The Legitimacy Of Political Science As A Discipline In Nigeria
I like to commence by expressing profound gratitude on two significant fronts. The first is that we are paying fundamental tribute to the personalities and achievements of two worthy avatars of political science scholarship in Nigeria – professor emeriti ‘Bayo Adekanye and John Ayoade.
I am not aware if there is a precedent for this commendable gesture. I recognise the deep import of such gesture because I have made it the underlying principle for the series of newspaper articles I wrote to critically celebrate Nigerians who have confronted the Nigerian state and her national project in national proportions. I took that critical celebratory challenge from one of our own, the late Prof. Claude Ake, who lamented, in the foreword to my biography of Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade that Nigeria is a country that ‘yearns for heroes, acknowledge none and it devalues and derails those who could be.’ Today, it is commendable that we are unlearning Nigeria, and celebrating those who have impacted our lives in one way or the other.
Civil-military relations resonated with us in those days from the energetic Professor Adekanye. Though the Shagari administration was in the saddle at the time, but the option of diarchy was in contention, and so, civil-military discourse was topical besides the considerations of militarism as strategic studies and defence policy. So also were federalism and the role of the legislature which Professor Ayoade dissected in the bid to ground us into the fundamentals of political theory, political institutions and the governance trajectories in time and space.
I consider it therefore a distinct privilege and honour to be asked to speak at such an august occasion that honours two personifications of what political science used to be in Nigeria, and what it ought to return to as a matter of urgency. Their diligence in teaching and research, as well as their commitment to the development of political science went a very long way. They are truly political diagnosticians who deployed the best of political methodologies to the understanding of the Nigerian malaise.
Having successfully passed the baton to us, they are back in another capacity to help to rediscover the discipline which for me requires that they provide leadership in rethinking some base fundamentals. In so doing, they need to try to address such questions as to whether we have successfully received the baton they passed on to us; What will happen to the discipline under our watch? What giant strides can political science make while they watch us from the side-line?
As these two emeriti are celebrated today, it would be significant to reflect deeply on a discipline they have spent most of their life and intellectual energies nurturing. It has become a troubling pastime to worry about the general state of education in Nigeria. And this is because we all recognise the role that education plays in the harnessing and positioning of the human capital of any nation for worthwhile and composite development.
The situation, it is sad to say, has further degenerated. It has now become imperative to commence another diagnosis from a disciplinary perspective. What do the disciplines need to do to assist in nation building?
We lost Billy Dudley, then Claude Ake and Omo Omoruyi and lately Ali Mazrui and now Kunle Amuwo. The lesson is this: they all fought a good fight; but they were not done fighting, and scholarship need not bow to finitude. The battle is still raging, and the prospect of a worthy contribution by political science to the eventual victory is not looking too good.
Nigeria has, since her independence in 1960, thrown political science scholarship in Nigeria some serious challenge—Boko Haram and insecurity, corruption, bad governance, abuse of power, poverty, dissonance, bad leadership, the list is endless.
The privilege of standing on this podium is that we can get down to serious heart-to-heart real talk about our collective responsibility as Nigerian political scholars. This is like a homecoming for me. But while I have been away, I have noticed all manners of intellectual morbidity with scholarship in Nigeria. In recent times, I have had to comment on philosophers, and on the humanities as well as the general state of the Nigerian educational system. Where we are now is precarious and troubling.
Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA)
I want to begin my inquiry from some analysis of the state of the NPSA. My first query is simple: Can we judge the state of political science scholarship in Nigeria from the dearth of significant activities in NPSA? I visited the NPSA website, and one of the tiny information it reveals is that the NPSA executives themselves recognise that political science in a certain state. What is that state? Well, first, the website of its professional body is bare! Second, where is NPSA beyond the annual conferences? And where are the conference outputs and outcomes? What has happened to Studies in Politics and Society, the flagship journal of the association? Lastly, does NPSA have any hold on the generality of political science teachers and researchers in Nigeria (we do not even have the list of the various departments of political science or a database of political scientists in Nigeria)?
The larger point is that if the body that ought to oversee the affairs of the discipline of political science is comatose, what can we then say about the legitimacy of such the discipline? The NPSA is needed to coordinate the national relevance and focus of the discipline. Its absence could only imply that individual political scientists are thereby left to forge ahead alone in their specific intellectual contributions. And those who have any fundamental insights into the Nigerian predicament may just be backing against a stone wall. There is no concerted effort at influencing policies either on education generally or on specific issues. Individual political scientists speak alone, and are mostly ignored by that fact.
What is this state we have found ourselves as political science teachers, scholars, practitioners and students? Is it a disciplinary nonchalance to our collective predicament? Or is it the gradual emasculation of the potency of political science methodologies by socioeconomic exigencies that confront the teachers? Or is it a disciplinary insularity that divorced our discipline from the Nigerian policy trajectory in a way that makes theorising impotent? Take your pick.
Why should we be worry about political science scholarship in Nigeria?
In the days leading to the just concluded general elections in Nigeria, one of the respected voices in political science scholarship in Nigeria, Prof. Ayo Olukotun wrote a piece in his celebrated column in the Punch newspaper. He titled it: “Elections: Where are our political scientists?” that article lamented not only the glaring invisibility of the political scientists in Nigeria on the national conversation about national development and progress, but also about the role of public intellectual in national discourse. His opening epigraph is instructive:
Public intellectuals attempt to widen and deepen the public discourse by adding further analysis and coming at issues in surprising or unexpected ways. There is a craving for that thoughtfulness which public intellectuals are able to provide.
Substitute ‘political scientists’ for ‘public intellectuals’, and you still get the same result. However, we are all in full retreat from an arena that ought to motivate our scholarship.
So, when we talk about the legitimacy of the political science discipline in Nigeria, I see some kind of grasping for relevance. It is as if we need to prove that the discipline is what we claim it is. There are several reasons why we have got to where we are now, but I think the point is not to begin agitating for legitimacy. On the contrary, the point is to put the political science house in order. And that, for me, means beginning with NPSA.
Encountering the Nigerian State
The title I have chosen for this section is the title of a recent book edited by Professors Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare. Political science, by its very definitional charter, is already legitimised. If the political scientist is concerned with the question and the consequences of who gets what, when and how, then we immediately see how political science constitutes a veritable disciplinary contribution to the ongoing process of understanding and transforming Nigeria and her national project. Nigeria, in all her plural complexities, constitutes a real theatre for political analysis.
The question however is why political science or even the larger social science community is fighting for its life with regard to what it can contribute to the development crisis in Nigeria. The Nigerian government recognises only the sciences as being significantly critical to the resolution of Nigeria’s development impasse. And so her major funding goes to what she considers important in 60:40 ratio.
The answer to this question must be found if we look inward. What is required for legitimacy isn’t the profusion of our methodologies. First question we should ask one another is: Haven’t we become too academic? Have we not really intellectualised Nigeria’s problem to the point of being too pedantic? What really is the point of functionalism, institutionalism, the prisoner’s dilemma, curvilinear disparity, constructivism, Big Man theory, democratic theory, and other high-sounding theories if they cannot enable a better appreciation of our predicament or furnish us with alternative thinking and models?
Anti-intellectualism and the Crisis of the Nigerian State
If I am asked, I will strongly identify systemic malformation and institutional crisis as the bane of the Nigerian state. And this arises for me from the neglect of the theoretical foundation of institutions formation and the values underlying them. When institutions malfunction, what results is social dislocation and entrenched anomie. Unfortunately, we are more concerned, as it were, with importing paradigms, theories, practices and models but we end up distorting their incorporation into the Nigerian situation. In most cases, we dismiss attempts at single-mindedly unravelling the complexities in our daily lives and political predicament. We neglect theories in our attempts at making practical progress in understanding our predicament as a nation.
I have been in the Nigerian Civil Service long enough to see this kind of anti-intellectualism manifesting. One of the telling symptoms of dysfunction in the civil service system is that its efficiency is compounded by the contradictions involved in operating simultaneously two distinct models of government business that are working at cross-purposes—the Weberian bureaucratic model and managerialism. The system is therefore denied the opportunity of evolving a genuinely entrepreneurial and technocratic culture that derives from a sincere theoretical understanding of the two models. As such, the state capacity to generate sufficient momentum to drive the national economy, and hence national transformation, is compromised.
Indeed, in the public service, action and policy research has been reduced to seminars, workshops and conferences that often fail to yield any solid implication for the institutionalised synergy between policy and research nurtured by an active community of practice and service. What gets implemented most of the time are the summaries of half-thought through papers and opinions which represent ‘expert’ positions which are invariably never commissioned to be rigorously rooted in policy research. In most cases, we negotiate our ways through common sense while other countries spend years to think through major assumptions lurking behind their policy decisions. Federal Executive Council memos are usually not subjected to deep policy analysis that our complex predicament demands, and even our policy analysis hubs—say, Planning Research and Statistics Departments—are not manned by professional policy analysts and trained research officers.
This is just a significant dimension of the totality that constitutes the Nigerian predicament. The question is: What is the role of the political scientists in mediating this distance between policy and research? In what ways can political science assists in our inevitable encounter with the Nigerian state? Dr Jibrin Ibrahim ascribed the role of an intellectual diagnostician to the political scientist in Nigeria. This is because, for him, the Nigerian state is fundamentally sick. And the sickness is multi-pronged:
Is legitimising political science the answer?
My thinking is this: We really do not need to play the game of relevance or irrelevance. We do not need to legitimise the discipline; our works and responsibilities are cut out for us. What we rather need is to operationalize what is already legitimate. We just need to get out on the discourse field and prove the worth of social science analysis. The legitimacy of political science as a discipline rests on the simple fact that, according to Aristotle, man is essentially a political animal. And by implication, everything about man and his society is political. Even the urgent need to make progress via science and technology must necessarily be mediated politically. Thus, the choice of what development path to take is itself a political decision. The analysis of the underlying basis of such decisions becomes the significant contribution that political science makes to national development.
By that, political science is legitimised by its study of specific policy issues and government’s responses to these issues—crime, pollution, infrastructure, education, roads, healthcare, welfare. All these are specific areas that require political research and analysis.
And this takes me to the last issue of concern for operationalizing the legitimacy of political science: Pedagogy. The question is that to push political science to the forefront of individual and national reckoning requires active teaching and learning. This implies that the political science curriculum must be brought up to speed in terms of what we study and the methodologies for doing so.
Students cannot be motivated if they cannot connect to the topic and what it tells them about their contexts. For instance, problem-based learning ensures that students actively connect to their environment and its complexities. It is therefore the function of the teacher to facilitate a rigorous interaction between theory and practice in the analysis of the Nigerian predicament.
In this case, small level tutorials turn out to have large level implications as the students are given specific issues to confront in theory and practice. There is also the critical role of town and gown synergy that enables political science students to regularly confront active participants in the governance and political processes in Nigeria.
Political science pedagogy in Nigeria also critically requires the infusion of what has been called ‘signature pedagogy.’ This has to do with teaching that is organised in such a way as to educate future practitioners about their profession.
Enter NPSA again! If political science is no longer appealing to students, how do we ensure that the profession endures? Part of the responsibility of the professional body is to coordinate pedagogical issues, especially as it has to do with the training of future political scientists.
NPSA is also very critical to defining the research trajectory of political scientists with regular fellowships, grants and conferences that are directed towards examining specific and time-bound issues. This ought to be an easy task because political science itself possesses a cross-disciplinary capacity that straddles the entire social science. The study of government and power relations permeates economics, sociology, geography, and so on. Political science research is an attempt at political diagnosis and prognosis. And that is what any sick entity requires if it is not to die untimely.
My recommendations, going forward: A recap
These ideas and recommendations could be debated, reworked and generally assessed as possible future direction for a proactive attempt at revamping the discipline. I am counting on the immense social capital and goodwill gathered in this room today to activate these ideas.
My starting point, of course, is the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA). We cannot underestimate the significance of this association as the umbrella professional body for political science activities and visibility in Nigeria.
As it is, the association is almost comatose. Its regularly conferences where ideas can be disseminated is far between. Its flagship journal, Studies in Politics and Society, is dead, to all intents and purposes. T
he starting point of any attempt at moving political science beyond its present circumstance must commence with several ideas about NPSA, in conjunction with its executives and other stakeholders. The NPSA can be the custodian of the curricula requirements to train future political scientists, grants and fellowship for further studies, conferences, research modalities and other disciplinary collaborations.
There is the urgent need to reconnect political science back to the context of social policy.
• Olaopa, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, delivered this address at the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan’s Public Lecture and Post-Lecture Luncheon in Honour of Professor Emiriti ‘Bayo Adekanye and John Ayoade held
at the University on Thursday, 25 June, 2015).
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