Something may be rotten in the heart of the Nigerian public intellectual

By Jimanze Ego-Alowes

If like some of us you have been watching the Nigeria scene, you may have been having fun popping into several oddities. Some are really harmless, if not humorous. The rest are of course pernicious.

For the harmless, one may point at the now staple habit of Nigerians. Or have you not noticed that at banks, airports, bus stops, toilets, shopping malls, on wheels etc., Nigerians are busy picking their teeth or fiddling tooth picks with their lips. That is of course long after they have had or not had their meals. Some beneficently, tooth picks have become a Nigerian fashion accessory, across ”party” and socioeconomic lines.

Today however, our brief zeroes in on one of those harmful exotica. If you kept an eye on it, one of the great peculiarities of Nigeria is this. Nearly all, if not all, dominant and powerful Nigerian public intellectuals happen to be those who have held one prominent government office or the other. As it were, there are no truly independent Nigerian scholars and thus scholarships. To be heard or given audience, it appears you have to have been cleared by government – ”invited to come and chop.” No public intellectual it appears can stand on his own soles. To be, he has to be propped up by ”inherited” governance structures.

What is odd here is that this Nigerian situation is clearly at cross-purposes with the normative order, and also with what happens in enlightened jurisdictions. However, it is meet to state that the Nigerian public intellectuals capitalize on the fact that their audience is one of ignorant majority. Our abused multitudes just don’t know what a public intellectual should be. The Nigerian majority just doesn’t know that what they have is not the order of nature or civilization. It is purely a Nigerian, all too Nigerian, fabrication.

First, let us take a cue from other jurisdictions. From America to the United Kingdom, France to India, you become a public intellectual only on the following citations. First and above all, you must have authored a book. And it is not just any book, but one that breaks ground, offers new insights or understandings. In fact, it is on the basis of that alone that the newspapers and television houses search you out for your opinions. Certainly, it plays to your advantage if you are witty with words, and thus a delight of the news headliners. Or telegenic, for this avails greater audiences for same drama.

Just not to sound gossipy, let us lean on the authority of an informed observer. Commenting on Professor Thomas Piketty, John Quiggin, himself a professor, says: ”Capital in the 21st Century is… where Piketty came to prominence… developing data on the top 1% of incomes.” Simply put, Piketty came to public prominence by authoring Capital in the 21st Century.

Today, Piketty comes steaming hotter than snow and is on fevered demand at Davos, as he is in Washington or Paris. Such similar situation goes for Dr. Shashi Tharoor, of India. Tharoor is author of author of Inglorious Empire…. But in Nigeria? What you get is orature and no backup scriptures.

It would have all been harmless but for this. These television-actor dons appear to be in the business of being passed off as geniuses, the geniuses they are not. And because their audience is the ignorant majority, they are succeeding. To save Nigeria or perhaps the black race, it is meet that they be stopped. As for their human rights television counterparts, well, very well, they are largely entertainers and shouldn’t trouble us.

Besides, the greater points are as follows. The scholar is condemned to obscurity, except he has become self or bioluminescent, like fireflies, as it were. That is, he must generate the light by which he is to be seen, and by which he is to see and help others see the world in sharper reliefs. In other words, the genius scholar can’t be seen in the light of others. The world is hungry for sources of new light, even more than the ocean is for water.

A great scholar is not like unto a politician or an actor – are the two different? These duo, the politician-actors, are such as may only shine in and by external lightings. That is, the lightings put up by others, the Klieg and studio lights etc.

The scholar however, must be self-luminous or happy in his obscurity. His is to live out his life by the caves and grooves – that is what the academe really means. Or, if they have to be seen they must be bioluminescent. This explains why and how we see Einstein in the light of E=MC2, Achebe in the light of Okonkwo, Soyinka in the light of Baroka and all that jazz. Though Achebe, Soyinka and the like, are strictly speaking artists, not intellectuals. 

A question is thus indicated for Nigerian public intellectual. In what light do we see you? In Klieg or in bioluminescent lights? All else is in humor.

Mazi  Christopher Vincent Ogbonnia Okereke  (C.V.O.) 1935 – 2020

Born on October 30th 1935 in the Cameroons into the family of late Mazi Samuel Nwaejim (S.N.) and late Mabel M. Okereke, C.V.O. as he was popularly called was the fourth child of eight children from his mother.

He was a most amiable, caring, compassionate and God fearing man. Loving, quiet, soft but well-spoken, CVO was a gentleman who committed his lifetime to improving the lives of people around him as well as those he came in contact with.

His notable and contagious smile as well his pleasing personality and demeanour, endeared him to many and uplifted everyone that came in contact with him.

C.V.O. had his primary education at St. Williams Catholic School Oke-ado Ibadan from 1946-1951 where he was one of the first five pupils to excellently pass Standard Six Examination.

He had his secondary education at New Bethel College Onitsha, graduating in 1956. Subsequently, he enrolled for the GCE  and made three A Level papers in one sitting.

At the UNN where he studied Sociology and Anthropology for his first degree, he graduated with a Second Class Honours Upper Division, narrowly missing First Class by 0.4%.

He further obtained a Masters’ Degree in Public Administration from the same University.

The enormous responsibilities he shouldered then made him drop the pursuit of a PhD twice.

C.V.O. started his career as a primary school teacher and later worked briefly with UAC as a Manager in Training. His work life at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (1961 – 1999) saw him rise through the ranks to the peak of his career.

He distinguished himself in all fields of endeavours as well as in all the offices held at the University and retired from UNN without  a single blemish to his name.

At the establishment of Anambra State University (now known as Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University) he became the pioneer Registrar of the University and later worked as Senior Adviser to the Vice Chancellor – an enviable position in Universities.

C.V.O in various periods served the Government of old and nascent Anambra State both as the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry as well as the Special Adviser to the State Government on Agriculture, Commerce and Industry. It is worthy of note that these were periods when the State consolidated its leadership status in the aforementioned areas.

He represented Nigeria and Anambra State at various trade shows and missions at both the national and international level. He equally served in committees and think-tanks too numerous to mention here.  A nomination then into the then National Code of Conduct Bureau never saw the light of the  day. His patience, expertise, wisdom, knowledge, commitment and extreme honesty made him a heavily sought after ‘Civil Servant’.

As a husband, father and uncle he showed much love to his immediate and extended family.

In fact, the problems of his extended family were equally his to shoulder and he was instrumental to establishing many of his nieces, nephews and innumerable others who are today in their own rights pillars of society.

His passion for prayers, drove him to establish regular prayer conventions for his extended family and many other places for two decades now.

A close associate of Eze Ikelionwu the 11th, Prof Chukwuemeka Vincent Ike ( who incidentally passed on a day before C.V.O ) and many other notable oldies.

Ndikelionwu ,  enjoyed the peace, tranquillity and progress such men brought upon any town where they dwelt. However our consolation is that C.V.O has been called Home to be with his Maker and is resting in the bosom of our Lord. C.V.O fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the faith.

His memory will forever remain evergreen in our hearts, and he will be dearly missed. He will be laid to rest on the 27th of February, 2020 at his home in Ndikelionwu, Orumba north Local Government Area of Anambra State. He is fondly remembered by his wife, children, grandchildren, relations, well wishers and many others. Rest in Peace an amiable gentleman!! Adieu!!! Written by Mrs Ifeoma Okoli (Nee Okereke)

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