TOWARD A RE-APPRECIATION OF THE INTELLECTUAL TRADITION
Prof. W.O. Alli
We now have so many universities in the country, a total of 129, made up of Federal, State and Private Universities and still counting. At the same time, the quality of socio-cultural life, economic and industrial innovation and level of integrity has never been poorer. All through the 1960s and up to the end of the 1970s, there was a certain quality of public life and service delivery in the country. You could feel intellectual rigour in public life. University workers, academic and non-academic, were considered eloquent testimony to the grand aspirations of the nation in their public and private lives and in their social comportment and in the quality of service they delivered. It was therefore not surprising that the Universities were centres of intellectual flourish and fecundity.
Because most university staff were intellectuals who followed the intellectual tradition of humility, modesty, genuine commitment to pursuit of knowledge and high academic and moral standards, and above all, shunning the maddening crowd of the political class in their compulsive, ostentatious and oppressive decadence and disdain for the common people and common good.
Who are intellectuals? Intellectuals are people who “have the ability to think and understand complicated ideas”, are committed to a certain quality of being and living, built on the pursuit of knowledge and its application to personal, social and public life! It must be stated that while many intellectuals have gone through rigorous training in citadels of learning, there are many, whose lives portray them as intellectuals even though they have not acquired much formal learning. Such people abound in different spheres of national life. Equally true is the fact that there are many people who have acquired much formal learning, even found abode in citadels of learning such as universities and have risen over the years to positions of seeming professional authority, yet cannot be described as intellectuals.
It is assumed that the Universities are the natural habitat of intellectuals because it is expected that much rigorous learning is going on there and therefore, the people there are expected to be impacted by such atmosphere. But we have intellectuals in the public and civil services and in the private sector in the most unlikely of places. We have men and women in the media, at the bar and bench who exhibit extraordinary passion and commitment to certain quality of work and living.
However, the dilemma that is confronting Nigeria today is that while we have these highly rated certificates and have many people who have been awarded academic titles and work in the university system, there has been a marked decline in that quality which defines an intellectual as we identified above.
If you look around the Nigerian ivory towers, the vibrant energy of the old and the youth which drive intellectual life is largely missing. To start with, there is a great fall in the intellectual and aesthetic appeal of Nigerian ivory towers. The intellectual is expected to provide light to society in several respects, to exhibit high level of commitment to socio-economic, political and cultural progress, and to positively impact on society, setting agenda by sheer force of character and example.
What define the current age is the inordinate ambition of many a so – so intellectual to be reckoned with in the larger society, usually in the material sense and not in character and learning. To achieve this goal, many academics cultivate what is considered the right social group. They join prominent social clubs, and of course, to be seen in the right circles! They pursue political appointment with a vengeance, craving for social relevance in the most unedifying of places for intellectuals.
So instead of being the conscience of the nation and society, the average contemporary Nigerian intellectual is all too eager to join the club of those who ruin the nation by indulging in all manner of unethical behaviour.
Someone observed that in Europe, America and increasingly in Asia, after work, the intellectuals continue to brainstorm on key issues of the day, while in Africa, the so-called intellectuals retire eagerly to social clubs for drinks with the so-called people that matter and banter the days away. Innovation and discovery cannot occur in such environment. I remember the days when the University of Jos had a Staff Club which provided an intellectual environment for socializing and set a certain quality of social and cultural engagement.
Whatever efforts our new intellectuals make is only to feather their nests, to gain political advantage over colleagues, to block the advancement of others, to trade off on all manner of principles and generally, to politicize every and all aspects of academic life! There was nothing that could not be traded. As a result, the political class does not have to work too hard to have recruits into the nation’s burgeoning political class, because the intellectuals are available for the taking. At the end of it all, they only get peanuts because there is not enough for all to be accommodated in the rat race of primitive accumulation.
The most appalling aspect of the new intellectual environment is the decline in the rigour in academic work of the new intellectual. This is seen in the poor quality of teaching and supervision and the general impact on the young and vulnerable students that come to the universities whose morale are quickly eroded as they see through the screen of the individual failings of their academic mentors
Sadly, it is clear that the new intellectuals contribute to the emergence of the Nigerian oligarchy in the Fourth republic! This is so, because, instead of providing light and championing liberating ideas, many members of the academia now belittle the intellectual in the race to belong to the ruling class.
Though, it is sometimes argued that the path to national greatness is in the hands of the political class, I would rather argue that, if the university intellectuals would really change their ways and try to have a more purposeful intellectual life, be more committed to intellectual rigour, shun the mores of the decadent class, avoid careerism, moderate its political and material acquisition instinct and try to be honest father and mother figures to the youth, trooping into the universities, Nigeria would be on the mend in a short while.
To achieve this objective, intellectuals have to change their attitude and reappraise their values. Government also has to provide better governance paradigm and invest in the promotion of an enabling environment in the universities in terms of good facilities and staff offices and other necessary requirements for intellectual work. Government should also stop its efforts to muddle up the system by politicizing appointments in the educational sector generally.
Even though I must admit that the workload of academics is much and this may undermine the efforts to achieve excellence, as intellectuals, we must endeavour to strive to overcome all these challenges that flow from poor national governance. Academics must reappraise the intellectual tradition and thereafter try to return to it and to live it. This will be the only way to redeem the nation, for where the intellectual vision and tradition is lost or trampled upon or discarded, the nation is doomed.
Prof. W. O Alli can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Telephone number: +234(0)8035991377