Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Aliyu's bridge between town and gown

AS Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, Governor of Niger State, brought his insightful lecture, entitled 'Bridging the Gap between the Town and Gown for socio-economic and Political Development in Nigeria' to a close on Thursday, October 30, 2008, the Trenchard hall of the University of Ibadan erupted into frenzied ovation. Eminent professors, trained in the best academic traditions and hardened by decades of rigorous research and methodological skepticism, are not easily won over. But Dr. Aliyu had delivered the kind of monumentally-enriching discourse which provokes positive action for development.

Aliyu's lecture is not a mere piece of academic discourse, given the orientation in critical discourse which implicitly reduces academic documents to mere intellectual effusions that are not even tangentially relevant to real world problems, let alone proffer and activate solutions to them. Aliyu's Treatise, like Obafemi Awolowo's Voice of Reason, is a blueprint for positive action, a roadmap for Nigeria's development.

It is trite stating that there are now universities almost everywhere one turns in Nigeria. What is of interest, however, is seeking to discover how many of these universities are socially responsive. This is another way of posing the question whether, or which of, the thousands of research essays, theses, dissertations and research papers and projects undertaken in our research institutions are relevant to solving the myriad of problems faced in Nigerian communities?

In this connection, it may not be out of place to pose the question whether, say, the city of Ibadan can survive should the University of Ibadan cease to exist? If it can, then the University of Ibadan should cease to exist. Aliyu does not approach this pessimistic wavelength, but his thesis is clear.

To take the Ibadan city as an example once again, not even the most charitable observer can fail to express dismay at the level of filth and squalor in the city. But if the university can help find a way out of this problem, say through a waste-to-wealth programme, then the community would be willing to give back to the institution, thus contributing to its sustenance. It is in this sense that Dr. Aliyu is a link between the town and gown. This linkage, he terms the 'Town-Gown Transactional model for socio-economic and political development.'

As governor of Niger State, Dr. Aliyu has brought a new perspective into Nigerian politics. Aliyu's uniqueness lies in bringing a developmental philosophy, a vision of what the state should be - and the triumph of the audacity of hope over the audacity of history in the USA is testimony to the effectiveness of the kind of rugged vision that the likes of Aliyu bring into politics and the business of governance.

Caught in the web of neo-imperialism and, consequently, multiple personality disorder, the contemporary African political class, with its appalling lack of cultural literacy, has all too often actively resisted change and promoted the reification of the continent. And where they have chosen to be conscientious, the culturally-liberated elite have often failed to gain access to the seat of power in order to drive change. This lack of a regime propelled by ideas and positive innovations has been at the root of the stagnation of countries like Nigeria. Happily, however, the emergence of philosopher-politicians like Dr. Aliyu in the political space is a salutary development.

Aliyu has brought technocrats into his government, and has even prescribed the possession of at least a Masters degree as a precondition for promotion to the rank of permanent secretary in the state's civil service. According to him, "University intellectuals can become a dynamic force in aiding the nation to realise its socio-economic and political developmental aspirations through adherence to high ethical and professional standards." This endorses the view that politics is too important to be left to the politicians. For the governor, it appears, utilising scholars and linking them to community challenges is a key governance principle.

As a demonstration of how the research institutions can become more relevant, Aliyu proposes the establishment of an Institute for Leadership and Democratic Studies at the University of Ibadan, "where Nigeria's political actors and indeed African public office holders will be required to attend executives courses in leadership, good governance, ethics and democratic studies'', and even offers to be one of its facilitators and students. In Niger State, the governor's Jamaat forum provides a medium through which the people can contribute directly to the governance process. And Nigerlites are encouraged to send text messages to their governor on their problems. This writer is not aware of any other governor in Nigeria whose private GSM number is public knowledge.

All the foregoing can, of course, only be properly appreciated in the context of the governor's concept of servant leadership. Unlike his colleagues, Aliyu has chosen to be referred to as Chief Servant rather than Executive Governor or His Excellency; fixations which are typical of Nigeria's less educated and unconscionable politicians. Skeptics can, of course, claim that appellations do not matter. Any culturally literate African knows, however, that names and appellations can both be definitive of personality and contributory to lifetime achievement.

Aliyu's Town-Gown Transactional model for socio-economic development is not without its challenges. The question that readily comes to mind is that is Nigeria underdeveloped because we do not have enough intellectuals/academics in government? How does one explain, say the Gen. Babangida government, which failed woefully in spite of being filled with academics? Does high intellectual attainment coincide with the high moral standing required to lift Nigeria out of the miry clay of corruption? These questions were not taken up by Dr. Aliyu in his lecture, but the interesting point is that it provides the framework for tackling the challenges.