Intellectual work, as Thandika Mkandawire has reminded us, is “quintessentially the labor of the mind and soul.” Mkandawire went on to say that “intellectuals have played a major role in shaping passions, ideologies and societal visions.” This is principally true in
In a formal sense, a few years after the University College of Ibadan was established in 1948, intellectualism, at least public intellectualism, became a feature of the Nigerian public landscape. And for the next three decades or so, Nigerian intellectuals were the doyen of the society; or at least, some of the doyens of the Nigerian society were intellectuals: men and women who earned the public’s trust, admiration and respect as a result of their faithfulness to intellectual pursuit.
From my own recollection and vantage point, most of the early intellectuals remained faithful to their craft. They were the purists, earning their living from the creation of their minds and brains; and were not voracious in their financial accretion. In addition, most detested party politics and also loathed serving in government — especially military government.
The Ivory Towers and associated places, were their home; the place where they were most comfortable and productive. They were mostly poets and playwrights, lawyers and medical doctors, college professors and activists, socialists and communists and left-wing liberals. In some cases, they called themselves Comrades. They came in all shades and colors. They were educated at home and abroad.
The vast majority called the
But beginning in the early 1980s, intellectualism began to take on a different shade and texture. There were new minds in town. The principal objectives began to change. This noble and august craft began to have different questions, different answers and different meanings. In a span of ten years, Nigerian-style intellectualism became unrecognizable.
And by the early to late 1990s, the society of Nigerian intellectuals had become mushy, clay-like, adulterated, corruptible, and puerile. It became a laughing stock. Some retained their stellar qualities, but for the most part, the society of Nigerian intellectuals became a pool of nothingness: a shadow of its pious past and now munching off of its past glory.
The intellectual class became as decadent and as rotten as the forces they had opposed for three or more decades. The military co-opted some; the bloody-civilians seduced others with money. The survival strategy employed by the military and the civilians was so effective it weakened the immune and defensive system of the Nigerian intellectual class.
Why and how the intellectual class came to be what it is today? It is hard to tell; it is hard to come up with systemic answers without any kind of empirical studies. Here and how however, a few assumptions can be made. First, the military and their civilian counterpart were determined in their pursuit of the “enemies’” Achilles heels. They begged and cajoled; and wherever possible, offered inducements in the form of money, political appointments, overseas engagements, and phony think tanks.
In the end, this group of intellectuals simply rationalized their involvement by saying “it was better to fight from the inside than to be perpetual outsiders.” The belief here is that “change can only be effected from inside.” But we know of
Second, the strong-willed were threatened, blackmailed and prosecuted on fake criminal charges, persecuted, forced into exile, and or got fired or demoted in their place of work. After several years of government brutality and criminality, some gave up the good fight and simply went into exile. This account for why, in virtually all universities and research organizations in the world, there are Nigerians (mostly with clipped wings and mellowed disposition).
Those who dreaded life in exile — and refusing to compromise their integrity — simply gave up the good fight; faded away and died a slow mental and spiritual death. In the third instance are the black and despicable sheep: the wannabes, the fakes, and the bojuboju akowe. Unhappily, the membership of this group exploded when the Nigerian universities and the larger society was almost emptied of the first rates. It is why today, there are few bona fide intellectuals left in
Since the tail-end of the 1990s, the Nigerian intellectual class has consisted mostly of domestic and foreign government agents; political prostitutes; loud-mouths, contractors, academic-thugs, cross-dressers and
To be relevant in today’s
To say that intellectual pursuit is a dying art in