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Richard A. Joseph: One Of A Kind And The Rarest Breed Of Political Scientists

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No Bobo! No Zobo!! (Part II: Merchants of Salvation)
Prof. Toyin Falola

THE  TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

A CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD JOSEPH, PART 1

 

Richard A. Joseph: One Of A Kind And The Rarest Breed Of Political Scientists

Richard A. Joseph

By

Toyin Falola

 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.

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

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.

Richard A. Joseph: One Of A Kind And The Rarest Breed Of Political Scientists

Photo: Richard Joseph with Wole Soyinka

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.

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

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.

Richard A. Joseph: One Of A Kind And The Rarest Breed Of Political Scientists

Photo: Richard Joseph with Chinua Achebe

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

Register and Watch:

https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/richard-joseph

Join via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89716425021

Watch on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/tfinterviews/live

Watch on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2lvX7A2iVndiCq0NfFcb0w/live

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

Ghana Is Home! – Toyin Falola

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Ghana is home - Toyin Falola
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Benjamin Kofi Nutor
As part of the 20th Anniversary Event of the African University of Communications, Dr. Benjamin Kofi Nutor of A&M University, College Station, USA, interviewed Professor Toyin Falola, his former college professor, on November 25, 2022.

Ghana Is Home - Toyin Falola

Dr. Benjamin Kofi Nutor

Kofi Nutor: What is the history of your engagement with the Ghanaian state and academy over the many years of your illustrious career?

Toyin Falola:
I have been going to Ghana since the 1970s. To me, Ghana is home. The first is in a research capacity to understand the place; the second is as part of the activities linked to the West African Examination Council; the third is for academic conferences and meetings; the fourth is for policy work; and the final is for social events. Apart from spearheading many academic conferences and partnering with many academics from the country to develop policies and conduct research to advance the collective values of Ghanaian society, I have significantly contributed to their socio-academic issues, which help to increase the possibility of bonding between and across Africa. My history thus goes back into time as much as I can remember, given the awareness that our determination to get Africa on the global map of the knowledge economy is inspired, especially by the work of outstanding Africans, some of whose origin is traceable to this country. A larger part of my engagement with the country’s state is dedicated to throwing research activities open to enhance and redefine people who would understand and not undermine the deepened significance of their cultural values and identity. Many scholars from this place have been a source of inspiration. Therefore, many have been steadfast advocates of liberatory scholarship for Africans in every ramification. The world of modern African academics would be devoid of genuine meanings and values if the works of Kwasi Wiredu were excluded from the knowledge market. African knowledge epistemology will make minimal sense if Ama Ata Aidoo’s relentless works are overlooked. When the contributions of Kwame Nkrumah aren’t accorded the necessary attention, it makes a mockery of the African epistemic worldview. To have organized events in Ghana and attended others there means that I have maintained a deep-seated academic fraternity with Ghana for a long time.

I have written books on Ghana, such as Culture and Customs of Ghana, and republished the major essays of Adu Boahen, whose funeral ceremonies I attended in Accra, Juaben, and Kumasi.

Kofi Nutor: What does the chieftaincy title conferred on you by the Ga State mean to you, considering the many other chieftaincy titles, honorary degrees, and presidential awards you have received from numerous countries over the years?

Toyin Falola:
To say that I am overwhelmed by the conferment of chieftaincy titles by the Ga people does not paint the actual picture of my mood during that time. The conferment of chieftaincy titles on people in Africa holds several sociocultural and sociological meanings beyond what Western education can accurately account for. Apart from the underlying kinship baptism done with that honor, one would realize that it also opens limitless opportunities for the beneficiary and benefactor to extend goodwill and affection. Africans communicate acceptance when they offer you their indigenous titles, which shows that they decide to deepen their relationship with you without expecting benefits. Although, as you have indicated, I have had different titles and numerous honorary degrees, among others, given to me by several peoples and cultures. However, when African people other than my indigenous identity confer such honor on me, it implies they appreciate my contributions to humanity and recognize the bravery put in place for me to achieve these feats. We cannot underplay the fact that such conferment attests to their desire to repose their confidence in me and that they look forward to extensive relations between me and the country. This, therefore, means that they have inadvertently increased my responsibilities. Even though this would naturally increase my efforts and add to the routine of my academic work, it has offered me a clean slate on which I can inscribe my relevance and importance for my benefit. I have developed one personal culture for myself during my academic engagements: the more I work, the more I utilize my God-given capabilities in me. If I now have a people who recognize me with such honor, they have activated my desire to do more because there is this general saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. That serves as a pedestal upon which my energy to accomplish more is constructed. For this, I duly appreciate them and would be forever grateful.

Ghana Is Home - Toyin Falola

Kofi Nutor: What would be your advice to young African academics who want to use their scholarship to make an impact beyond the academy?

Toyin Falola:
One of the most important things to tell people is that they should understand the crucial importance of time. Understanding one’s time is necessary for the possibility of making use of its attendant values. Every human season has its attendant values and disadvantages. In our own time, for instance, the culture of reading is highly celebrated and even desired, owing to the lack of credible or morally acceptable alternatives to engagement. In essence, once you read, you can be sure of being intellectually resourceful enough to produce content that would transform your world and simultaneously fetch you money. However, with the advent of the current totalizing globalization, this custom received a rapid shift. Definitions of human and economic values shifted with this development. The location of economic opportunities was gradually changing with the emerging realities. The need to move with this trend cannot be underplayed, given that the most important thing in life is access to economic opportunities that can sustain us. As an academic, therefore, one should be flexible in the contemporary time.

Meanwhile, flexibility is possible only when an individual is eclectic in their approach to every engagement. To become relevant in modern academics, one needs to be abreast of happenings around one’s academic field and, by extension, take a couple of other areas too. This would drive the individual to attain more intellectual success, eventually promoting their interests and prompting them to achieve more. Education is still relevant, and young academics should be encouraged if education is not paying them as handsomely as other career choices benefit their contemporaries. As an academic, you are using your intellectual properties to rebuild human society, resulting in your conceptual ideas becoming useful or being something you can observe in the human world. Thus, hang on and do more. The advantages would come.

READ ALSO: Molefi Asante: On Reimagining Africa And Africans  

Kofi Nutor: How can African states leverage the humanities and social sciences for national development in addition to the current emphasis on STEM disciplines?

Toyin Falola:
STEM emerges from the scientific knowledge economy, which does not include the humanities and social sciences. To ask how African states can leverage these two areas of knowledge economy is to euphemistically lament society’s declining leaning on them. One will be miffed if a completely disconnected society from social sciences and humanities becomes a model because it is nearly impossible to achieve desirable success when a country refuses to integrate subsequent ideals fermented from social sciences and humanities. In many human societies, quite many people still ask about the importance of these aspects of knowledge to the advancement of human civilization. The regrettable shortcoming is that such people or society suddenly believe that advancements in scientific accomplishments naturally become the indices of evaluating progress. That would be incorrect because you can make most attempts to travel to the moon and build numerous robots to do your job for you. Still, when you lack basic human values, moral principles (as defined by your identity), and ethical ideals, you are already on the path to ideological degeneration. The fact that many African leaders and states do not understand this has brought about unwholesome social decadence in our human world. To realize that one needs empathy so that one can make efforts to better the lives of others with whom one shares the planet, one needs the civic education that is inherent in different African proverbs, moonlight stories, and wise sayings, all of which are now fading into oblivion in our collective environment. If your child can make an airplane but would not mind impounding what belongs to the public for their own personal use, it does not matter if their own airplane fetches them money; what they would be looking for when they attain political offices is how they would convert state resources to their pockets. In fact, the declining force in associating with humanity and social sciences has produced many African leaders today. You might ask, why would someone take monies they know they cannot exhaust in their lifetime while the masses of people are suffering? What distinguishes them from the gluttonous ijapa (tortoise) that stores what he’s incapable of eating in his throat?

Ghana Is Home - Toyin Falola

Kofi Nutor: What were your thoughts when Nigeria asked Ghanaians to leave Nigeria?

Toyin Falola:
Great sympathy, great objections. Indeed, it formed part of the preface to a new book, African Refugees, by Indiana University Press. My thoughts remained negative about the event, knowing that humans should naturally not be hindered from migration or prevented from association, given the understanding that migration and movement are two natural things that cannot be disconnected from humans, animals, or even plants. Studying nature would lead us to discover that we are animals that move at will. Asking Ghanaians to leave Nigeria is an attestation of our misunderstanding of who the real enemy is. The population of Ghana and Nigeria was not even up to a quarter of the Indian population during the politically forced exodus. Meanwhile, India is doing fine as a single country. In essence, sending people out of the country was a political schema to cover the leadership inefficiency and administrative incapacity of the leaders. How do you believe Ghanaians are the problem after independence, which you all fought shoulder-to-shoulder to force from the hands of the colonists? In what language would you justify the intellectual emptiness inherent in the argument that Ghanaians are mopping up your economic opportunities when you don’t create quality-aiding structures? Apart from the fact that there is a need for mutual friendship (noting that the commitment of people differs) among many African countries, the understanding that free migration is needed within and across African countries makes it appalling that Ghanaians are ushered away from Nigeria. It shows that people are running away from responsibility.

READ ALSO: Stefan Dercon, ‘Elite Bargain’: Can The Nigerian Ruling Class Be Born Again?

Kofi Nutor: Is it possible to develop Africa through the contributions of African-Americans?

Toyin Falola
Yes. Sources of development are many, internal, external, a combination of both. When developmental ideas, no matter who the producers are, come from exogenous sources, their influence may be limited and may not be problematic, as in the case of the European legacies. However, when ideas come from a people or a movement, they could potentially have a very great impact. This is the secret behind human civilizations that have stretched far in history. Africa faced development issues the moment external civilization infiltrated their philosophical, political, and economic space. Africans are one of the few races in the world whose history of development, advancement, and quality improvement spans beyond millennia. The fact that the last 500 years of their history have been marred by stagnation and underdevelopment does not suddenly deny their potential for rapid and upsurge rise into stardom; what they require to be great is the ability to make difficult decisions and stand in unison. Admittedly, African Americans’ contributions can consolidate Africa’s development, but, in reality, they cannot solely inspire it. In other words, whatever they decide to bring would always have an important impact on their development plans, including the benefits derived from history and culture.

We regard ourselves as Africans; thus we share in the challenges. What Africa needs is the identification of its challenges and the provision of solutions to them. These solutions must reflect contextual thinking and values that span multiple generations to withstand future pressures. African-Americans can send money to African governments, but they cannot devise ways by which African leaders would spend the funds. There is a need to conceive what development means to various African leaders and, therefore, give the necessary political support for their desires to instigate actions that can bring about the required improvements and development of the continent. As in the case of the alliance between Kwame Nkrumah and De’Bois, we need ideas, knowledge, and concrete actions.

Kofi Nutor: What do you think about the negative ideas about Nigerians in Ghana?

Toyin Falola:
Everything boils down to the wrong understanding of what Africa should be and how it can achieve continent-wide greatness. There is a need for African solidarity. Such cohesion cannot be underplayed, as it would underpin the establishment of systems that would be useful in rejuvenating their economic and political values and transforming them from the very captivity of colonization-induced declination that has become a bane of their development. Africa is indeed destined to be great, but that greatness can only be activated when they accept themselves as one, which they are. Many African countries can trace the genealogy of their languages to a similar background, while their cultural ideals also share a common identity. In essence, they have more things binding them together than separating them. If Nigerians are perceived as enemies in Ghana, it will generate unnecessary controversy that would open the door to unnecessary and avoidable vendetta. Conscious efforts should be made to discourage such negative perceptions created against Africans within African countries, irrespective of their differences in ethnic or cultural identity. Except for those involved in diabolical activities from which they derive financial gain, there should be no reason to stir problems where none existed in the first place. In all places in the world, governments make extraordinary efforts to ensure that individuals, insiders or outsiders, do not contaminate their good name with their economic engagements. If you have Africans with legitimate sources of income, xenophobic hostilities are not the best way to receive them. Otherwise, we would shoot ourselves in the legs while feeding our egos. We need to be accommodating of other Africans if we want people across the world to respect us.

READ ALSO: Alternative Paths To Ghana’s Success

Kofi Nutor: In what way is Ghana expected to champion development in Africa?

Toyin Falola
In the current global order, reaching monumental development is impossible without the humongous financial resources to spend; however, true development can occur without having vast financial resources at one’s disposal. Money is needed to drive progress, as the exceptional development of a people can be significantly driven by the level of money in the country. But the fact remains that not every country with money is well-developed, and not every developed country has money. In essence, one can achieve striking developments in different dimensions. There are different things that Ghana can do to make itself the frontline state in Africa’s developmental issues. One, Ghana should conceptualize development within the appropriate context of cultural and financial capacity, which would penetrate the crucible of their civilization without leaving many indigenous people outside of it. This means that when they are sure of what they call development, they should now use their cultural and financial capabilities to construct it in a way that would factor in the decisive majority of the country. For example, if the development of intellectual capacity is what individuals conceive of as development, they’ll need to contextualize their financial strength and seek ways in which it can be used to achieve very strong results in that domain. If you think human development is important but the first thing you build is infrastructure, undeveloped humans will soon misuse the infrastructure you create. Also, Ghana can decide to become the food basket of the continent. Once they are confident this is their ambition, everything they do will be geared toward actualizing this agenda. That way, they would have saved the continent from the significant challenges that would arise if it relied solely on other continents for its consumables. The list goes on.

Kofi Nutor: How can Ghana revive the African knowledge economy and political transformation of the past?

Toyin Falola
Today, Ghana has made itself known for creating awe-striking materials that represent a vibrant aesthetic culture by making kente fabrics. Wherever you find kente, you can be certain that it originated in Ghana. That attests to the fact that they have something from which they can exert their intellectual ingenuity to create and derive copyright values. Ghana has produced historians of international repute in Professor Ogot Adu Boahen, among others, and philosophers of global standards in Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Nkrumah, who doubles as a profound political figure ever produced in the country. There are many other areas where they have also made similar significant contributions to the continent’s knowledge economy. Therefore, it is important at this level for Ghana to revive this culture by being deliberate about its actions. The knowledge used to make kente fabric can also be replicated in other areas of human experience, possibly producing ideas and values that would become global commodities. What would never be in contention is that countries that have made exceptional transformations are deliberate in their engagements; they are conscious about their activities. They do not arrive at their conditions through wishful thinking. Instead, they put their minds to work and encourage discipline among their leaders, which will forever take them on the right trajectory. Barring the global arena being overtaken by economic challenges and ecological problems, Ghana has demonstrated that it can pull important stunts that would lead to its greatness. If they remain steadfast, they can arrive at the expected level of greatness they deserve as a country.

READ ALSO: Excellence In Education In The Context Of Pan-Africanism And Digitization

Kufor Notur: Are there areas where Ghana can pioneer efforts to advance the continent’s civilization?

Toyin Falola:
Of all the African cultural identities that have ever built sustained civilizations with exceptional records of manpower organizations and resource management, coupled with native technology that helped preserve the people’s civilization and their defense against external predators, Ghana has a profound record. This means that they are actively capable of creating exceptional content needed to enhance their civilization, as that has been done sometimes in the past. The fact remains, for example, that such civilization would always serve as a motivation for something more elaborate and greater than what they have done. What inspires greatness is generally simple. For instance, people are inspired to be great when they are energized by the history of greatness that has been recorded once by their predecessors. They take inspiration from it and consider how they can best incorporate it. Let us consider how they organized their political system to preserve their civilization for centuries. Ghana can therefore begin to reconsider how they would generate the necessary ideas that would be used to build strong political systems that would fit the emerging realities of their area. Western colonialism has brought new systems and, as a result, recalibrated different things that border on the people’s progress. If their evaluation of the inherited systems reveals that they are not functioning to the maximum as a result of the system that they use, it is not illogical to therefore create ones that would fit their political exigencies in the current time. What is needed for a continent-wide transformation is to see some other countries making substantial progress due to the system they built so that others would join the bandwagon and begin to devise ways by which they would be saved from their challenges. If centuries-long dependence on exogenous ideas is not bringing the desired results, taking alternative measures would be good in light of the current development.

 

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Interview

Monica Cheru On Rethinking African Literature

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No Bobo! No Zobo!! (Part II: Merchants of Salvation)

By Toyin Falola
In an earlier piece, I traced the historiography of African literature and wrote about anticipations of how the panelists at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews (in conjunction with the Pan-African Writers Association) would propose ways of rethinking African literature. Today, I will be spotlighting and extrapolating the views of Cheru, the only female panelist and the Vice President (Southern Region) of the Association. Cheru had many interesting perspectives on the questions and issues raised.

There is largely an imbalance between the financial stability of critics and writers, based mainly on the fact that a higher percentage of critics are employed at universities, thus having a stable source of income compared to literary writers. In stating her perception of this imbalance and approaches to springing up a reward system that balances the financial strength of both critics and writers, Cheru started with writers’ mentality and our perception of writing—especially as a full-time job—as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to writers’ achievement of financial stability.

Passion is the key ingredient in the making of literary writers, which makes the bulk of writers venture into writing as a means of expressing themselves and connecting with their deep passion for literature and writing. However, it should be known that passion is not enough to build a successful writing career. The writer must step out from the mentality of writing as a second option and realize that it is a full-time career that passionate writers can pursue, thus approaching writing as a professional. This means that writers need to improve their writing skills and develop a career path that can help them turn a profit.

Monica Cheru On Rethinking African Literature

Monica Cheru

Cheru further went towards the controversial side when she stated she does not see any excuse for writers to be poor or “unable to put food on their table.” As controversial as this may seem, Cheru is not wrong because there are several opportunities out there that literary writers can tap into once they have taken writing as a professional career and not just as a hobby. Writers can earn money through the ability to market their ideas.

In reality, many African writers do not invest enough in producing, promoting, and distributing their works, which could be due to the lack of funds to invest in such. However, professionalism is required at every stage of the book creation process, from story-writing through publishing to distribution and promotion. Writers should be ready to be strategic about the stories they want to tell, the impacts they hope to make, and the people they want to engage with their stories. They should be prepared to attend events, launch their books, and promote them. They must learn to network with other writers and join the right writing communities.

Another issue relating to African literature is African writers positioning themselves for prizes, especially Western prizes. These prizes, among other things, provide writers with references and proof of their outstanding works. Some of these prizes come with substantial monetary rewards that serve as the gateway to more opportunities for several writers on a continent where success in the writing world is based largely on grit, talent, and passion, with the stark absence of access to practical writing-related degrees and writing workshops.

Notably, all the panelists at the last discussion are award-winning writers. Having won writing-related awards in the past could well have given credence to their emergence during the selection process because awards and recognition are a good means of gauging one’s impacts and qualifications across all walks of life. The question that rears its head then is: what does winning awards, or otherwise, mean for one’s career as a literary writer, African literature as a whole, and for up-and-coming writers? Prize obsession could evolve into a fast-spreading phenomenon if it has not already. Thus, is prize obsession justified, given that winning awards and prizes could contribute to a writer’s career?

READ ALSO: Rethinking African Literature

For Cheru, awards and prizes should not be the focus, and she strongly advocates against them. As she said, some of these awards and prizes have the style and pattern they look for in literary works. Only writers who pander to the box created by the awarding institutions qualify for the awards and eventually win. Cheru believes that the bulk of the awarding institutions from the West, which are incidentally the institutions with substantial monetary rewards for African writers, tend to favor negative African stories or those that portray Africa as that suffering, never-to-develop continent of people who look up to and need the salvation of the West. It may seem counter-intuitive to advocate against prize obsession, as there is a need to balance the reward system for writers and raise awareness of their financial stability.

However, having many African literary works pandering toward certain narratives with the hopes of winning prizes does not augur well for the continent. Thus, African writers need not write for prizes. This is not to say writers be anti-prize or reject nominations. Cheru’s message is that writers should write for all the reasons they want to, strive to document Africa’s history, and portray Africa as a continent rich in human and natural resources. They could very well opt for writing against the ills in African society and the poor leadership that bedevils the continent. But the primary motivating factor for writing should not be the hopes that such writing will get nominated for foreign prizes. If the prizes come in the end, then writers can celebrate.

It is also important to encourage the new generation of African writers to find their voice and write without pandering to the style and narrative awarding institutions watch out for in African literature. Success for literary writers should not necessarily be measured by how many awards they win. Success can also be defined by how well one’s literary works meet the demands of one’s audiences. In defining African literature from a gender perspective, there are questions like: Should there be a special focus on writings by African women and for African women? Should we give special attention to writing by African women? Should there be dedicated support for grooming female African writers? These are sub-forms of larger questions of gender equality, equal opportunities for all, and feminism.

READ ALSO: Alternative Paths To Ghana’s Success

Cheru does not subscribe to the idea that African literary works should be segmented across gender lines. For her, some female-related African literary works are sponsored, and the sponsors have some narratives they want to foster. This puts writers under pressure to write what fits into the narrative, thus crippling their creative freedom, as the focus is placed on highlighting issues rather than writing naturally and on the basis that there is an audience that needs to be reached with the writer’s creative thought flows. Cheru also believes that there is a generalization of Africa-related cultural beliefs and values viz-a-viz the treatment and consideration of women. Of truth, several African traditional practices are flawed in their treatment and acknowledgment of the female gender. However, Cheru believes that the roots of these issues run deeper than what sponsored gender-based African literary works currently portray and that it is a multi-perspective issue that must be addressed.

There is also the need to strategically boost the visibility of African writers and African literature. All over the world, public places like airports and train stations and even hotels are good points of call for literary works; sadly, African literature is missing from the equation. There is the need to give visibility to African books in a way that shows we are ready to actively promote literature by our people. Rethinking African literature entails reforming African literary writers’ mindset, as well as the mentality toward African literature. African writers need to be more audience-aware, to better understand the trends in world literature and how to make Africa the centerpiece of those trends.

.This is the final interview report with a panel of African writers on August 7. For the transcripts: YouTube:

Facebook: https://fb.watch/eLOPycx-MF/)

 

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

Touching Base With Chido Onumah’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

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No Bobo! No Zobo!! (Part II: Merchants of Salvation)

Touching Base with Chido Onumah's Perspectives On Nigeria's 2023 Elections

By Toyin Falola
The past few weeks’ events have made the forthcoming 2023 elections more of a reality to the average Nigerian than they were six months ago. As typical of every election period in Nigeria, there have been party defections; party primaries were rife with irregularities, reckless spending to win delegates over, and unbelievable sums of money doled out in a country touted to be the world’s poverty capital, where universities are currently shut because the academic staff union is at salary-and-allowances-inciting loggerheads with the government. Party flagbearers are emerging in all nooks and crannies of the country, and the scenes replay themselves yet again, as they always do during every election period in Nigeria.

On Sunday, May 22, 2022, we had one of the not-so-common editions of the Toyin Falola Interview Series. It was a discourse that featured veteran journalist and social commentator Dr. Chido Onumah alongside Dr. Jibrin Hussaini, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, and Ms. Miriam Oke. It was an intellectually engaging evening that saw our guests extrapolate on some of the major issues that bedevil the Nigerian nation-state during election periods. Let us touch base with some of the points and perspectives Dr. Onumah shared.

Touching Base with Chido Onumah's Perspectives On Nigeria's 2023 Elections

The Role of Money in the 2023 Nigerian Elections
Money is the convenient and effective wheel on which many human endeavours run. Thus, we cannot rule out the need for money during elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budgeted N305 billion for the 2023 General Elections, which is N70.5 billion more than the commission approved for the 2019 elections. Elections cost money — registering voters, acquiring electioneering materials and equipment, setting up registration centres and polling booths, and hiring temporary INEC workers. Spending before, during, and after the elections is necessary. Therefore, it must be a concern for a country like Nigeria if so much is spent on elections when there is little to nothing to show at the end.

Nevertheless, the nation’s election expenditure is not so much a concern compared to aspirants’ and parties’ spending on the electioneering process. As the government spends billions of naira trying to conduct “free, fair, and credible” elections, so do political aspirants and their parties spend billions of naira on winning party blocs, lobbying delegates, buying the electorate’s conscience and consciousness, among other election-winning and money-costing tactics. The recent primaries conducted within Nigeria’s two largest parties — the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — brought news on how aspirants spent money in reckless abandon, whether or not they were guaranteed their party’s ticket.

What preceded that: the cost of nomination and expression of interest forms across all parties, the highest being the APC’s N100 million demands from all presidential ticket hopefuls? This move raised questions that would ultimately lead to the conclusion that either the contestants have so deeply eaten into the public treasury — given how long many of them have been in the corridors of power — or they are hoping that buying the form would be an investment for which they would receive massive returns if they win the election or get appointed as a minister or for some other political seats.

Yet, purchasing the grossly expensive forms is a baby step the average Nigerian politician needs to take for the 2023 elections. As per calculations, the average presidential aspirant would need over N1 billion to monitor election proceedings and ensure ballots are cast on election day. Additionally, my team and I have calculated the financial costs of properly setting up an independent political party in Nigeria, with all the structures that can help a party gain grounds and win elections. Our calculations resulted in a whopping N200 billion. This shows the high amount of money that goes to electioneering in Nigeria, even when there is hardly any buzz or signs of life in these parties, especially the non-ruling ones, within the three years between every ante-election an election year in Nigeria.

The role of money in Nigerian politics is an all-important one, and Onumah had interesting points to share about the 2023 elections. He touched on how politics has become Nigeria’s major and most lucrative business, making the aftermath of the reckless spending during electioneering periods of much more concern than the actual spending. For Onumah, several Nigerian politicians are in the “business” of politics as a form of investment, knowing that political power offers them the proverbial Midas’ touch to get everything and anything they want. And that point cannot be lost on us, seeing that a position as that of an appointed Accountant-General of the country could conveniently divert billions of naira of public funds to private coffers.

Onumah related the issues of this fast-growing and widespread Nigerian political business to the anomalies of the Nigerian state structure. If the reward for holding political offices in Nigeria were not as huge as it currently is — in terms of salary, sitting allowances, security votes, and constituency allowance, among other huge chunks of unwarranted bonuses that Nigerian elected and appointed public office holders to enjoy — and if there were systems in place that rightly and equitably punish corrupt officials, politicians would not invest so much to get into political offices.

Another valid case that Onumah made for the huge financial resources that go into electioneering in Nigeria is that the financially popular and “open-handed” political aspirant is more likely to win elections in Nigeria. Simply put, the more you can give, your chances of winning are higher. This is not unrelated to how practically impossible it is for the citizens to benefit from the dividends of democracy, such as job-creating and economy-stabilizing policies. The people know that politicians only mingle with the masses and come around to gauge the citizens’ plights during electioneering periods; thus, citizens are willing to take whatever they can from the politicians during campaigns and elections, even if it means suffering the consequences for four years or more.

The need to satisfy citizens by reinforcing their stomach infrastructure during the electioneering process is another reason money plays an important role in elections in Nigeria. Videos and news stories from the party primaries have shown the huge amount of money politicians have spent to convince a few hundred delegates in their parties to vote for them. One can then begin to mentally project how much more they would need to convince millions of people to get them to their political destination come 2023.

Touching Base with Chido Onumah's Perspectives On Nigeria's 2023 Elections

Will 2023 Bring True Change, Or Will It Be a Waste of Time and Resources?
Undeniably, Nigerians have been scarred. After the huge failure of the Goodluck Jonathan government in several aspects, including security and the national economy, the APC ran one of the most successful PR campaigns in Nigeria, selling the citizens on the status, integrity, and identity of Muhammadu Buhari, who would bring change to the country. Seven years later, the citizens have experienced nothing short of a disturbing and devastating change. This charring, caused by the Buhari administration, led to a poor voter turnout in the 2019 presidential election compared to the 2015 election.

This time, the 2023 presidential election will be similar to the 2015 presidential election. The citizens are tired of the Buhari-led government’s baggage and are yearning for a more refreshing leadership. This would, in turn, lead to a surge in the number of voters, as there has been an increase in the clamour for voters’ registration among frustrated citizens. However, would the citizens have wasted their time and resources at the polls when they turn out for the 2023 presidential election, with hopes in hand and ballot papers inked for whom they think fit the task?

According to Dr. Onumah, to consider things in general terms, the 2023 elections would be a waste of the electorate’s time because the issues bedevilling the country are foundational, so much so that no matter how qualified the next president is, he or she would not be able to do a good job of getting the nation back on track within the constitutionally stipulated timeframe. The problems Nigeria is currently facing, including the immolation of Deborah Samuel in the North and the cold-blooded murder of a military couple in the East, indicate Nigeria is bitterly divisive. It is akin to a couple who, although not divorced, have a troubled home where they fight bitterly and hurt each other dangerously. Separated, yet not legally divorced, and still living under the same roof. Of course, this analogy only briefly compares to what is currently plaguing the Nigerian nation-state.

READ ALSO: 2023 Election: Buhari’s Opportunity To Win

Despite these divisive issues in Nigeria, there has been no pin drop in the camps of the Nigerians contesting to be the nation’s president in 2023. They are far more buried in their aspirations and the repercussion of commenting on ethnically and religiously motivated actions like Deborah’s gruesome murder and the killing of the army couple. Nigeria is faced with so many internal issues, so much so that in Onumah’s opinion, the best that could happen to Nigeria now is for its next president to serve as a transitional president who would raise discussions and make moves about the structure and nature of the country and on the amendment of the constitution, to mention a few. For Onumah, the Buhari government has worsened matters bordering on national unity and cohesion; thus, the 2023 president has to be able to act as a transition president to help us touch on those painful, deep-seated, and foundational issues that the country is seriously avoiding but which need to be resurfaced and resolved, without which we cannot progress.

But then, what is the possibility of the 2023 president acting as a transition president? History shows us that Nigerian political officeholders are too selfish. As a result, it would be practically impossible to have any of the 2023 presidential aspirants consider themselves as the forerunner of another government that will benefit from and ride on the glory of the fruits that the expected turbulence of the next four years would bring. Nigeria is in disarray, and it is more than disheartening to see that the citizens and the political class seemingly live in different worlds within the same country.

READ  ALSO: Can Peter Obi Win The Presidential Election In 2023?

While the people writhe and languish in pains brought by ethnoreligious and socio-political divisions, the political class, which is only one small class — regardless of the façade represented by political parties, religions, or ethnic groups — continues to make beneficial alignments and arrangements to further steal from the nation’s treasury and render the citizens lonely and miserable. They spend recklessly, to the point that it is difficult to believe that within the same country touted as the world’s poverty capital are political office holders who command several billions of naira and can easily afford to dole out tens of thousands of dollars per delegate to hundreds of delegates. As the 2023 elections approach, Nigerian citizens need to know that there are several issues. Despite how the political class disguised as stupid and clueless in their deeds and public appearances or bloopers, they are wise and calculating. They are the new crop of oppressors who took over from the colonisers, and if anything, history tells us that oppressors do all in their power to keep the oppressed on a leash.

Though democracy gives power to the people, what is practised in Nigeria is far from being a democratic system. Thus, as the people increasingly become politically conscious, strategize, and plan for a better tomorrow, the political class is also assiduously making moves to throw clogs in the wheel and bring the nation to a grounding halt or a non-stop retrogressive movement. May they not succeed in their mission! Amen.

. This is the second report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:

YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=VJP3CfnlC28
Facebook https://fb.watch/daf9NQxuml/

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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