By Adagbo Onoja
|Professor Jerry Gana
On July 26th, 2005, Professor Niyi Osundare delivered a valedictory lecture at the University of Ibadan. It was titled, The Universe in the University: A Scholar-Poet’s Look from Inside Out. As a human effort, Osundare’s text is not and cannot be a perfect text. But it is still of the stature of a canonical text as far as the crisis in academia in Nigeria is concerned.
The genius of Osundare’s intervention is the way he spoke to power as well as to powerlessness. In other words, he didn’t just hit at the Federal Government for all its crimes against the university cum educational system in the country, he also reckoned with the fact that ‘the leaf-eating grub lives among the leaves’. That is one of the reasons why his lecture is important for anyone intent on re-inventing the universities in Nigeria.
Now, Professor Jerry Gana has not told anybody that he is intent on any ‘undue radicalism’. But the point is that, no matter what might have happened to him ideologically, his appointment as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council of a Nigerian university is an occasion to pose the agenda of re-invention of the universities.
And this is not just for the reason that Gana was an academic but for the more important reason of what people like him represent in a country like Nigeria in spite of wild, weird conspiracy theories I have heard about Jerry Gana who is, however, too educated to get involved in such inordinate, malevolent agenda.
Although political power has ennobled Gana to the contrary of his ideological antecedent, he is, nevertheless, a reference point in social mobility based on knowledge and ability. That is another way of saying, for example, that he became a Professor of Human Geography before he was grabbed into the orbit of state power, from MAMSER to minister of this, minister of that.
But even more significant is the fact that before this, he had made an iconic entry into politics by miraculously defeating a candidate of an entrenched power constellation in the North in the 1983 elections into the Senate. By that, he became a further statement in extending the prospects of radicals in electoral democracy outside Kano where radical populists have historically wrestled the aristocracy to the ground.
This development sent signals to the establishment if a Sunday New Nigerianarticle titled, “The Nupe About -Turn” was anything to go by. Gana was in the NPP/PPA, the hub of progressivism then.
Of course, a number of people also see him today as a case study in AGIP, (Any Government In Power) which is a statement of disenchantment with his ability to fit into almost every government since 1986.
That is something he has to respond to someday by probably recalling Governor Sule Lamido’s statement in 2002, describing Jerry Gana as one of the beacons with which Nigeria was recovered in 1998/9.
No discursive psychologist can dismiss such a statement coming from a long time associate of Gana, from their PPA days to their ill-fated People’s Solidarity Party (PSP) and then the PDP of which Lamido and Gana were among the original dreamers.
It is on the basis of this background that the Pro-Chancellorship of a Jerry Gana must automatically be about isolating the university system in Nigeria from the social morass which has engulfed the entire society.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has courageously and relentlessly led this struggle. It is time for people from academia or strong beneficiaries from the power of knowledge like Gana to add to it.
Gana would only be building on the singular contributions of establishment men like Gamaliel Onosode, Anyim Pius Anyim and Wale Babalakin. I am not ignorant of Babalakin’s on-going fight for his life but that is more a function of the tendency tit-for-tat in “Our Great Party” than a subtraction from his exemplarity as a Pro-Chancellor.
But, in the case of Professor Jerry Gana, we are not talking of a Governing Council Chairman who must chair well, we are also talking of exceptionalism in a transformative sense, that being why he needs to read Osundare’s lecture for a conceptual framework on what would constitute transformation in UNILAG today and from which the other universities can then take their bearing in terms of world class universities in Nigeria.
To that extent, Osundare’s lecture is not something to be summarized by anybody for Prof Jerry Gana but something he must read as well as ‘read’ all alone before his next trip to UNILAG.
That is the only way UNILAG might have been lucky to have an establishment man with a past that can afford the radical temperament as well in remaking the university in a way that would have a bandwagon effect throughout Nigeria.
Anything short of that will be such a big disappointment because it is not only big budgets that a typical Nigerian university is starved of, it is also starved of little other things, many of which requires no more than just one person who would not accept lilliputianism and rationalization of failure. Again, most of these little things are listed in Osundare’s lecture.
It is perhaps time to, as a standard practice, spread people like Gana as Pro-Chancellor of the first generation universities, for a start. This would be for the reason that they know what these universities were then and should see what they are now.
I understand that when, with the help of Alhaji M. D Yusuf, former IGP, the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was dragged to inspect ABU, Zaria, where he got his first degree, he was horrified by what he saw and hurried away in utter disappointment.
It is the turn of the Jerry Ganas to see again the UIs, UNNs, UNILAGs, ABUs and OAUs.
Adagbo Onoja can be reached at email@example.com
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