Suncolor's Blog

Life and politics on a Nigerian Campus

Posted on: August 28, 2011


early days on campus at ahamadu bello
by john otim

I joined the Ahmadu Bello University the year I left graduate school in the early eighties. Arrived in the middle of a cold dry dusty season locals call the harmattan. The campus was filled with expatriate academics from around the world. Poles, Indians, the British, Americans, Africans, and others; it was a seething pot of nationalities. It was an exciting moment and place to be.

Weekends were filled with parties. The feeling of being in a new African country far different from one’s own was intoxicating. For a young single male the local women appeared the ultimate in famine charms. But on campus there was work to be done. I was amazed at the number of sharp young academics one encountered on campus. Perhaps because my expectations had been low, I was after all coming to a rural campus. But later I felt I never learnt so much in one single place but then I never stayed longer in any other one place.

"attracted to books"

book corner

            In the humanities and the social sciences where I belong Marxism was the popular mode of analysis. All the good thinkers seemed to be Marxist. When the one hundred anniversary of the death of the prophet arrived they held a conference themed Karl Marx in Africa. Participants came from far and wide. There were good papers, there were bad papers, they were all there. It was an exciting moment. A woman from Portharcourt wrote about male chunism in Achebe; one of the very first to do so, she demonstrated her case well. My own paper discussed the division of labor and the production of knowledge. It was an ambitious if pretentious look at the rise of knowledge from its communal folk origins. At first the common property of all from the common collective labor, but then the split begin to occur along the emerging fault line in the workplace. Soon one strand of knowledge or view of the world grew dominant and was universalized; a long the line that eventually led to the New York Review of Books.

            A few years down the line a new military government came to power in Nigeria. The year was 1986. The new rulers were abrasive and knew what they wanted, and it was not the common good. They proceeded nosily to adopt the structural adjustment program, under the supervision of the IMF while pretending to carry everyone on board. Soon the oil rich country was paying more on interest rates. Which had now grown far bigger than the original debt. There wasn’t a great public service but there was some. Now it began to slump, especially in the crucial areas of health and education. Soon the economy collapsed. And so began the exodus from campus of skilled and experienced academics.

"central campus"

central campus

            Yea there was in Nigeria at the time and there still is in Nigeria plenty corruption and dozens of corrupt and corruptible officials and politicians. On campus many Nigerian colleagues traced the beginning of corruption in their country from the time of the civil war they fought in the late sixties, when all norms broke down and gave way to the free for all dominion. But those of us who had read Chinua Achebe’s earlier novels, especially No Longer at Ease, knew that corruption in Nigeria as a matter of public concern dates much earlier. Nevertheless it seemed to us at the time that the IMF and its Structural Adjustment Program was abating and aiding corruption in the country; knowingly feeding the corrupt machinery of government. But the world is what it is.

            Was excited when I got your mail and regretted that I did not inform you in the first place that I was working on a book on Ahmadu Bello University. How greatly my book would have profited from your rich perspectives.  I was writing at the invitation of the university. And that created complications but I tried to be my own man as a writer should.

            There was a time at the forum when they were boasting that they were going to get you back to help them discuss the other Barack Obama. Meaning the President’s father who was then apparently in the news. But the forum is dead now. It died when you left. Nowadays lucky is the day the forum gets even 2 posts. DrVali still tirelessly counts the number of his pages in his forever forthcoming book.

Greetings and thanks

John

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2 Responses to "Life and politics on a Nigerian Campus"

Very nice -You captured it all John
John i have been looking for you all over, where are you? Abdul

Always great to encounter a name from Ahmadu Bello University days. Please remind me what you majored in. Sure you were at the creative writers’ club. You can email me at johnotim@yahoo.com

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