Richard A. Joseph: One Of A Kind And The Rarest Breed Of Political Scientists
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD JOSEPH, PART 1
In classifying animals, tigers are in a league of their own. They are quick, strategic, and go-getters. It has come to light that this species of intelligent animals is fast becoming extinct; however, the Sumatran tigers are an even rarer breed, accounting for an infinitesimal fraction of the uncommon species. This analogy is apt in describing the life and work of Professor Richard Joseph, vis-à-vis the life and works of several scholars within and beyond his academic discipline. Prof. Joseph is a septuagenarian academic who has enjoyed one of the most productive, impactful, and successful careers in this century. Your knowledge of and acquaintance with this revered professor of political science will leave you in awe. A quick perusal of his citation or curriculum vitae will reveal that this emeritus professor of political science had some of the best education anyone could crave, which sets him apart as a rare breed of a rare species.
Those who do not forget their roots are fruitful and successful, and Richard Joseph is one of them. He has been firm in his message to the world as an Africanist to the core, which is evident in his commitment to and passion for the growth and development of African countries, as well as in how he has worked in and conducted research on several of these African countries, including Nigeria, Sudan, Liberia, and Cameroon. His passion for Africa and desire to see the continent progress has been the driving force in his academic and consultative engagements. However, his influence and work are not restricted to the African continent alone. His academic tentacles have expanded to the study of the Scandinavians, the Americas, and Europe, including working in the United States of America, Norway, and France.
It takes a special breed to excel in several hardly related fields, which is another feather to the emeritus professor’s cap. He is also a well-traveled academic. Traveling gives you depth and exposure, and this is immediately obvious when you engage Professor Joseph in a discussion. He has a vast repertoire and can hold his own on different topics of world interest, making him a delightful conversationalist and discussant. If you do not already know this, you will find out as you listen to him speak at the forthcoming interview session my team and I will be having with him.
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Professor Richard Joseph is a pride of his time and one of the most sought-after scholars in the world today. He has had hundreds of speaking engagements at international seminars and conferences. Anyone who has followed his story would have noticed that he is a political scientist who fully supports and advocates for democracy. He has especially devoted research efforts and speaking engagements to the study of democracy in Africa. One of his most resounding summations that I have encountered is his questioning of the revisionist argument. An outspoken democracy advocate, Richard established a compelling argument on how true development in Africa must be rooted in the practice of democracy. I especially love how he pointed out that democracy is not the problem, but rather how it is practiced in several African states. Thus, even if these African states were to practice another form of governance, they would most likely end up in the same condition as they presently are in their search for development. This reinforces the point I have always made on how Africa’s need for development goes beyond the system of government currently being practiced by many states on the continent. It is more of the prevalent mentality among the people and what they would be willing to do or not do.
I love to call Richard a Nigerian. His essay “Affluence and Underdevelopment: the Nigerian Experience,” is one of the most robust and detailed documentation on the intersections between politics, economy, societal influence, and corruption in Nigeria. Even as a Nigerian national, reading the work will give you a deeper perspective that will impact how you view, consider, and discuss some Nigerian issues. As a non-Nigerian, the article is one of the best anyone could read on the condition of the Nigerian state. Richard aptly and extensively captures what many now term Africa’s curse of abundance. It is about how Nigeria remains a struggling country even as a richly blessed country in terms of human resources, natural resources, cultures and diversity, and arable land owing to ineptitude, bad leadership, and the misapplication of the country’s numerous resources.
Richard highlights how, although every government promises to invest in industrialization by building industries and manufacturing plants across all sectors, the country’s export rate for agricultural and pharmaceutical products, for example, remains abysmally poor. It is lamentable how ridiculous importation rates of consumer goods such as matches, toothpicks, and plastic spoons — the somewhat littlest of things any country should be able to produce sustainably — make headlines in Nigerian dailies. There is also the seeming confusion as to the economic blueprint the nation should follow, as successive governments introduce new strategies to overhaul previous ones.
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By approaching his essay from an academic and researcher point-of-view and as someone who has had first-hand experience with the issues he was confronting, it is hard to tell that Richard Joseph is not a Nigerian. Aside from the years he spent in Nigeria as an academic and researcher, he has always demonstrated a love for the Nigerian people. And even though he had to leave the country during General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military rule in 1979, Richard has always proven to Nigeria that he is not far away, as evidenced by his continued commentaries and essays on the Nigerian state and the happenings in the country.
If I were to qualify Richard Joseph by three adjectives, I would choose “Africanist,” “development-focused,” “democracy-advocate.” These three words touch on his passions and lifelong work. Richard Joseph is a multi-award and multi-grant-winning researcher whose grant money has primarily gone into development-focused projects across the African continent and other countries. He is a visionary who believes that one person cannot do it all and that research is a continuous process. Thus, as the researchers of this century put in the work, they should also commit to preparing the path for researchers to come. As a result, he has also made considerable contributions to ensuring that centers are founded to advance the cause of research into democracy and development.
Professor Richard Joseph is one of those academics who makes you want to listen to every word they say. It goes beyond knowledge; it is also about the weight of every word and its contribution to the overall depth of every message passed across. Such people — classical orators! On March 27, 2022, I will be hosting Richard at the next edition of The Toyin Falola Interviews. Professors Osaghae,Yacob-Haliso, and Monga— seasoned political scientists and academics — will join me on the interviewers’ side of the discourse. I will not go into details on the topics the discourse will touch on; however, I can tell you that we will be touching on issues relating to the Nigerian state and Africa at large. I am assured that the forthcoming session with him will be an enjoyable one. Beyond this, it will also provide useful insights into the way forward, which the leaders are probably quite aware of but feign ignorance.
Join us for an interview with Professor Richard Joseph on:
Sunday, March 27, 2022
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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