By A. A. Bukar
Let me preface this with the caveat and confession that part of the reason I recently slow down hobnobbing with professors is my increasing abhorrence of this culture of excessive bootlicking and kowtowing that is creeping into academia and eroding the ideals of independent thought, spirit of free inquiry and detachment that hitherto characterise intellectual discourse. The radical critique of issues and events for the betterment of humanity and irradiating the society is slowly taking a wing, supplanted with overt politicisation of minor issues (and even non-issues). Today, young academics, like myself, are becoming increasingly afraid to express even simple admiration of who they consider as the IDEAL TYPE among their teachers and mentors in academia because of “interpretations”. For this, you can even be reported to the enemy of such a scholar to possibly victimise you “sabida ai yaron wane ne! Ku kyale shi, ai zai zo defence, ai za’ a kawo papers dinsa for assessment”. And on and on. Such pettiness and vendetta. Hence, many – out there – see Nigerian academics as the worst enemies of themselves and are happy with how FG is dealing with them.
Little wonder whether this culture is obtainable in other parts of the world. Departments are compartmentalised into cliques and camps a la political parties in the larger society. Professors are becoming like emirs fortified by sycophants, making them unnecessarily snobbish and covetous of flattery. PhDs are deliberately delayed or tactically killed because a candidate does not BELONG. A blind eye is turned to obvious wrongs, mediocrity, and crass injustice because “our oga” is INVOLVED. Entitlements and privileges (especially of the younger ones) are stampeded to settle SCORES.
A friend sent me a Jumaat goodwill message, a quotation from Rumi which reads: “Listen to silence; it has so much to say”. How many PhD/MSc candidates do you know writhing in silent pain of frustration? Prof sirs and mas: listen to our silences and that shy smile that says “ba komai sir”. When I was an undergrad, I once overheard my teacher, Dr Gausu, talking about one of his colleagues in Economics, Business or Accounting (I can’t remember exactly) who’d become agoraphobic and almost schizophrenic because of PhD manhandling from a senior colleague. Of course, then I was too inexperienced to understand the heck that was about. They sarcastically even refer to the initials as “Pull Him Down”.
Whether this augurs well for generation, production and dissemination of ideas and knowledge typical of the Ivory Tower, I leave it to your imagination.
For these and more, many ideal intellectuals are on the lookout for escape windows from the suffocating atmosphere of poverty and frustrations taking over academia like a thick cloud on the horizon. Many are “diversifying”, hence diverting their attention from the absolute commitment ideal scholarship demands. Others are increasingly becoming nonchalant – that I-don’t-care attitude of: “if the department or unit fuels the generator set, fine, otherwise I teach the SPSS or Word Processing on the whiteboard”. Elsewhere blackboard. So Nigerian hospitals are not alone; medical practitioners are just a cohort.
Despite all odds, I love being at the University. It is a place where I feel I naturally belong. And our campuses are still dotted with the IDEAL TYPE (just as there are IDLE TYPES who do not “profess” any knowledge) that constantly bring back to one’s memory my favourite: Edward Said. Critically engaging. Highly unassuming – like Mazrui. Passionate about nourishing the mind; concerned with the public good and Humanity as a whole. People who will unconsciously make you feel you are far from arriving without making you feel embarrassed. I have recently met and enormously admire one such intellectual is Professor Abubakar Mu’azu of the Mass Communication department, UNIMAID.
Interpret this one too the way you like. Report me anywhere. Land me into trouble. I no longer care. But Allah knows whether this is coming from the bottom of my heart or elsewhere. Such as an attempt to curry favour.
After all, what use is admiring people if you cannot tell them or others you do? Or should we hold on till they are no more? Wouldn’t that serve as a token of encouragement to maintain the course and tempo against all odds?
I have earmarked a few other similar intellectuals I will write about in due course on this space. I will unburden my heart about people I feel positively towards. Yes, I will specify those who fit my definition of the ideal intellectual. Part of this is, of course, honesty. Wallahi, no matter how engaging you are, you are out of the equation once it comes to the light you are dubious and too self-centred. If you’re extorting money or sex from your vulnerable students, you cannot be my model. But again, I am not looking out for an angel.
Back to the subject, I have met with Prof Muazu only a few times. One was when he came as an external examiner to my thesis in April 2018 and some months earlier as an accreditation team member for the college I taught in Yobe state. The last, some weeks back. Each, he left me with nothing but admiration and deep respect.
When I phoned my referee and supervisor at undergrad, late Prof Maikaba, to congratulate him on his last promotion, he typically enquired about the progress of my thesis. I told him then, “I was done with viva yesterday and effecting corrections now”. Curiously, he returned with a finder about the examiner. When I replied that it was Mu’azu, he said: “kace an sha aiki”. Toh Bukar. PhD beckons. You can’t wait, especially for one in this business. He admonished me as usual; I giggled, thanked and said my goodbye.
I don’t know whether it’s appropriate to reveal this too. Some hours before the viva voce, my supervisor, Dr Binta Kasim Mohammed, called alerting me “to prepare very well. Because the external examiner brought is extremely thorough and critical”. Sir, you are appreciated and held in high esteem not only by nonentities like us but also by your colleagues. But my assessment of you from afar is that: these things matter little to you (if at all) – out of humility.
From both you and the late Maikaba, I graduated with distinction. But each time we met, you left me feeling inadequate, making me wonder ‘when will I arrive?’. Parts of this are the books you recommend, which I never read, or know not exist. But somewhere in WHERE I STAND, Sheikh Gumi has opined along this line that knowledge is such enigmatic that the more you learn, the more you realise that you know very little. I wonder whether you feel something similar sometimes. Yes, despite the accomplishments. In just your last visit, you recommended, as the situation warranted, many texts. Among these are Peter Winch’s THE IDEA OF A SOCIAL SCIENCE AND ITS RELATION WITH PHILOSOPHY. Then the POSITIVIST DISPUTE IN GERMAN SOCIOLOGY. The latter is such a rare collection – in fact, my first time to meet Adorno, Habermas and Karl Popper in one place. Both books remind me of similar stuff I read from the staple of Claude Ake and Yusuf Bala Usman of blessed memory.
In this vein of characteristic modesty, you specifically asked me to read Ben Bagdikian’s MEDIA MONOPOLY after the viva voce in order to steel my argument on the influence of profit drive in media content production. A copy of my thesis still carries your adorable handwriting suggesting the title and other points. But little wonder you never drew my attention to the fact that you have written extensively on media in peacebuilding until my curiosity took me to the internet and a bookshop where I stumbled CONFLICT MANAGEMENT AND THE MEDIA IN NIGERIA – a book coedited by you and Gani Yoroms. This was despite your awareness that my thesis is squarely about this matter of controversy. Quite recessive indeed.
With the crisis engulfing Nigerian Universities (the worst I have ever seen) and academics running helter-skelter for greener pasture, I equally wonder what becomes of the academia after the few of you that remain out of passion pass on to something else or the inevitable great beyond. And especially if this maddening ill-treatment continues from the federal government. Allah Ya kiyaye, amin.
Bukar teaches Mass Communication & Journalism at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.