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Philosophy, humanities and the national question in Nigeria (Continuted from last week)

I know this is a critical and sensitive matter. And I stand the risk already of being misinterpreted. I stand the risk of being labelled…

I know this is a critical and sensitive matter. And I stand the risk already of being misinterpreted. I stand the risk of being labelled ‘a sell out.’ But the humanities have been fighting a losing battle all over the globe-Europe, America, Asia, the third world. Our intellectual predicament in Africa is worse. Any attempt at intellectual playfulness or grandstanding will doom us. Let me give an instance I am familiar with. In the late 80s and early 90s, the emerging discipline of African Philosophy was embroiled in a wasteful debate about whether or not there is anything that qualifies as ‘African Philosophy.’ What could be more frivolous! I have also heard of Derridean deconstruction. This intellectual strategy, however significant as a theoretical instrument, would be utterly useless to scholarship in the third world if it doesn’t enable us deconstruct our national predicament in a manner that facilitates living the good lives for the people.
The charge of relevance requires that all disciplines, including those in the humanities and the social sciences, must readily dirty their disciplinary hands in the murky penumbra of national affairs. If the humanities see to the development of the whole man qua man, then they must help us in rethinking man as a good citizen too. And this is the catch: the national question is too significant to be left to the machinations and arrogance of the sciences or other professional disciplines alone. The humanities and the social sciences have a huge and critical role to play. That, essentially, is the imperative of relevance. Yet, we have been shying away from it for too long. Intellectuals can’t neglect praxis; the humanities must be redeemed by the practical. As far as I am concerned, if a nation is listless, first ask its intellectuals; and specifically, ask its humanistic intellectuals. Gerald Brenan, the British writer, says damningly, that ‘intellectuals are people who believe that ideas are more important than values.’ Consider that an indictment.
Yet Thomas Mann, the German writer is prescient. According to him, ‘every intellectual attitude is latently political.’ It is always oriented towards a deconstruction or a reconstruction of what we can call the national architecture. In the original article we are revisiting, I indicted the Nigerian philosophers precisely for making their intellectual attitude too latent to make a mark on the Nigerian political space. In the Republic, Plato calls all philosophers to political action: the nation requires urgent philosophical assessment and intellectual redemption. Here, I indict all humanistic scholars. We have all refused, too overtly, to interject our disciplines into the national space. What does Communication and Language Art or Mass Communication have to say about our inability, for over fifty years, to communicate across ethnic boundaries? What insight does Philosophy injects into the crass materialism and greed of our national elite? How does Religious Studies contribute to our volatile religious pluralism in Nigeria? How has History brought the lessons of the past to bear on our present national choices and decisions? Can English Language and Linguistics prescribe how we can rescue our indigenous languages for national development? And I am not talking about the academic and almost arid essays that we churn out regularly to achieve promotion. I am talking about a critical intercourse of the disciplines on the Nigerian national space.
I have said that Nigeria is a concrete predicament that must push the philosophers into concrete reflection, say, about institutional and systemic instability and dysfunction. In the first part of this piece, I asked about what unique and fundamental idea the philosophers can bring to the understanding of administrative phenomena the same way Max Weber enabled our understanding of the modern state and its bureaucracy? I argued that the fundamental challenge for philosophy and philosophers is that of facilitating the reflective process-and an enduring debate-that constantly presses the issue of institutions and values into our national consciousness. All Nigerian intellectuals are obligated by a moral responsibility to invade the fissures of our national existence and query its theoretical foundations, social formations and forces.
Though I equally argued that the Nigerian nation owes its intellectuals the duty of facilitating an enduring engagement with national affairs, it is not all nations that take up this duty. Yet, I consider it the duty of the public intellectuals to force the hands of the nation into engaging with their debates and actions and programmes and manifestoes. This, for me, is the enduring significance of the intellectual heroes I have critically celebrated on the pages of newspapers-Wole Soyinka, Claude Ake, Billy Dudley, Tai Solarin, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ojetunji Aboyade, Akin Mabogunje, Gani Fawehinmi, Wande Abimbola, Yusuf Bala Usman, Mathew Hassan Kukah, Bolanle Awe, Simeon Adebo, Kenneth Dike, Ade Ajayi, Chike Obi, and many others. All these constitute a generation that saw beyond our crass humanistic paradigm nurtured toothlessly in the Ivory Tower! The humanities do not constitute a bad product that must be abandoned. It will also be fatally ineffectual to continue lamenting the public’s blindness to its relevance. Our most immediate response, as good humanistic ‘marketers’, is to begin a creative rebranding of its essence. What is the shape and dynamics of such a rebranding exercise for the humanities? I address that question in the concluding third part of this article.
NEED FOR MARKETING AND PEDAGOGICAL PROJECTION: My relationship with the humanities, and with education, goes beyond that of a mere amateur or a dabbler who knows next to nothing about the import of a good educational curriculum on a nation’s quest for development. My passion for education, for learning, reaches far back into my childhood and the desire I had then to ingest everything that books could give me. I had told the story before of how I stumbled on Plato’s Republic, and how that became my motivation to become a philosopher. But then, coming across the Republic was just one of many critical educational experiences I had in my fixation with books. From 1999 to 2002, I became the Coordinator of the Education Sector Analysis and later the Head of the Policy Division at the Office of the Minister, Federal Ministry of Education. In 2010, I then published The Joy of Learning as a brief monographical summation of my philosophical rumination on the significance of learning for the individual and the nation. I could say, therefore, that I am seriously involved.
It is not difficult for any discerning scholar to immediately percieve how a viable educational framework can energise a nation’s development dynamics. Education, in other words, is the gateway for accessing the human capital that serves as the basis by which a nation can transform its lofty development objectives into concrete programmes that make for national progress and consistently redeems the government in the eyes of its citizens. It therefore stands to reason that when education fails, development is essentially jeopardised. One way therefore by which education can intervene in national development is for pedagogy to be oriented towards instilling critical skills, capacities and competencies in the students. This seems straightforwardly logical. At graduation, therefore, the students therefore readily fit into the various dimensions and departments of nation building, and hence are ready to take on the tasks of transforming the nation. This is a national picture that we can all appreciate. Education, in this sense, essentially becomes a problem-solving mechanism. In The Joy of Learning, I pointed attention to the disciplined and the synthesising minds as the consequences of an educational programme geared towards the acquisition of knowledge and skills.
Given the immense achievement profile that comes from this kind of education-especially in terms of scientific and technological achievements-it is not far-fetched why most countries in the third world, like Nigeria, would emphasise a strong preference for mathematics, the sciences and technology as essential base for a development-driven education. When a very high proportion of the population is immersed in such an educational programme, it becomes a critical mass integrated into a mind-set that is able to take facts and knowledge from many sources and synthesise them objectively into useful bites that the nation can deploy for development. That is the essence of science and technological education. Unfortunately, in this equation, the humanities become the unwitting scapegoat. Yet, there is no way a nation will be able to escape a grossly lopsided national development when it deliberately exclude the humanities. In the second part of this article, I took a risk with the marketing metaphor. The risk is that I may be interpreted as subscribing to the idea that research in the humanities ought to be market driven, say, in the form of R&D. On the contrary, my brief as a willing ‘marketer’ for the humanities is the argument for an urgent rebranding of the humanistic vocation in a deliberately aggressive fashion that will not only achieve pedagogical relevance but whose content will motivate national attention and action.
And what kind of advocacy will save the humanities? Well, why don’t we start from the beginning? The humanistic scholars’ first responsibility is to market the essence of the humanities. And what is the essence of the humanities? Simple answer: the humanities humanise. And they do this through a unique cultivation of the human body, soul and spirit in a manner that leads to the re-creation of what we can call an enlarged mental capacity. In other words, a disciplined or synthesising mind is not enough for humanity. Something more is needed; and that is what we can call the respectful or the ethical mind. Such a mind derives from the cultivation of an empathetic imagination that reaches beyond self-interest to respect diversity in the human society. Martha Nussabaum has warned us-in Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010)-why it is dangerous for a nation to dedicate its energy to producing human capital which constitutes mere development machines for facilitating national objectives. Rather, human capital ought to be men and women who have been educationally liberated to independently think for themselves, value others as partners in nation-building, resist parochialism and fundamentalism, scrutinise traditions and social formations, and ultimately understand the crucial need for tolerance. How then can the essence of the humanities lead to the creation of such a citizenry?
The second level of advocacy involves a careful analysis and projection of pedagogical contents and programmes that would not only respond to parents’ and children’s distrust of the relevance of the humanities but will also eventually convince the government as to why the humanities cannot be neglected. This call is for intellectuals and scholars in the humanities to get out of the Ivory Towers and get on to the streets! Advocacy in this sense requires that these scholars and intellectuals constantly engage the public on why and how the humanities can humanise science and technology in a critical manner that would not jumpstart the development of the Nigerian society while leaving the very souls of Nigerians bereft of worthwhile values and significance. The achievements and advances in science and technology are making us smarter, and our society more interconnected. This is actually true, but at what cost? Can we say we tolerate more? Do we empathise more? Have we not lost the essence of friendship and relationship that isn’t mediated by technology? Has honesty not disappeared within the anonymity and distance that the phone confers? Are we still human? Hasn’t technology eroded love or even virtue?
In the Nigerian universities today, there are two critical steps I have noticed in the attempt to rethink the curricula into a balanced model. One involves the conscious restructuring of the humanities curricula to reflect relevance. Thus, I have heard of ‘History and Diplomatic Studies’ and ‘Philosophy and Public Affairs.’ The second critical step in the right direction is the efforts that are concentrated into fostering a rounded education through the General Studies programmes. The objective of the GSP is to facilitate a student’s understanding and appreciation of a broad range of disciplines outside the student’s primary discipline. However, what is required goes beyond General Studies or rejuvenated nomenclature. I am really alluding to the institutional re-enactment of the educational arrangements and dynamics that could facilitate the re-creation of a liberal arts education that will de-emphasise the false dichotomy between science and technology on the one hand, and the humanities on the other. The humanities without mathematics, the sciences and engineering would essentially be a lame set of disciplines. But then, all these others without the humanities would also be essentially blind! And in the final analysis, the nation would be the poorer for it.   
Yet, like I argued in the second part of the serial and in the original article, we don’t find humanistic scholars regularly in the public sphere confronting these issues, analysing educational policies, taking, say, the National Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) to task over what the humanities require or can do, making high power representation to government ministries, parastatals or government’s education summits, and so on. We simply lament our fate and keep glumly silent.
I trust that the scholars and intellectuals of the humanities should have no problem with proving the relevance of their disciplines, like Prof. Dukor did for philosophy and Mr Ifeanyi did for Classics. My considered opinion, however, is that we cannot do this, and hence save our beloved humanities from slow and painful death, by wilful silence or a deluded conviction that we are immune to the relevance question. More significantly, we have a great opportunity in this dispensation of our nascent democratic experiment, to demonstrate how a massive investment in the humanities by the government, can lead to a strong consolidation of our democracy. In other words, the Nigerian government wants to know how the humanities can deliver a healthy, engaged, educated and responsible citizenry that understands the task and urgency of nation building in Nigeria. The challenge however is: Can the humanities deliver? 

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