Social Scientists as Transformers

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The Sociology Department, University of Lagos, recently organised a lecture to mark its golden jubilee. Funke Olaode who covered the event, reports

Rising youth unemployment and the consequent increase in youth restiveness, ethno-religious conflicts and other divisive factors remain serious obstacles to nation’s development. And yet critics believe the discipline, Sociology, holds the analytical tools for the understanding of these development issues.

Although studies have shown that the discipline teaches scientific study of how human beings organise themselves in society, relate to each other, build, reinforce and change institutions and relationships and societies. The question remains, is sociology still relevant as a moving vehicle for the development of the nation – Nigeria. Is Sociology alien to Nigeria? Are there innovative or imaginative sociologists in Nigeria? And what are the professional benefits to national development? These questions were thrown up recently when Sociology Department, University of Lagos rolled out the drum to celebrate its golden jubilee.

Arguably, Sociology Department, University of Lagos is one of the outstanding departments within the institution. Founded in 1967, from an obscure origin, sociology is now visible discipline and one of the most sought after courses in the social sciences family. The vision of the founding fathers was to establish a Sociology Department where young scholars would be trained to accomplish the goals of social transformation of society. Without doubt, the department has lived up to its expectation as within its five decades of existence, it has churned out scholars who are making waves within and outside the country.

On Thursday March 11, 2017, Afe Babalola Hall was filled to its brim as dignitaries and scholars from academic community converged under the same roof to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the department with a lecture titled ‘Sociology: the Nigerian Condition and Development’.

The dignitaries were led by the Head of Department, Dr. Olufunlayo Bammeke, Vice Chancellor, Prof. Rahaman Bello was represented by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic and Research, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, Dean of Faculty of Social Science, Prof. Iyiola Oni, Prof. Adebayo Ninalowo, Prof. Felicia Oyekanmi and alumni members. Alumnus of the department who is currently the Executive Director, Partnership for African Social and Governance Research, Nairobi, Kenya, Prof. Tade Akin Aina was the guest lecturer.

In his opening speech, Vice Chancellor, Prof. Bello who was represented by Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe commended the department for sticking to its guiding philosophy since its creation in 1967 to produce the best students as ambassadors both within and outside the country. Bello noted that without doubt, the department has been contributing to national development particularly in the area of literature.

“Given the historic role of sociology in the modernisation of Western society and the role it is playing around the world in countries such as Japan, United States, Britain, Germany, France, Australia, it is important for the federal government to have a re-think about the professional benefits of sociology in national development.”

Bello stressed that although sociology significance may not be recognised, he pointed out that there are areas where the relevance of democracy and governance to the life of an ordinary man on the street is almost empty without the input of sociology. Such area he said include social effect, development, social policy formulation, crime prevention, security and intelligence gathering; public service reforms, state civil society relations, immigration issues, cultural and religious affairs, social order, social administration and refuge issues (considering all the settlements scattered all over the place would need assistance of sociologists).

In addressing all these, Bello said the impact of research cannot be over-emphasised just as paying ordinary lip service would not help as the country must be ready to invest in research.

“Countries such as United States of America, China, and Japan are countries that have invested heavily on research have stood out in the area of development as they are often referred to as developed countries. At a time when our country needs to embark on reforms it is important for us as stakeholders in the Nigerian project to redefine the roles of sociology in national development. Sociology has a great deal to offer if Nigeria is serious in sustainable economy, political and national development,” Bello said.

In his remarks, Prof. Iyiola Oni said indeed there is no better time to discuss the issue of the menace which has been an impediment to national growth. The impediment he said has been stalling the development of the nation which ranges from insecurity, poor governance, mass unemployment, disregard for the rule of law, impunity, poor infrastructure, high inflation, abject poverty etc. These persistent problems have continued to discourage Nigerian youths who believe that the only route to success is to leave the shores of this country and seek greener pasture abroad legally or otherwise. While he wouldn’t want to discourage those “checking out”, Oni said we should all remind ourselves that the future of Nigeria lies in our hands.

Speaking further, he said to achieve development at various times, both past and present administrations have designed different development plans but each of the plans has the challenge of implementation as none yielded its desired result.

And what role does sociology has to play in all this? He said Sociology has moved from the traditional method of analysis to developmental approaches whereby the issues of disaster, insurgency, Boko Haram and internally displaced persons are now being discussed within the realms of developmental study.

Welcoming all the invited guests including the alumni, the Head of Sociology Department, Dr. Olufunlayo Bammeke, thanked both past students and undergraduates for keeping the flag of the department flying. Elated Bammeke said despite obvious challenges, the department has not relented in running with the vision of its founding fathers; with the faculty in seeking to bequeath sound academic legacies to successful generations. Going back memory lane, she said the department which was established in 1967, five years after the enabling act that established the university was promulgated took off under the leadership of Rev. Father J.B. Schuyler, who was also the first head of department. She said she was delighted that over the past five decades, over five thousand students had enrolled in its undergraduate programmes while it has also produced over 1,500 post graduate students and over 4,000 have equally bagged diploma in Social Development and Administration.

Although the 50thanniversary falls at a time when the nation’s development predicament is deepening despite its natural and human resources, she said the celebration would provide an opportunity for the faculty not only to take stock but to strategise on how to maintain and underscore the department’s relevance in the academic community and the nation at large.

Rounding up her speech, Bammeke seized the opportunity to call on all alumni to rise up to the need to give back to the department and the university at large through endowment of prizes and awards for outstanding students in Sociology and Social Work.

While x-raying the topic, ‘Sociology, the Nigerian Condition and Development’ through his sociological lenses, erudite scholar Prof. Tade Aina explained that the substance of the lecture reinforced the very nature of the discipline, sociology, its various notions and practices as study and analysis, as profession and the midwife of other professions and sub-disciplines as Social work. Pointing out that though it is a discipline that emerged from the Western Industrial Revolution and was born to explain and interpret it, it is a discipline that carries an immense amount of Western cultural and ethnocentric baggage. It however allows the space for self-reflexivity and auto-critique which is necessary for its continuous renewal.

“The recognition of our own modernity alongside Western modernity is a good place to begin to conceptualise and accept sociology as a vehicle, platform or tool for understanding and interpreting the human and social conditions consisting of building blocks, foundations and elements that all go into making a building but which can be as different as mud, wattle, clay, cement, timber, bamboo, marble, steel and stone as building materials. Yet they all contribute to making a contemporary structure that can equally possess engineering resilience, ecological relevance, architectural elegance and artistic beauty. The point here is that just as it is possible to have across cultures with comparative aesthetics and functions, so it is possible to recognise sociology as a practice wherever it may be located.”

Throwing more light on the lecture theme: ‘Sociology, the Nigerian Condition and Development’, Aina noted that the Nigerian condition means a sociological interpretation of our identity. Though the development element is a key part of the lecture, Aina told his audience that they cannot understand the specific nature of the Nigerian condition and development without first understanding the collapse and disintegration or in certain cases, the perversion of the nation and state building project.

On while development has continued to elude the country despite its enormous resources, Aina said the intense contestations that have characterised Nigerian politics, state and nation building project has led to the decay, deterioration and continuous erosion and degradation of what one can call the Nigerian post-colonial civil public.

“The civic public in Nigeria today as a result of failure of Nigerian elites in nation and state-building has become eroded and degraded. This is core of the Nigerian condition. This degradation is embodied in the systematic decline of notions and practices that constitute public trust. Our common civic public is the site of multiple contestations, looting, plunder by anyone to claim a position either as a guard or steward. The common public sphere has been privatised for private individual ends. Public and common resources, are plundered, degraded and neglected. The point is that no society thrives or survives in a perpetual state of anomie because it has implications for social and national stability, economic growth, social justice and democracy. And reclaiming the national civic public, its ideologies and morality as a common sphere of action is an imperative for any social, economic and national development.”

Adding to Nigeria’s woes, Aina said was not the amalgamation of 1914 but the coup of January 16, 1966, which ushered different values and recreation of values and militarisation of our values.

Rounding up his lectures Aina asked his audience what then must sociology do in Nigeria? According to him, Sociology provides the analytical capacities and methodologies for examining societal and social conditions. He also pointed out that it helps to equip with the ability to see through ideologies, mythologies and various other conditions that determine social dynamics and structure. It also provides with a deep understanding of the contexts of actions and processes.

Although sociologists as individuals have different political positions, beliefs and ideologies but as professionals, they have the analytical skills and tools to contribute to the “demystification of our universe.”

Pointing out on how sociology and sociologist can help shape the country in terms of development, Aina said that the identification of options and scenarios through a rigorous and systematic study of society and the provision of evidence and alternatives is a significant part of duty as sociologists in contemporary society today.

“Sociology will not and does not tell us what to do but it can illuminate our conditions, actions and choices. And when it is well and honestly done, that is a significant and momentous duty to our society and our world,” he concluded.