. Ghana can therefore begin to reconsider how they would generate the necessary ideas that would be used to build strong political systems that would fit the emerging realities of their area. Western colonialism has brought new systems and, as a result, recalibrated different things that border on the people’s progress. If their evaluation of the inherited systems reveals that they are not functioning to the maximum as a result of the system that they use, it is not illogical to therefore create ones that would fit their political exigencies in the current time. What is needed for a continent-wide transformation is to see some other countries making substantial progress due to the system they built so that others would join the bandwagon and begin to devise ways by which they would be saved from their challenges. If centuries-long dependence on exogenous ideas is not bringing the desired results, taking alternative measures would be good in light of the current development.
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Monica Cheru On Rethinking African Literature
By Toyin Falola
In an earlier piece, I traced the historiography of African literature and wrote about anticipations of how the panelists at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews (in conjunction with the Pan-African Writers Association) would propose ways of rethinking African literature. Today, I will be spotlighting and extrapolating the views of Cheru, the only female panelist and the Vice President (Southern Region) of the Association. Cheru had many interesting perspectives on the questions and issues raised.
There is largely an imbalance between the financial stability of critics and writers, based mainly on the fact that a higher percentage of critics are employed at universities, thus having a stable source of income compared to literary writers. In stating her perception of this imbalance and approaches to springing up a reward system that balances the financial strength of both critics and writers, Cheru started with writers’ mentality and our perception of writing—especially as a full-time job—as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to writers’ achievement of financial stability.
Passion is the key ingredient in the making of literary writers, which makes the bulk of writers venture into writing as a means of expressing themselves and connecting with their deep passion for literature and writing. However, it should be known that passion is not enough to build a successful writing career. The writer must step out from the mentality of writing as a second option and realize that it is a full-time career that passionate writers can pursue, thus approaching writing as a professional. This means that writers need to improve their writing skills and develop a career path that can help them turn a profit.
Cheru further went towards the controversial side when she stated she does not see any excuse for writers to be poor or “unable to put food on their table.” As controversial as this may seem, Cheru is not wrong because there are several opportunities out there that literary writers can tap into once they have taken writing as a professional career and not just as a hobby. Writers can earn money through the ability to market their ideas.
In reality, many African writers do not invest enough in producing, promoting, and distributing their works, which could be due to the lack of funds to invest in such. However, professionalism is required at every stage of the book creation process, from story-writing through publishing to distribution and promotion. Writers should be ready to be strategic about the stories they want to tell, the impacts they hope to make, and the people they want to engage with their stories. They should be prepared to attend events, launch their books, and promote them. They must learn to network with other writers and join the right writing communities.
Another issue relating to African literature is African writers positioning themselves for prizes, especially Western prizes. These prizes, among other things, provide writers with references and proof of their outstanding works. Some of these prizes come with substantial monetary rewards that serve as the gateway to more opportunities for several writers on a continent where success in the writing world is based largely on grit, talent, and passion, with the stark absence of access to practical writing-related degrees and writing workshops.
Notably, all the panelists at the last discussion are award-winning writers. Having won writing-related awards in the past could well have given credence to their emergence during the selection process because awards and recognition are a good means of gauging one’s impacts and qualifications across all walks of life. The question that rears its head then is: what does winning awards, or otherwise, mean for one’s career as a literary writer, African literature as a whole, and for up-and-coming writers? Prize obsession could evolve into a fast-spreading phenomenon if it has not already. Thus, is prize obsession justified, given that winning awards and prizes could contribute to a writer’s career?
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For Cheru, awards and prizes should not be the focus, and she strongly advocates against them. As she said, some of these awards and prizes have the style and pattern they look for in literary works. Only writers who pander to the box created by the awarding institutions qualify for the awards and eventually win. Cheru believes that the bulk of the awarding institutions from the West, which are incidentally the institutions with substantial monetary rewards for African writers, tend to favor negative African stories or those that portray Africa as that suffering, never-to-develop continent of people who look up to and need the salvation of the West. It may seem counter-intuitive to advocate against prize obsession, as there is a need to balance the reward system for writers and raise awareness of their financial stability.
However, having many African literary works pandering toward certain narratives with the hopes of winning prizes does not augur well for the continent. Thus, African writers need not write for prizes. This is not to say writers be anti-prize or reject nominations. Cheru’s message is that writers should write for all the reasons they want to, strive to document Africa’s history, and portray Africa as a continent rich in human and natural resources. They could very well opt for writing against the ills in African society and the poor leadership that bedevils the continent. But the primary motivating factor for writing should not be the hopes that such writing will get nominated for foreign prizes. If the prizes come in the end, then writers can celebrate.
It is also important to encourage the new generation of African writers to find their voice and write without pandering to the style and narrative awarding institutions watch out for in African literature. Success for literary writers should not necessarily be measured by how many awards they win. Success can also be defined by how well one’s literary works meet the demands of one’s audiences. In defining African literature from a gender perspective, there are questions like: Should there be a special focus on writings by African women and for African women? Should we give special attention to writing by African women? Should there be dedicated support for grooming female African writers? These are sub-forms of larger questions of gender equality, equal opportunities for all, and feminism.
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Cheru does not subscribe to the idea that African literary works should be segmented across gender lines. For her, some female-related African literary works are sponsored, and the sponsors have some narratives they want to foster. This puts writers under pressure to write what fits into the narrative, thus crippling their creative freedom, as the focus is placed on highlighting issues rather than writing naturally and on the basis that there is an audience that needs to be reached with the writer’s creative thought flows. Cheru also believes that there is a generalization of Africa-related cultural beliefs and values viz-a-viz the treatment and consideration of women. Of truth, several African traditional practices are flawed in their treatment and acknowledgment of the female gender. However, Cheru believes that the roots of these issues run deeper than what sponsored gender-based African literary works currently portray and that it is a multi-perspective issue that must be addressed.
There is also the need to strategically boost the visibility of African writers and African literature. All over the world, public places like airports and train stations and even hotels are good points of call for literary works; sadly, African literature is missing from the equation. There is the need to give visibility to African books in a way that shows we are ready to actively promote literature by our people. Rethinking African literature entails reforming African literary writers’ mindset, as well as the mentality toward African literature. African writers need to be more audience-aware, to better understand the trends in world literature and how to make Africa the centerpiece of those trends.
.This is the final interview report with a panel of African writers on August 7. For the transcripts: YouTube:
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Touching Base With Chido Onumah’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
The past few weeks’ events have made the forthcoming 2023 elections more of a reality to the average Nigerian than they were six months ago. As typical of every election period in Nigeria, there have been party defections; party primaries were rife with irregularities, reckless spending to win delegates over, and unbelievable sums of money doled out in a country touted to be the world’s poverty capital, where universities are currently shut because the academic staff union is at salary-and-allowances-inciting loggerheads with the government. Party flagbearers are emerging in all nooks and crannies of the country, and the scenes replay themselves yet again, as they always do during every election period in Nigeria.
On Sunday, May 22, 2022, we had one of the not-so-common editions of the Toyin Falola Interview Series. It was a discourse that featured veteran journalist and social commentator Dr. Chido Onumah alongside Dr. Jibrin Hussaini, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, and Ms. Miriam Oke. It was an intellectually engaging evening that saw our guests extrapolate on some of the major issues that bedevil the Nigerian nation-state during election periods. Let us touch base with some of the points and perspectives Dr. Onumah shared.
The Role of Money in the 2023 Nigerian Elections
Money is the convenient and effective wheel on which many human endeavours run. Thus, we cannot rule out the need for money during elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budgeted N305 billion for the 2023 General Elections, which is N70.5 billion more than the commission approved for the 2019 elections. Elections cost money — registering voters, acquiring electioneering materials and equipment, setting up registration centres and polling booths, and hiring temporary INEC workers. Spending before, during, and after the elections is necessary. Therefore, it must be a concern for a country like Nigeria if so much is spent on elections when there is little to nothing to show at the end.
Nevertheless, the nation’s election expenditure is not so much a concern compared to aspirants’ and parties’ spending on the electioneering process. As the government spends billions of naira trying to conduct “free, fair, and credible” elections, so do political aspirants and their parties spend billions of naira on winning party blocs, lobbying delegates, buying the electorate’s conscience and consciousness, among other election-winning and money-costing tactics. The recent primaries conducted within Nigeria’s two largest parties — the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — brought news on how aspirants spent money in reckless abandon, whether or not they were guaranteed their party’s ticket.
What preceded that: the cost of nomination and expression of interest forms across all parties, the highest being the APC’s N100 million demands from all presidential ticket hopefuls? This move raised questions that would ultimately lead to the conclusion that either the contestants have so deeply eaten into the public treasury — given how long many of them have been in the corridors of power — or they are hoping that buying the form would be an investment for which they would receive massive returns if they win the election or get appointed as a minister or for some other political seats.
Yet, purchasing the grossly expensive forms is a baby step the average Nigerian politician needs to take for the 2023 elections. As per calculations, the average presidential aspirant would need over N1 billion to monitor election proceedings and ensure ballots are cast on election day. Additionally, my team and I have calculated the financial costs of properly setting up an independent political party in Nigeria, with all the structures that can help a party gain grounds and win elections. Our calculations resulted in a whopping N200 billion. This shows the high amount of money that goes to electioneering in Nigeria, even when there is hardly any buzz or signs of life in these parties, especially the non-ruling ones, within the three years between every ante-election an election year in Nigeria.
The role of money in Nigerian politics is an all-important one, and Onumah had interesting points to share about the 2023 elections. He touched on how politics has become Nigeria’s major and most lucrative business, making the aftermath of the reckless spending during electioneering periods of much more concern than the actual spending. For Onumah, several Nigerian politicians are in the “business” of politics as a form of investment, knowing that political power offers them the proverbial Midas’ touch to get everything and anything they want. And that point cannot be lost on us, seeing that a position as that of an appointed Accountant-General of the country could conveniently divert billions of naira of public funds to private coffers.
Onumah related the issues of this fast-growing and widespread Nigerian political business to the anomalies of the Nigerian state structure. If the reward for holding political offices in Nigeria were not as huge as it currently is — in terms of salary, sitting allowances, security votes, and constituency allowance, among other huge chunks of unwarranted bonuses that Nigerian elected and appointed public office holders to enjoy — and if there were systems in place that rightly and equitably punish corrupt officials, politicians would not invest so much to get into political offices.
Another valid case that Onumah made for the huge financial resources that go into electioneering in Nigeria is that the financially popular and “open-handed” political aspirant is more likely to win elections in Nigeria. Simply put, the more you can give, your chances of winning are higher. This is not unrelated to how practically impossible it is for the citizens to benefit from the dividends of democracy, such as job-creating and economy-stabilizing policies. The people know that politicians only mingle with the masses and come around to gauge the citizens’ plights during electioneering periods; thus, citizens are willing to take whatever they can from the politicians during campaigns and elections, even if it means suffering the consequences for four years or more.
The need to satisfy citizens by reinforcing their stomach infrastructure during the electioneering process is another reason money plays an important role in elections in Nigeria. Videos and news stories from the party primaries have shown the huge amount of money politicians have spent to convince a few hundred delegates in their parties to vote for them. One can then begin to mentally project how much more they would need to convince millions of people to get them to their political destination come 2023.
Will 2023 Bring True Change, Or Will It Be a Waste of Time and Resources?
Undeniably, Nigerians have been scarred. After the huge failure of the Goodluck Jonathan government in several aspects, including security and the national economy, the APC ran one of the most successful PR campaigns in Nigeria, selling the citizens on the status, integrity, and identity of Muhammadu Buhari, who would bring change to the country. Seven years later, the citizens have experienced nothing short of a disturbing and devastating change. This charring, caused by the Buhari administration, led to a poor voter turnout in the 2019 presidential election compared to the 2015 election.
This time, the 2023 presidential election will be similar to the 2015 presidential election. The citizens are tired of the Buhari-led government’s baggage and are yearning for a more refreshing leadership. This would, in turn, lead to a surge in the number of voters, as there has been an increase in the clamour for voters’ registration among frustrated citizens. However, would the citizens have wasted their time and resources at the polls when they turn out for the 2023 presidential election, with hopes in hand and ballot papers inked for whom they think fit the task?
According to Dr. Onumah, to consider things in general terms, the 2023 elections would be a waste of the electorate’s time because the issues bedevilling the country are foundational, so much so that no matter how qualified the next president is, he or she would not be able to do a good job of getting the nation back on track within the constitutionally stipulated timeframe. The problems Nigeria is currently facing, including the immolation of Deborah Samuel in the North and the cold-blooded murder of a military couple in the East, indicate Nigeria is bitterly divisive. It is akin to a couple who, although not divorced, have a troubled home where they fight bitterly and hurt each other dangerously. Separated, yet not legally divorced, and still living under the same roof. Of course, this analogy only briefly compares to what is currently plaguing the Nigerian nation-state.
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Despite these divisive issues in Nigeria, there has been no pin drop in the camps of the Nigerians contesting to be the nation’s president in 2023. They are far more buried in their aspirations and the repercussion of commenting on ethnically and religiously motivated actions like Deborah’s gruesome murder and the killing of the army couple. Nigeria is faced with so many internal issues, so much so that in Onumah’s opinion, the best that could happen to Nigeria now is for its next president to serve as a transitional president who would raise discussions and make moves about the structure and nature of the country and on the amendment of the constitution, to mention a few. For Onumah, the Buhari government has worsened matters bordering on national unity and cohesion; thus, the 2023 president has to be able to act as a transition president to help us touch on those painful, deep-seated, and foundational issues that the country is seriously avoiding but which need to be resurfaced and resolved, without which we cannot progress.
But then, what is the possibility of the 2023 president acting as a transition president? History shows us that Nigerian political officeholders are too selfish. As a result, it would be practically impossible to have any of the 2023 presidential aspirants consider themselves as the forerunner of another government that will benefit from and ride on the glory of the fruits that the expected turbulence of the next four years would bring. Nigeria is in disarray, and it is more than disheartening to see that the citizens and the political class seemingly live in different worlds within the same country.
While the people writhe and languish in pains brought by ethnoreligious and socio-political divisions, the political class, which is only one small class — regardless of the façade represented by political parties, religions, or ethnic groups — continues to make beneficial alignments and arrangements to further steal from the nation’s treasury and render the citizens lonely and miserable. They spend recklessly, to the point that it is difficult to believe that within the same country touted as the world’s poverty capital are political office holders who command several billions of naira and can easily afford to dole out tens of thousands of dollars per delegate to hundreds of delegates. As the 2023 elections approach, Nigerian citizens need to know that there are several issues. Despite how the political class disguised as stupid and clueless in their deeds and public appearances or bloopers, they are wise and calculating. They are the new crop of oppressors who took over from the colonisers, and if anything, history tells us that oppressors do all in their power to keep the oppressed on a leash.
Though democracy gives power to the people, what is practised in Nigeria is far from being a democratic system. Thus, as the people increasingly become politically conscious, strategize, and plan for a better tomorrow, the political class is also assiduously making moves to throw clogs in the wheel and bring the nation to a grounding halt or a non-stop retrogressive movement. May they not succeed in their mission! Amen.
. This is the second report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Rethinking African Literature
The Toyin Falola Interviews
Panel Discussion On African Literature (2)
By Toyin Falola
Every culture has its agencies of cultural and information transmission, written, spoken or demonstrated through various means. At one point or the other, nearly all civilizations of the world have depended on the spoken medium to communicate their thoughts and ideas. The evolution of other means came with the innovation of technology, the earliest one being orthography itself. With the invention of writing, information preservation and exchanges changed radically. People now have the opportunity to preserve their knowledge and immortalize their ideas through the agency of the new technology―writing.
Notably, this revolutionary development began in many places simultaneously, but the character of writing differed from culture to culture. For example, the primordial African civilizations had an orthographic system, but that knowledge was not widespread. Only people who belonged to a particular group knew to decode information lurked in their writing then, but such an approach to information preservation was not embraced in some other societies. Rather than being secretive, some civilizations opened their orthography to their populace, and writing became an instrument of communication. Consequently, literature became redefined. Beyond the pedestrian definition of literature as a body of written works, the concept is associated with the process of documenting one’s worldview and cultural orientations and customs by adding some creative ideas to support the argument made in the works.
To this extent, literature became an instrument of cultural or political re-engineering that (re)conditions the people’s psychological domain for various purposes. In essence, reading some literary text can progressively change one’s ideological convictions. If used in this case, literature would be a veritable instrument for controlling a people’s mind. In some other cases, when literature documents people’s past experiences, arts, and culture, it is believed to have been used as a compass for history to give people the opportunity to connect with their past and make sense of their evolving present. After colonialism, many African writers entered into the business of writing literary works, banking on their cultural resources as the materials of their intellectual productions. Unlike the past oral communication system used with their audience, written literature gradually displaced oral literature with its peculiarities and sociological imports.
With the aggressive progression of technology in the twentieth century, the world seemed to have faced another imminent transformation of the practice of storytelling, not through writing alone this time, but through visual and virtual interaction. Technology has made it inescapable to organize the exchanges of information, cultural ideas, and intellectual creativity using the digital technology manifested in internet culture, cloud computing and technology, and ICT. Meanwhile, it is noted that African literature, which earlier on graduated from predominantly spoken form to written ones, has suffered mutilations and injuries that many scholars have sometimes suggested that some form of surgical treatment should be recommended. Some have argued that this treatment should be linguistic remodelling, where the African language would be used as the means of the interface in writing. But African languages are numerous, and using several of them would betray its political mission (to challenge the hegemon), particularly as it was a response not to the Africans but to the controlling imperialists. This phase of African literature passed, but the challenges remain—African literary writers battle with this when education moves from the physical to the virtual world. To be relevant in that evolution, their literature must shift to reflect this.
Suppose African literature continues to make meaning to the people and connect with the rising generation whose lifestyle revolves around the internet and the ICT. In that case, writers must come to terms with writing and use the available medium to transfer their information. We should not make a hasty conclusion that because global literature has evolved from what it used to be to what it is today and Africans are gradually incorporating their literary productions into these systems, the problems lurking around African literature have suddenly disappeared. More problems can be imagined; the problems have been redefined and have become deadlier than before. For example, this conclusion is triggered by the awareness that there are challenges with accurately containing the cultural traditions and expressions that people want to make and the challenge of semiotic inadequacies that literature expressed in another language would bring. These problems do not disappear; they have been recreated into the current system that humans now operate with. The gravity of their challenge in the survival of African literature would be understood when one realizes that the younger generation has no preferences other than the internet, and their access to information stored there would mean they will be re-engineered in some ways.
Consider that the cartoon field is another potent literary mine that scholars are mining in contemporary times. Meanwhile, in some ways, cartoons represent a collapse of cultural ideas built into a technological system for consumption. African children, as innocent as they are, become active foragers of the internet, and social media, among others, to seek cartoons that will provide them with relaxation and knowledge. Cartoon stories are generally similar to the Afrocentric storytelling of the pre-colonial time when aged people arranged willing audiences and began to relay important messages to them. Through stories, these children were introduced to their society’s philosophical, cultural and ideological bloodstream, where they accessed a body of information and then used it to build their intellectual system. This practice has been remodelled into the internet, and the narrator of these stories is, in most cases, not the African aged that used to dish out knowledge to their people. It is the western narrators who build narratives that will condition the minds of readers and make them Western in orientation. The children will become enablers of colonization because they were exposed predominantly to cultural ideas that were not African. To challenge this, African literature deserves a rethinking.
The benefits of moulding the African child this way are manifold. The information acquired and stored at their tender age will always be with them for a very long time. They will continue to navigate their existence with the information they have taken in during their formative years. In essence, getting them to understand African philosophical leanings, religious identities, cultural traditions, moral values, and collective virtues will help them develop a permanent ideological base that will help them when they meet different cultural perspectives in the future. There is the possibility that Africans have continued to distance themselves from the cultural inheritance in the understanding that they are weak and perhaps subordinate to others. However, the perspective will not remain the same if they are worked on earlier than imagined.
Meanwhile, the literature of a people continues to prove itself as the best instrument with which they can redesign their lives. Access to the culture through technology will have a multiplier effect on the people and their political existentialism. For instance, they will be able to develop inventions on the internet that are useful to reveal other aspects of African culture to the world while simultaneously influencing world affairs in some ways. All these are inherent advantages that underlie rethinking the literature.
Beyond the transformation of written literature into the digital one is the understanding that writers of African narratives should challenge the status quo with their works. Writers across all generations have different epistemic battles that they must engage in so that the African identity will not die. There was a time the Empire wrote back to the European imperialists to correct the erroneous notions about the African people and their cultural inclinations. During that time, the collective attention of writers was drawn to the exploration of various African civilizations and cultures for proper documentation. It appeared during the period that a chunk of the history and great efforts of the pre-colonial African people have been displaced, distorted by false narratives, or lost completely in some cases. Therefore, continuing to listen to the perspectives of the colonizers about their identity was similar to watching serial assassins subjecting one’s relatives to homicidal adventures.
Apart from the emotional problems one would get from that experience, the psychological consequences cannot be overemphasized. In essence, the period experienced the surge of literary activities that wrestled and won the freedom to existence that Africans would later enjoy. Interestingly, the contemporary generation has a different assignment. The writer in the African context is naturally saddled with the responsibility of seeking to renegotiate African identity through their works as they have suffered untold injuries and severe injustices at the hands of external visitors. Despite this glaring responsibility, the quest for economic and financial stability also cuts in the way of excellently discharging their duties to the motherland.
By dwelling essentially on the diaspora experiences, these writers sometimes find themselves in the murky water of using the West as the nucleus of their writing. This unavoidably leaves the African people, culture, concern, agitations, and cause to be left unattended or given minimum attention. Meanwhile, helpless African culture suffers from the vestiges of corruption and humanitarian atrocities perpetrated, if not exclusively by their bad leaders, but also in collaboration with foreign companies. Problems continue in their countries while writers pick topics that suit Western literary markets to satisfy the urge for capitalist culture at the detriment of the in-house Africans undergoing pestilence, poverty, pensive violence, and violation of unknown magnitude.
Here, some scholars have come up with the idea of disruptive narratives. This is an evolving concept that depicts the employment of narratives to inspire social changes and revolutions by producing works that reveal social injustices and political ineffectiveness that have fostered poverty and diseases of an unknown kind; narratives that empower the people by identifying the underlying greatness in coming together for the restoration of social justice and values; and narratives that educate people about their fundamental responsibilities and the rights that come with them. All of these are ways contemporary literary writers are considering rethinking African literature.
One can logically ask where or how African writers fit in. The layers of undemocratic challenges facing African people come first from their intellectual deficit about the histories and cultures of their forebears, which would otherwise have given them the materials with which they could structure a strong civilization. The problems facing the people are not unconnected to the fact that culturally, they are gradually becoming orphans, making them powerless to construct social bonds that can be used to repudiate all social immoralities that have plagued the continent.
Technology is a great addition to the world, but Africans’ addiction to it brings cultural entrapment. And then we ask, in all of these, what is the role of a critic, or in a more defined form, what makes the writer different from the critic? Writers are the gifted individuals who gather resources together, process and transform them into abstract products ready for intellectual consumption. They refine these resources by sifting out the ones considered harmful for consumption by the people. However, there has been a surge of African writers as there are limitless cultural and ideological resources from which they can draw for their creative enterprise. They have continued to forage into the past African epistemological terrain, ontological reality and moral principles as the base of their works.
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To that extent, some African writers fit into the definition of creative writers whose works are inspired by the almost unending histories of their forebears and the great exploits that usually stand them out, among others. Their contemporary stories are tailored along the foundational ideals, principles, and knowledge handed down with a semiotic intelligence. Thus, one can take African fictional work and begin to draw out interpretations irrespective of the generation in question. Writers are seen as intelligent creators who have the vision of their community imposed as surveillance on their creativity, guiding them in the process of their artful engagement. However, the critic at the end of the rope interprets the work of arts using theoretical understanding and suppositions as the compass for interpretative engagements. These theories are an accumulation of ideas or sets of them that explain observed facts or situations. Although the professional assignment of the critic and the writer differs in this context, both of them appear to indulge in deep intellectual gymnastics. A critic’s interpretation is thus different from a layman’s reading, underscored by the fact that they use different interrogation techniques from other people.
In African literature, there has been controversy about the importance of a critic using Western theoretical understanding and knowledge to interpret African literature. The argument is that if theories are a set of ideas that explain a phenomenon, how can European facts or phenomena that differ in character and approach to African experience be adequate in interpreting the African narrative and, by implication, the African world? To understand the beauty of this argument, one cannot but look at the composition, the thematic, the epistemic, and the soul of African literature and see how glaringly different they are from their Western counterparts.
In addition, the critic, as opposed to the writer, has the opportunity to get rewarded even in schools and institutions. In many universities, they are employed as faculty members who take students through academic engagements to increase their intellectual values. It, therefore, opens the writers to the destructive hands of politics. Apart from the possibility of insufficient reinforcement for producing intellectually stimulating narratives, the writer may not attract much attention to be employed in corporate organizations for their skills. The logic in that situation is denied its voice as people find nothing bad in having writers relegated to the background as opposed to the critics who use their works. Therefore, when we talk about rethinking literature, we must accommodate thoughts and conversations that address these issues. For instance, some have argued that the writers place themselves at a vulnerable point when they fail to capitalize on their skills as their income sources. They can deliberately withhold their intellectual property if the necessary bodies do not recognize them. The underlying problems in this thinking are numerous, including the fact that the writer is a writer because they are motivated by the action of writing. In other words, they choose that trajectory to fulfil their potential. Critics perform differently as they give meaning to works already perfected by the writers.
At a grand level, rethinking African literature without reconsidering the language of expression would amount to a fruitless engagement frustrated by the unwillingness to address critical issues. Language is central to the propagation of literature. Apart from being the instrument through which writers send information to their audience, it facilitates understanding of what is being transferred from writers to the world. Notably, the current global community has seen the brutal hands of globalization occasioned by the imperialists’ continued determination to promote and enhance capitalism. Extending one’s economic and political domination to others a few centuries ago led to the large-scale imposition of colonial languages to the world, where colonies were forced to embrace respective language reservations. They continued in the assimilation of the Western languages and their culture, which brought about the postcolonial extension of this extant domination.
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African languages have been subjected to the pressure of every kind. Apart from being considered inadequate and unwanted in handing down the information and knowledge of its epistemic environment, they are also derided based on their international acceptability. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the African writers have been compelled to write in the language of their colonizers for one reason or the other. So, if we are considering rethinking African literature, the place of language deserves respect in that conversation. In the distant and proximal history, African scholars have engaged in this controversial debate where leading African creative writers hold an opposing side of the intellectual debate. Some concede that colonial languages can be domesticated and, in some situations, redacted. The ones in this category believe they are themselves products of postcolonial knot and were exposed to only the colonial languages in their development process. It would, therefore, be as counter-productive as it is impractical to use a language for which one lacks the necessary professionalism to pass across their messages.
Furthermore, their ambition to correct the erroneous impression of the West would be immediately frustrated when they wrote in a language their targets do not understand. In other words, the West would be barely convinced (although I am confused as to understand the logic in convincing the West in the first place) of the intellectual capacity of the African people. Those on the other side argue that writing in the colonial language alienates the people from the resources from which writing is drawn. It begs the question if the focus that compelled the African people to write back to the West is still the dominant focus of their texts today.
.This is the interview report with a panel of African writers on August 7. For the transcripts: YouTube:
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