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Last Friday was civil-military relations scholar, Prof. J. ‘Bayo Adekanye’s 70th birthday. Unlike my Egbons who had written birthday tributes before me – Eghosa Osaghae (The Guardian, August 19) and Segun Ayobolu (The Nation, August 20), I didn’t have the privilege of being his student at the University of Ibadan. I met ‘Oga’ as I fondly call him - first in academic journals as a post-graduate student in International Relations at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). Having picked an early interest in a rare aspect of International Relations – Strategic/Military Studies, a recurring name in many of the materials I encountered in relation to Africa in one of the leading journal in the field, Armed Forces & Society, was J. ‘Bayo Adekson/Adekanye of the University of Ibadan.
Upon completion of my Masters’ programme in International Relations, I went to the University of Ibadan in search of Dr. Adekanye, hoping to convince him to supervise my doctoral thesis. I met him in the department and he was so warm and receptive to an impressionable young man he was meeting for the first time. He, however, explained his inability to supervise my proposed thesis on Defence Spending/Military Expenditure in Nigeria, due to an already planned sabbatical at the Dalhousie University in Canada. He gave me a few ideas on how to proceed with my plans. When I mentioned in passing that I might try the United Kingdom for doctoral studies, he quickly suggested the name of Robin Luckham of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, a renowned authority on the Nigerian military as a possible supervisor.
As it turned out, I ended up in the War Studies Department at King’s College, University of London, again because Robin Luckham was on sabbatical at the Australian National University in Canberra. But ‘Oga’ kept in touch throughout his time in Dalhousie and upon return to Nigeria, monitoring my progress and acting as my ‘unofficial’ PhD supervisor. He could claim credit for my making as a scholar in the same manner he could claim credit for the moulding of the Osaghaes, Ayobolus and the Ofeimuns who were his students in Political Science at the University of Ibadan.
Unknown to many, ‘Oga’ could also claim other credits. Although my brother, Prof. Eghosa Osaghae counts Prof. Adekanye’s a-political nature as a significant part of his persona, “in the sense of keeping political science apart from participation in the political process,” I’m not sure I agree with this. Indeed, I can confirm without any fear of contradiction that his deep sense of right and wrong occasioned by his religious fervour enabled him to also play critical ‘behind the scene’ roles only known to some of us in the struggle for freedom and democracy in Nigeria. I shall illustrate my point.
In the heat of Nigeria’s military dictatorship in the 1990s, Prof. Adekanye was a Research Professor and Resident Scholar at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway. While it is no longer news that I was involved in the founding and running of the opposition radio during our time in exile, I can now reveal that Prof. Bayo Adekanye was one of my collaborators-in-chief. In my shuttle diplomacy between United Kingdom and Norway , where the opposition Radio Kudirat operated from, he was a key link between the democratic movement and elements within the Norwegian State sympathetic to our cause. His links with the Norwegian African Institute in those heady days provided us with a very critical platform of engagement in all our activities in Norway.
Hence, while ‘Oga’ may not shout at the rooftops about his resistance to dictatorship and oppression, one cannot doubt his belief that committed scholarship must provide the road map that will enable our people take control over their own destinies and lives. Secondly, in everything he does, he believes that scholarship must contribute to the transformation of the body politic so that it becomes a useful overarching framework that promotes holistic development and democracy - cultural, ecological, economic, political and social. In short, for Prof. Adekanye - the scholar must link scholarship to political activism, no matter how understated. Indeed, in my view – Prof. Adekanye’s specialisation in itself represents a political statement about his subliminal commitment to the liberation of citizens from the clutches of oppression using scholarly tools. His intellectual demolition of the ‘military as modernisers’ thesis, which was the dominant thesis in civil-military relations in the 1970s served the cause of demystifying the military in the eyes of ordinary citizens and budding scholars like me and provided ammunition for those opposed to the military in politics.
By always insisting on clarifying the sociological and institutional underpinnings of the military, Prof. Adekanye taught us early about a more nuanced assessment of the military which does not treat the institution as a monolith or defines the military simply by the excesses of its aberrant officer corps. But he never spared those excesses and his magisterial work on ‘The Retired Military Phenomenon’ represents one of his strongest assaults on the irresponsibility and selfishness of the military caste in Africa whilst also underscoring how deeply entrenched they have become in the polity.
In his writings and in my own personal encounter with him over the years, ‘Oga’ articulates the need for democracy to be relevant to the masses of African peoples as a means of liberation from the scourges of capitalist exploitation, orchestrated by neo-liberal paradigms and neo- colonial institutions. To date, he is perhaps one of the most influential voices in civil-military relations and conflict/ethnic studies in Africa . He has also played a significant role in peace and conflict studies, particularly in divided and multi-ethnic societies as an adviser to the United Nations, African Union and ECOWAS. As a teacher, he has been a major source of inspiration to a retinue of younger scholars across Africa like me. He has brought to bear on the world of civil-military relations and conflict studies the weight of the concerns expressed by African scholars on a consistent basis. Recalcitrant and impervious as Western scholarship can sometimes be to things external to it, many of those concerns now receive acknowledgement in civil-military relations, security sector governance and conflict management in a routine manner.
Ultimately, what Prof. Adekanye’s remarkable life has proved is that moral values and intellectual ideas remain the key tools in the struggle for democracy and development; and until the battle between democracy and authoritarianism is won at the ideological level, a clear and decisive victory will still elude forces aspiring towards democracy at the barricades. This is a sobering lesson for the present circumstance in which we find ourselves, and a reason why we need the contribution of our thinkers to enable us fashion correct strategies in the struggle to deepen this fragile democracy. It is clear now that the forces that were responsible for the crisis in which Nigeria was plunged in the 1990s are still very much around. They are perfecting their strategies for chaos and re-organising their foot soldiers for yet another assault on the forces of freedom and democracy in our land in the guise of religiosity and terrorism. While we must never let the perfect become the enemy of the good, we must also not delude ourselves that we have arrived at the promise land.
One critical element in Prof. Adekanye’s life is his infectious humility and understated elegance. I should like to elaborate on this if only because it is a quality that is in dire need in our current quest to rebuild and reposition the Nigerian state today, particularly amid current uncertainties. Although far more knowledgeable than many of us about most things, ‘Oga’ is never tired of seeking clarification on issues or asking for insights. He will knock on all doors in his quest for knowledge.
Yet all of what I have written relates to the ‘Oga’ Adekanye I know. It is not a suggestion that he is blemish-less as only the Almighty retains such an attribute. But this is also a tribute to his amiable wife, Prof. Tomi Adekanye – my own political leader in the Action Congress of Nigeria, who must claim part credit for my Oga’s success story. Even with what some might consider as his foibles and faults, I have no doubt that in him the researcher, the teacher and the silent activist come together with all of the ideals that can help us change the way we think and act about scholarship, activism and democracy, social justice, human rights and development.
It is a distinct pleasure to join in honouring and celebrating the life and works of – an accomplished scholar, notable mentor, exceptional teacher, and pan-africanist ideologue. Happy birthday to a beautiful mind.
Dr. Kayode Fayemi was governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria