Claude Ake: Nigeria’s Radical Ideologist

Apr 14 2017 - 2:20pm

Claude Ake



By Koye Fadairo

Professor Claude Ake was born on 18 February 1939, in Omoku in Rivers State. He attended the prestigious King’s College Lagos between 1932 and 1958. Then he proceeded aboard for his tertiary education at the famous Colombia University in New York where he eventually became an assistant professor in 1966. He was appointed a professor of Political Economy at Carleton University in Canada (at 31 years of age) and he lectured there from 1969 to 1977. On his return home he took up the task of establishing a Faculty of Social Sciences in the nascent University of Port Harcourt when he became the first dean of the faculty from 1971 – 1991.

His devotion to scholarly research, documentation, writing and paper presentation took up a good part of his life. He got married at 50 to Anitta, a former broadcaster with Radio Rivers. The marriage was witnessed by Professor Dunistan Wai, a Sudanese World Bank staff and it was blessed with two sons.

His lifestyle on campus at the University of Port Harcourt was said to be almost devoid of social activities (considered as ‘relaxation’). His standard dress code was a pair of trousers white cotton shirt and a pair of leather slippers. He lived off campus which minimized obtrusive visits but in the faculty he was a stickler for discipline, erudition and he would not condone mediocrity. Naturally he developed a ‘cult’ of younger disciples.

His major publications, often categorized as seminal include The Theory of Political Integration (1967), Revolutionary Pressures in Africa (1969), Social Science and Imperialism: The theory of political development (1974), Political Economy of Nigeria (1985) and Democracy and Development in Africa.

The nature of his death to say the least, made him a victim of the songs he sang. While it is true that air disasters are universal, the wrong attitude to development (which precludes a consistency in efficiency) which he spoke against could be said to have contributed to his death. Claude Ake was always ready to preach his message at academic gathering at home and abroad. He once debunked the major thrust of Eurocentric economic theories about Africa, championed by a certain Professor Coleman in a seminar at the University of Nairobi Kenya. The inaugural lecture at the first Obafemi Awolowo Foundation Dialogue (16 December 1992) was a tribute to his brilliant presentations at conferences and seminars.

In spite of all his academic engagements and preoccupations, Claude Ake was not an Ivory Tower hermit. He found time to get onto the streets in search of the means and possibilities of practicing the societal ideals that he preached. Partisan politics was an option that he never thought to be beyond him, he joined PSP in 1987. He withdrew from politics when his political association was banned along with others by the government of General Babangida, who thereafter formed two parties. This was beyond him as his dissent with the military government to power was legendary.

He had served as the chairman of the Rivers State Housing Corporation for some years, beginning from 1978 and he was president of Nigerian Political Science Association for a record 12 years – 1980 to 1992. Ake’s international engagements were observably characterized by similar long tenures. He was simultaneously on the Board of Directors of the Institute of Labour Studies and the International Social Council at UNESCO. Between 1985 and 1988, he was President Council for Economic and Social Research in Africa and in March 1996 (8 months before his demise), he was invited to join the 9 member international committee for the African Directors of World Bank, with the mandate to examine the Bank’s operational involvement on the continent.

Early in 1996, he was honoured with the Martin Luther King ‘Jnr’ Community Service Award for bringing his wealth of experience in the social sciences into conflict resolution and gender issues. He was on his way out of the country later that year to honour an international engagement at Yale University in America when he met his demise between Lagos and Port Harcourt in the historical ADC 727 air mishap on 7 November 1996. All the 141 passengers and cre members on board lost their lives. Many had speculated that he could have won a Nobel Prize in Economics, the first African that would have achieved the feat.

His prodigious book publications, papers and articles have been closely and consistently crtical of leadership in Nigeria and Africa in general. This he remarked has been responsible for the systemic erosion of political and socio economic structures. In is usual frankness, Ake also observed that if the leadership is accused of myopia and banditry, then the followership is guilty of criminal acquiescence with both groups always waiting for foreign salvation to pull them out of the cesspit.

A man of his word, his activities concerning Niger Delta environmental issues are on record. He had raised his consciousness to irrevocably believe that the Nigerian privatized state was in collation with foreign interests because of the former’s disposition to poverty of ideas and plunder.

He commented extensively on the Ogoni uprising of the early 80s “Ogoniland has risen beyond its own complex sociology and plurality and above all its lack of education to forge a formidable political force with rare clarity.” In a newspaper article (The Guardian 18/7/94) titled A People Endangered by Oil, his bird eye view of the situation as at then was nothing but a prediction that has come to pass. With enigmatic sarcasm, he pleaded for a more positive attitude to the welfare of the Niger Delta people. “If our humanity cannot move us, our self interest should compel us for if the present policies continue, the oil producing areas already in turmoil will be ungovernable and our mineral resources indefensible for the Ogoni struggle is only part of an elemental force for change which is gathering momentum with each passing day in the mineral producing area and beyond.”

Just over a year after the publication of that article, Ken Saro Wiwa, the leader of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People MOSOP and eight others were hanged. This was seen by many as judicial murder. The event coincided with Professor Claude Ake’s tenure on the board of Niger Delta Environmental Survey, which was set up as an independent body for environmental protection and development following persistent agitation in the Niger Delta area. In protest against the 10 November 1995 hangings and the subsequent official punitive rampage over Ogoniland, Ake resigned his appointment with NDES. When his resignation was rejected, he issued three reasons for his resignation. First he doubted the independence and credibility of NDES for accepting funds from an oil company. Second, he would not accept the claim by Shell that it was innocent of environmental degradation – the agitation and protest against which led to the 10 November hangings, third, Nigeria was contributing to global warming more than the rest of the world with its continual gas flaring.

This courageous reactions to tyranny, immorality and wanton mindlessness did not end here, he consistently denounced the incursion of the military into civil administration in his many lectures and newspaper articles. He clear-headed postulations on on the military and vantage quotes arose from his uncompromising position as regards the military.

On the dehumanizing imperative of military dictatorship “Military rule is not so much the alteration we so often call it, as the negation of what is uniquely human in the way we relate”. Comparing a militarized state with a democratic dispensation “The military addresses the extreme ordinary while democracy address the routine, the military values discipline and hierarchy, democracy freedom and equality, the military is oriented to law and order, democracy to diversity, contradiction and competition, the method of the military is violent aggression that of democracy is persuasion, negotiation and consensus building.” On the fundamental antithesis in the military ruling over a civil populace “Because of its formalism and need for a highly articulated structure, military rule suffers from a contradiction of form and content. Typically it confuses movement progress, decisiveness and predictability with efficiency and clarity of vision and order for stability.”

Claude Ake’s hypothesis on the military was not established without a prior examination of the continental political situation which created a chance for military incursions. He saw the African State as essentially ‘predatory’ and surmised that “politics in Africa is warfare and government is the spoil of the war”. This situation consequently creates “a negative unity of takers in which collective enterprise is all but impossible.” He saw the ‘calculus of force’ as a dominant political preoccupation in the continent. Unfortunately, this setting became an ideal attraction for the real merchants of force i.e the military.

A professional colleague of Ake, Wale Are Olaitan, said this of him, “Reading Ake, you are not at a loss as to where his sympathy and sentiment lie for he unmistakably casts his lot in any analysis with the people, with the positive transformation of the country and the continent and with a world system where justice reigns supreme and poverty is not institutionalized as the destiny of any group”. This probably explains the venom with which this professor of political economy cast aspersion on African governments, military and civil alike, for adopting the IMF prescribed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) as a development strategy. The structural Adjustment Programme, for Ake is nothing but a ‘copy mechanism.’

If all the foregoing suggests that Ake had radical tendencies, such proclivities can be traced back to Ake’s secondary school days when he was nicknamed ‘radical’. These radical ideals were actually propounded at his campaigns for election as the secretary to the school’s student’s council where fellow students found his ideas a novelty. He won the election and he greatly influenced the impression of the students about themselves, the school authority and the society at large. Dr John Esangbedo, a consultant gynecologist and an alumnus of Kings College reported that Ake was too academically inclined to demean himself by playing pranks or jumping gates as typical of student life. But he would stand before the authority to defend himself on any perceived wrong accusation. This is the basis of Claude Ake’s tenor of radicalism, never the loud or self seeking type but one premised on dignity and programmed intent.

Prof. Okello Oculi of the Centre for Social and Economic Research, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, attested to the foregoing “…ultimately protest for protest sake did not hold philosophical dignity for him (Ake). His burden as a non-imperialist and an African scholar was to illuminate the African condition as a guide to liberation political action.” Another senior colleague, the renowned Professor Akin Mahogunje in his tribute re echoed Ake’s dignified stature in his lifetime. “The modest tenor of that life which became almost a badge if Claude Ake’s enigmatic personality reflects the radiance of an outstanding dignity.”

Prof. Clade Ake’s last work on dignity was that ‘those who have no dignity can never rise beyond mediocrity to seize a historical destiny.” That he rose far beyond mediocrity was definite. But he also seized historical destiny within the given life span of 57 years, being survived not only by his family but also (for posterity) by his numerous publications and the Centre for Advanced Social Studies (CASS) which he founded in 1993.

•Originally entitled “ The Radical Ideologist,” Koye Fadairo contributed this article to People in TheNEWS, 1900-2000, a special publication of this medium in year 2000

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