Sunday, March 26, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Is Nigeria Wired to be a Player in the Knowledge Age?

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - RE: MOSES OCHONU: THE COMMA BEFORE THE PERIOD

Dear Moses:

Though this CONGRATULATORY message comes from the heart, it pales beside Ojogbon Toyin’s brilliant, well-versed Nobel-like accolade (I hope you caught the “Nobel” hint in passing).

Nonetheless, I pray: K’ADE YI O PE L’ORI O (May this crowning glory sit, firmly placed on your head); KU ISE (well done)!

Ire ni o! (peace)

 

From: Toyin Falola [mailto:toyinfalola@austin.utexas.edu]
Sent: Friday, March 24, 2017 5:40 AM
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Subject: MOSES OCHONU: THE COMMA BEFORE THE PERIOD

 

MOSES OCHONU: THE COMMA BEFORE THE PERIOD

 

I thought we use a comma in a sentence because we have more to say, and we detour via semicolons, colons, dashes, brackets, and other punctuations before we get to the king of them all, the period. And if you misuse one, as in failing to recognize that a semicolon is the husband of a comma, on top of it with a longer orgasm, but declimbed to become the heir to a period, do not blame me if Farooq, the friend of Moses, hammer you on the head. And please do not say that because English is a foreign language, semicolon can replace a colon. Not so, as one lives in the village and the other in the city, meeting once in a while to quickly depart.

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, this is no more than a comma, as more words will pour in a deluge (I need not add rain or flood to a deluge!) as foretold by that Prophet, whose name I cannot remember at this time. Moses was surprised at his news, as he put it on his Facebook that one of his admirers sent to me.

 Since I got into this profession, holding an endowed chair has been my ultimate goal. It is the highest institutional academic recognition and I dreamed of one day attaining that height. Glory be to God; that dream has come true. Although I aspired to it, I did not think that it would come this soon, making it even sweeter. Moses Ochonu

As an aside, I am not on Facebook, perhaps because I don’t know what a face is doing in the company of a book! An Eyebook, yes, but one is yet to be created. And even when some friends created one for me, I asked it to be taken down. And my son works for Facebook in London! Thank you all for supporting his daily bread. But Moses forgot to add, even as huge achievements, that he has declined offers from Columbia and Yale! Unknown to him, whenever those searches commence, names are solicited, as universities must do, that his name, from our own end, is always there. Always there! 

I predicted it would happen: for him, for Clapperton, for Ibhawoh, for Nimi, for Wale, for Chika, for Ugo, the Nwokeji Of Ugoland in Oakland country. Ibhawoh’s own came at the speed of light, becoming a national figure. I have one or two other names to add, and one name to delete as I play God with the future of His own creation.

I have the unusual privilege, a few of which I share with Salah Hassan and Paul Zeleza, of compiling names for all the biggest awards. Some get it, some miss it, but I keep re-nominating, adding more lines, more evidence, more arguments. I have even spent hours without end to promote deserving people like Ama Ata Aidoo, thinking that if we failed with Ngugi we should move to another person. One missed what I once nominated him for, and I am completing a book on him just to re nominate him! This is our own Victor Ekpuk who has missed the MacArthur genius award for reasons that baffle me. 

The story of Moses is about to begin; what he sees as the end, I see as the beginning. So, I can only compose a comma on his sweet achievement, my own sweeter dreams! 

It is no secret that I admire Moses, and that I see him as ten times more talented than me in terms of the ability to conceptualize and complicate, not to talk of his refined use of language. I don’t have his language, not even close. He is a better historian than me. Even all my graduate students in the last ten years know that I see him as my intellectual superior. I have invited him to Austin to speak to my seminar; and to Nigeria to give a Keynote. I have visited him, and I enjoyed a good meal at his place in Nashville. He once invited me to his campus to engage in a stimulating dialogue, pairing me with Mamdou Diouf. What a great conversation! I have sold him where it is possible to, recently inviting him to give a talk at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. 

We sometimes disagree on intellectual grounds, as I occasionally initiate debates in private email messages different from those on Dialogue where I don’t want anyone to accuse me of corrupting my role as a moderator. Even my occasional intervention to ask people to stop talking is greeted with “Am I using your mouth?” All what I can do is to say “No sir!” I am an incurable Pan-Africanist, and Moses, Farooq Kperogi, Akin Ogundiran, Augustine Agwuele and a new breed of African intellectuals do not always see things my way. It is precisely because they differ, for creating alternative paradigms, that I actually worship them. A scholar who operates only in the company of those who always agree with him is a mediocre. We flourish because we have critics. Once in a while, one of them will be angry and send me a rude private message; but I will smile, saying that the future of Africa that I imagine does not leave me with the luxury of a fight. Conflict requires two people for it to work—I know of those who engage in conflicts with me, but I do not know of any human being that I engage in conflict with.

This achievement, as much as Moses would like to think of it as his, belongs to us all, the fulfilment of my own dream for Africans and Africa. And because this is a dream comes true, our register must respect the registrar of language.

Age gives me the privilege to offer a sermon, the register that I just mentioned. Here is one. It is so sweet to sleep and have sweet dreams. In some cases, the dream is so sweet that you wish you never woke up, interrupting it! Someone once wisely counselled, however, that no matter how sweet your dreams may be, if you do not wake up and pursue them vigorously, they will remain just that – dreams! – nothing concrete at all to show for the dream. Waking up years later with the taste of ashes in the mouth because time was spent dreaming, no time was spent working, no dream life to show for it.

A sermon must have its application. Our brother, colleague, and friend Moses did not make that mistake. From his days at Bayero University, Kano, where he obtained his BA History, he showed his acumen for dream-making and achievement. For the entire duration of his studies there, he held the Bayero University Scholarship for Outstanding Academic Performance, eventually also scooping up the Michael Crowder Prize for the Best Student on Modern African History and the Best Graduating Student in the Department of History of the class of 1997. His department did not hesitate to offer him an immediate graduate assistantship the same year. With such stellar early achievements, no future political detractors can ever say Moses did not graduate from the Department of History at Bayero!

An application must become motivational. Having started so well, it is no wonder that his career became studded with one starry achievement after the other. Obtaining subsequent degrees in African History from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, he was appointed assistant professor at Vanderbilt in 2004, becoming associate professor in 2011 and then professor in 2015. He has published three books, with two others forthcoming, numerous articles in refereed journals and chapters in books, and is a sought after keynote speaker and guest lecturer. His research in this time received various recognitions including various grants and fellowships. Many would have rested on their laurels at this point but Moses wanted the Chair, and never relented for one day. He knew what he wanted when he stepped into the American academy: the almighty endowed Chair!

A motivation must turn into a testimony. Professor Moses Ochonu is indeed deserving of this most recent and highest recognition of his university. He has established for himself the distinguished reputation of being one of the leading scholars of northern and middle belt Nigeria today, joining the ranks of the like of Smith, Adeleye, Mahdi, Usman, to mention but a few since I am just in the comma mood. His important 2014 book, Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria, the finalist for the prestigious ASA Herskovits Prize for the Best Scholarly Book in African Studies in any Discipline in 2015, subverts the accepted understandings of the mechanics of indirect rule in British colonial Africa, and especially in northern Nigeria. He argues there that it was “subcolonialism” and not indirect rule that dictated British policy because the Hausa-Fulani overlords of the non-Muslim people of the middle belt negotiated their domination of these populations by recourse to claims of superior authority conferred on them by the Jihads of the early 1800s. His fine and sophisticated analysis of these dynamics are major contribution to the corpus of Nigerian history, setting him apart and above his peers.

A testimony goes with a confessional. Moses is passionate about Nigeria, and this is evident in his continuous and numerous commentaries about Nigerian affairs. He is deeply engaged in puzzling the challenges and proposing the solutions for the country’s progress. We know him here on the USA Africa Dialogue Series forum, as a voice that brings gravitas to any conversation he is engaged in, nuancing his analysis with uncommon insight, an eye for the fine points, and an attempt at objectivity on many divisive topics. On Facebook, he has already reached the limit of the number of friends that he can accept because thousands are so keen to read what he has to say on the various issues of the day! His essays have appeared in major Nigerian newspapers in print and online and his provocative article “The Shattering of the Buhari Mythology” in African Arguments was voted by readers as the 2016 Best Article of the Year. He is not a Nigerian academic that observes and comments about the country from a distance; no, he takes time out to visit, navigating pot-holed roads, locating the latest and best chicken suya spots in Abuja, and even taking time to appreciate Big Brother Nigeria on TV!

A confession ends in a blessing. This March, Moses already celebrated his birthday, and the news of his appointment to the Cornelius Vandebilt Chair must be perhaps the best birthday gift he has ever had. We celebrate with him, and wish him bigger dreams, above all.

This is a comma in the long sentences that I need to write on Moses, the intellectual messiah of our time, just one of the commas before I reach the end with a period.

   

TF

Toyin Falola

Department of History

The University of Texas at Austin

104 Inner Campus Drive

Austin, TX 78712-0220

USA

512 475 7224

512 475 7222 (fax)

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