Heaven was literally let loose in November 2019 when Nigerians heard about a conference on Witchcraft to be held at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. However, the controversial conference went on as planned. In this exclusive interview with News Express Executive Editor SUNNY OKIM, the organiser of the conference, Professor Egodi Uchendu, narrates the lessons she learnt from the negative reactions of Nigerians towards the conference, especially the clergy. She also speaks about her latest project and other personal and national issues. Excerpts:
In a few words, how would you describe Professor Egodi Uchendu?
I am a Professor of History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I am also the Director of the Centre for Policy Studies and Research and the leader of African Humanities Research and Development Circle (AHRDC), a UNN-based research group.
In addition to my teaching duties in UNN, since joining the Department of History in 1999, I have worked as a researcher in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Senegal. I have undertaken over 40 international trips, traversing continents, in the course of my academic career.
I have received funding from the Fulbright (USA), Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany), A. G. Leventis Foundation and several others.
My researches revolve around women’s history, people in conflict situations, men and masculinities, and emerging Muslim communities in Eastern Nigeria. These researches yielded over 50 publications – 3 sole-authored books, 6 edited books, 22 journal articles, 18 book chapters and 4 commissioned papers.
The latest, though, are Nigeria’s Resource Wars (by Vernon Press, Delaware, in 2020) and Islam in the Niger Delta, 1890-2017: A Synthesis of the Accounts of Indigenes and Migrants (by Klaus Shwarz Pubishers, Berlin, in 2018). 7 extra publications are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, I have initiated two new book projects this 2021.
I served as the editor of the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria from 2014 to 2018 and currently one of four editors of History in Africa: A Journal of Debates, Methods and Source Analysis owned by the largest global academic organization, the African Studies Association. More information about my career is available at www.egodiuchendu.com .
One cannot easily forget the controversy that surrounded your conference on witches and wizards held last year at UNN. Would you say Nigerians misunderstood your motive or they were just ignorant of the theme and thrust of the conference?
Thanks for asking me. I think it was both a misunderstanding of motive and ignorance of the theme and thrust of the conference.
By the way the conference theme was Witchcraft, not “witches and wizards”.
The one defence I had is the fact that I announced this conference to the university community and the larger academic circle in Nigeria months before the conference. I laid out why it was necessary for us to academically interrogate the concept of witchcraft and our assumptions about it. I vividly recall the laud ovation I received that day, 9th April 2019. Alas, come November 2019, all hell broke loose. I saw a nation that has little interest in scholarship; people that see one thing and call it another.
It showed clearly that we lack a reading culture because there was simply no reason for that misunderstanding.
Many acclaimed men and women of God rebuked that conference and you the organiser. Did that affect you in any way?
Not at all. Otherwise I would have cancelled it, which I never did.
Given the opportunity, would you organise anything that has to do with such theme (Witchcraft) again?
If I see the need for it, YES.
As a frontline player in the academia, what is your rating of the present Nigerian educational system?
It’s disheartening that we don’t have an educational system we can be proud of. The decay had started while I was in the university in the 1980s, but still with what we had then we could compete favourably at the international level.
I used to tell my students between 2003 and 2009 that if with my UNN certificates I could win the scholarships and fellowships I won, they could do same. But, you know what, I can’t say that now. Our libraries are bare of current textbooks. We can’t access journal articles. We can’t do research not because we don’t want to but because we can’t fund them.
I foresee another season of brain drain; and this time, it will be worse than anything we’ve ever experienced. The situation on ground is very bad.
ASUU is of the belief that the government has not been doing much to improve the country’s education sub sector, especially in terms of infrastructure. What are your thoughts?
I have a very simple answer. Visit our federal universities. If you are pleased with what you see, then discountenance what ASUU is saying. But to help you, visit a primary school in Europe and compare their infrastructures with what you see in a Nigerian federal university. I am sure that you will be very ashamed of what we have here.
In 2002 you wrote a book titled: “Culture: The obstacle to active female participation in governance among the Igbo of Nigeria”. Is that an indication that the low level of participation of Nigerian women generally in politics cannot be raised because of culture?
Not at all. It’s a journal article by the way. Its message is that we should “revise” those aspects of our culture that keep women down. In this twenty-first century, that revision has to include the way politics is run in Nigeria which makes it largely exclude women. And the way women fail to support their kind.
In 2008 also, you wrote another book titled, “Introduction: Are African males men? Sketching African masculinities”. Is it right to conclude that the book gave you out as a feminist?
I will not say that this very book chapter, for that’s what it is, gave me out as a feminist. My specialization in women’s history did. I am what will be called a gender scholar. Most gender scholars that focus on issues about women double as feminists. In my engagement with feminism or gender broadly, I subscribe to biblical teachings. It may amaze you that the word gender is in the bible with a different interpretation from what we currently associate it with. Anyway, I agree that I’m a feminist because I promote women’s issues and wish to see in my lifetime equality between the sexes.
The book chapter “Are African males men? Sketching African masculinities” is actually not about women, but men. In my specialization in gender, I engage with both women’s issues and men’s issues, precisely masculinities – that is, men’s conception of themselves and how they use their privileges either against fellow men or against women.
In this book chapter, I was responding to a scathing remark by Baden Powell centuries back that African men were not real men. I showed in that paper that there has never been one way of imagining who and what a man is. There are different manifestations of masculinities (just as there are femininities). Using one brand to judge all is unacceptable. It creates inequalities.
We are aware that your new project is a book titled, “Nigeria’s Resource Wars” What about it?
Nigeria’s Resource Wars addresses the diverse conflicts over access to, and allocation of, resources in Nigeria. The book looks at the conflicts we’ve had in the past – for instance the Niger Delta crisis and currently the Boko Haram insurgency – but dwells more on new dimensions of resource-related struggles especially the conflicts between crop farmers and Fulani herders.
It shows how Fulani cattle breeders’ onslaught has altered the histories of many Nigerian families through deaths, loss of homes and investments, as well as permanent physical incapacity.
These issues have led to an almost total breakdown of interethnic relations in the county. The resource struggles have now degenerated into kidnaps, banditry, armed robbery, and incessant targeted and random killings across the country; compounding the already complex problem of insecurity in Nigeria.
In ‘Nigeria’s Resource Wars’, authors engage with these issues, presenting the different arguments and perspectives on our resource conflicts, even the role of the youth population. We also look back to our colonial and post-independence past to draw insights on how to address current problems. We (the authors) successfully offer a collection of different intellectual standpoints and solutions which lovers of Nigerian unity and policymakers will find especially useful.
The task to keep Nigeria one remains a collective responsibility. This thinking gave rise to the conference on the same theme of Nigeria’s Resource Wars and the book project afterwards. Thankfully, the book has now been published.
You look every inch a workaholic. How do you relax and how much time does Professor Egodi have for the family?
Wow! I wouldn’t have believed this of me. But, yes, I love work and I especially love to do research. I believe that I have a little time on earth to contribute to making the world, my world, a better place.
I won’t live forever. I refuse to be counted among those who went to the grave with their talents. No. I will invest my talents while I’m alive. So I pursue that goal through my researches and writings.
Notwithstanding, I make out time to rest. I compulsorily take a day off every week, on Saturdays, when I switch off my phone and rest. The only exertion I allow myself on my day off is studying my Bible. Sometimes I share the outcome of my study on Facebook.
When I’m not studying or sleeping, I may be reading any book of choice that has nothing to do with academics. I love gardening and sewing, but will not do either on a Saturday else they’ll compromise my rest. Of course you know that I’ll eat, so I cook on Saturdays.
Do I have time for my family? Yes, I do. I have not lived with a househelp for more than two decades, so I spend as much time at home as I do in the office. I still cook for my husband and children; clean the house and tend my flowers in the evenings, after work. Time management is key to all-round productivity. I learned early to manage my time well.
Is Prof eyeing politics in the near future?
By the grace of God, NO.
(Courtesy: The Newsexpress)