By Dr. Tunji Olaopa
We can never really get used to death and dying. And that is despite the fact that we have grown used to its inevitability. Death will always have a way of throwing us off balance, of mocking our long term friendship and solid relationships. The sting of death is not reduced whether we are lamenting the death of friends, neighbours, relatives or family; we do not grieve less even if the person is not connected by blood. All that matters is that the person whose finitude has been untimely abbreviated is a human person, and that such a person matters to us in some intimate or profound ways.
Alfred Tennyson was a great poet, but he was very wrong about death:
And a day less or more
At sea or ashore,
We die—does it matter when?
Of course we die, but it matter when and it matters who. It matters so much to me that Prof. Joseph Kayode (JK) Ogunmoyela of Ifon, Ondo State and of FUTA just died, as it does to me and much more to a woman and her children right now that Professor Adekunle Amuwo is no more; it matters to me that death should have happened to JK and Amuwo at this material time; it matters to the study of political science that one of its leading lights in Africa (Amuwo) would cease from his earnest scholarship; and it matters to Nigeria that death chose this most unconscionable time to silence one of her most critical interlocutors.
Professor Kunle Amuwo was not just a mere person; he was a brother, a friend and a fellow labourer in the intellectual struggle for the reformation of Nigeria. Professor Amuwo, to all intents and purposes, was simply an intellectual institution. His death is all the more frightening and annoying because there wasn’t any hint of mortality about a month ago when we met at the Covenant University Town and Gown Seminar organised by the Faculty of the Social Sciences. I was not even aware all this while that he was the dean at Covenant University, or that he was instrumental to my invitation to give the lecture. My memory of his very large heart and warm spirit dates back to my undergraduate days at the Department of Political Science of the University of Ibadan as well as his intervention in, and contribution to, my doctoral ambition. As an undergraduate, it was easy to flock to his rich library which formed part of my introduction to the deeper nuances of political science discourses. In those days, the Faculty of the Social Sciences was the hotbed of a prodigious cross-fertilization of ideas and policies. The researches of Professors Aboyade (Economics), Dudley (Political Science), and Mabogunje (Geography) reverberate with their very presence in government policies and in our classrooms! Amuwo was part of the new generation carrying the burden and the baton of practical theorisation and conscientious teaching. As is now obvious to all—he didn’t falter.
Sometime in 2003, we had a most momentous interaction at the University of Ibadan bookshop where we bumped into each other. I sadly told him then I might abandon my doctoral research again; for the third time. He would have none of that intellectual resignation! He literally begged me to rethink my decision. ‘Tunji,’ he said, ‘I know you have what it takes to pursue this programme; you have the requisite materials and the intellect to put them together into a solid understanding of the civil service. Sustain the endurance trek, complete the doctorate and if you like, dedicate it to the department of political science here at UI.’ That encounter became a solid reminder every time I felt the research was becoming too demanding within the context of my civil service responsibilities. I had since been sucked deep into the complexities of civil service reforms and wasn’t fully apprised of Prof. Amuwo’s intellectual development after I left the University of Ibadan. But I kept tab as best as I could.
I cannot therefore claim to be familiar with the substance of Prof. Amuwo’s scholarly contributions as I had left mainstream political science for public administration when his scholarship reached its maturation. What follows is therefore bound to be sketchy. Suffice it to say that over a long and illustrious career, Prof. Amuwo managed quite effortlessly to build an unimpeachable reputation as a concerned scholar for whom political science was the most conscientious disciplinary avenue for confronting our collective predicament as a nation. His scholarship, if I am to attempt a violent summary of the rich and multifaceted corpus, is a deep search for a framework that enables us re-theorize Africa’s uncomfortable position in the global order of things. That requires bringing the best analytical tools of political science and social science methodologies to bear on diverse issues like security, electoral policies, policy formulation, crisis management, political economy and even pan-Africanism.
Amuwo was always and constantly interrogating Africa’s colonial misadventure and the multiple consequences this has generated for our postcolonial political progress (or the lack of it). For instance, Prof. Amuwo‘s critical scrutiny could not understand the continental adulation that has been poured on the NEPAD initiative in Africa. This socioeconomic action plan, in his reckoning, fails to adequately countenance the two major factors in Africa’s developmental impasse—the colonial intervention and the postcolonial leadership crisis in Africa. What is needed, according to him, is a more continent-friendly and non-extroverted framework that would cater for Africa’s peculiar predicament without ever assuming a delinking of Africa from global processes and flows.
There is no critique of Africa’s postcolonial and governance palaver that would not recognise the immediate significance of theorizing the evolution of developmental states in Africa. And Prof. Amuwo’s sharp intellect saw how such an institutional framework could serve as one of the very means by which mal-development and bad governance could be arrested. The idea of the developmental state was therefore his entry point into the critical analysis of the evolution and performance of the Nigerian state and its venal elite configurations and practices. Amuwo’s major theoretical framework for confronting the Nigerian situation derives from the historical dichotomy between the society and the state. For him, the relationship between the state and the society presents a serious dilemma: In the first place, it is the evolution of a democratic developmental state that possesses the capacity to improve the lives of the citizens in real time; yet, state elites are assiduously ensuring that such a developmental state does not evolve. The consequence is that as long as the Nigerian state is not adequately capacitated, the Nigerian citizenry would continue to suffer the pangs of development.
I share one fundamental passion with Professor Adekunle Amuwo: the urgency of reforming the Nigerian state. With the best of the social science methodologies and framework, Prof. Amuwo had been concerned with the evolution of a strong reform programme that will initiate the birth of strong institutions around which the state can be enabled and possibly enforced to serve the people and the society. On the other hand, I have been minded from the beginning to inquire into the conditions for the possibility of one of those fundamental institutions of state—the Nigerian Civil Service. I have theorised in the firm belief that if the civil service fails as an institution that integrates the social contract, then we are confronted with the end of the Nigerian state as we know it. The successful reform of the civil service system in Nigeria is the beginning of realising Prof. Amuwo’s theoretical desire for the transformation of Nigeria into a developmental state.
And yet that same man is gone into the ‘nothingness’ of death. Death offends our longing for immortality. When death steals into our homes and relationships, we see the end of everything; we see nothingness. But Wthe nothingness of death should not translate into a nothing. For T. S. Eliot, ‘And to make an end is to make a beginning/The end is where we start from.’ What then does the end of Professor Kunle Amuwo’s sojourn in this realm of existence portend for political science scholarship in Nigeria? What does his demise say to the critical analysis of the Nigerian state? When delivering what would turn out to be his last major theoretical assignment—Covenant University’s 39th Public Lecture—Professor Amuwo signalled the significance of the ballot over the violence of the bullet. The Nigerian state has failed to become a public agency that could unite the people around itself through good governance. For him, Nigeria requires the intervention of the ballot to maintain its national sanity, and that has proven to be somewhat prophetic.
Nigeria is transiting, and Professor Kunle Amuwo will not be there to witness the full fruition of our collective hope. But then his end ought to be where we start from; and that constitute a fundamental challenge to political science scholarship in Nigeria: Can our policy and political reflections animate the new wave and dynamics that is defining political trajectory in Nigeria?
*Dr. Olaopa is Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, Abuja. Nigeria. He can be reached through