In Understanding Modern Nigeria, Falola directs our noble cause
At the book presentation on Understanding Modern Nigeria written by Professor Toyin Falola, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, the University of Texas at Austin, USA, held at the Trenchard Hall, University of Ibadan, on Thursday, 18 November 2021, scholars, friends, mentees and admirers of the author gathered to dissect and discuss modern Nigeria’s peculiarities, problems, and ways to understand the country. This was to seek solutions to the myriads of challenges currently facing the country.
Understanding Modern Nigeria is interesting because of its detailed exposition on critical issues that have affected the country since independence about six decades ago. It is also remarkable in that, rather than just critiquing, it prescribes very robust solutions to mitigate these challenges. This means that the author has given readers a template for transforming Nigeria at all levels of government if we, as a people, are serious about democracy and development. It serves as the icing on the cake to understand Nigeria’s political trajectory and what has rendered it incapable of attaining the heights expected of it going into the third and subsequent decades of the 21st century.
The focus of the event centred on the two themes promptly articulated in Understanding Modern Nigeria – ethnicity, and democracy and development. Part of the major highlights of the event was a review of the book by Professors Osisioma Nwolise, who recently retired from the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, and Olufunke Adeboye of the department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos. While Nwolise’s position was centred on the need for the leadership in Nigeria to have a rethink on the strategic governance of the country, Adeboye was particular about the issues raised in the book on gender and its role in effecting positive changes in all facets of life.
The second major highlight included two panels that drew participants from diverse fields of human endeavour. The first-panel session was chaired by Prof. Ayo Olutokun, the Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona Professorial Chair at the Department of Political Science, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, and moderated by Edmund Obillo, on-air personality, and presenter of the State Affairs radio show. Discussants on the first panel were Prof. Remi Ayede, the Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan; Dr. Nathaniel Danjibo, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan; and Prof. Michael Afolayan, the co-founder of M & P Educational Consulting International.
Others include Prof. Akin Alao, professor of African History at Obafemi Awolowo University; Kunle Afolayan, filmmaker and CEO of Golden Effects Pictures; and Oluwaseun Sanwo-Olu, a final-year student of Philosophy at the University of Ibadan. The focus of the panel session was on ethnicity, which welcomed very robust responses and comments from each panellist. In dealing with the subject, some of the panellists agreed that there was still no firm understanding of what ethnicity entails and that ethnicity becomes a problem when it is weaponised for political gains. One position indicated that many Nigerians see themselves first from the lens of their ethnic group before considering themselves as Nigerians.
The second panel focused on the theme “Democracy and Development” was chaired by Prof. Tunde Babawale, the Acting Provost of the Anti-Corruption Academy, and was moderated by Seun Akinola of Splash FM. The panellists include Prof. Adigun Agbaje, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics) at the University of Ibadan; Dr. Festus Adedayo, a lawyer and journalist; Prof. Francis Egbokhare, former President of the National Academy of Letters; and Prof. Isaac Albert of the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan. Others were Mr. Precious Ibeh; Prof. Jumoke Yacob-Haliso, Department of Political Science at Babcock University; and Prof. Muktar Bunza, the Commissioner for Higher Education in Kebbi State.
One of the panellists focused on the role of education in Nigeria’s development trajectory by recommending critical funding in the sector. His observation came against the backdrop of the incessant strikes by unions in the university caused by the government’s failure to prioritise education. He also decried the disturbing trends of a powerful cabal in the nation’s ivory towers, which have given rise to inefficiency and clout chasing. In his view, Prof. Muktar stressed the need for Nigerians to have a positive mindset towards the government rather than always being critical of it. A greater percentage of the panellists, however, agreed that there was a need for a true developmental blueprint for the country if it would attain the status of a developed nation.
Participants flooded the panellists with questions, while diverse comments provided room for robust engagements with the subjects of discussion. One interesting recurrent issue raised by some members of the audience was the fact that Nigeria does not seem to work, and this was attributed in large part to the failure of leadership at all levels of government, from the federal to the local. There was a call to find swift solutions to the myriads of problems facing the country. It was observed that solutions must go in tandem with whom democracy works for and how it operates. To chart the path that works for everyone, the political leadership must reorganise the country’s politics and put structures in place that will concretise the future the people envision.
Prof. Falola enthrals us with his intellectual contribution to Nigeria in Understanding Modern Nigeria. Exciting as it appears, the book provides a sombre reflection on Nigeria’s historical trajectory from independence to contemporary times, which citizens in the country and the diaspora are all too familiar with. Is it the twin-crisis of Boko Haram and banditry in the north or the recent surge in secessionist agitations in the south? Nigeria’s crisis appears intractable if the worsening security situation across the country is anything to go by. While these occurrences are not new as they go back many decades, Falola has given us a 672-page book, the most voluminous single-authored book on Nigeria’s postcolonial history, which touches on, explores, and critically analyses three fundamental challenges that have often eluded our path to progress. Despite its sombre tone, Understanding Modern Nigeria offers an interesting perspective on how to resolve the country’s many fault lines, which is found in the section titled “Pathways to the Future”.
Although the book presentation has since come to an end, the event will, undoubtedly, continue to reverberate in the minds of the 400 attendees and many more who participated virtually. In light of the recent predictions that Nigeria may not exist by the next national election, the drivers of the country and, most importantly, the citizens need to save it from any act that will truncate its already shaky foundation. Falola directs our noble cause in Understanding Modern Nigeria, and every citizen owes the nation a duty to do the same.
Raheem Oluwafunminiyi, a social commentator, is based in Osogbo and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
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