Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Ambrose Ehirim-Apollos Nwauwa Q & A Interview


Dr Apollos Nwauwa's teaching and research focus on modern Africa, especially colonial and post-colonial, intellectual and diaspora history. His published works include Imperialism, Academe, and Nationalism: Britain and University Education for Africans, 1860-1960 (London: Frank Cass, 1997), several book chapters, and numerous peer-reviewed scholarly articles featured in international journals including Anthropos (Germany); Cahiérs D'Études Africaines (France); Africa Quarterly( India); Journal of Asian and African Studies (Israel); History in Africa (USA); Canadian Journal of African Historical Studies (Canada); Ife Journal of History (Nigeria); Ufahamu (USA); and International Journal of African Studies (USA). Dr. Nwauwa serves on the editorial board of many journals and was Guest-Editor of special issue of the International Journal of African Studies in 2007. He is the President of Igbo Studies Association and recently coedited Against All Odds: The Igbo Experience in Post-Colonial Nigeria (Goldline & Jacobs Publishing, 2011). Dr Nwauwa is the Editor, Ofo: Journal of Transatlantic Studies.

Excerpts:

You and Ebere Onwudiwe worked on an important book, "Between Tradition and Change: Sociopolitical and Economic Transformation Among the Igbo of Nigeria." What inspired the project?

The publication of this book was inspired by the enduring commitment of contributors and co-editors to the growth and dissemination of serious scholarship on the Igbo. Between Tradition and Change was not initially begun as a book project per se; rather, it was the result of a scholarly dialogue by Igbo intellectuals about the historical, political, economic, social and cultural elements of the Igbo question. In 2005, Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, then Director of the National Resource Center for African Studies at Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, invited prominent Igbo scholars for a conference on the Igbo ethno-political history with a view to understanding the place of the Igbo in the Nigerian political dispensation. The political situation in Nigeria at that time necessitated this conference. It was a time when the Igbo were debating the best way to fight what they saw as their systemic marginalization by successive regimes of the Nigerian state. It was the period when chatter on the Igbo role in national affairs (The Igbo Question) was hot, leading to a political environment ripe for the growth of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and the predictable hostile response of federal forces. At this point too, the role of Igbo intellectuals in national affairs came increasingly into question as they said or did very little on the Igbo question. The decline in national political influence mainly due to the civil war (1967-1970) undermined even the local authority of elders and traditional establishment in Igboland. Thus, the lack of national voice was gradually spilling over into an attenuation of the socio-political cohesion in Igbo land. Although the papers from this conference were published in a special issue of the International Journal of African Studies in 2007 for which I was guest editor, we felt that these quality papers deserved wider circulation and readership. Thus, Between Tradition and Change came about; it provides a detailed and insightful account of the transformation of Igbo society, politics and economy since the period of European contact. The Igbo experience demonstrates how internal and global factors gave rise to new dynamics of change as African societies engaged with the Western world and developments in the new global arena

How do you perceive the Igbo of today and the Igbo of yesteryears. What changed dramatically by way of cultural heritage?

To some extent, the Igbo have remained true to their roots; however, what has changed is the way they have responded to the vagaries and challenges of the modern Nigerian state. Just as cultural heritage of any society can be enduring, it can also be lost if not properly harnessed and preserved. Like other societies, the Igbo have adopted and adapted to new forces of change while striving to retain important elements of their indigenous society. They pride themselves as being the most de-tribalized Nigerians. This mindset has its own pros and cons. On the one hand, it is the only way migrant Igbo can fit into their host communities. De-tribalization has not really helped the Igbo in the Nigerian context. It did not help the political future of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe very much nor is it helping the current Igbo leadership in Igboland and in Abuja. Instead, it diminishes Igbo cultural heritage since the Igbo concentrates on how to fit into everyone else’s but their own culture. Thus, relations between the Igbo nation, other ethnic nationalities and the Nigerian state in the postcolonial period have been marked by intense conflicts and contestation for political and economic control. This tension, culminating in the Nigeria-Biafra war, introduced new significant currents that shape Igbo society today and her relationship to Nigeria and the global community. Yet, despite some strains and shifts in their traditional institutions, the Igbo remain well-equipped to address issues facing them as a nation within contemporary Nigerian society. The key to a meaningful progress centers around a visionary leadership in the spirit of the dictum: Show the Light and the People Will Follow.

What is the Igbo Diaspora not doing right in terms of influencing decisions back home to effect change, using its background of living in a thorough system and an organized society?

Contrary to what many think, the Igbo Diaspora is not really a homogeneous, coherent group. Like other ethnic nationalities in the USA, the Igbo Diaspora consists of peoples from all walks of life separated by everything and only united by the fact that they are all Igbo. Serious social class disparity exists between them; therefore, presenting a united front in influencing or engineering actions at home continues to be a challenge. Just as it is at home in reaching consensus, so it is, if not worse, in the Diaspora. Indeed, it is in the Diaspora that the Igbo maxim: Igbo-Enwe-Eze manifests strongly and often in a negative and counterproductive fashion. Worsening this dictum is the callous application of the American principles of American freedom of expression and choice. The World Igbo Congress effort in providing a common forum has often been bedeviled with challenges crisis within the organization itself, making difficult for any meaningful collective ideas and actions that will influence affairs at home. Thus, what can safely be said is that whatever influences, real or imagined, that the Igbo in Diaspora are making center on individual rather than a collective action. The Igbo Studies Association, though a scholarly/professional organization, is already in the process of forming an action committee that will liaise with colleagues at home in moving the Igbo forward in political, economic, and social-cultural spheres. Yet, the difficult part is to define the meeting points and boundaries between politics and scholarship.

On Igbo women in politics, it seems to be a level playing ground coupled with a changing world. Are the women becoming relative to the cultural and political culture in Igbo land? And what's your take on that?

Women’s participation in politics, like in other callings, is now a global phenomenon, and the Igbo have not been left out. Despite that British colonialism scuttle the progress that women made in pre-colonial Igbo society, the post-independence era has increasingly witnessed the steady progress in women empowerment in Nigerian politics. It has become the rule now rather than exception that list of commissioners and major political appointments must include women. Although there is still a long way to go, the Igbo has not done too badly compared with other ethnicities. Although the Igbo have produced female federal lawmakers in both Senate and House of Representatives, and state lawmakers and deputy governors, no woman has yet been elected as chief executive of any of the five states in Igboland. Igbo women are doing much better in appointive spots compared with elective positions. I do believe that with time, this anomaly will be rectified through more education, awareness, and recognition of the boundless leadership skills of Igbo women.

In 1997, you published a scholarly text " Imperialism, Academe and Nationalism: Britain and University Education for Africans 1860-1960.” You did research on 100 years of British Empire and education in Africa. Analysis on British Empire is almost everywhere and had been written in many forms. What was the need for the book?

Debate on the nature of British rule in Africa, especially their colonial education policy, is one that will never go away. Different scholars approach the issue from varying perspective based on new research and vantage points. Initially, we were misled into almost believing hook and sinker that British colonial education policy was instituted for the benefit of Africans. As new research became available, much of the conclusions that glorified colonial education as benevolent have been challenged. My work on Britain and university education falls under this revisionist history. It demonstrated that western education was the most seductive form of British“cultural imperialism” especially Africans realized that university education opened up prospects for economic advancement, individual dignity, and would ultimately provide the keys to political power and self-government.

From 1860s, African demand for a university in West Africa was frustrated by the British until 1948 when they created four universities – in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Gold Coast. My research was geared towards providing answers as to why the British rejected the university idea at first through the 1930 only to move swiftly in favor of it in the post-World War II period. Initially, the British worried about the place which the highly education African would occupy under colonial rule that depended on collaboration with traditional rulers under the indirect rule system and the fact that the highly education African elite would be difficult to assuage and control. In the meantime, Africans returning from America with higher education were proving to be too radicalized based on their racial experiences in the USA, and Britain was getting apprehensive about more Africans going to America for university education. London now felt that a British-run university education system in Africa would make it easier to mold the African character. Furthermore, the post-war circumstances ushered in a new era of fervent nationalist movements in Africa to which Britain could not forestall. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, it is my conclusion in this book that British effort to “manage nationalism” by producing a core of African elite imbued with British tradition and values that the British took on the expensive project of creating four universities in Africa in 1948 with mostly British taxpayers’ money. Existing studies on university education in colonial Africa did not engage in this aspect of my analysis and that's what makes my book unique.

Based on the text, and compared to now, what are the significant changes in independent Africa today with a fallen-in-standard educational system?

In the period following independence, there were no significant changes to the colonial education system that African countries inherited from their former European colonial powers. In those African countries that were formerly under French rule such as Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, the French education system was retained downright. The same scenario was replicated in former British colonies such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, etc. While the curriculum in terms of subject areas may have been altered a bit to reflect the new era of independence, much of the pedagogical approaches remained essentially the same. However, the standard of education in each country has been proportional to the level of economic condition and political stability of the respective countries. In corruption-ridden economies with rogue leadership such as Nigeria, the standard of education had fallen proportionately. When Ghana’s economy came to its knees in the 1970s followed by political failures, Ghanaian standard of education collapsed proportionately. That is exactly where Nigeria finds itself today. Therefore, any solution to falling standard of education must first begin with stabilizing the economy and ending political corruption in government and the educational system.

What had caused the failure of the school systems in Africa today?

As stated earlier, falling standard of education has little to do with the system itself but has everything to do with the level of socio-economic and political situation in a country. When a country is faced with high level of unemployment for university graduates, poor pay for university teachers, lack of financial resources on the part of parents, and government neglect of education, the attendant consequence will be falling standard and system failure. The lack of accountability on the part of government officials infects educational institutions, administrators and teachers and thereby leaving the students and their parents more vulnerable. I do not believe that any country with such chaotic political and epileptic economy as Nigeria can realistically sustain high standard of education at any level.

Studying at Bendel State University, Ekpoma, one would expect you'd settle in Nigeria and provide your services for the country. What compelled you to leave for services elsewhere?

After completing my NYSC in Kaduna State in 1987, I was recalled and employed by my alma mater, Bendel State University, Ekpoma, as graduate assistant. I taught there for one year before leaving the country for further studies in Canada. After completing my doctorate in 1993 and getting ready to return back to Ekpoma, I noticed that even some of my lecturers and colleagues there were leaving for overseas in droves. The Nigerian economy had entered into a downward spiral and the political leadership had also entered into a major carnival of corruption that friends and family members persuaded not to return immediately until things get better. Thus instead of returning to Nigeria, I accepted an offer from the USA as an assistant professor in African history in one of their universities. At first, I thought this stay would be very brief but I was proved wrong when the political saga of the Babangida-Shonekan-Abacha triad pushed Nigeria deeper into political and economic uncertainties. Soon, I began to take my stay in the USA one year at a time. Twenty years and I am still counting. What a shame! That I am still in the USA today is an indication that Nigeria has yet to get the country in order.

There is the Nigerian Association of Greater Toledo. Tell me about it.

The simplest cure for nostalgia for many immigrants in foreign lands is to seek to replicate the socio-cultural practices at home in their new place of abode. The Nigerian Association of Greater Toledo was founded to fulfill this need. I served as the vice president of this Association for four years, and president for another two years. Formed in 2003, the Nigerian Association of Greater Toledo (NAGT) is a socio-cultural organization dedicated to the progress and vitality of the Nigerian community in the Greater Toledo area of Ohio. As the number of Nigerians in the community increased especially in the last few years, it became necessary to have an enrichment forum where issues of importance to members and their community will be received, considered and acted upon collectively. It was against this backdrop that NAGT was formed. Highlights of our mission include: To work cooperatively with public and private agencies, businesses, industries and community organizations on issues beneficial to members and the larger community; to foster unity and good relationship between and among Nigerians and members of other communities and citizens of Greater Toledo; to promote social, educational, cultural and economic interests of Nigerians both here and in Nigeria; and to educate and share with our children and the Greater Toledo community on the beauty and riches of the Nigerian tapestry of cultures and languages.

What would you say the organization has accomplished from the time it was established?

The success of every organization is measured against its stated goals and objectives. Despites its relative young age, the Association has already made its marks in Toledo and its environs through its socio-cultural, community and diversity activities as it continues to fulfill the goals for which it was constituted. The Association has united Nigerians in the Greater Toledo area into a vibrant community that caters for the welfare of its members while contributing to the socio-cultural and economic development of Toledo and its neighboring communities. Plans are underway for scholarship fund launching to help those in need.

I read about the Nigerian Cultural Heritage House. Is the structure in place now? If not, what's going on?

No, the Nigerian Heritage House has not yet become a reality although the idea lives on. The number of Nigerians living in the Toledo area is quite small compared to other larger cities in Ohio such as Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Therefore, to raise the funds that can help to procure and sustain the Heritage House remains quite a challenge. But given the progress we have made in terms of fund-raising so far, it is only a matter of time in no distant future for us to realize our Heritage project. The worse thing an organization such as ours can do is to hastily commit to a major real estate project without proper planning and readiness in terms of resources.

Let's talk about the current situation in Nigeria. It has the same resemblance of the past. What's your take on that?

Undoubtedly, history seems to be repeating itself in Nigeria. It is like déjà vu all over again!Just like the 1960s crises that culminated in the civil war, the national polity is at the brinks again denoted by ethnic and sectarian tension and violence; mayhem and wanton killing of innocent people, especially the Igbo, fleeing the north for safety; government inability to stop the violence and bring perpetrators to justice; segments of the country feel that it is their birthright to rule Nigeria in perpetuity; and the call for sovereign national conference. Government officials have once again engaged in a carnival of corruption while the masses wallow in economic despair; power-sharing is detested and equal economic and political opportunities for all has become an aberration. All these social and political vices were the same scenarios that resulted in the crises of the 1960s. Observers fear that Nigeria may be heading toward total disintegration. While some would quip that we have been there before and Nigeria is still standing, others would argue that circumstances have changed as the country seems to be in more precarious situation with several cracks at its unity than the 1960 era.

What's your thought on the country's future?

Stability in Nigeria can only be assured if Nigerians themselves agree on the basic elements of national unity and the need to be united as one country. Forced and false unity does not always work. This seems to have been the case with Nigeria. Nigeria as a country was patchwork cobbled together by the British imperial governor, Lord Frederick Lugard, in 1914. From then on, successive British colonial governors of Nigeria instituted several constitutional revisions towards creating what they hoped would become a perfect union. This did not materialize before nationalist movement forced them to quickly retreat and transferred power to Nigerians. Since then, the ghost of the Lugardian patchwork has continued to haunt Nigeria and its successive leadership.

For Nigeria to resolve this lingering existential impasse, the inauguration of the sovereign national conference has become an absolute necessity. This conference will bring all the various ethnic nationalities in the country to a bargaining table to: 1. resolve to be a part of the union called Nigerian; 2. agree to the unity and inviolability of the union; 3. agree on ethnic or regional economic and political power-sharing principles; 4. agree on a federal system of government in which states have more power to legislate provided it did not negate the powers of the union; 5. resolve and recognize the separation of religion and state; 6. resolve the oil derivation and revenue sharing formula; and other matters. Part of this will be an understanding that these resolutions are only subject to alteration after 50 years. It is during this discussion that any group that does not want to be a part of Nigeria should have the opportunity to opt out or be persuaded to stay. This may seem like a recipe for disintegration but one cannot underestimate the power of negotiation. Once these agreements are reached and signed into law, a violation of any part of the contract by any constituent groups will be a crime against the Nigerian state.

Your thoughts on Nd'Igbo cultural and political future?

Unlike other ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Igbo are a people that have done less to promote their culture and nurture their political influence. Language is a major feature of a people’s culture. Out of the three major ethnicities in Nigeria, the Igbo come up the rear when it comes to nurturing their language. A typical Igbo person takes pride in his/her ability to speak other languages other than Igbo. Challenge and education Igbo in the Igbo language, and you see the extent of the problem. In this sense, Igbo cultural future is in danger of extinction just as the Igbo language is in trouble.

Politically, the Igbo political influence in Nigeria has not fully recovered since the outbreak of the Nigeria civil war. In some quarters, it was partly the fear of Igbo domination that led to the mass killing of the Igbo in 1966 resulting in the Nigerian civil war. Since the war ended, although there was the much-talked about “no victor, no vanquished”, it was clear that all hands were on deck in many parts of Nigeria to ensure that the Igbo never rose in political influence again. It has been a struggle ever since; that partly explained why the most respected and influential national politician in the name of Nnamdi Azikiwe lost the 1979 presidential election to the little known Shehu Shagari. It is now 42 years since the end of the civil war and no Igbo person has ruled Nigeria as an executive president. While the Igbo are aware of this problem, they should begin to strategize on how to be relevant again. But unless the current Igbo leadership abandon internal bickering, selfishness and “pull him down” syndrome, and present a united front, the political future of the Igbo will continue to be in disarray.

Nd'Igbo are not writing enough about their history and I'm afraid Igbo history will one day disappear as a result. What should be done?

Just as the Igbo language is under the threat of extinction so is the Igbo history/studies. Both require urgent attention. Currently, enough studies and writings are not being carried out on Igbo history, culture and tradition for a number of major reasons: First, the Igbo no longer have enough historians; secondly, the available historians would rather focus on other fields/areas of study such as international relations where they hope to work as diplomat or secure a UN job that will do nothing about Igbo studies; and thirdly, the Igbo themselves neither pay attention nor support efforts for keeping the study of Igbo history and culture alive. It was more than a decade ago when Professor J. F. Ade Ajayi called upon Nigerians to cultivate a sense of history and to rediscover the value of history to nation-building and for the socio-political and economic development of the country. Ndi-Igbo have yet to heed to that call despite that it was the Igbo iconic historian, the late Professor K.O. Dike, who popularized the study of history not only in Nigeria but also in Africa as a whole. Other first class historians of Igbo extraction included J.C. Anene, Chieka Ifemesia, Adiele Afigbo and others. It is sad that the number of specialists in Igbo history have continued to shrink since the past ten years. Unless the Igbo begin to value their own history, recognize and patronize the works of their few existing historians, and encourage their children to value and read history in schools and universities, Igbo history will gradually disappear. As part of the effort to rekindle interest, southeastern governments should institute a commission on Igbo history, establish scholarships and essay contests on Igbo history at all levels of education in the states.

Tell me about Igbo Studies Association.

The Igbo Studies Association (ISA) was founded at the African Studies Association (ASA) Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 8, 1999. The mission of the Association is to promote and encourage scholarship on IGBO history, culture and society in African studies; to forge intellectual links and network with scholars, policy makers, and activists inside and outside NIGERIA; to participate actively and collaboratively in continental and global debates with interested organizations in Nigeria, the U.S. and other countries on issues specifically relevant correlated to Igbo studies; to work actively for the promotion of Igbo language with interested organizations and/or institutions in diverse regions of the world. ISA holds an annual conference at Howard University in Washington, DC featuring numerous seasoned and young scholars working on topics relating to the Igbo. Participants come from Nigeria, USA, Canada and other parts of the world. So far, it is one of the strongest Associations dedicated to Igbo scholarship.

As President of Igbo Studies Association, what vital roles do you think should be played under your leadership to educate future Igbo leaders and role models?

Although it is true that the Igbo Studies Association, which I head as president, is not necessarily a political but a scholarly organization, I expect the Association to play a very prominent role in educating the political leadership in Ala-Igbo. Ideas generated by scholars on the political, social, economic and cultural life of the Igbo, if properly harnessed, will serve as reference points for Igbo leaders. Our hope is that with time, it will become absurd for anyone to present himself or herself for a leadership position in Igboland without an appreciable knowledge of aspects of the Igbo culture, history, and society. In recent times, the Igbo have abandoned education for quick money from dubious businesses and from political corruption. This sort of lifestyle contributes nothing meaningful to the general welfare of the people. Instead, it creates more avarice and crime. Life and property have become so unsafe in Igboland that prominent Igbo would rather stay in Hausaland and Yorubaland than visit their home towns and villages. But a well-educated person is an asset to the people, always finding ways to give back to society than to wreak havoc. The more education the Igbo are about their heritage and the need for genuine progress and development, the less likely they would turn to crime and avariciousness.

You and Chima Korieh wrote “Against All Odds: The Igbo Experience In Post-Colonial Nigeria.” Speaking of the ‘horrors of ethnic politics, civil war and the Igbo example of perseverance,’ the question here is, based on that perspective, did Igbo actually learn anything, looking at what had erupted over the months in Northern Nigeria?

Against All Odds is a scholarly book which explores the experiences of the Igbo in postcolonial Nigeria and evinces both the grim side of postcolonial politics in Nigeria, particularly the horrors of ethnic politics, civil war, and the Igbo example of perseverance and human potential to overcome dreadful conditions of such magnitude. The study illuminates the tension emanating from the enduring colonial legacies and their influences on Nigerian peoples and public life; it links socio-economic, cultural, and political events in Nigeria since the 1960s and the peculiar circumstances faced by the Igbo ethnic group with the continuing attempts to forge a more perfect nation state in which every constituent group is treated with fairness and equity. Yet, it has become increasingly more glaring that the Igbo did not gain or learn much from the horrors of the 1960s which resulted to the civil war. An important gain would have been the recognition of the Igbo as equal partners within the Nigerian political and economic contexts. But this has been quite elusive. It has been a little over 41 years since the end of the war and the phony declaration of “no victor, no vanquished,” yet no Igbo has ruled the country ever since. As at the moment, that possibility remained in the distant future. While it is true that the Igbo are partly to blame for their lack of organization and strategic coordination to attain this goal, there is no question that other ethnic groups, especially the bigger two, have some lingering reservations against an Igbo leadership of the country. It was only just recently that an army general of Igbo extraction was ever appointed as the chief of army staff since the end of the civil war. Yet, one wonders whether the Igbo have learned anything from the civil war. Although they are aware of the enduring animosity against them and the fact that they have not been fully accepted back into Nigeria, the Igbo assumed otherwise. Thus, they returned back to the North in droves only to become targets and victims of wanton killings again and again anytime their host communities got upset over often flimsy and mundane issues. Time and time again since the end of the war, the Igbo run back to the East only to return to run yet again. Who said the Igbo have learned from the civil war. Naively they still believe that hatred and animosity against them would disappear at dawn only to be disappointed at sunset.

Your teaching and research focuses on modern Africa. Is Africa developed by way of technology compared to the West and a fast-paced growing Asia? And if not, what seem to have been the problem?

When I use the term “modern Africa,” in my teaching and research, I focus on the period from 1800 to the present, and this encompasses the colonial and the post-colonial eras. Africa’s post-colonial condition is linked to its colonial past, and this colonial past laid the foundation for the development of Africa’s underdevelopment. There are a variety of indices of measuring a country’s or continent’s development and the lack of it. If development is defined as improvement in human welfare, quality of life and social wellbeing especially as they relate to technology, it can be argued that Africa is still a developing continent – the best way to state that the level of this development is low just as its pace is slow in comparison to the West and Asia. Technologically, Africa still remains a consumer rather than producer of technology. There is almost no type of technology you see in the West and Asia that you cannot find in Africa; the difference, however, is who produces the technology. Of course, it is the producers rather than the consumers that profit from it! Here lies the problem – colonial legacy, which created and continues to sustain unparalleled dependency syndrome in Africa. For example, Africa is one of the largest cell phone consumers today but how many of those phones are made or patented in Africa. None! It is also the low level of technology in Africa that compels Africans to ship their raw cocoa to the West only to turn around to buy chocolate that have been processed elsewhere with improved technology. Unfortunately, there is now no end to this economic pattern since under globalization, no continent or country can successfully close its door as Japan did in the eighteenth and nineteen centuries. Such isolationism in today’s world can only spell doom for a country since economic, social, and technological processes are intertwined in a complicated fashion with serious political consequences.
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