Intellectual Separatism and The Dangers of Single Intellectualism – By Joel Oseiga [@joeloseiga]
“The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny” — Unknown
I grew up in the heart of Osogbo. A town known for her intellectual art and as an epitome of all African culture and roots. My mother was an English teacher in one of the major public secondary schools and my father, a lecturer at a college of education. My father, a very avid reader himself had a library with books of all forms ranging from the highly intellectual and thought provoking works of Charles Dickins to the extremely scriptural works of numerous scholars of various Abrahamic religions namely Billy Graham and Abdullah Jibreen among several others. I wouldn’t be exaggerating in any manner by saying I grew up with books literally all around me.
The very first book that introduced me to the world of African intellectualism was one by famed Nobel Laurette─Wole Soyinka, a man whom I have grown to love over the years and whose books and memoirs have been my worthy companion ever since; “The Man Died; Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka”. The very first time I read the man died, I was in my first year of senior secondary school when I stumbled on it in my father’s good old library. I had finished reading the book in a couple of days and of course, as typical of Soyinka, the work was not comprehensible in its entirety for a young mind like mine at the time. However, I had recourse to read it again in my final year in secondary school and my second year as an undergraduate. Each time I read The Man Died, I was exposed just a new to the injustice the Nigerian system and government has nursed and practiced over several years. After that very first book, my thirst couldn’t be quenched longer. I had opened myself up to the writings of Achebe, the legendary Christopher Okigbo, the old writings of Ken-Saro Wiwa and other great writers that have walked the face of the African continent. Access to these needless to say, were given freely by my father’s library. An opportunity too good for me to pass by.
I for one have always believed in the refining and tuning of the human mind through intellectual pieces. When my very first socially critical piece got published on a major Nigerian newspaper years ago, I some 35 minutes speaking with my father and trying to convince him how I believe these pieces were indeed still a necessity. His argument logically was: “how much has changed in recent years when even more experienced intellectuals and scholars have done similar?” In my defence, I laboured to advance the argument that what I had written in my article was a critical discourse designed to achieve two major goals. While its primary goal is to mould the mind of a reader towards a particular cause or thought process, its secondary goal (which most times doesn’t ever happen) was for the authorities concerned or affected by the piece, to read and be brought to understand that such a problem as highlighted in the piece exists, and which yearns for a solution.
As much as I advanced these arguments, I had the guilt-feeling that they did not answer the question my father had raised. I didn’t stop my social criticism either and of course, just like a typical lecturer, my father stopped talking about it. The one time my mother raised it with him, I overheard him say “Well, what can I do. Even God gets tired a times, “Ephraim has gone back to his idols leave him alone”. A few years later into social and political criticism, I was at a closed-door dinner with my Uncle. This time, I didn’t dismiss it but gave it critical thought at the back of my mind on many occasions.
The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) has been a fascination to me over the years. It was an ‘attraction’ that took life right from my childhood days. For one, as a young man I had no idea why anyone would even want to be a part of a group of people extremely terrified by the community, and with all those charms they wielded. It was just strange to me. My late mother used to teach at a major public secondary school in Osogbo, the Osun state capital; hence I had lessons during the holidays at her school. At a very early age, It must have been during my junior secondary school years, I remember meeting a little boy just about my age at the time and who later turned out to become a friend at such a tender age mi was struck to learn that my new friend, Kehinde was already a member of this group. I couldn’t believe it but we were friends already and my typical curiosity wouldn’t allow me back out. While of course, I was never invited to join their cause, i never at any point nurse an ambition to enlist in their cause at any point in my life. I would later meet a few other friends of Kehinde who told me, as did Kehinde, that being a part of the OPC gave them a sense of purpose at such a young age. They felt like they were fighting for something I would like to believe they had no idea what it constituted or maybe they didn’t really appreciate the macros it contained. I didn’t either! While I personally do not like the OPC nor subscribe to their ideologies, the way a small group of people grew to become a major force in the Western part of Nigeria over the years is definitely something that has amused me over the years. The pertinent question however is: why haven’t things changed in recent years regardless of the numerous intellectuals we have now? I think I have an answer.
There is a major problem among the present day Nigerian intellectuals and scholars which must be fixed if any form of genuine positive change will be attained. A lack of ideological bond! When the Oodua People’s Congress was formed amidst calls for the Oodua nation and the annulment of Moshood Abiola’s election by the then Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, Dr Fasehun, Beko Ransome Kuti and others who shared similar ideologies were at the forefront of the movement way before the Gani Adams faction broke out. The ideology behind the formation of the OPC whatever it was, attracted the open support of the likes of the irrepressible legal titan, now deceased, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. OPC grew to become such a formidable movement in such a short while. So formidable it was, that the then military Head of State, General Abacha had to throw Dr Fasehun into jail. An ideology was what brought them together and the understanding that individual efforts might as well be pointless. None of them really cared about getting shot or locked up.
Modern day intellectualism on the other hand has proved to be really weird. The whole idea of intellectual unionism has been totally replaced with what I will like to describe as political jingoism championed by caucuses. The entire idea of intellectual and ideological unionism appears to have died a couple of years ago. That simply has to be resurrected if anything will ever be achieved. The discord among the modern day intellectual that I had described in my opening paragraph is so vivid that two of the present day young scholars once publicly and shamelessly openly dragged each other and stooped as low as name calling and insults on this social media. These days, I am almost led to believe that what we have is a combination of young people whose only goal is to attain a level of “I am more intellectual that you are”. It is interesting and really sad to note that as at 2018, we currently do not have any group of intellectuals with similar ideologies actively seeking a particular goal. None! All we have are a scattered bunch of intellectuals screaming from all angles. It is not surprising that their parallel cacophonies have been ignored by those who should take action. As against the ideologies and oneness of purpose that gave birth to the great Think Tanks such as Mbari, NADECO that existed during the military interregnum, what we have today is a blatant display of every man to himself or should I rather say “every intellectual and scholar to himself and herself.
While the Nigerian Intellectual community is facing a major blow and Nigeria perishing away, the only thing I can see is the urge for superiority among intellectuals. Nobody listens to the other or should I say nobody bothers to reach out to the other. Everyone just likes to be the “lone voice in the wilderness which in all honesty is as good as pointless.
On the heels of all the foregoing therefore, I am forced to come to a conclusion which coincidentally conduces to an answer to my father’s old question which was repeated by my own Uncle. It is this: Individual intellectualism is a trap which cannot and will never achieve anything significant. While you may successfully mould minds and push narratives into the minds of fledgling readers and listeners here and there, all of that would come to naught without a group-force turning them into action projects. And so just as Faith without work is useless, so too is individual or centrifugal intellectualism dead without work. The (wo) man dies in all who keep quiet and refuse to take action in the face of tyranny.
Joel is a Social Critic and Cyber Security Analyst. Comments and reactions below or to [email protected] | Twitter: @joeloseiga
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