15 August 2011

Nigeria: Bayo Adekanye at 70

analysis

On August 17, Professor Joel Adebayo Adekanye arguably Africa's leading scholar of comparative politics will be 70years. At the appropriate forum, Adekanye's contribution to scholarship in particular the discipline of political science which he taught in the apex academic position of professor for 27 years will be both evaluated and celebrated in a festschrift which is being edited by Prof. Kunle Amuwo and this writer.

It is apposite however that in a philistine generation whose universities increasingly announce themselves to the world by what Professor Biodun Jeifo recently described as the "grandiosity of mediocrity"; benchmarks of academic excellence such as Adekanye's career should be brought to the limelight and situated in the national discourse agenda as redemptive pathways in the search for the utopia that we once had but frittered away.

In doing this, let us first recall that the Political Science Department of the University of Ibadan where Adekanye lectured for close to four decades is easily one of the most distinguished on the continent judging by the quality of its output, its concentration in the same locale of a good number of star academics who succeeded in reproducing themselves as well as an overall tone of incisive scholarship marked by assiduous empirical work on several areas of government and politics. Never mind that it was a fairly conservative department which did not appear ruffled by the debate in some other academic quarters concerning the tensions between Political Science in Africa and the exciting and liberating possibilities of an African Political Science. The former let us note is a successful cloning of American political Science with its orthodox focus on democracy viewed in procedural terms; on the Eastonian preoccupation with the prerequisites of system maintenance and survival as well as on governmental structures and processes viewed as mechanisms for achieving elite consensus. Interrogating this orthodox perspective which facilitates the efficient transmission of liberal capitalism as a cultural and ideological project is a different kind of Political Science which privileges the insertion of Africa into the global capitalist economy as subalterns, the value loaded if not self-interested nature of such concepts as interdependence, free trade, globalization and neighbourhood ethics; as well as an underscoring of the need for Africa to embrace social rather than liberal democracy.

Adekanye and his colleagues were of course not unaware of this debate; it was just that they saw them as secondary to their main task of professionalizing and raising to world-class levels the study of and dissemination of knowledge about their discipline. In this, they succeeded brilliantly as a perusal of the prolific output of these scholars and their equally illustrious academic offsprings some of who became world-class professors will demonstrate. This point bears repetition at a time when professors are emerging from our academic culture who are unknown to the wider scholarly community outside of our shores in the disciplines which they "profess". In other words, Adekanye's career coincides with an intellectual efflorescence typified by world-class interventions by Nigerian academics in the leading journals of their discipline. Unsurprisingly therefore, Adekanye has to his credit a harvest of books, monographs, journal articles which compete favourably in their quality with any that could be found in the English speaking world. It is just possible that Adekanye's seminal output especially in the area of the military problematic in Africa was facilitated by a conducive domestic environment organized by his spouse Professor Mrs. Tomilayo Adekanye, a well-known academic in the discipline of agricultural economics who also retired a few years ago from the University of Ibadan.

Interestingly, and in the light of the ontological issues broached earlier in this write-up; Adekanye while accepting in broad outlines the received paradigms in comparative politics often found himself debating with its ethnocentric and culture laden assumptions. Such articles as "On The Theory of Modernizing Soldier: A Critique "Published in Current Research of Peace and Violence", as well as "The Concept and Problematic of Non-Western Civil-Military Process: Some Methodological Queries"; sought to expose the extremely faulty premises of conventional paradigms for understanding and analyzing specific historical and contemporary cases, albeit while operating within the major assumptions of those frameworks. In other words, he was not content to merely provide empirical justification for frameworks developed elsewhere but provocatively queried some of the organizing rubrics of those theories. It is this latter quality of original thinking and theorizing that lifts him above the common run of academics in his discipline and lend to his work the quality of an academic foster father. Consider too the fact that unlike many of his peers in the country who veered off to other more lucrative callings or who stopped publishing after they became professors, Adekanye kept true to the academic vocation and continued to publish in top class journals long after he rose to the summit of his career suggesting a deep interest in and profound affection for the academic profession. Even at 70, the scholar is currently on the staff of the Political Science Department of the Babcock University in Ilishan where he continues to play a mentoring role to an emerging generation of political scientists.

The reason for highlighting his fidelity to the academic calling is that we cannot as a nation build world-class universities unless we return to those values and incentives that will keep professionals at their job long enough for them to make a difference, as opposed to the pervasive moonlighting admittedly sometimes occasioned by survival reasons as well as a brain drain to other careers which are perceived to be more economically rewarding. In this respect, his defiance so to speak constitutes a rebuke of a syndrome in which famed academics are now reduced to the unedifying role of writing position papers or providing justifications for the misdeeds of an errant political class. A related point is the fact that the scholar represents a virtuous minority standing for time honoured values in a generation in which those values are not only in short supply but are fast disappearing.

His reticence, ordinariness and simplicity can hardly be reconciled with his eminence in a culture notorious for ostentation and showmanship. At 70, this influential but self-effacing scholar quietly points a nation gone astray to those values and signposts which can redeem it from its wayward and unprofitable trajectory.

Olukotun is professor of political science at Lead City University, Ibadan .

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