Ango Abdullahi’s Tenor and Tenure


By Okey Ikechukwu

Professor Ango Abdullahi was recently reported to have assured Nigerians, and the world at large, that the Fulani in Nigeria and West Africa can take on all comers, overrun any place and emerge victorious in any battle. But he did not say how the Fulani would develop holistically as a people and become part of a forward-looking, 21st century world that is leaving behind certain modes of living? He also did not say anything about the dangers faced by an elite that seems focused on breeding a younger, “replacement” generation that is not being tooled to follow in the footsteps of the likes of an Ango Abdullahi in education, or that of a Chanchangi, Dantatta and Dangote in entrepreneurship, business and industry. He is conjuring, instead, images of knife and gun wielding, scraggy-looking, persons; perhaps even triumphantly displaying decapitated heads, burnt out villages and farmlands as background to their group photographs. This not what a professor, learned or not, should wish to bring up in a fractious society with strong disruptive tensions.

A man like Ango Abdullahi should, at this point in his life, be speaking with greater discretion and less like the average activist that could pop out of any street corner. An elder, and even a grand elder and former Vice Chancellor of one of the few universities set up in this country deliberately to develop the badly needed human capital for a section of the country, should be focused on development. An elder and professor from a section of the country with an average poverty index of over 73% of the population, with most of them being progressively wiped out by marauders on a daily basis, should be worried about the fact that his part of the country houses some of the poorest people on earth today. The poverty is not genetic, or an indication of some kind of inferiority. It is the result of misrule, as a simple look at the statistics on literacy and other indices of development show appalling details.

Prof. Ango Abdullahi should not just speak of “his” people, but should speak of how the current capacities of the people in question would guarantee their long term survival in a world of galloping technology and climate change. It should occur to him that he is denigrating his own people when he presents them as largely a marauding, warring band of survivalists, who are ever ready to mete out inhuman killings at the slightest provocation. It should also occur to him that he is adding to the growing negative profiling of the Fulani person today. This new profile is progressively overshadowing the fact that we have lived peacefully with the Fulani for decades here. Without prejudice to the experience of the Hausa kings and Afonja of the Yorubas in the hands of their Fulani guests, there is a certain quiet dignity to the average Fulani person, whether he rears cattle or is a town Fulani. There is a reticence that bespeaks both breeding and cool calculation.

There is also an unhurried temper that is said to account for his capacity for long term plots and vengeance. But all peoples have their negative and positive traits. Development in modern society involves adjustment to others, the cultivation of the positive and de-escalation of the negative. People are who they are and hardly is anyone there just in order to be liked. Therefore whining and rolling on the ground in order to attract pity won’t cut it. Design a mutually beneficial survival template, or perish.
Before it was: “He that is down needs fear no fall.” Today it is: “He that is down should watch out, as he is likely to be further trampled upon.” So, let’s get real, beginning with the presumed invulnerability of Prof. Ango Abdullahi’s impregnable fighting forces.

The strength of the criminals all over the country today, some of them Fulani from outside Nigeria, actually comes from the fact that they are unchallenged for now. When the government of Ghana took concrete and firm steps to contain their excesses it became obvious that they had no capacity to do anything. But that is because the Ghanaian State took its own survival seriously. The Fulanis, and Myetti Allah, did nothing when Sule Lamido, as governor of Jigawa State, forbade open wandering of cattle in his state. They also did nothing when Lamido authorized every citizen of Jigawa State to kill and barbecue any cattle found roaming in the city. No one heard their whimper about this “Lamido’s free gift to the people of Jigawa State,” as it was then called. And Lamido is Fulani, and of the right breed if you like, like the professor.

So how come that Prof. Ango Abdullahi, who should be thinking of Sir Ahmadu Bello’s dream of a developed Northern Nigeria that was at par with the rest of the country in education and other paradigms is mistaking the contrived impotence of the Nigerian State for the invulnerability of his Fulani kinsmen? How come he is taking the reluctance of the government to deal with a matter that can be clearly seen for what it is, for a superior survival template for a people that are in danger of being left behind by the march of history? If Ango Abdullahi, who should otherwise be a discerning elder in tradition, learning and leadership, actually believes that his thesis has the strength of a feather, let him contemplate the following questions:

(1) How many bullets do you have in a fully loaded AK47 magazine? (2) How many people will a man holding a loaded AK47 kill, assuming every bullet hits the mark? (3) How many such magazines, loaded or not, does the average gun-wielding herdsman have on him at any time, as he walks farmlands and ruins their crops? (4) Can any of the presumably impregnable Fulani herder with a gun engage in a full-blown, 10 minutes, non-stop shooting war without needing reinforcement? (5) Will such reinforcement come quickly enough to guarantee his survival? (6) Can he have two days of sustained engagement, even with the reinforcements coming via bags of garri, etc. stuffed with bullets and guns? (7) Will he not soon run out of bullets, men and other resources if he takes on even unarmed villagers and his escape routes are cut off?

This is different from Boko Haram with, its structures; or the organized bands of robbers who are coordinated well enough to keep going through short bursts of surprise attacks on vulnerable targets. The war of which Ango Abdullahi speaks will not, and does not lead to development. It is a war of attrition, borne of atavistic attachment to outdated paradigms and driven by a nihilistic worldview. That is not the calling of a professor of any hue, except of course the person is a professor of decay, underdevelopment and death. Look at Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Borno, and most other northern states and tell us how these places would be in 10 years’ time. Zamfara State has the lowest education enrolment, the lowest school retention rates, the lowest positive education outcomes, one of the highest school drop-out rates, the lowest number of training schools for drivers, one of the highest records for untrained drivers and one of the highest number of deaths from road accidents. Look at the facts about a region with high poverty rate, like Sokoto State’s 89%, among others and tell me why Prof Ango Abdullahi should overlook this dreadful cocktail of misfortunes to brag about inter-tribal wars.

The tenor of Prof. Abdullahi’s contributions to national discourse in the last 10 years has been anything but edifying. It is, in fairness to him, sometimes an understandable reaction to other tendentious developments in the polity. But his voice need not be ever so shrill, or even banal as to lose the dignity some of us believe befits his person. A man of his presumed profile, stature and age need not come across as a posturing plebian, who is unrepentantly tendentiousness; to the point of not being taken too seriously. For a long time now, even some more temperate elders from his part of town and also some of his fellow university teachers, present and retired, have had to look at his visibility and performance in the public political space with grave misgivings; submitting that it often left a rather embarrassing taste in the mouth. That is not because he speaks for a section of the country, as leader or member of one of its public political pressure group, no. He has the right, and perhaps even the duty sometimes, to do so. But he must bring a certain dignity, general ambience and objectivity to bear.

Many in the Ahmadu Bello University, particularly from the South, remember Ango Abdullahi’s tenure as Vice Chancellor. The ratio of 10% of admissions for the entire South and 90% for the North was rigorously enforced under him. “Go to the University of JAMB” was sometimes the refrain during registration, for successful candidates with letters of admission from JAMB, but whose names did not appear in the ABU admissions list. The School of Basic Studies (SBS), set up to quicken direct entry admissions through the Interim Joint Admissions Matriculations Board (IJMB), was handy. So were Certificate programmes in disciplines like Law, Islamic Law, Library Science, etc. for candidates with barely tolerable O’Level papers. The certificate course qualified them for admission into Diploma programmes, while the Diploma led to degree programmes. The question for Ango Abdullahi today is: “Are we developing the North,” assuming there is still a “North.”
As a related aside, the leaders of OPC, MASSOB, IPOB, EGBESU are now too rich to take any risks. Political statements, press releases and polite protest walks are going on, while their people are being wiped out. An unravelling is afoot. Many will vomit much. But it will be their last, painful vomit of shame.

A Gathering for Africapitalism

Kenneth Amaeshi

Today, Africapitalism is making its way, albeit gradually, into the global academe. In all this, one thing that stands out for me is Mr. Elumelu’s desire to contribute to the transformation of Africa through entrepreneurship – a unique and imaginative positioning. A task he has also conducted very well.

On July 26, the pan-African entrepreneur, Mr. Tony Elumelu, through his Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), will gather young budding African entrepreneurs and put them in front of some of Africa’s illustrious business and political leaders for inspiration. These prominent Africans include Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Macky Sall of Senegal, Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo; as well as Adesina Akinwunmi, president of the African Development Bank, Benedict Oroma, president of Afreximbank, among others. Mr. Elumelu’s relentless pursuit of entrepreneurship, through what he calls Africapitalism, positions him as an Africonscious entrepreneur and leader.

When I came across his Africapitalism idea in 2013, it captivated me. First, it resonated with my bourgeoning research interest in the broad area of business and society in Africa. Second, I was very impressed that a hard-nosed successful entrepreneur, like Mr. Elumelu, could key into such a society-oriented interpretation of entrepreneurship, which is still largely ignored in Africa. This fortuitous discovery led me to write a piece on Africapitalism as an economic philosophy for the sustainable development of Africa in The Guardian (UK).
I can hardly forget my first meeting with Mr. Elumelu, following my piece on Africapitalism. When he saw me, he was very relaxed and friendly. He jokingly asked: “are you the professor?” I replied: “yes”. And he retorted: “you are very young!” obviously expecting to see an old, all grey gentleman. We both laughed.

Coincidentally, it was Heirs Holdings’ fifth birthday. He had a party for his team and asked me to join them.
At that party, Mr. Elumelu narrated how Heirs Holdings was a child of circumstance. Perhaps, if he did not leave the United Bank for Africa (UBA) when he did, Heirs Holdings would not have been born – a lesson in how what one might consider an unexpected change in direction can turn to a blessing in disguise. After all, entrepreneurial success can also be serendipitous and Heirs Holdings is an excellent example of that! At the end of that party, we agreed to meet again to discuss my interest in Africapitalism.

The next time we met, it was strictly business. We discussed Africapitalism. Incidentally, my doctoral thesis at the University of Warwick was in political economy. We discussed how capitalism has evolved as a cultural product and how it manifests in different countries in different ways. He liked the sound of it and asked: “what can you do for Africapitalism?”
This question led to a research project on mainstreaming Africapitalism in the global academe, funded by the Tony Elumelu Foundation at the University of Edinburgh.

It is instructive to note that throughout the project, Mr. Elumelu never interfered. He did not have a set agenda for us. He was open to the surprises of research and was keen to let Africapitalism have a life of its own. The research was a good example of a successful town-gown relationship, which has helped many great academic institutions around the world today.
In my opinion, Mr. Elumelu’s interest in and approach to funding academic research should be a lesson for other successful African entrepreneurs and business leaders. African academic institutions will benefit tremendously from such symbiotic relationships.

However, I must confess that at the time of the research, I was not sure of what to expect from Mr. Elumelu. The main thing for me was that I loved the challenge of the research project and set my eyes on delivering the terms of the engagement. Happily, the research exceeded expectations. It led to an academic peer-reviewed journal article and books published by Cambridge University Press – the first of its kind on Africapitalism – and Routledge publishers, respectively.

Today, Africapitalism is making its way, albeit gradually, into the global academe. In all this, one thing that stands out for me is Mr. Elumelu’s desire to contribute to the transformation of Africa through entrepreneurship – a unique and imaginative positioning. A task he has also conducted very well.

Mr. Elumelu puts entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship at the heart of his Africapitalism agenda. While Africa is to some extent characterised by conflict and ethnic rivalries, entrepreneurship offers a different space to appreciate value creation and appropriation by different actors. Entrepreneurship becomes the new ethnic group, with its language, characteristics, and identity. The only thing it understands is value creation and appropriation. This quest for value creation and appropriation can be a binding force and a possible meta-narrative to overcome the many unnecessary sources of tensions and underdevelopment in Africa.
Mr. Elumelu is the champion of this new meta-narrative and African identity.

Putting Africa first is at the heart of Africapitalism. It is an understanding of Africa primarily as a place (and not necessarily as a market) with meaning and value to people’s identities; a form of entrepreneurship, which seeks to meet Africa where the continent is in her development path. Most of the entrepreneurial ideas funded and supported by Tony Elumelu Foundation in Africa meet this criterion. Based on these, it is obvious that Mr. Elumelu has proved himself a quintessential Africonscious entrepreneur.

Love him or loathe him, Mr. Elumelu has succeeded in positioning himself above the primordial antagonisms of ethnic rivalry, especially in Nigeria. His actions, business decisions, interactions, and associations portray his detribalised state of mind. His Pan-African entrepreneurship programme is one that sees and appreciates the value of commercialisable ideas, irrespective of where they manifest in Africa. The idea of putting Africa first is to rise above the artificial and false boundaries used by colonialists to divide and rule Africa, as well as the original temptation to base our actions and decisions on ethnicity and religion – the two things that have dangerously set Africa behind.

It is not out of place, therefore, to appreciate Mr. Elumelu for coining Africapitalism as a way of interrogating entrepreneurship in Africa, and for committing to promoting entrepreneurship in a continent once considered as dark and unproductive. This view aligns very well with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The over 3000 entrepreneurs who made his list this year and those that will receive funding from him this month are symbolic and a testimony to this. He has obviously put his money where his mouth is and should be applauded.

However, there is a temptation for entrepreneurs to focus excessively on their prowess for profit making to the point that they lose sight of what matters to society. The other related temptation is hubris and entrepreneurs are not short of it. Both are actually the dark side of heroic entrepreneurship, where entrepreneurs see themselves as the masters of the universe and look down on anyone outside this club. As such, the possibility of the entrepreneurial class becoming an ethnic group onto itself, with all the primordial sentiments of the existing ethnic groups it seeks to rise above, is very real. Hopefully Mr. Elumelu and those who embrace his gospel of entrepreneurship and Africapitalism will be able to shun this temptation and remain focused on the sustainable development of Africa.

Long live Africapitalism and Africonsciousness!
Kenneth Amaeshi is a policy analyst and professor of business and sustainable development at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. He tweets @kenamaeshi and can be reached