Intellectualism and the Power of Social Analysis

June 22, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

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Abdulyassar Abdulhamid



Last week I read one short, stimulating post on the Facebook timeline of one Dr. and a great historian in making at the prestigious Bayero University, Kano. The said Dr. raised a big argument on the decline of intellectuals; and citing a French sociologist and philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu to back up his argument, he opined that one of the clear signs of the decline of intellectualism, although he did not say in which part of the world, is the proliferation, the way knowledge today diffuses into every nook and cranny, of ‘on-screen “intellectuals”‘, whom he passed, as the philosopher himself, as ‘fast thinkers, ‘who offer cultural fast food.’


Though I so much agree with this man of letters’ proposition/claim, I still see a way, although naively concluded, of justifying those pseudo-intellectuals’, as someone has termed them, decision to venture into social analysis to fill in the gap created by real intellectuals, who see no worth in discussing ideas in public, or out of fear of what will be their readers’ responses, have decided to keep mum.


Of course, what we have today, one may argue, by judging the trend and blistering outpourings of public affairs analysts, especially in social media for its notoriety although I so much cherish the media for their power and being the channels of propaganda and coercion – are pseudo-intellectuals, who take advantage of the absence of ‘real’ intellectuals to exploit our media. Despite all this one thing is evident. As Edward Said would say, there is too much defining of intellectual at the expense of the signature, the intervention and the performance that squarely define intellectual. For this reason charlatans cannot help capitalizing on this eternal absence.


Whether we take intellectual (intellectualism also being a broader term) as ‘an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public, in public’, as Said argued in his lecture titled ‘Representations of Intellectuals, 20th century Frenchman of letters, Julien Benda’s narrative of being intellectuals ‘a tiny band of super-gifted’ individuals, or accept the Italian Marxist, activist and journalist, Antonio Gramsi’s definition that ‘all men are intellectuals one could say, but not all men have in society the function of Intellectuals’, which has led to the creation of two camps: traditional intellectuals teachers, clerics, etc), who are, so to speak, blatantly insular in their dealings and organic intellectuals (opinion moulders, advertizers, etc), who are always on the move and making it happen; something very important deserves our attention:


Using Said’s claim that ‘there is nothing as a private intellectual’ here as a powerful armour, I will argue that if those who have made a career out of controversy for its own sake and mongers of hate speech have the courage to take it to the public and win the hearts of the gullible why not real intellectuals? Conversely, those whom the less informed members of society look up to for inspiration, especially on heated topical issues have kept their knowledge in private – all their learnings are now part of their mental libraries – and have decided to inculcate them in the four walls of their offices.


It is not true that there is a drought of intellectuals of great repute like Dr. Bala Usman – of Ahmadu Bello University – of great memory, Aminu Kano, one of the Nigeria’s political scientists ever, the master story teller, Abubakar Imam or S’adu Zungur, a poet and a teacher, it is the zeal, the tenacious habit to take the bull of injustice by the horn and that sheer intrepidity to query/dare the power itself that have deserted our ‘silent’ intellectuals.


For example, without the labour of intellectuals like Mudi Speaking, Ijumu, Magaji Dambatta, Aminu Kano, who had seen the sufferings of the ‘talakawas’ and embarked on a mission to liberate them, both NEPU that came into existence in 1950s and PRP in 1979 with their ideology ‘Freedomalam’ one of the finest political ideology ever caved out and instilled in the hearts of the, mostly, downtrodden then – would not have come into existence. They believed first, and then, very then, went on about persuading others to accept it. There it was hitting the roads, emancipating the incarcerated.


One may ask: what powers and gains social analysis has? Quite alright! A classic example of the power of social analysis is Hamid Dabashi’s article, ‘Alas, poor Bernard Lewis, a fellow of infinite jest’. To the author, Bernard Lewis, using social analysis, has brought unspeakable sufferings and much bloodshed to the world. Lewis had not only spent almost all his life studying the people he so much loathed, but in the same vein, concurrently, through his writings, led to the destruction of many countries. This is evident in what led to Iraq and Palestine’s conquest. How? ‘Lewis was a historian of power and in power and for the power that rule us all and served happily and rewardingly’ there, as Hamid argued, as an intellectual.


Not Lewis alone, when we consider the happenings in our dear country, Nigeria, the situation is almost the same. Look at how farmers/herdsmen clashes have dominated the front pages of our newspapers, and under reportage of some issues of the same magnitude. Perhaps I can only speak for myself and nobody, nobody, will speak on my behalf.


In the same week, I read Muhammad Qaddam Sidiq’s article titled ‘Need for Arewa narrative abroad’ and published by Daily Trust, in which he wrote one jaw-dropping revelation of how PR firms in some western countries with influence in global politics in connivance with some pressure groups in Nigeria manipulate media in those countries into believing that Christians in Nigeria are victims of targeted and systematic persecution in the hands of Arewa Muslims; and how many illegal migrants (neither from Arewa nor are they Muslims) stranded in Libya and other countries feigned to be victims of Boko Haram terror in their bid to seek asylum with all the privileges attached to it. Why do they believe them? This may be the question that first comes into the mind. Nobody is ready to narrate our story should not be less an answer.


My suspicion is that our so called men of letters, today, are materialistic. They are so obsessed with practical aims. Their kingdom, unlike real intellectuals, who moved by disinterested principles of justice and truth, say, our kingdom is not in this world, is in this world.


Real intellectuals defend the weak, denounce and reject corruption, and face the storm of oppressive authority eyeball to eyeball, notwithstanding the consequences. They are, so to speak, Samaritans of some sort.


Today’s intellectuals, sad it may be, are at the forefront of supporting government policies, even if the policies are inhuman; and spewing out propagandas against the government’s perceived enemies even if they are pro-justice.


In the final analysis, ‘It is the intellectual as a representative figure that matters,’ Said wrote. Someone who represents an idea, who despite the high raised obstacles digs up forgotten issues or issues swept under the carpet to doggedly fight for the rights of his people and lastly liberates them; but how many can fit this description today?





Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, Kano based, is graduate of B.A English from Bayero University, Kano. He is a budding writer, social analyst, freelancer at Sunrise Language Practitioner (SLP) and regular contributor to Nigerian dailies. 
His writings have appeared in The Communicator, a magazine published by Kano State Polytechnic and in Dailytrust, The Triumph and The cable newspapers. He has a strong interest in literary theory.

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