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African Universities And African Future: The Meeting Point

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Speaking Truth To Power: Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

THE  TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

A Conversation With Professor Paul Zeleza, Part 7 Of 8

Part A

African Universities And African Future: The Meeting Point

Professor Paul Zeleza

What do you see as the major challenges and opportunities facing African universities?

Based on my extensive research on higher education and administrative experience, especially as Vice Chancellor of an African University, I would say the challenges and opportunities facing African universities center on ten key dimensions, namely, institutional supply, financial resources, human capital, research output, physical and technological infrastructures, leadership and governance, academic cultures, quality of graduates, patterns of internationalization, and global rankings.

In terms of institutional supply, in 1969, there were only 170 universities across the continent, 35 of which were private. The number of universities increased to 446 in 1989, out of which 112 were private. In the 1990s, 338 new institutions were established and in the 2000s another 647. By 2015, private universities outnumbered public universities, 972 to 707. In 2018, according to the World Higher Education Database, there were 1,682 universities in Africa. The majority were private. Clearly, this was nothing short of phenomenal. Yet, in global terms, Africa had the smallest number of universities of any region, except Oceania. Africa’s share of the world’s 18,772 higher education institutions was 8.9%, compared to 37% for Asia, 21.9% for Europe, 20.4% for North America, and 12% for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the meantime, the total number of students in African higher education institutions in 2017 stood at 14,654,667.7 million, out of 220,704,239.5 million worldwide, or 6.6%, which was less than the continent’s share of institutions.  North Africa accounted for 45% of the African students. To put it more graphically, Indonesia had nearly as many students in higher education institutions as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa (7.98 million to 8.03 million). Thus, Africa’s enrollment ratios remain exceptionally low.  In 2017, the world’s average enrollment ratio was 37.88%, compared to 8.98% in sub-Saharan Africa and 33.75% in northern Africa. The enrollment ratio of the high-income countries was 77.13%, for upper-middle-income countries 52.07%, for the middle-income countries 35.59%, and for lower-middle-income countries 24.41%.

African higher education has enormous opportunities to expand, to meet the huge demands of its historic youth bulge, and turn it into a demographic dividend. Africa is the only major world region that will continue to enjoy population growth for much of the 21st century. It is expected to have 1.7 billion people in 2030, 2.5 billion in 2050, and 4.5 billion in 2100, representing 19.9%, 25.9%, and 40% of the world’s population, respectively. In contrast, many of the developed countries and China are facing the demographic squeeze of aging populations and declining tertiary pipeline that threatens the survival of many universities. Thus, in the course of this century Africa is destined to have the world’s largest pool of potential tertiary students and productive labour force. This is an opportunity of historic and global proportions.

Financial resources remain the Achilles heel of African universities. Currently, all five major sources of university funding are grossly inadequate—tuition fees, auxiliary income, government subventions, philanthropic donations, and concessionary loans. Most universities especially the private ones are tuition dependent. Yet, students’ capacity to pay remains relatively low, and student aid and loan schemes are underdeveloped. In many countries, universities have failed to keep up with facilities including hostels, an important source of auxiliary revenues, so that students are forced to live in often dilapidated and dangerous neighborhoods.

Since the days of structural adjustment programs in the “lost decades” of the 1980s and 1990s, government subventions per student have declined sharply and various “cost sharing” measures adopted thereby transferring the financial burden to students and their families. Institutional philanthropic cultures and national educational aid and commercial bank loan schemes remain undeveloped in most countries, save for a few such as South Africa.

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The opportunities lie in developing more sophisticated and comprehensive tuition pricing strategies and targeted student aid policies using data analytics. Partnerships between universities and private and public entities can provide much needed resources for facilities development. Universities have to become more savvy in negotiating such public private partnerships to avoid getting burned.

Also promising is the potential of philanthropic support for universities in view of the exponential growth of high net worth individuals (those with assets of more than $1 million). According to the World Wealth Report 2020, the number of high net worth individuals in Africa doubled from 100,000 in 2012 to 200,000 in 2017 (out of a global total of 12 million and 19.6 million, respectively), and their collective wealth increased from US$1.2 trillion in 2012 to US$1.7 trillion in 2017 (out of a global total of US$46.2 trillion and US$74 trillion, respectively). No less impressive is the growth of the African middle classes.

The culture of philanthropy in terms of supporting family members and even religious and political organizations is well developed across Africa, but it is not for tertiary educational institutions. Universities have to cultivate institutional capacities in terms of personnel, data systems, and cultures of giving among students, alumni, and their governing bodies. The middle classes and rich elites have to be socialized into institutional giving for universities, which is not easy as I know from personal experience as a Vice Chancellor who has put enormous efforts on fundraising. In addition to western philanthropic foundations, African foundations are growing, which can be tapped into. The provision of support and creation of concessionary loan instruments for universities by national financial institutions, and international and intergovernmental agencies deserves increased attention as well.

Human capital is in short supply. There is a severe shortage of faculty in many African countries. There are many reasons for this. Not enough doctoral degrees are being produced. For example, in Kenya only 700 are churned out each year, which is lower than doctoral graduates from a large American university.  Consequently, only 34% of faculty in Kenya’s 74 universities have terminal degrees (USIU-Africa is an outlier with 76%). This reflects limited graduate supervision capacity. Interest in academic careers has declined among the best and brightest students who prefer more remunerative and prestigious professions.

The progressive devaluation of academic labor means that unlike in the early 1970s when I was an undergraduate student, currently academics in many countries are barely hanging with their fingertips to the middle class. I once asked students in the class I teach at USIU-Africa how many wanted to become academics. Not a single hand went up. When I asked them why, many laughed, the professors are poor, they said, they drive battered cars and dress badly. The quality of the recipients of doctoral degrees can also be questionable. The Cabinet Secretary for Education in Kenya once lamented that less than 10% of PhD holders were qualified. This can partly be attributed to the proliferation of contract cheating, an industry in which Kenya is a major global player.

In many African universities, staff recruitment processes, performance management systems, staff development programs, and succession planning tend to be ad hoc and weak. The specters of tribalism, nepotism and corruption in hiring, promotion, and rewards cast a dysfunctional pall on many universities.  The professionalization of talent development and management is imperative for institutional growth, effectiveness, and resilience.

The faculty shortage can be addressed at the national, regional and continental levels by embracing what the Dakar Summit’s Declaration called, “diversification, differentiation and harmonization of higher education systems.” African governments and regional economic communities need to designate some universities as research universities that produce faculty and drive the higher education sector. Moreover, it is critical to promote academic mobility for students, academic staff, credit transfer, and mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications.

Beyond the continent, African universities need to take seriously mobilizing academic capital from the diaspora, and developing effective strategies to import excess academic labor from the global North much as universities in the global North aggressively import students from the global South. Governments and regional organizations could facilitate this by developing time-bound programs of well-funded transnational exchange with their counterparts in the global North, a kind of CADFP and Academics Without Borders writ large.

Research output in most African countries and universities is abysmal. Data from a few years ago shows that Africa as a whole accounted for 1.3% of global Research & Development (R&D). The continent’s R&D expenditure as a share of GDP was 0.5% compared to a world average of 1.7%, and 2.7% for North America, 1.8% for Europe and 1.6% for Asia. Its share of world researchers was 2.3%, compared to 42.8% for Asia, 31.0% for Europe, and 22.2% for the Americas.

Equally low was the continent’s share of scientific publications, which stood at 2.6% in 2014, compared to 39.5% for Asia, 39.3% for Europe, and 32.9% for the Americas. The only area in which Africa led was in the proportion of publications with international authors. While the world average was 24.9%, for Africa it was 64.6%, compared to 26.1% for Asia, 42.1% for Europe, and 38.2% for the Americas. Thus, like our economies, African scholarship suffers from excessive external dependence.

Strengthening African research capacities at national and institutional levels is imperative if the continent is to become a major player in generating knowledges and solutions to pressing global challenges. For too long, we’ve been reduced to importers of epistemological systems, consumers of knowledges and technologies from Euroamerica and elsewhere. This has reinforced our role as pawns rather than players in the international division of intellectual labor and the modern world system since its construction half a millennium ago.

During the First Industrial Revolution Africa exported enslaved labor for which it received trinkets; during the second it was colonized and trapped by the unequal exchange of raw material exports; and for the third the neocolonial dependencies were strangled by the neo-liberalism of SAPs and were sold “appropriate technology”. What role will the continent play under the Fourth Industrial Revolution encompassing the digitalization of all spheres of economic, social and political life?

As noted by the World Economic Forum no sector remains immune to digitalization from manufacturing and production; consumer industries; energy, materials and infrastructure; financial and monetary systems; health and healthcare; investing; media, entertainment and sport; mobility through the creation of autonomous vehicles; and trade and global economic interdependence. Already, the signs are not good: in 2017, Africa’s total capacity for high performance computing was a miserable 0.2% (mostly in South Africa) compared to 33.8% for the United States, 32% for China, 6.6% for Japan, 5.6% for Germany, and 3.4% each for France and Britain.

Not surprisingly, the continent is already paying dearly for the privilege of exporting its data for it to be stored and processed elsewhere! Clearly, African countries and universities must invest heavily in the unfolding technological revolution if the continent is to avoid its dismal fate during the previous three industrial revolutions. Africa has about a decade to speed up and expand its technological innovation footprint to shed its historical subordination as a pawn and become a player. The danger of remaining peripheral to the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Africa is not exploitation and marginalization, but historical irrelevance, becoming a landmass of disposable people.

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The state of physical and technological infrastructures on many African campuses is disheartening. The huge backlog of deferred maintenance shows itself in dilapidated buildings. Technological poverty became cruelly evident following the outbreak of COVID-19 when many universities were unable to pivot from face to face to remote teaching and learning using online platforms (at USIU-Africa we did so the day following the closure of the campus for we had invested heavily in IT infrastructure, had a robust business continuity plan, and put in place a comprehensive mitigation strategy to manage the effects of the coronavirus outbreak).

The pandemic revealed glaring inequalities among and within countries and institutions, between administrators, faculty, staff and students in access to broadband, electronic gadgets, data costs, digital literacy and preparedness, and so on. As with any crisis, the flip side is opportunities, and the bigger the crisis the bigger the lessons and possibilities for reform and transformation. Over the past year I’ve written extensively on how Africa in general, and universities in particular, can adopt, adapt and develop their technological infrastructures, training capabilities, and innovation in their core functions of teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and public service and engagement.

In a paper I recently co-authored with Paul Okanda, the Director of ICT and USIU-Africa, forthcoming in Journal of African Higher Education in Africa, we outline a twelve point agenda for the digital transformation of African universities, as well as an agenda for building national and regional research, innovation, and technological infrastructures. Being the realist optimist I am, I believe a brighter technological future for Africa broadly, and its universities comprising face-to-face, online and blended modalities for pedagogical, operational, and service delivery, is indeed possible.

Equally problematic in many African universities is leadership and governance. Despite reforms in recent decades in public universities spawned by democratization, state interference remains rampant. The power of the exchequer often translates into stringent rules and excessive intervention in the appointment of Vice Chancellors and other senior academic leaders. In Kenya, the Public Service Commission conducts interviews of VCs of public universities. University Councils are appointed by the government. Ironically, the expansion of public universities has spread the cancer of tribalism in which university leaders are increasingly expected to hail from where the university is located.

The mushrooming private universities suffer from their own ills. Often established by religious bodies or rich individuals the founders tend to behave as business proprietors and exercise capricious controls over management and even faculty and staff appointments. Many are run as for profit enterprises and focus on lowly marketable programs more befitting vocational schools.

Furthermore, opportunities for leadership development are sorely lacking. The principles and practices of effective shared governance are usually poorly understood by the key stakeholders including ill-prepared members of governing boards who seek to exercise misguided political or corporate executive power, administrators prone to authoritarian control, and faculty, staff and student councils who like to flex their activist muscles through strikes, demonstrations, media agitation, and litigation.

African Universities And African Future: The Meeting Point

Photo: Prof. Zeleza with his colleague

There is need to develop more opportunities for transparent and robust executive searches and leadership development within institutions and for the higher education sector as a whole at national and regional levels. As the number of higher education institutions and demands and pressures for highly skilled leadership grow, professionalized leadership recruitment, retention, and retooling at all levels from department chairs and college deans, to vice chancellors and governing board members becomes more imperative. The establishment of the Higher Education Leadership Management program by Universities South Africa, a consortium of the country’s 26 public universities, is a move in the right direction. More such bodies including higher education executive search and consultancy firms are essential.

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Increasingly academic cultures are characterized by complexity, change and contestations as universities become more diverse in their internal and external constituencies, and respond to escalating academic, co-curricular, public and market demands. Sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment are rampant on many African campuses. So is ethnocentricism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and marginalization and discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and persons living with disability. It is vital to promote inclusion along the divisive lines of gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, sexuality, ability and so on through formal institutional policies, awareness raising campaigns, and behavioral modeling by leaders and influencers.

One often hears that universities have increasingly become corporatized, which is a dirty word among many academics. It is true that corporate business practices have become more prevalent in the academy. This has been driven by pressures to manage complex and tight university budgets, as well as appointment of corporate executives to university governing boards for fundraising purposes. Faculty in particular tend to complain about the erosion of shared governance.

Thus, it is critical to raise collective institutional understanding and adherence to shared governance by putting in place appropriate policies, procedures, and practices to safeguard and promote it. Research shows that universities that enjoy a strong sense of shared governance have managed COVID-19 better than those that don’t; effective shared governance fosters the social capital of trust. This is true of nations as well. In an era of heightened struggles for diversity and inclusion, counterposed by angry populisms, partisanship and polarization, collegiality and civility become casualties, yet these are more essential than ever if African universities are to overcome the intractable challenges they face.

The quality of graduates lies at the heart of the value proposition of university education. Employability serves as a powerful measure of that quality, notwithstanding the lofty claims by universities as oases for contemplation, knowledge generation, and the cultivation of enlightened humanity. The evidence across Africa, indeed in many parts of the world, is quite troubling as mismatches persist, and in some cases appear to be growing, between the quality of graduates and the needs of the economy. This often results in graduate underemployment and unemployment, which in many parts of Africa is higher than for high school graduates. A scathing report on the subject in East Africa, noted that 63% of graduates in Uganda, 61% in Tanzania, 55% in Burundi, 52% in Rwanda, and 51% in Kenya, were found to lack job market skills.

Employability is not coterminous with salaried employment. A report we did at USIU-Africa in 2017 noted employability refers to the provision and acquisition of skills necessary to undertake self-employment opportunities, creation of innovative opportunities, as well as acquiring and maintaining salaried employment. Employability skills can be gained in and out of the classroom and depend also on the quality of education gained by the individuals before entry into the university. For African universities, the challenge is the extent to which they provide an education with essential employability qualities. This entails a holistic education that offers subject and technical knowledges, experiential learning opportunities, liberal arts competencies, and equips students with soft and lifelong learning skills.

Promoting student employability skills and capacities is a continuous process that should take into account rapidly changing occupational landscapes, and shifting generations of students with ever changing learning styles. African universities have to invest the necessary resources in faculty development for teaching and learning, and raise student rigor and expectations through the promotion of high impact pedagogical practices, such as problem-based, work-based, and interdisciplinary learning, undergraduate student research, and study abroad.

Some universities have embraced reforms in teaching and learning by establishing centers of teaching excellence, student living and learning communities, and popularizing curricula and co-curricula e-portfolios and transcripts. Technology makes it easier to offer personalized teaching and learning. The integration of the classroom, campus, and community as learning spaces must be intentional. The good news is strategies for improving teaching and learning and strengthening the quality of graduates are well-known. The bad news is many universities and faculty are resistant to change.

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Internationalization has always been a challenge and an opportunity for African universities. Despite the fact university education in some parts of Africa goes back more than a millennium, the few African universities established during the colonial period were modeled on those in the imperial metropoles. They left a lasting legacy of external institutional, intellectual and ideological dependence. Since independence there have of course been countervailing struggles for decolonization.

The challenge is to forge productive synergies between the forces and pressures of internationalization and indigenization and sustain universities that are both global and deeply rooted in African epistemological and ontological imperatives, socioeconomic and cultural landscapes, and political ecologies. This requires promoting internationalization within Africa, pluralizing engagements beyond the West to the global South especially Asia, and within each region to embrace African diaspora knowledges that are particularly powerful in the West and are often counter-hegemonic.

As part of the internationalization agenda, African universities have to become more discerning in their overseas inter-institutional partnerships. I am often struck how they tend to jump at every solicitation they get from abroad even from third and fourth rate institutions, or sign agreements that do not always serve their best interests. This is where brokerage by African higher education think tanks and consultancy firms and the diaspora can be useful. Similarly, African universities and policy makers for higher education have to be judicious in their engagements with international and intergovernmental organizations such as the World Bank that play an outsize role in African higher education policy development.

Further, caution needs to be exercised in relations with international foundations, overseas national agencies and university associations that influence and fund a disproportionate amount of research. In my dealings with foundations I’ve been particularly impressed by the Mastercard Foundation that eschews the language and edicts of haughty donors and believes and practices co-creation on projects with its African partners, as I’ve witnessed first hand at USIU-Africa.

Finally, African universities do not fare well in international higher education rankings. For example, in the Times Higher Education 2021 World University Rankings, only 60 African universities are included among the 1,500 listed, led by Egypt with 21, followed by South Africa with 10, Algeria 8, Nigeria 6, Morocco and Tunisia 5 each, and a few such as Kenya, Uganda and Ghana with 1 each. Out of the top ten African universities South Africa leads with 4, and only one, UCT is in the top 200, followed by University of Witwatersrand in the top 250, and Stellenbosch in the top 300.

I’m critical of rankings. They serve to establish hegemonic norms of excellence to influence, incentivize and change institutional behavior. They reflect and reinforce inter-institutional competition in an endless ‘reputational’ and ‘positional’ race that sanctifies the supremacy of already dominant institutions. However, I also understand that they are powerful marketing tools because of their material impact in influencing the flows of students, faculty, and resources. Globalization turned higher education into a strategic industry critical in the intense competition for the construction of the knowledge economies and societies of the 21st century.

Since existing global rankings don’t seem to serve African universities that well, some advocate boycotting them altogether and creating their own. This smacks of the “appropriate technology” discourse of the 1970s and 1980s. The real issue is for African universities to continue pursuing inclusive academic, operational, and service excellence. After all, this was possible when I attended college in the early to mid-1970s. My generation is a living testimony that high quality and globally competitive education can be maintained on the continent.

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Relatively early in your career you entered administration, why did you take that path?

Like many turning points in our lives, this happened by accident. I had never envisaged becoming an administrator until it actually happened. I first became an administrator at Trent University in Canada in 1994. Two colleges were looking for principals. Several colleagues approached me whether I would consider applying for the position in their college. I initially laughed it off. Me an administrator, what a cruel joke? Administrators are insufferable paper pushers who spend their time puffing their egos and plotting to make the lives of the indispensable faculty miserable.

African Universities And African Future: The Meeting Point

Photo: Prof. Paul Zeleza

But my interlocutors to the dark side of the academy persisted. They flattered me. I was organized and collegial and would make a good principal, they said. They threw in the incentives. I would live in the Principal’s Lodge for free and rent out my house in town and save on the mortgage. They pulled on my heartstrings as a professor, I would live among and mentor students. They even threw in my daughter, she would have lots of baby sitters and engage inspiring young people. What was not mentioned is that as the only Black faculty member at the University, I would bring a little diversity to the senior administration. I succumbed. I interviewed for both colleges, was selected by both, and chose Lady Eaton College.

As College Principal, I was responsible for supervising the welfare of faculty, students and staff in the college, setting the college budget and policy, overseeing co-curricular activities, and representing the College to internal university and external constituencies. Soon after I assumed the position, I was asked to assume another position as the Acting Director of Trent International Program that was responsible for the recruitment and advising of foreign students and organizing study abroad opportunities for our students.

I thoroughly enjoyed both positions, discovered a knack for organizing events, bringing in exciting visitors to the college, living and getting to know students and faculty and staff from different departments more closely than I had ever done before. Above all, I began to understand how the university really worked, that university administration is hard work, that administrators are by and large preoccupied with addressing problems and improving the lives of all members of the academic community. I was hooked.

Hardly had I sunk my administrative teeth at Trent when a new administrative opportunity arose. One day I got a sudden phone call from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Would I be willing to come and participate in their annual spring symposium which was in a couple of week’s time in place of Thandika Mkandawire who couldn’t come? Thandika had recommended me as his possible replacement and they were also fond of my work. I had never attended an academic conference in the US before, so I said to myself why not. I quickly prepared a paper on publishing practices in leading African studies journals, a subject that built on my interest in the publishing dimensions of knowledge production, dissemination and consumption.

It was a fascinating conference. I quickly noticed the tensions among the Africanists at the university. In the evening after my presentation, three of them approached me and asked whether I would be interested in applying for the position of Director of the Center for African Studies at the university. I had never thought of working in the US, which in my anti-imperialist posture I despised for its global aggression, unsavory history of subverting African liberation leaders and movements, and enduring abuses of African Americans whose unpaid labor for three centuries had helped build the country. So I scoffed at the suggestion.

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After I returned to Canada, the emissaries from UIUC persisted. They solicited some of my friends including Thandika to try to persuade me to apply. I began to review my antipathy to moving to the US. Unlike Trent where I was the sole Black faculty members answerable for events and developments in the entire Pan-African world, I would be a part of a sizable Black academic community at Illinois, and retrieve my individuality. For example, in 1991-1992 my colleagues at Trent expected me to have special insights on the coup in Haiti, the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, the war in Ethiopia, and the crisis in Chad, and in 1994 the Rwanda genocide and prospects for post-apartheid South Africa.

At Illinois I would be liberated from the tyranny of the ubiquitous Black spokesman. I would also be freed from the excesses of representation on every imaginable committee. And I would have Africanists with who to share and discuss my academic work. But I couldn’t bring myself to apply, so I asked for a compromise. I would send my CV without an application letter, in homage to my fading resistance to going to the US if I got the job. Another powerful motive was personal, my first marriage was falling apart, and new beginnings in another country might prove restorative.

So I went for the interviews when I was shortlisted. It was not the most auspicious way to interview as I came straight from Japan where I had spent two weeks together with several distinguished African scholars who had been invited by the Japanese government for a tour of Japanese universities—Michere Mugo, Njabulo Ndebele, and Kole Omotoso. The time difference was punishing. However, I managed to pull it off and received an offer. I moved in August 1995.

I was sad to leave Trent as well as Peterborough which I liked for its closeness to Toronto, one of the world’s great cosmopolitan and multicultural cities. I had gradually warmed up to living in the United States and looked forward to new experiences at UIUC, one of the finest public research universities in the nation. The Center for African Studies was also one of the largest with more than 80 faculty in 28 departments and nine colleges. However, I had no illusions about what I was getting myself into. The Africanist community was bitterly divided over ideology, resources, governance and personalities. As if to prove the point, once I was appointed director two delegations drove separately to Trent to meet with me. Each group tried to convince me of its position and badmouth the opposing group.

I learned an invaluable administrative lesson from this factionalism. I decided to take time to study, almost like an ethnographer, each faculty member affiliated with the Center by asking them to meet with me individually. Prior to the meetings I asked each one to share with me some of their most important writings. So the conversations were about their intellectual passions and their suggestions for strengthening and moving the center forward. Academics love to discuss their work, and to see it taken seriously. I also began to research on the development of African studies at the university since the center was formed in 1970 and in the United States more broadly. The latter was prompted by an acrimonious debate at the African Studies Association (ASA) annual meeting in November 1995 in Orlando, Florida. This was the first ASA meeting I attended on American soil. The 1994 ASA meeting had been held in Toronto which I attended and in fact organized a cultural event for it.

The debate was over an op-Ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Philip Curtin entitled “The Ghettoization of African History,” in which he claimed standards in the teaching and scholarship of African history in the United States were dropping because of the entry into the field of more African and African Americans. It was incendiary. I read it while still at Trent and was among those who signed a rebuttal. At the ASA forum in Orlando, I came to fully appreciate the deep racial divides and antagonisms in African studies in the United States. My research on the field resulted in a series of journal articles and books beginning with Manufacturing African Studies and Crises, which was later followed by two volume edited collection, entitled The Study of Africa.

As I better understood the center at Illinois and African studies in the US, we instituted a number of reforms. Instead of holding only one spring symposium over which everyone fought for their favorite topic or theme, we established a series of conferences and forums in addition to the spring symposium and weekly brown bag series, namely, the Fall Colloquium, African Business Workshop, the African Media Workshop, the Interdisciplinary Seminar Series, and the Graduate Students Conference. We also created the Annual W.E.B. Lecture jointly with the African American Studies Program. I met my current wife, Cassandra Rachel Veney, at the inaugural lecture, which was given by the anthropologist and then President of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, one of the oldest HBCUs, Niara Sudarkasa.

The business and media workshops were held jointly with the colleges of business and communication on campus and the World Trade Center and Northwestern University’s school of journalism as part of building the center’s intra- and inter-institutional partnerships. For the inaugural business workshop held in Chicago which focused on the transport industry, we attracted chief executives from such leading companies as United and Boeing, the World Trade Center in Johannesburg, ministers of transport from Africa and the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of Transport, Ron Slater, who gave the keynote address. Besides bringing policy makers, we designed the business and media conferences also to bring practitioners and academics on the topic for a three-way dialogue. The graduate student conference rotated among African studies centers in the Midwest. The contentious spring symposium itself was repositioned to focus on a collaborative theme with one of the university’s colleges from law to engineering.

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The center became a vibrant space of robust intellectual, cultural and social engagement. Over the years we brought in hundreds of prominent scholars, writers, journalists, business executives, ambassadors, government officials, activists, and even former presidents. Among the most memorable was the visit by former President Kaunda who played his famous guitar during the reception in his honor at my house; the riveting public lectures of Wole Soyinka and Randall Robinson, the founder of TransAfrica; the captivating performances of the accomplished Black Nova Scotian poet and scholar, George Eliot Clarke; and the consummate Pan-African Orchestra from Ghana. And there was the unforgettable Africa Fete that rocked Urbana -Champaign with the exquisite and soaring sounds of Selif Keita from Mali, Pepa Wemba from the DRC, Cheikh Lo of Senegal, and Maryam Mursal of Somalia.

For the 1999 spring symposium on “Human Rights and Development in Africa—Establishing the Rule of Law,” we brought in the who’s who of legal and human rights scholars and activists, such as from Nigeria Yemi Osibanjo who later became the country’s Vice President, from South Africa Pansy Tlakula who became head of the Independent Electoral Commission and Barney Pityana Chair of the South African Human Rights Commission, and from Kenya Monica Juma who became Minister of Foreign Affairs and later Minister of Defense and Willy Mutunga who became Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court, just to mention a few.

We also changed governance by moving from the appointment of members to center committees by the director to election by center members. To deal with resource challenges we embarked on a program of aggressive fundraising not only from the traditional source of funding from the US Department of Education’s Title VI program, but also from the leading philanthropic foundations, and other donors. On campus I negotiated more funding from the College of Arts and Sciences, our institutional home, and collaborated with various departments in the college and other colleges to hire Africanists by making academic arguments and demonstrating student demand for African studies courses in their areas that we would initially launch in the center.

The eight years I spent at UIUC were perhaps the most fulfilling in my intellectual and professional life. As a low level administrator I enjoyed the freedom to organize activities and events that appealed to me and my colleagues in the center. I also enjoyed teaching. I taught one undergraduate class and one masters class and supervised doctoral students. One of the gratifications of the teaching career is watching your former students become successful professionals. Some are currently in academe serving as professors, department chairs, college deans, vice provosts, and one became a vice chancellor.  Others are pursuing important careers in the public sector, diplomatic service, security services, the private sector, philanthropic foundations, international and intergovernmental agencies, NGOs and community based organizations, or are self-employed entrepreneurs.

The hyperactive intellectual environment at the center translated for me into unprecedented research and scholarly productivity. It is at UIUC that I became a truly interdisciplinary scholar. I published edited and co-edited books from the numerous conferences we held at the center. From teaching an MA class on African studies I published numerous journal articles and book chapters, culminating in an edited two volume compendium of how Africa has been constructed in all the major humanities and social science disciplines and interdisciplinary fields, as well in different world regions and transnational paradigms. The essays were written by scholars from the Americas, Europe and Asia that I invited to the class. On the eve of the class we would host intellectual salon dinners at my home or the homes of my colleagues in the center.

It was not easy to leave this intellectual paradise. But personal considerations prevailed. My wife and I wanted to be in the same institution. She preferred us to be closer to her parents and relatives on the East Coast. Our daughter had left home for college. And I wanted to leave administration for a while and focus on teaching and research.

An opportunity soon presented itself. One of my colleagues from the College of Law, Phill McConnaughay,  with who I co-organized the conference mentioned earlier on law and development and co-edited the book from the conference was appointed Dean of the Law School at the Pennsylvania State University. As it happened one of my oldest friends from secondary school, Tiyanjana Maluwa, an eminent lawyer then working as legal counsel at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, prior to which he served as the chief legal counsel at the AU and professor at the universities of Malawi, Botswana and Cape Town, had been offered a position at Illinois.

Phil wanted Tiya to join him at Penn State. In the meantime, the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State was looking for a senior scholar in the Department of African and African Studies (AFAM). So the three of us Tiya, my wife and I found ourselves interviewing at Penn State and we were offered tenured positions. We were excited and bought houses in State College.

But the euphoria proved short lived. My misgivings started during orientation for new faculty. It was so well choreographed and over the top that it seemed like an induction into a cult. I had a joint appointment in AFAM and History. The latter was alright as far history departments go. AFAM was a huge challenge. It was riven by dissensions along four axes. First, in terms of nationality between African Americans, Africans and Afro-Caribbeans. Second, in terms of gender. There was toxic masculinity and sexism perpetrated by some of the men. Third, there was the struggle for authenticity among the “scholars” and the “activists”. Fourth, there were fierce disagreements about the curriculum and faculty hiring.

As a Pan-Africanist I had no sympathy for the nationalist antagonisms; as a feminist I was appalled by the sexism; as a “scholar-activist” I didn’t see the two as separate but interlinked and synergistic; and as an interdisciplinary scholar I didn’t appreciate the curricula and hiring turf battles. Unfortunately, the college administration seemed indifferent at best, and quite tolerant at worst as some kind of perverse affirmation of the inherent dysfunctionalities of ethnic studies programs created as polite concessions to Black agitators and political correctness, rather than the imperative of academic inquiry and rigor. I shifted the bulk of my line to the history department where I found considerable peace.

It became clearer to my wife and me that we needed to work in a healthier environment.  Ironically, we had some of our best times socially at Penn State. As an “intercultural” couple our home became party central as we hosted get togethers of our colleagues both Black and White. The parties were quite popular as there was little to do in State College. We also enjoyed the scenic three hour drive to visit my in-laws in Columbia, Maryland and taking part in family events from weddings to funerals and family reunions, and above all just hanging out with the parents on the weekends or during public holidays.

Photo: Prof. Paul Zeleza

Personally, I withdrew into my teaching, research and writing. I had bright and eager undergraduate students, and brilliant PhD students that I worked with from several departments. And I’ve never travelled as much as I did while at Penn State. In some years I would visit up to a dozen countries in an academic year. In July 2004, for example, I went to Seoul, South Korea for a UNESCO conference, flew back to New York and a few hours later flew to South Africa. I loved it for it took me away from the petty academic politics at Penn State.

After three and half years my wife and I went back to Illinois, this time to the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). The Dean tried her best to convince me to stay at Penn State by giving me a generous “retention offer”—higher salary and a title of Research Professor. Earlier in the year, I had been named the recipient of the Class of 1933: Distinction in the Humanities Award. The entreaties fell on deaf ears.

I was excited getting back into administration, this time as Chair of the Department of African American Studies. It was as if I wanted to prove that so-called ethnic studies departments can be intellectually and administratively “normal”. This was of course the case at UIC. As part of the appointment, I was promised an honorific title, which I received after it was approved by the college and university. I became the first to be named the Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor. I had to give a university-wide public lecture as part of the award.

The African American Studies department had a healthy gender balance and discourse. I was hired despite being an Africanist not an African Americanist. One reason being that they wanted the department to be diasporic. My departmental colleagues such as the renowned historian, Barbara Ransby, and distinguished sociologist, Beth Richie, were scholar-activists par excellence. They are first rate scholars who have been  involved in institutional, city, state-wide and national struggles for diversity, inclusion and equality for decades. They were supportive and critical of the Obama presidency, as they knew the man and had worked with him in Chicago and Illinois politics.

It was at UIC that my gravitation to diaspora studies solidified. By then I had already started working on a major global project on African diasporas funded by the Ford Foundation in Nairobi. Surrounded by African American colleagues in the department and across the university more generally, immersed me more deeply in African American studies and the studies of other African diasporas. As I did when I joined the center at UIUC, I read the major publications of all the faculty members in the department. I was impressed by the breadth and depth of their individual and collective scholarship. The department also engaged in extensive outreach programs in Chicago and collaborated with other African American studies programs in several Chicago universities. My colleagues had extensive academic and political networks that benefited the department in its intellectual life and co-curricular activities.

There was reputational rivalry between the UIC and UIUC campuses. Having been at both, I thought the competition and hierarchy between the two was misplaced and I was keen to connect the two in our areas of study. One avenue was through the History Makers project. Created in 1999 by a visionary arts and media professional and entrepreneur, Julieanna L. Richardson, as a national non-profit research and educational institution, it is “committed to recording African American oral histories to refashion a more inclusive record of American history and to educate and enlighten millions worldwide.” The department also garnered university wide support in hosting the 2008 Annual African Studies Meeting held in Chicago at which I assumed the presidency of the ASA. I invited my old mentor, Prof Ogot to give that year’s Bashorun MKO Abiola Lecture.

In 2009, I was nominated for a Deanship at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (LMU). I had been nominated to such a position before. The position was at one of the nation’s leading private universities in Texas. I made it to the final two candidates and even did the tantalizing finalists’ visit with the provost with my spouse and his partner. The search company told me I was trumped by the other candidate who had more administrative experience as department chair and Dean at a leading private university in Atlanta. I chalked it to practice for a future opportunity. And that’s what happened with LMU.

In preparation for the series of interviews I consulted my friends and colleagues who were or had been college deans, including Dwight McBride who was my boss as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UIC. He had previously been Chair of the department I was heading, after which he went to Northwestern University before returning to UIC. He is currently President of the New School in New York. I got excellent advice for I did well in the interviews and was offered the position which I accepted. My wife was given a tenured appointment in the Political Science department.

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Moving to Los Angeles was like moving to another country. The weather and vegetation reminded me of Malawi. The traffic jams were legendary. The people seemed to have a laissez faire cheerfulness. The entertainment industry cast its spell over the city that seemed to attract those searching for stardom or self-reinvention. Sumptuous homes often lined the expansive golden sand beaches and the hills that enveloped parts of the sprawling city. Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in my Lexus convertible that I had bought in Chicago in 2008 was absolutely delightful.

LMU itself, sitting on a bluff, had splendid views of parts of the city and the Pacific Ocean. The campus boasted postcard beauty. University Hall where the Bellarmone College of Liberal Arts is located was spectacular with its wide corridors, indoor plants, and the open spaces outside the departments with with comfortable chairs called “villages” where students often mingled. From my spacious office I could see parts of Santa Monica and Malibu. There are a few cities I’ve lived that I liked as much as Los Angeles. My daughter loved it, too. She came to visit on every little pretext. Revealingly, she never visited us in any other city where we worked after she left home, not State College in Pennsylvania, Cheshire in Connecticut, or Nairobi in Kenya. For our part, we stopped going on long vacations, preferring instead to visit the string of beautiful coastal towns between Los Angeles and San Diego.

I found being Dean both demanding and delightful. The college had about 15 academic departments and almost an equal number of institutes and centers, more than 150 tenure track faculty and a slightly larger number of adjunct faculty. The university had grown rapidly in the previous decade so part of my job was continuing to put systems, policies, and procedures in place to match the growth. We strengthened and established new college wide committees, tenure review processes, faculty recognition initiatives, and internal and external communications, and the modalities of formal and informal engagements between my office and the various college constituencies.

As Dean of the largest college in the University I worked closely with the other deans and often led in university-wide organizational change on such matters as general education, accreditation, and strategic planning. I worked well with the two provosts and two presidents I served under during the four years I spent at Trent. Three aspects of my job as Dean were particularly rewarding.

First, was overseeing the faculty tenure process. At the college level, only the Dean had authority; there was no tenure committee. I introduced committees for the second and fourth year reviews, and spent time advising and mentoring junior faculty on the tenure clock to ensure their success. Second, I was responsible for faculty appointments in the college, so besides the departmental interviews, I interviewed every job candidate. Altogether, during my tenure we hired more than three dozen faculty notwithstanding the financial squeeze brought about by the Great Recession, so I interviewed more than a hundred job candidates. I used to call the interviews free seminars, for I was exposed to cutting edge analyses in each candidate’s respective discipline. I couldn’t have wished for a more intense intellectual encounter as the one hour I normally spent with each candidate in my office. My interdisciplinary scope expanded exponentially.

Finally, while I had raised money before mostly for my own research and from government agencies and foundations when I was center director and to a smaller extent as department chair, as college Dean we were expected to spend at least a third of our time on fundraising. The university was then in a $400 million capital campaign, and each college was given a target. My predecessor as Dean who moved to Santa Clara University as President had left a good foundation, mostly in the appointment of the college’s remarkable development director, Donna Gray. Donna patiently taught me the ropes of development, took me for training sessions, gave me detailed briefings about each potential donor we met, and travelled with me across California and Arizona to meet alumni and raise funds for the college.

It was a new world for me meeting real multimillionaires and billionaires, who were remarkably cordial and hard nosed. They could smell bullshit a mile away. I learned fundraising is really about friend making, marrying the donor’s passions and the institution’s needs. I think I became good at it. I certainly became quite friendly  with some of them such as Michael Segal who runs the famous Santa Monica apparel firm, Fred Segal; Michael Huntington, the renowned California politician, filmmaker and businessman who generously funded the Huffington Ecumenical Institute in the college and invited my wife and I to his 65th birthday; Jim and Tisch Wood who my wife and I visited several times at their home in Long Beach, and John Kilroy, the real estate tycoon and his wife, Nelly, just to mention a few. At the end of the capital campaign, we had surpassed the campaign goal of $25 million.

This being Los Angeles the university sometimes participated in development events in famous entertainment centers. One of the most fun was a scholarships fundraising event for needy students held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that was often attended by famous film stars and musicians. At one such event, while making a speech I couldn’t help telling Ms. Cicely Tyson, the inimitable actress who died on January 28, 2021 at 96, who was sitting in the front row next to Smokey Robinson and other stars, that after the event I was going to call my mother-in-law that I had met her hero in person to impress her that her son-in-law knew people. Ms. Tyson cracked up.

The time-consuming pressures of the Deanship left little room for research and scholarship. In 2012, I even reluctantly decided to close my website, The Zeleza Post, which I had established in 2004 and became quite popular, often getting more than 25,000 unique visitors each month. The site published provocative essays by a team of young African and diaspora academics such as the late Pius Adesanmi from Nigeria, and Wandia Njoya from Kenya. It also publicized conferences, hosted e-symposia, and provided newsfeeds from the major newspaper that I read regularly from the US, Canada, Britain, and South Africa. However, I was able to write and publish a few journal articles. From my own essays on the site, I published two books of essay collections.

However, my academic life at LMU remained rich. Departments in the college organized seminars that I attended whenever time allowed. The college itself hosted a two-day conference every year, the Bellarmine Forum, and brought prominent speakers. To my pleasant surprise when I joined the university, I found that Wole Soyinka had a position there. He was a President’s Professor, the most prestigious honorific title at LMU and he gave several university-wide presentations a year. I was the only administrator who was given the title of President’s Professor.

I was truly sad to leave LMU and Los Angeles. That’s one place I wouldn’t mind returning to. Like many careers, the higher you rise in academic administration the more you’re on the Rolodex of head hunters. And so it was that I was approached by an executive search firm for a position of Vice President of Academic Affairs at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Once I got it, my wife and I trekked back East. Connecticut is a small, pretty state mostly comprised of quaint little towns that we loved driving to. One of its attractions is its closeness to New York City which my wife and I visited quite often to go to Broadway shows, restaurants, shop, or just hang out. And we occasionally drove to Maryland to visit family.

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My new professional life started well enough. I immediately developed a liking for the Deans of the eight colleges and schools of Arts and Sciences, Business, Communication, Health Sciences, Law, Medicine, Nursing, and Education. But I soon became disillusioned. The long-serving president sought to control everything. When student numbers fell and revenues dropped in my second year more than thirty-faculty were unceremoniously let go and one of the Deans who protested was shown the door. At senior leadership meetings I immediately noticed everyone looked afraid and hardly spoke unless called to. It was bizarre. I was quite happy to leave for another job.

Out of the three positions I was offered in 2015, a provostship in Maryland, as founding CEO of the African Research Universities Alliance, and Vice Chancellor (president) of the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, I chose the last one after long deliberations with my wife and closest friends. I withdrew from a search for a senior position at one of the world’s largest foundations where I was one of the last two candidates.

Where do you think our continent, Africa, is headed?

As a trained historian I’m more comfortable dissecting the messy past than deciphering the unpredictable future. I recall in October 1981, there was a conference on North Africa and the Middle East at Dalhousie by futurists in disciplines that like modeling reality into tiny boxes to make facile predictions. Anwar Sadat loomed large in the deliberations on the first day. The next day he was assassinated!  In the early 1980s, I used to get into heated debates with the isolated defenders of apartheid South Africa in Jamaica who dismissed the prospects of the end of apartheid in our lifetime. A few years later it was over, the ANC took power, and Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of the rainbow nation. And more recently, in January 2020, who could have predicted the devastating impact of the novel Coronavirus, that it would unleash the worst health and economic crisis in a century?

However as humans we don’t just live in the past and present, we also live in the future by anticipating and envisioning it, trying to change, control and recreate it. As a thinking species, we always plan; we intuitively expect the future to be different, worse for the pessimists, better for the optimists, and more of the same for the agnostics. I tend to be an optimist, not in the idealistic or delusional sense, but out of a profound belief in human agency. In the 1970s, disappointed by the deeply compromised postcolonial states and inspired by the radical liberation movements, many of us latched on to Marxism, and Marx’s injunction that “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” This gave rise to what we termed the pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will; the need for cold hearted analysis of conditions as they are, and ironclad conviction of the agency we possess to bring about change.

This has been my mantra ever since, that in our analysis of Africa we should indulge in neither blissful wishful thinking nor faddish dismissal of the possibilities of change. We must first, undertake rigorous analysis of things as they really are, and second, identify the social forces that can remake things as they should be. In the 1980s and 1990s, many of us in our generation railed against Afro-pessimism perpetrated by Africa’s eternal detractors and Africa’s own disillusioned cynics. When Afro-pessimism gave rise to Afro-optimism as African economies began to recover and resume the growth trajectory of the early post-independence years and democratization spread, some of us resisted the newfound euphoria. In this sense, I’m not an unbridled Afro-pessimist or Afro-optimist, rather I would classify myself as an Afro-realist.

We must resist the dangers of oversimplification, of seeing the fate of an entire continent as moving in lockstep. One of the most heinous legacies of Eurocentricism is the dehumanization, dehistoricization and homogenization of Africa, the tendency to strip the continent and its peoples of their bewildering complexities, contradictions, and continuous trajectories of change. Historically, there have always been uneven development across Africa, different political economies, diverse cultures, and divergent performances in the endless story of human progress and possibility on this ancient home of our species as humans.

All this is to say that the pattens and processes of political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological change across the continent will continue to vary reflecting the volatile constellation of regimes, socioeconomic conditions, and social movements. Overall, having lived in Kenya, which doesn’t represent all of Africa, of course, I’ve become less defensive or dismissive of critiques that used to rankle me when I lived in the diaspora. It’s partly because I haven’t had to live with the daily dehumanizing assaults and indignities of racism. It’s also because I confront the huge developmental and democratic deficits of a postcolonial society on a daily basis.

I’m appalled by the crassness and corruption of the elites that have infected the entire society, creating debilitating ethical deficiencies. I’m disheartened by the tribalism, sexism, xenophobia, and intolerance I often see. However, I’m also encouraged by the indefatigable work of the human rights, environmental, and gender equality activists. I’m deeply moved when I see young people anxious to learn, honest people who fend for their families against great odds, ordinary people who are fascinated to meet me as a foreigner and are curious about my country of origin and what I think of their country.

It is in this maelstrom and messy mix of social, economic, cultural, and political realities that the future of Kenya is being constructed, contested, and recreated every day, week, month, and year. Our challenge as scholars, progressive scholars, is to understand our societies, truly understand them, and help craft new and empowering languages of hope, change, and transformation.

I certainly look forward to taking more control over the rhythms of my daily life, getting enough sleep, and indulging in my favorite pastimes of eating out, walking in parks, traveling, attending arts shows from musical and theater performances to visiting art galleries and museums in different cities and countries. Particularly endearing will be the opportunity to spend more time with my family.
So I’m likely to be very busy, but I expect it to be a different kind of busy, one whose pace I’m at greater liberty to set, and whose demands and consequences are more limited compared to the exactions of being VC!

What are your plans after you’re done being Vice Chancellor at USIU-Africa?

Being VC has been one of the great highlights of my professional life. It is the apex of the university system. It has been exhilarating to contribute to institutional growth and transformation and the lives of faculty and staff, although employees are always critical of administrators, and especially to make a difference in the lives of the thousands of students who have studied at USIU-Africa during my tenure. In fact, it’s for students that many of us do what do, why we entered the academy in the first place, to educate and enlighten young people, prepare them for lives of professional success, personal satisfaction, and civic engagement as ethical citizens. In that sense, higher education for me is not a job or just a career that has provided me a living, which of course it has, but a special calling, a sacred vocation

In so far I had a life before I became a VC, I’ll of course have a life after I leave the position. I’m not one of those people who wishes to serve on and on. We’ve enough trouble with our political leaders or corporate chief executives who hate and flout term limits believing they’re indispensable. No one is. Actually, the higher your position is in a country or an organization the quicker you’ve to be replaced if anything happens to you. So I believe it’s good to leave when you still have the energy and inclination to do something else, to reinvent yourself.

Thus, I very much look forward to the time I leave the position of Vice Chancellor. It will be going back to the future, to more robust teaching and learning, research and scholarship, public service and engagement than I’ve been able to do as VC, indeed as an administrator since 1994. I’ve several unfinished book projects and a whole range of new ones that have been kept in my mental drawers. Given my extensive and diverse administrative experiences and knowledge of higher education I also think I’ve a lot to contribute to mentoring younger faculty and administrators in a particular institution or institutions, as well as think tanks and consultancies on universities including those in Africa.

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I certainly look forward to taking more control over the rhythms of my daily life, getting enough sleep, and indulging in my favorite pastimes of eating out, walking in parks, traveling, attending arts shows from musical and theater performances to visiting art galleries and museums in different cities and countries. Particularly endearing will be the opportunity to spend more time with my family.
So I’m likely to be very busy, but I expect it to be a different kind of busy, one whose pace I’m at greater liberty to set, and whose demands and consequences are more limited compared to the exactions of being VC!

Thank you, Toyin, for this invaluable opportunity to reflect and share my personal, professional, intellectual, and political life and passions.

 

 

Part B
Interview Analysis And Reflections By Toyin Falola

African Universities A nd African Future: The Meeting Point

Photo: The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Paul Zeleza (center), and DVC – Academic and Student Affairs, Amb. Prof. Ruthie Rono (right), together with another senior university official, met representatives from the African Development Bank (AfDB). USIU-Africa and AfDB have entered into a partnership to host the Coding for Employment Center of Excellence

Humans are special not only because they live in the present or are bound to the past but also because they have the ability to create the future using their current or past experiences as tools in the recreation process. The human past and their present are the two most important materials that can be used to anticipate what the future would be. Moreover, because humans can provide the necessary information required to predict what could come later, they make conscious efforts and choices to mitigate potential havoc that can come with the unknown future. Concerning their past experiences, the African present has been a product of their compromised past, even though the future can be unpredictable because nature can sometimes be complex to understand. Despite our inability to make accurate predictions about the African future, however, we are convinced that the future of Africa exclusively rests on the investment they make in education, university education precisely. The exactitude of our prediction is not up for debate because the relations between education and the development of a people is not something to be contested. Education molds individuals and the academic environment where they are nurtured and developed to use their latent talent to their advantage and society’s benefit.

In essence, the future of Africa and the African universities are mutually dependent because quality education or a substandard one would always be assessed based on how a society thrives or the direction they move. Thus, while education is critical to the continent’s future, the form and quality of education produced and shared to the people, which is largely dependent on the investment made into the education sector, would reflect what positions they are in the comity of nations. Every African would always envision a great future for the continent because they have suffered substantial dehumanization and experienced unmatched cultural deracination in the last one thousand years, but the prospect of success cannot be achieved through wishful thinking. Success is the concrete result of consciously invested efforts. This means that if Africans fail to invest their energies and resources into what would ensure their financial, political, cultural, and social emancipation in the future, they may continue to experience the usual stagnation that has cast doubts on their individual capacity to bring about desired changes.

To understand Africa’s probable future, Paul Zeleza discusses the challenges that face African universities, and then touches on those opportunities that lie ahead. In-between, he recommends the needed solutions that will catalyze their progression. There may be questions such as: “What are the impending challenges that frustrate African universities from being at par with their contemporaries in other parts of the world?” Zeleza gave a very educative insight into the ravaging challenges facing African tertiary institutions, banking on his professional experiences and academic sagacity. Very incisively, he identified ten key dimensions of the challenges and opportunities that can be associated with the African universities: institutional supply, financial resources, human capital, research output, physical and technological infrastructures, leadership and governance, academic cultures, quality of graduates, patterns of internationalization, and global rankings. In the order of chronology, these are elucidated in what follows.

One of the inhibiting challenges choking Africa from meeting up with the contemporary time is the reduced enrollment figures in their universities. And because people are not enrolled in these institutions, the number of university institutions available in Africa cannot be compared to those available in other continents. Therefore, the huge institutional deficit associated with African schools has been a notorious impediment for rendering African universities valuable to their social demands. Other continents make provisions for their people to acquire education at all costs so that they would produce vibrant individuals who would use their intellectual competence to develop a formidable civilization. Ironically, Africa is one of the continents that produce youths in a geometrical capacity. Regrettably, however, they have not made adequate preparation for the enrollment of the demographic bulge into their university education system because of the paucity of institutions. More sardonic is that in the post-independence period, private universities outnumber public-owned institutions in Africa, yet they are unable to proffer solutions to this enduring problem. These statistics show the diminishing interest of the government to invest in education.

Next is financial resources. This has remained a mountainous clog in the wheel of the progress of African universities. Generally, fundraising sources for African universities are strictly underwhelming, and the existing ones are losing their strength. Universities are created either by an individual or by the government establishment; however, the funding of schools is a collective responsibility. Philanthropic donations, government financial interventions, internally generated revenues, among others, are the usually known sources for African institutions, and the condition is even compromised by the fact that they do not flow as expected. The challenges persist in the understanding that private universities that have more numbers of universities depend on mono-source income generation—the tuition fees. Different factors are responsible for this problem. Most of the successful alumni of African universities, both private and public, have a questionable source of wealth and would not be involved in the project of supporting their alma mater because of the fear of public backlash or criticism. However, once schools can get adequate funding for their establishment, it would influence students’ intake.

Similarly, Zeleza addresses human capital in relation to African universities. He argues that the reduction in the production of Ph.D. candidates contributes largely to this scourge. The average number of Ph.D. graduates produced in some African countries cannot match what is produced in a single university in some American universities. Interestingly, people are aware of this development and see African universities from a different perspective. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the lack of energy from Ph.D. graduates drains the enthusiasm of people interested in pursuing a greater academic certificate, and the discouragement is evident in the lack of adequate personnel to handle some departments or courses in these African universities. Consequently, many facilities and departments are not available in these universities, which has combined to produce the weak academic output associated with African schools in contemporary times. In addition to this challenge is that the teachers, who should have been physical evidence of the usefulness of academics, are poorly remunerated. In essence, upcoming Africans do not see them are models to follow but as roads to pass through in their process of becoming.

Research output follows. Research and development records from data statistics in Africa show a woeful performance when compared to other continents. There is a progressive decline in the quality of research investment by the government (and even non-governmental organizations), and the domino effect this has on the development of a competitive university education cannot be overemphasized. Not producing researchers comes with very devastating consequences, including the revalidation of the Eurocentric biases that Africans are epistemologically weak to contribute to global solutions to intransigent challenges. This results in the indirect affirmation of the assumption that Africans deserve continuous colonization by “stronger” civilizations. The inability to produce researchers who would provide effective solutions to the myriad challenges confronting Africa has necessitated their overdependence on importing abstract ideas and concrete productions from the international community.

In addition to the already long list of challenges facing the continent, physical and technological infrastructures are twin challenges on the verge of consuming the continent holistically. It is practically cringe-worthy to realize that African universities lack dependable infrastructure that fits into the contemporary academic market, and this situation is compounded by the ubiquity of technological poverty in the Ivory Towers. From a distance, the available infrastructure in many African universities is proof of sapped and poorly managed erections that cannot function according to the modern requirements of a knowledge production center. A university is naturally expected to be where people go to for ideas and reinvigoration of their individual philosophy, and in situations where the physical appearances of the inherent infrastructure are woeful and bad, it does not only show the indecent disconnection between the government and education generally, it discourages all potential academics from embarking on that project of pursuing education. Although the world is investing heavily in ICT, the African university managers do not even consider this as a second thought.

As it is generally known that leadership and governance are directly important to the actualization of a people’s dreams, the lack of a purposeful one is a stumbling block. The African university sector faces a big problem today because of the poor leadership and governance demonstrated at their highest offices. Quite similar to what obtains at the political domain of many African countries, the cancer of tribalism has been very infectious in recent time, and its location of damage is the African universities. Even when the Public Service Commission chooses the administrators of these universities, the arbitrary tribal politics of ensuring that the administrator of a university comes from the school’s geographical location has crawled its way into the system, and the results are eternally foreboding. For the most part, it creates a culture of division unsuitable for the enhancement of egalitarianism where qualified individuals are offered decent opportunities to serve in administrative positions. Members with the executive authority poorly understand the principles and practices of representational leadership to select these candidates, and their poor knowledge usually costs the quality delivery expected of a university.

One rather unfortunate problem that is least expected to expand its ugly territory into the school environment is the horrible academic culture of discrimination in contemporary times. Sexism is still a common problem in African universities, xenophobia still looms large, misogyny is a perpetual crisis, sexual harassment has continued to surge high, and ethnocentrism has practically escalated in unexpected geometry. The combined consequences of these can be very worrying because they create a divisive atmosphere not suitable for learning. Closely linked with this is the corporatization of African universities, which places unhealthy pressure on administrators to seek financial alternatives under stringent conditions. If this is the case, shared governance would be impossible and will continue to frustrate efforts to produce desired outcomes in academic engagements. Essentially, the cleavages of division along gender, religious, ethnic, and cultural lines should be managed and adequately considered in the scheme of things if Africa wants to move forward. Promoting inclusion would facilitate a spiral development expected within the academic community in order to provide necessary solutions to the counterposing challenges.

Also, the quality of graduates produced in African universities contributes to the issues on ground. It is bewildering that quite a number of graduates produced in these universities in modern times lack the requisite skills needed for the transformation of the economy. Their condition is worsened because they are rendered dysfunctional by the inability to change the economic environment to their taste through opportunities creation. As this is the situation, the effects show in the growing numbers of unemployed graduates, leading to the underemployment of the products that have passed through the academic system. It becomes a source of worry for intellectuals because when employability remains a nagging problem, the dwindling economic system of the continent will remain its brainchild. Employability should not be measured by salaried employment but by the ability to solve problems in an environment where there are chains of opportunities that will come through problem-solving. In essence, employability is the ability to be contextually innovative about and be responsive to the challenges of the environment to undertake these opportunities to one’s advantage. However, this is a problem in Africa because the produced graduates are of lower academic quality.

It is important to note that the patterns of internationalization have always been another notorious challenge and, ironically, a prospect for African university education. At the inception of the colonial enterprise, there are troubling agitations that Africans have an epistemological deficit, and as a result, they must be educated in the Western way. This is despite the fact that university education in the continent spanned more than a millennium ago. Thus, the sets of universities built by Westerners, especially during the colonization era, imported their content and academic culture into the African environment, making these universities reliant on the West. It would eventually be deciphered that its sustenance is impossible because such education institutions condemned African knowledge episteme. Hence, decolonization became the next wave of activist actions in the post-independence era. Meanwhile, rather than uprooting the western influence on these universities entirely, they can force a productive synergy between the forces of internationalization and indigenization, where it would be possible to build universities that would be global in approach while being rooted in African epistemology.

According to Paul Zeleza’s final analysis, African universities’ global rankings prove that the continent still has a long way to go. Even when there is a consensus that such rankings validate already institutionalized bias, it does not excuse the fact that these African countries are underperforming in their statutory duties. For African universities to attain the position of respect, it becomes imperative that they improve their productivity of excellence and place a premium on quality assurance. Despite the growing politicization of the education industry, the academic stakeholders should develop the appropriate strategies to save the continent from the claws of political jobbers who have no understanding of education’s cardinality and its centrality to communal development. These universities should draw inspiration from the understanding that Africa has produced graduates with valuable content in the past and that these products are exceptionally fine in their different countries of residence today, which means that quality can actually be achieved. Once the university education system in the continent is allowed to run independently, it would usher in a restorative agenda that would catapult the continent to its deserved position.

Although there is substantial evidence that the African future is doomed and defies redemption, the fact remains that predicting the future based on these circumstances can be erroneous. This is because nature continuously proves humans wrong with events that defy scientific predictions in recent times. For example, the world’s scientific community could not predict something as socially reconfiguring and economically re-constructing as Covid-19, whose emergence has changed the traditional methods and systems of several people and nations. As pointed out by Zeleza, humans can continuously engage their present situation, analyze them, and make projections based on the findings already done by the people in the academic community. However, what should be resisted is the temptation to predict with exactitude what would happen to a people in the future. This is outrageously dangerous, and there have been unsuccessful efforts in the past to predict the African future. The crux of the matter is that these predictions cast some level of doubt and create fear in the people, preventing them from achieving their potential maximally, even when these predictions are eventually wrong.

Paul Zeleza believes that the continent’s future rests substantially on the investment in the education system, especially the tertiary institutions. Corruption in the public domain must not be allowed to spread into the academic community as this would have a substantial effect on the educational culture of the continent. More regrettably, if the tentacles of corruption are allowed to spread to the intellectual community, corrupt practices and the moralization of decadence would be restrategized because intellectuals would have created morally appealing reasons for perpetrating corruption. Meanwhile, the products that graduate from these corruption-infested intellectual societies would be unleashed to function in different public positions. The resulting afflictions of this scourge would be the declination of ethical standards of the society and the promulgation of substandard products that are incapable of challenging global academic excellence. In effect, the African dream would be very difficult to achieve in such an atmosphere. Scholars are meant to be solution providers to the myriad of challenges facing the society, and when they do not function maximally in this capacity, there is a deficit somewhere.

.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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Interview

Attahiru Jega and Kadaria Ahmed:The Professor, The Journalist, And Their Country

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The Comfort Of Faith, The Insurgency Of Hope, And The Promise O Success

THE  TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

A Conversation With Prof. Attahiru Jega (4)

 By

Toyin Falola

Attahiru Jega and Kadaria Ahmed:The Professor, The Journalist, And Their Country

 

Ms Kadaria Ahmed is a reputable journalist with nationalist fervour. By virtue of her profession, she has access to numerous pieces of on-field information, which naturally places her ahead of many of her contemporaries in Nigeria. She is well-known for many things as far as the country’s sociopolitical evolution is concerned because her profession and passion have placed her in a promising position of importance, allowing her to represent the interest of the common people and project their grievances and views. Thus, when she introduced herself and stated that her interview with Professor Attahiru Jega would be segmented into three phases, her intention was made bare. The segments – Politics, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and Pan-Africanism – were meant to spark a conversation that would have all-round advantages to the community of people who are hungry for a better Nigeria and the international audience calculating when Nigeria would live up to its name as the giant of Africa. It does not need reiterating that the reason for Ms Ahmed’s breakdown of her interactions with our guest was to achieve something important concerning the socioeconomic and sociopolitical currency of the nation. To a considerable extent, Professor Jega is a tireless figure whose pedigree is a mix of public activism and political participation.

Starting her drilling with the political segment, it was quite revealing that Ms Ahmed would be curious about Nigeria’s political intimations, which, in most cases, have become strong reasons for shaping the public opinion on the issue of politics in the country. To some, Nigeria faces perennial challenges of system dysfunctionality not because there is something inherently wrong with the country or because, as has been wrongly generalised, the black people have an inherent inability to drive enviable development by themselves without the help of outsiders. But Nigeria’s problems have persisted because some people have continued to display erratic behaviour while at the corridor of power through the perpetual betrayal of their individual ideological beliefs and the moral hara-kiri they commit whenever they are shown the colour of money. This means that the political parties in the country are weakened not by ideological manoeuvring of their collective beliefs but by the conscious efforts of the people holding the reins of power, who, in turn, control their economic directions. The two major political parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC), are seminally indicted in this embroilment because they have been weakened to the point that they cannot intervene when their members dig the country’s grave.

Attahiru Jega and Kadaria Ahmed:The Professor, The Journalist, And Their Country

Photo: Kadaria Ahmed with President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo

So, the question, “Does the Professor of political science, Attahiru Jega, believe that the two identified political parties are irredeemable?” was timely due to its sociopolitical dimension, and urgent because of its historical significance. Jega is an important force as far as the country’s political system is concerned. This is not only because he has acted in different aspects of the country’s political landscape, but he is also a very intimidating force in producing ideas useful for shaping a people and a country if the system calls for it. Perhaps because he was dissatisfied with Nigeria’s political process, our guest confirmed his membership of a political party that reflects his political philosophy and is fair enough to accommodate plural views and manage diversities in a more organised manner. Anyone familiar with the country’s political landscape knows that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than any other political party other than PDP or APC to ascend power. This knowledge has always been the driving force for belonging to political parties. People do not realise that joining either of the parties makes no difference, but it would be difficult to challenge them to win a political duel.

READ ALSO: Attahiru Jega and Jibrin Ibrahim: Meditations on Power Politics

With their knowledge of Nigeria’s political system and process, the mercantile political jobbers have mastered Stalin’s ideological style because they have made substantial efforts to transform the ideology of draining all nutrients necessary for citizens’ development or growth, and have gone a step higher in mastering the art of diabolism. For example, the Nigerian government would award projects, then go to sleep and re-award the same project repeatedly after grandstanding padding of the financial requirements and allocation of funds for the execution of the project that should be completed within a few years. Thus, the insincerity of Nigeria’s two leading political parties, the PDP and the APC, has become domestic knowledge. They wield so much power and autocratic authority that any one of them in power would become the haven of security for anyone who has committed criminal offences against the country in the past. Their members become saints as long as they belong to those parties and are immune to public criticism. So, when Kadaria asked if this knowledge informed Jega’s decision to join a new political party, the answer could not be unanticipated.

Although we did not expect the interviewee’s response to be negative because it is common knowledge that the two parties are mere duplications of each other in matters of ideological convictions, and the commitment to stay true to these ideologies cannot be broken by nationalist spirit, we are more educated as to the reason for the initiation of an elopement process that pushed him into joining a different political party entirely. Professor Jega believes that the two parties are a marriage of convenience for the individuals in the system. They are populated by politically active elites who rarely pursue collective dreams with the same enthusiasm and desire as they do personal ambitions. To them, the loyalty to their pocket is ultimate, and anyone or factor that stands in their way of achieving this provincial dream or intention would be crushed with all their might. For political parties who have such an ideological view, it is difficult to have true intentions behind most of their actions. Essentially, the country is breeding merchant politicians who genuinely install patrimonialism as a government system and see every electoral process as an opportunity for investment. Their time, energy, and resources are considered an investment that would be harvested when they have the opportunity to ascend power. They are either awaiting their turn when they would be awarded juicy contracts or allocated different opportunities at the expense of the masses.

READ ALSO: Speaking Truth To Power: Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

Like a business strategy, these politicians go into elections with the ambition to win at all costs, mostly because they cannot bear the pain of losing. They would naturally want to accrue their expended wealth and energies back with increased returns. The historical dimension of the question was what drew Professor Jega into digging into the political history of APC’s formation. According to him, the party had the cornucopia of wounded aspirants in the arsenal and a pile of business and political merchants who specifically had a capitalist relationship with the political party and would not back down until their economic investment was recouped. Therefore, it was difficult for the party to talk about a genuine interest in service because not only would they be indebted to many who have offered their kind and cash in the process of their ascendance, but they would also be needlessly yielding to the pressure they mount. The APC was immediately populated, not by politically neutral people, but by those whose pedigree was questionable because they previously held public positions that performed below expectations. They came into the party with their financial largesse and offered a soiled hand of friendship to those seeking to consolidate power from the centre. Upon ascension, it became a moral burden for the party’s leadership and the country to challenge these known criminals because they were already indirectly embroiled in the action.

Attahiru Jega and Kadaria Ahmed:The Professor, The Journalist, And Their Country

Photo: Professor Attahiru Jega

As expected, this response was a pointer to several layers of questions, the topmost of which are those affecting the country’s electoral system. In fourteen months from now or thereabout, the country will witness another round of elections in which leaders will be elected into different political offices. Given that the said political parties have demonstrated their capacity for ideological compromises, which often result in the commodification of the available posts for the highest bidders or the imposition of people who will do their masters’ bidding into these offices, Ms Ahmed wondered if Nigerians should be worried that the future again is gloomy since their political future is almost decided already, negatively at that? What should be the working alternative to wrestle the political jobbers out of power so that the two dominant political parties would not be allowed to repackage themselves into power just as they have done for many years? Suggesting the evolution of a third force who can challenge these parties, Professor Jega is of the view that such effort is not impossible because it appears that it is the only one that looks feasible if the ambition is to dislodge the country’s political system from the PDP or APC hostage framework.

Therefore, a broad alliance of progressive forces is a political antidote to the perpetual challenges of sociopolitical inanities that keep ravaging the country. They must arise and be strategic in their focus. Their ambition should not necessarily be to grab power at the highest political cadre of the country, that is, the presidency or the leadership of other arms of government. They can mobilise public support and garner their population strength to occupy basic political positions in Nigeria for grassroots impact at the local level. When people of similar ideas and philosophies collaborate on something of that importance, they would understand that they are investing their energies in the rejuvenation or the revival of the country’s dampened spirit of nationalism, which would propel them into taking actions that will transform the country and plant its roots deep into the heart of global development. Nigeria is blessed with sufficient materials, both human and natural resources, needed for its transformation for all intent and purposes. The country is only sabotaged by the people who do not have good intentions or the moral confidence to accept their inadequacies. Anyone can dream of getting a country out of its perpetual problem of backwardness, but it takes a different level of confidence to remain committed to that ambition in the face of surplus and power that they have never seen before.

As Ms Ahmed admitted at the beginning of the interview, the second segment of her questions addressed the issue of the INEC and the country’s political process. She asked Professor Jega, our honourable guest, if the INEC as an institution has a role in instilling political discipline in the country and what these roles would be. Closely trailing this is the question about our guest’s thoughts on the reformatory possibility of the new electoral reforms that have been transformed into bills awaiting the President’s signature. Professor Jega hinted that there is a legal framework that is statutorily expected to function and operate. Therefore, these stipulated injunctions determine what it does or do not do.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s political merchants become more tactical in their conduct than the majority of the citizens would ever imagine. They look for all means possible to disqualify individuals who aspire to improve the polity. They are systematically doing this by digging up documents that would disqualify potential people-oriented candidates who can help salvage the country from impending failure.

READ ALSO: What Is Our Understanding Of Modern Nigeria? – Reflections On A Book Presentation

Due to this arrangement, the INEC faces a big difficulty in facilitating changes to the operations of political parties during elections. When monies are allocated to implementing the country’s political process, candidates who join the system would be seen not as having the people’s genuine interest at heart but as investing in a business where they would have the opportunity to reap back in manifolds. In this case, the winners of these elections dip their hands into the state’s coffers and expend as much as possible to prepare themselves again for future political engagements. This means that the ability to challenge them in the act is inherently difficult because they are not given the power to check their financial behaviours while in power and are also not equipped to check what they spend while seeking political offices. This is where the problem becomes more complicated. The spending in the pre-election period has done maximum damage to the country’s democratic culture. Rigging in the country’s electoral system does not manifest in stealing the ballot boxes by hoodlums and touts; it begins with systematically buying votes by sharing monies with the potential electorate. And because they are deprived of good living due to endemic poverty, the electorate usually embrace all opportunities to get these monies.

On the prospect of the INEC interfering in the affairs of political parties, Professor Jega argues that there is a limitation of influence on what the electoral institution can do. The internal affairs of a political party are exclusively theirs, and the fact that they should determine how they intend to run their affairs is not up for social debates. It is assumed that every political platform is built on a specific philosophical basis that projects their views and values, their objectives and aspirations, and how they intend to achieve a better society through frameworks that they believe are practicable and practical. It means that when there is internal wrangling, they need to be addressed by the internal organs created to carry out that specific assignment. Whatever they decide to be, the established norms they have identified as the pillars of their political structure will guide their collective agenda. So, it is really difficult, if not generally impossible, for the INEC to have some level of interference on how the parties conduct themselves and their activities. As a result, how political parties conduct their primary elections reflect their philosophy and political views. Whether they function as democratic groups is a subject of debates and contestations. They will need to consider their integrity if they realise that things are not moving in the direction they should.

Amidst all these, it is important to ask where the representation of women stands in the country’s political system. Ms Ahmed is curious about this because female representation in the country is a source of perpetual worry as it has significantly dwindled in recent years. This declination of female inclusion means that important decisions affecting their demography would be taken, which will have very devastating consequences. In response to the question, Professor Attahiru Jega revealed that the exclusionary politics that cut out the participation of women is an ominous signal itself. To confront this existential challenge, he had made measurable efforts to improve the status quo so that there would be substantial involvement of women as a gender and youth (including males and females) as a category. They have considerably expanded their reach to ensure a general improvement in this area. It is important to be diplomatic and essentially strategic to address this effectively. One way of achieving this is to ensure that they increase the legislative seat for women, as this would signal that the legislators’ positions are not threatened. Since the power to change the system lies with them, it would not be possible to force them into making decisions that would supplant their importance. However, reserving more seats for women is also a good global practice.

On the Pan-African identity, our interviewer tries to interrogate the guest about his position on the issue of Islamic militancy that has besieged the continent. It appears that terrorist attacks that are now prevalent across every region in the continent have a particular agenda they push or ambition in mind. There must be strategic efforts and methods to contain their cyclone of destruction. Professor Jega addresses this issue by saying that the scourge should be seen as a global challenge that needs a global alliance for its fumigation. A given supply chain helps promulgate these violent crimes, and because they appear transnational, global coordination is needed to stem its violent tides. Beyond this, any country faced with the consuming insecurity problems must have an in-house capacity to deal with issues that threaten their peace or attempt to tear down the fabric of their security architecture. They need to rise to these challenges before they graduate into what will overstretch their systems and ridicule their institutions in the long run. Nigeria is a constant victim of terrorist activities because the country lacks a strong security institution, and the available ones are losing the ability to confront these challenges. Their helplessness is caused by the general shortage of security personnel and the government’s underfunding of the security apparatus. Consequently, the country and the continent as a whole suffers from the hands of terrorists who have been unrelenting in their mission to keep disrupting peace and destroying innocent lives.

 This is the third report on the interview with Professor Attahiru Jega on December 12, 2021. The extensive interview, which has received millions of views across different platforms, exposes Nigeria in all of its ugliness while also offering a path out of the present predicament. This report covers the segment between Professor Jega and Kadaria Ahmed. For the transcript, see:

 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlwZfh5Ynh8

Facebook: https://fb.watch/9S6PBuNg0l/.

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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Interview

Attahiru Jega and Jibrin Ibrahim: Meditations on Power Politics

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The Comfort Of Faith, The Insurgency Of Hope, And The Promise O Success

THE  TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

A Conversation With Prof. Attahiru Jega (3)

 By

Toyin Falola

 

 Undeniably, the expectation on Nigeria as a new country in 1960 was high, even among the European imperialists who plotted its strategic downfall, which plummeted the economic blueprint on which it was meant to embark on a journey of revitalization. In 1960, it was not hard to sight the prospect of a country that, despite all contradictions and strives, invested in human capital development to ensure that its people take on the baton of good governance to a height where nearly all other countries on the continent would have derived their encouragement, drive, and motivation to see a common direction for the journey toward true and absolute freedom. Countries that had bubbling intellectuals and ideological strongholds were very concerned about redefining their political future, rescuing it from the claws of the consuming ambitions of the supremacists, and redirecting it to the desired point where it would maximize all the potential  with which it was naturally endowed. To achieve this, people endured a series of outrageous experiences, ranging from being battered by the European establishment to being mesmerized by their antics of political brigandage. Therefore, it was understandable that the hope placed on the country was high, and sixty years of existence has shown the country’s tragic situation resulting from various experiences of internal contradictions.

Professor Jibrin Ibrahim is not a scholar whose intention is hard to spot. His intellectual disposition does not allow for such romanticism, especially when the public interest is at stake. He asked, mildly and straightforwardly, what dampened or deepened Nigeria’s woes to the extent that the goals and objectives collectively dreamed about in the 1960s became orphans with the dim possibility of success in the nearest future. This question had a deeper meaning than just interrogating the interviewee about the times and timelines when the collective aspirations of the country began to suffer untold consequences. Instead, it was an attempt to reflect on why the elites, especially the political elites, gave in to their provincial intentions, allowing the pressure to distract them from planting the country’s feet into a solid foundation where the future generations would have been able to continue in the manner that developed countries in the world today experience. This was necessary because it is considered that without understanding the fundamental challenges or knowing the foundation of problems, no amount of ideological baptism in socialism or people-oriented values will make a country pursue any development, no matter how small.

 

Attahiru Jega and Jibrin Ibrahim: Meditations on Power Politics

Photo: Professor Jibrin Ibrahim

Professor Jega truly understood the import of the question, and from his immediate evaluation of the situation, the first thing that occurred to him was the mismanagement of opportunities. It is generally believed that no matter how impoverished a country is in human capital index or resources capacity, there is always an opportunity to rise if there is a true desire for transformation. In many cases, this transformation would begin with an investment in human resources because the first place where victory is usually promised to a people is their mind, and when that mind is poor and deficient, it is almost impossible for them to actualize the collective aspirations, even if it is just to breathe. This means that a country devoid of intellectual content or the human resources that come from it would lag behind others who invest in refining their crude human potential. The divestment of Nigerian politicians in human resources makes them mismanage available opportunities because they think of their provincial ambitions when the national dream should have been the only thing on their minds. However, the mistake of opportunity mismanagement was an inherited one. The colonial imperialists operated on the philosophy of divide and conquer to establish themselves fully in the country. Instead of deconstructing this dysfunctional system, the inheritors of the political system embraced it. Where they should have invested in the collective development of the country, their ethnocentric suspicion swerved them away.

Attahiru Jega and Jibrin Ibrahim: Meditations on Power Politics

Photo: Professor Attahiru Jega

Surprisingly, the mismanagement of diversity would not be the only elephantiac impediment that distracted the political merchants from their nationalist focus and installed mercantile socioeconomic and socio-political visions in them, which served their parochial ambitions. Assuredly, a level of practical happiness seized the political system of the country when the men in uniform took power, and because they came with the intention to instantiate changes, they were seen as vanguards who would redirect the country on the appropriate trajectory of progress through a transparent process. However, nothing of significant importance happened as they continued in that trend. Therefore, it would go to the level of thinking that the country’s problem was congenital, if not genetic, as the very improvements that all well-meaning Nigerians dreamed of were unceremoniously dashed again despite the reintroduction of democracy in 1999 in the Fourth Republic. The ones in the toga of fairness, whose political philosophy is naturally expected to be built on the foundation of people-oriented ideas, inherited the dogma, and their intellectual poverty was further revealed for the world to see.

Between the early inheritors of independence from the British government to their military representatives who took power from them by force and the ones that ascended the political power through elections starting from 1999, it is difficult to identify which one is more ethnocentric. The problem appears to be generational. Perhaps because of this wanton concentration on ethnic competition at every opportunity to serve in government, the space for nursing or incubating ideas in the heads of the average Nigerian leaders is occupied by a different thing, its devaluation to the country notwithstanding. And since ideas are the conceptual instruments of invigorating institutions and instigating every form of change that is seen in any civilization, their absence would inevitably result in a period of political interregnum, not necessarily in the sense that representatives in various positions of power would be absent, but in the sense that they would be there and yet would have no measurable importance or impact.

As Professor Jega implied, this is Nigeria’s situation. The absence of intellectual virility combined with a hallucinating sense of ethnic affiliation or commitment that rid leaders or any other individual of having the capacity to attend to issues of national concerns. The survival of conflicts, accumulation of violence, perpetual overstretching of institutions, increased productions of unemployable people, the astronomic explosion of inter-political greed, among others, are surviving evidence that Nigeria’s political system is not going anywhere. While these factors constitute a problem, they are a product of intellectual emptiness that has infiltrated the political fabric. Now the problem is multifaceted. Individuals who see opportunities to join politics in Nigeria either want to continue the trend or keep the system stagnant, thereby making progress difficult.

READ ALSO: What Is Our Understanding Of Modern Nigeria? – Reflections On A Book Presentation

Attahiru Jega is rather a positive vibe in himself. He has graduated from being a member of the public who rants about their existential challenges and whines about them from the beginning to the end of the day. Rather, as he identifies challenges, you can be sure that he already has a potential solution that, if tried, would yield desirable results. He noted that all said problems are devastating when considered intimately but that reforming institutions is one of the ways to relieve the people of the pains they have created. However, he highlighted that the idea of reforming institutions is a great one if the individuals who would head these institutions are mentally refined. No matter how beautifully reformed an institution is, when it is headed by individuals whose moral outlook is internally rotten, the results of such a setting would eventually be poisonous to its growth. Therefore, what is required to achieve this is the development of what the Professor called elite consensus. If considered very carefully, having a common vision for the country, especially among the intellectual and political elite, will naturally push them to design an effective framework for building a formidable political culture that would be the envy of the world.

While we would later address the culture of primitive accumulation of material possessions that result in broad corruption in the Nigerian socio-cultural trajectory, Professor Ibrahim seemed to have a more pressing issue that we must attend to. He raised the question of ideological suicide, or maybe evasion, which has permeated the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari and that Nigerians are currently expressing. From the earlier arguments raised by the guest, Professor Jega, he asserted that the emergence of the military personnel in the period gave the masses some hope. They believed the uniformed leaders would come with ideological clarity as vanguard military. Such a dream of self-reliance, which coincidentally was shared by General Muhammadu Buhari in 1984 when he was the country’s military ruler, has departed from him, raising a genuine alert to the public about its implication on the country’s development. Buhari, in 1984, believed in self-reliance, and his ideological framework showed he was not interested in subsuming the country’s political and economic freedom under the perpetual dictations of the West. However, barely 35 years later, the man is going down perhaps as one of the presidents that borrowed the most money, this time from the Chinese government. So, what has happened? The question arises.

Amusingly, the question is not the only thing that arose. A dry sense of humour naturally forces one to smile or laugh hysterically. And the reasons for this are not foreign; they are things on which we can reflect. President Buhari is a septuagenarian, and one would not be mistaken to say that the brighter side of Nigeria, if it comes fast enough, will not enjoy much of his presence. If the good future we all envision and intensely await does not come at the speed we desire, it cannot be contested that he would not be there to suffer any of the consequences of his input. In essence, Nigerians need to be worried, especially because of Buhari’s ideological suicide from someone who did not believe in borrowing about thirty-five years ago to someone who now seeks financial aid to pay salary, service debts, and fulfil recurrent expenditure demands, among other things, from China. Ironically, China was not significantly better off than Nigeria in 1960 when the latter gained independence.

As a result, it leaves so much to be reflected on when there is an omen of a bad future, as it appears that the future of the younger generations is being mortgaged by the actions of this man and his administrative crew. Borrowing is not necessarily bad, but it becomes an issue when it reaches the stage when repayment becomes difficult, if not logically impossible. Such reasoning is very difficult to fault, even Professor Jega concedes, not because its undebatable foundation stares at everyone in the face, but because the consequences are already being felt.

READ ALSO: Speaking Truth To Power: Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

The problem is challenging, the future is gloomy, and the situation becomes direr as we continue to underplay how insincerity could become the basis of facilitating a deepening dysfunctional system. According to Professor Jega, while the culture of borrowing, which has now been entrenched in the political philosophy of President Buhari’s administration, the fact that it is circumscribed with insincere intentions gives valid reasons for the palpitations of the public’s hearts, especially for those of us who can tell the future using current events as an instrument of prediction.

Nigerians are cornered to believe that the habitual borrowing by the current administration is meant for the redemption of the economy, perhaps because of the conversion of the monies into infrastructural projects that would bring economic growth. However, the public is oblivious of the fact that the amounts of money spent on these projects are disproportionately inflated. Roads within walkable kilometres are said to be constructed with a huge amount of money more than what is spent to build longer and more durable ones in nearest African countries. When confronted with all these facts and realities, it is logical to conclude that the borrowing in which Nigeria has entangled itself in recent history has no iota of visionary reflection. Borrowing from China will have devastating consequences, especially when there are no rational means of paying back.

When President Olusegun Obasanjo lobbied in the international community to have Nigeria’s debts forgiven, he was dealing with multilateral organizations that operated on democratic culture and diplomatic tendencies. However, China does not operate on such a philosophical framework, making it more difficult for Nigeria to escape the commitment their perpetual borrowing has forced them to make. It is not difficult to spot China’s unforgiving attitude toward its debtors, considering that it has begun to take over the infrastructures in some African countries that were built with its unrepaid monies. So, it is sensible to desist from the culture of borrowing, especially from countries that would not mind dragging the integrity of the borrower country as a result of its leaders’ blindness. Also, it is forward-looking to consider internal solutions to the myriad of challenges that are facing the said country.

Again, Jega does not identify a problem without having at least a solution in mind. He asserts that the awareness of the potential consequences of borrowing by those who understand international politics and dynamics of power relations should motivate people to mobilise actions by the people. In other words, he believes that people should not fold their arms and stand aloof from governance because the responsibility of administration lies too on the citizens, only that their angle of functioning requires them to continually engage the masses and speak truth to power. People should not withdraw from the country’s political activities, feigning ignorance of what is happening or hiding behind the guise of not being in government.

The consequences of bad leadership, Jega argues, are not partisan, and neither do they respect political boundaries. Everyone would witness the repulsive consequences of irresponsible leadership they have installed, including those who made the political decisions that brought people to this raging condition and those whose silence is an accomplice to their evil perpetrations. To make the country come back to its appropriate position and rejuvenate the spirit of nationalism needed for the crystallization of collective dreams, we need a radical shift from the mindset that brought us to this condition in the first instance.

The interviewer, Jibrin Ibrahim, is aware that the prospect for the country’s economic redemption does not lie on relying on a single economic source, as Nigeria has done with crude oil since the time it was discovered. Much of our revolutionary transformations would depend on diversification; after all, many countries do not have crude oil, yet they are doing exceptionally well in their own right. In essence, he asked Professor Jega his thoughts about investing in agricultural productions as an alternative source of financial oxygen and which would bring stability to their engagements and all other things. Our guest addressed the question with a good sense of intellectual control. Among other things, he said that there is the need to have a developmental strategy that recognizes the rural nature of Nigerian society. This is principally necessary because it needs to generate a large number of economic values. However, this would be preceded by land reform, modernization of agricultural productions and engagements, and mechanized farming development. All these are important preconditions to be met before the country can be free from its overbearing reliance and compulsive dependence on the mono-economic source, which usually has unwholesome consequences for the country and its citizens.

Photo: National Assembly, Abuja

The conversation between the two erudite professors, Professor Attahiru Jega and Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, was dominated by an evaluation of the Nigerian situation and how it has continued to be a source of worry to the people within the country and those in the diaspora. Indisputably, a level of emotional torture is experienced by anyone who believes that Nigeria should have gotten to or attained a level of greatness that would serve as the benchmark for measuring standard countries, considering the economic and political potential it has from the beginning of its very identity, after independence. People who understand all these and still realise that there are no prospects of salvation and development would never be condemned when they doubt the country’s future, mainly because they know that it could be generally impossible given current circumstances.

In conclusion, both the interviewer and the interviewee agreed that there is a need for the people in the corridor of power to be more open-minded. Nigerians must aggressively pursue the development agenda so that their conditions would not be aggravated by the decisions that they make today due to their selfish ambitions. It is difficult to deny that the country has the potential to become a shining light on the continent, but this can only happen if there is a clear-cut roadmap that will help the people navigate their way as they move forward. Without this, the dream of becoming the giant of Africa would be a mere fantasy.

This is the second report on the interview with Professor Attahiru Jega on December 12, 2021. The extensive interview, which has received millions of views across different platforms, exposes Nigeria in all of its ugliness while also offering a path out of the present predicament. This report covers the segment between Jega and Ibrahim. For the transcripts, see: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlwZfh5Ynh8  Facebook: https://fb.watch/9S6PBuNg0l/.

 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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Speaking Truth To Power: Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

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Speaking Truth To Power: Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

THE  TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

A Conversation With Prof. Attahiru Jega (2)

By

Toyin Falola

 

Speaking Truth To Power Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s FutureNigeria has been dubbed the giant of Africa for many reasons, most of which are not politically valid. Although there is a history to this phenomenal label, the tide of values that Nigeria generates has considerably waned to the point where one would question the political correctness of the expression that the country is the giant of Africa and the benefit the imagined giant adds to the continent. In the 1970s, when the country reached its peak in global economic growth and financial prosperity, it performed the roles of a “Big Brother,” providing money and human personnel to some African countries with weaker social and political strength to confront their existential challenges, and in some places, gave financial support to the ones suffering from the brutal hands of poverty. During this period, many countries in the continent benefited from the nation’s generosity, and it was understandable why it was tagged the giant of Africa. Many people have often questioned the logicality of this appellation, apparently because there was no official declaration from other countries to honour Nigeria for the saviour roles that it played during this period. Of course, this conclusion is not illogical, but when we are a people guided by ubiquitous yet unpronounced philosophy, it is not out of line to think or assume that a person who does great things is automatically accorded that social honour.

Fast-forward the period to about 40 years later, the declination of the country’s moral value and political importance is not only unprecedented but also so phenomenal that any attachment of giant strides to it is either a mere nostalgic ululation of its past or empty rhetoric meant to give the people and its figurehead government a false sense of superiority. This is not an attempt to disparage the people at the helm of Nigeria’s political affairs in the last 40 years but to interpret what they do in the offices and reach a solid conclusion. Any government that does not understand how to solve its security problems for more than 60 years of independence cannot be considered to know where it is headed because it does not even remotely appear like it has a blueprint. In essence, it would be a figurehead regardless of the physical size of the heads of their political representatives. Any nation that does not understand that education is the path to its future and has refused to spend a huge part of its budgetary allocation on it because of its ignorance of its cardinality to its development will not produce state-of-the-art thinkers. It would, therefore, not matter if the representatives are a group of professors; they will still be seen as figureheads.

READ ALSO: Attahiru Jega: The Measure Of Excellence And Integrity

Speaking Truth To Power Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

Photo: Professor Attahiru Jega

It is because some people have understudied the patterns of Nigeria’s progress, and like many others who can predict the future from the content of the present, concluded that the country’s tomorrow is bleaker than the history of yesterday that they decide to consider taking a drastic approach to fixing their existential challenges. As a result, some have called for a revolution, others have called for secession, and some for devolution of power, all of which would bring substantial progress to the country if given careful and thoughtful attention. Asking why Nigeria cannot function like smaller countries such as Switzerland, Singapore, and many others was intended to reflect on the profound agitations of some concerned people who believe that the country’s potential is not tied to its large population but how they can effectively manage their resources. The importance of seeing the country from this perspective is to ensure an extraordinary step is taken to redeem the country in the political, economic, social, and philosophical sense. Nigeria, till now, does not have a working philosophy, a unique political culture, and no one can confidently say it has a national identity that can motivate its people to dedicate their strength and efforts to its transformation. Anyone feigning dedication to Nigeria in modern times is either seeking an opportunity to inflict maximum damage on the country by looting it at any chance or is doing so because the country is a source of their financial oxygen.

Professor Attahiru Jega stands firm on his position that greatness associated with countries is not a measure of their population or size. Countries could do good or bad irrespective of their size if the governance process is arranged so that the structures and institutions could address the fundamental problems confronting the country. However, he agreed that many countries that do well achieve that success predominantly because of their management abilities; it is also evident that some countries are bigger than Nigeria and are equally successful and well-organized. However, he addresses the important issue of the country’s ability to use or manage diversity, which has been its fundamental problem, leading sceptics to believe that the country’s problem is its large population. Nigerian leaders have shown a surprising deficiency in the management of diversity. They have moved so badly on this path that they are almost installing a culture of management sterility.

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Anyone familiar with psychoanalysis would not claim to be a stranger to the concept of defence, a term used to designate activities or behaviour that make people run away from things that can potentially overwhelm them when they remember. In essence, Nigerian leaders use defence as a strategy to escape the reality of their emptiness. Religion and ethnicity are the two most effective cards that the serially useless political leaders play to deflect the attention of the masses and cover their ineptitude. A Nigerian leader would award a contract to cronies, increase the financial commitment in electromagnetic proportion, eventually do a shoddy and low-quality job to siphon the government funds intended for the project, and then play the ethnic card when public accountability comes to play. Ironically, there is a pool of members of their ethnic group wallowing in abject poverty and swimming in the pool of wretchedness, who have not caught their attention in any meaningful way. However, immediately this group of detached fellows hear that their roguish kinsmen are being questioned for their roles in fraud, they will constitute a formidable group to “save” their own. The poor defending the rich, a comedy on tragedy. They are not to be blamed. They are helpless because they are victims of the evil machinations of the Nigerian political jobbers who have perfected the art of tricking them persistently. So, governance issues and diversity management do not record a good performance from the Nigerian political representatives. Therefore, it reveals the reason for their phenomenal declination in the community of nations in the world and their eventual loss of self-respect. To this extent, the ones calling for separation, devolution, and revolution are not wrong within the context of their very agitations.

Many people have concluded that Nigeria is a welfare country that depends on a single resource, especially since crude oil discovery in the Niger-Delta region. This mono-economic mentality has necessitated Nigeria’s intellectual and political paralysis and tempted many observers to believe that the government itself has no business with the issues of development as one may have fantasized about. Professor Attahiru Jega, however, believes that the misappropriation of the fund generated is evidence of leadership dysfunctionality in the first place. Money and power are a bad mixture, especially in the hands of short-sighted ones who cannot peep into their future by looking at today’s actions. Money provides them with the luxury that intoxicates them to misbehave and momentarily forget the future they once dreamed about, and power blinds them from taking mentally applaudable steps that would transform the people and launch the whole community into a different enviable height. There are sufficient examples of irresponsible leadership with irreparable attitudes to lead virtually across all stages of representation in the country, and this explains why it is usually very quick for the people in the global North to pointedly identify countries in Africa as examples of regression, backwardness, and stagnation, and the reason is not racist.

READ ALSO: Remaking Nigeria: Seun Kuti’s Revolutionary Ideas

Speaking Truth To Power Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

Photo: Professor Omotoye Olorode

Nigeria is crippled because of its leaders’ blindness, and the states and regions, which would have been doing exceptionally brilliant, depending on the federal government for revenues. The states that have abundant human and natural resources in parts of the country would have to wait for the federal government to survive, month in, month out. Regrettably, the region that provides the resources and the income that Nigeria generates is abandoned and uncatered for. It is devastated and oozing out the liquid of misery and anguish, suffering agonizing pains from the scars of degradation and unearthing its geographical landscape to get the resources that feed the country. That part of the country would have been strong if its resources were well spent and it was not mandated to survive only through its dependence on the federal government. Therefore, it is apparent that the narcissistic leadership style of those piloting the country’s affairs is to be blamed for sterilising the country’s power and might. When the Nigerian government pretends to carry out projects, it just must have been extremely and unjustly overfed from the nefarious ambitions of the disproportionate allocation of funds to itself.

Professor Olorode has been exceptionally grounded in the country’s affairs, an intellectual position he has attained through years of dedicated services and experience. He probed Professor Attahiru Jega in manners that revealed his philosophically profound ways. He introduced himself by recounting the numerous brave and selfless efforts that Jega has made towards the redefinition of the country at different fora. In addition, he explained that the trajectory of Jega’s socio-political importance is evident in his gravitational pull in the country’s politics, where he began as a partisan ideologue who believed in the entire and effective redemption of the country and snatching it away from the claws of the mercantile political jobbers who have no good intentions with leadership. From this position, Jega moved to being an umpire in deciding an important fate in Nigeria’s history as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and today he is back to the corridor of power, serving in different positions and offering his intellectual contributions to the advancement of the country. Jega is loaded with intellectual resources, and because he is often found in the corridor of power recently, several opinions have been raised to interrogate his involvements. Some class of people see that as the effort of the political class to incorporate him, but it is important to know if his decision to participate is a private one or for the actualization of collective dreams.

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From Professor Jega’s responses, one would notice that the academics in the country find themselves in a very challenging and tempting situation because of their human capital and resources. They are aware that the political class in the country is essentially a deficit of ideas and that the only thing that mattered to them is the accumulation of wealth and the soiling of the people’s name in the process. Therefore, the situation is tempting to the extent that when they are called to serve in national positions, it is most likely that such is a bait to soil their name or provide an avenue for them to prove their intelligence, that latter of which is usually rare. Jega has truly participated in the project of advancing the country, and his positions hold experienced brilliant and revolutionary ideas that transform the areas where he is asked to serve. He has crisscrossed different spheres of influence, serving as a radical opponent of irresponsible leadership through his ideological commitment, and representing in some of the political roles where he had to act in line with the dictates of the government. His desire for a better Nigeria singles him out, and this has served as the basis for all his engagements and involvement in every position he finds himself in.

The former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University and the 4th Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission remains a liberal-minded individual who believes that isolationist behaviour would have no desirable outcomes on the polity, especially as the ones in control of it are not ideologically ready to change their ways. As such, sitting on the fence in matters of national significance and urgency would not particularly bring meaningful development. Subsequently, Professor Jega said he functioned either as an academic staff union leader or as an executive member of INEC and in other notable national positions, not by compromising his philosophical commitment to socialist and masses-oriented development goals. He has a good record of having continued in the path of his vision by adding value to institutions whenever he is provided with the opportunity to serve. He argues that his focus has been to add values to the needs and aspirations of the Nigerian citizens over whom the duty of transformation of the country is meant to be shown. Damage mitigation and post-traumatic effects management have been his cardinal job in the country, where he offers his contributions to reduce the damage that the selfish political leaders have caused. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government, like many others in Africa, have chosen to be immune to the decibel of the people’s voices and agitations, continuing on their path of irresponsible leadership without remorse.

Speaking Truth To Power Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

Photo: Prof. Jega with President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo

Professor Olorode pointed out that some people’s decision to remain on the sideline is informed by the understanding that the Nigerian government is circumscribed by unfaithful leaders who have made strenuous efforts to sterilize the systems and institutions built to enhance crucial development in the country. He lamented that the institution in charge of elections in the country, for example, is relegated and deprived of the statutory power to make all the vital decisions that would affect the country’s electoral process. For instance, how would the country’s INEC not influence how electoral candidates spend their money or what amount of money each candidate vying for political office may spend? All inadequacies help install irresponsible leadership because it creates a dysfunctional system in the process. The candidate who can spend almost recklessly would have nothing special to offer the country since their primary intention is to recoup the money they spent in the course of soliciting the people’s support and goodwill. In essence, representation is commodified, and the assignment of quality representation remains unrealistic in the process. These measures frustrate the ideologically consistent Nigerians (or people) who seek to lend their intellectual excellence to the country’s advancement. Thus, there cannot but be some “fencists” who would arise because of this dysfunctional system and behaviour.

Meanwhile, the political class does not coordinate a country’s political system exclusively; the academic elites have numerous contributions they are naturally meant to make. Such public responsibility, however, has been systematically jettisoned by the academic community in the toga of National Universities Commission (NUC), who, in many cases, compromise on the sound principles of quality representation and have been too loose to accommodate otherwise inimical interests that would potentially jeopardize the interest of the common people. This knowledge mandated the question from Professor Olorode about Professor Jega’s position concerning the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), who has refused to be consistent with the ideological convictions that brought about their creation in the first instance. Professor Attahiru Jega kept his cerebral energy flowing as he took on the question. He maintained his confidence that the gradual reduction in ASUU’s values and focus is inextricably linked to their departure from the ideological ideas that led to their formation. They have swerved from this fundamental trajectory, causing them to decelerate in great proportion. Without coming back to their initial objectives, they may continue in that way to the disadvantage of the whole populace.

The interaction between Professor Olorode and Professor Jega was energetic and educative. Through Jega, we learned that the value reduction associated with many institutions in the country, including but not limited to ASUU, is traceable to the inherent weakness of those who represent the public interest in the places where they are expected to function. Therefore, the fact remains that the idea of being ideologically weak exposes individuals to the temptations and pressures that come from the political class seeking people’s compromise. When they are not steadfast in their principles, they would most predictably have their ideological convictions crushed by those who have successfully traded theirs for monetary gains.

This is the first report on the interview with Professor Attahiru Jega on December 12, 2021. The extensive interview, which has received millions of views across different platforms, exposes Nigeria in all of its ugliness while also offering a path out of the present predicament. This report covers the segment between Jega and Olorode. For the transcript, see YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlwZfh5Ynh8  Facebook: https://fb.watch/9S6PBuNg0l/.

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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