Public Intellectual in the Making
July 16, 2013
By Bilal Bugaje
The following is a reaction to my two-part article published in this column few weeks ago, on the roles of public intellectuals in society. It is written by Bilal Bugaje, a commentator on public affairs. Enjoy! – Ibraheem A. Waziri
I am proud of her. On second thought, should I be? She lamented about the state of affairs, in her school that is. How could the school authority demand that of them, where is the justice?! They (her classmates and her) had nothing to do with the event, yet they are paying for it. In a year, she would be happy to pay, but not now, its too soon. “It’s so unfair!” she made her point in that punchline. She is nine years old and in primary five. She is my sister.
Their school had asked them to pay N3,000 for the coming graduation ceremony but she is not graduating, until next year. The graduands were asked to pay N12,000… but paying one-third the graduands’ was still not justice enough. She felt that the school authority was not just. To buttress her point, she added that the school, with the kind of money it gets from school fees and payments like this one, ought to have more than one school bus, yet it has only one! Moreover, they had paid school fees, haven’t they? Why then all these hidden charges. At this point I suspected it wasn’t her perception that made her articulate the “injustices” surrounding her life. It is more likely she overheard someone senior (likely adults) making similar complaints and then she agreed with them. My proof is that before long she started including vocabulary like “investment” and “profit” and “made their money back”.
I had just read the two-part article by Ibraheem A. Waziri on the “Public Intellectual”. In the first part, he reflected on the meaning and identity of the public intellectual, before and after the European Enlightenment. He argued that the Enlightenment has weaken the standards of the (intellectual) requirements needed to become a public intellectual; prior to which existed a social class of Public Intellectuals who underwent rigorous training. He concluded observing the way so called (Nigerian) Public Intellectual dabbles in their murky understanding of different disciplines to come up with invalid conclusions, which lack a clear goal (e.g. national interest). The result is a confused citizenry. He gives example of “Boko Haram” ideology as a manifestation of this confusion. Thus there is a heavy burden on the Public intellectual.
In the second part he explored the concept of truth, the importance of truth in giving meaning to life of citizens, and those responsible for identifying the truth which may be difficult to extract by the untrained mind. The article concludes with an invitation to establishing a standard for the role of Public Intellectual. In other words, the critical privilege of Public Intellectual should be earned, rather than simply being equipped with “control of words”.
Now, back to my sister. What I was observing were two things happening simultaneously: the nine year old has been influenced by an uncritical public intellectual (the adults she agreed with); and she was another public intellectual in the making. According to her, school fees cover ALL costs that may come up, so they were simply paying double for participating in that graduation ceremony. How was she becoming a Public Intellectual? There were adults (as I was) at the scene of this articulate manifesto, and they agreed with her, (as we say) hundred percent! She has gotten positive feedback from the authorities in the world (the adults present) and she may be on the roll to being an addition to pile of uncritical “Public Intellectuals” who propound populist ideas, and who’s survival depends on the narcotic praises they get from a crowd eager to blame and complain, without necessarily providing insight into the state of affairs.
A nine year old being political and self-righteous is cute, but can have ugly manifestations if adult intellectuals think at this level. It makes you wonder if some Public Intellectuals are not really only nine years old, intellectually. It is not bad to be nine years old intellectually, some say it is even blissful, the only demand that comes with this bliss is to please not be another “Public Intellectual”, at least not yet.
PS: The case of school fees is obviously a simplification of the real issue, as example.