The Role of Intellectuals in National Development

6 years ago | 40


By Ebongabsi Ekpe-Juda  |

In every progressive human society, the intellectuals provide leadership in the realm of thinking, as they explain and expose the problems of society and go ahead to attempt to find solutions to the problems so identified. They provide the ideas and spread them to other members of the society including the leaders. Every human society is normally divided into two distinct segments - the leaders and the led — between a small group called the elite, who control the means of production, and the rest of the people.

However, it is not the elite per se, but the process that leads to their emergence that causes the problems in society. A lot of them emerge through very dubious and corrupt channels that fuel dissatisfaction and cause disaffection in the society. This small group is usually drawn from politics, administration or the bureaucracy, religious groupings, industry, military, artists, journalist, aristocrats, etc. Some of the elites are progressive and useful to the society, while others are what Raymond Aron called bankrupt elites. To this group belong those who fail to make use of the technical resources available to them, to raise the standard of life and increase the wealth of the society. There are indeed parasitic elites, and unfortunately are the dominant elites in developing societies, which impedes capital formation by their examples of encouraging such habits like craving for imported luxury articles, conspicuous consumption and waste, maintenance of foreign accounts, gambling and horse-racing, speculation and so forth. These are not the type needed by society. What the society needs is an elite corps that has the intellectual interest; exerts authority, is dedicated, disciplined, cohesive, foresighted, is nationalistic in disposition, instead of being parochial and provincial, determined to succeed, open-minded and flexible, willing to learn. They are such that awaken fear and respect in the public and the administration; and are mainly recruited from the professional class, trade union and the academia. I think this is what we have today in President Mohammadu Buhari, PMB.

He qualifies for what Dmitry Pisarev called, the New Man, which is one who has a passion for work for the benefit of the society; his private benefit coincides with benefit for the society; and harmonises feeling and reason. The new man works without exploiting others, and does not consider work to be a necessary evil. Others are people, who according to Syed Alatas, talk about the love for progress and are not willing to reflect critically on the conditions for its realisation. In reality, such persons never really desired progress, and have never been capable of desiring it sincerely. What they do is to show they also want progress, in case a revolution occurs, so they can be seen as one who wants progress and therefore be spared. It is called in Sociology ‘Defensive Radicalism’. If a person recorgnises the conditions of progress but waits passively for it to realise itself, without any input or effort on his part, then he is the worst enemy of progress, the most detestable obstacle in its path. All those who complain about corruption of the times, (like all our past leaders), about the worthlessness of the situation, about stagnation and reaction, should be asked what they did themselves to stop it, what have they done to promote progress in that line?

An intellectual reflection on progress is an indication of its being taken seriously. Therefore who are these intellectuals? By way of definition, an intellectual is a person who engages in rational thinking about ideas and non-material problems by employing their reasoning faculty. Roberto Michels defines intellectuals as 'persons possessing knowledge, or in a narrow sense, those whose judgement, based on reflection and knowledge, derives less directly and exclusively from sensory perception than in the case of non-intellectuals’.

I must immediately clear a possible misunderstanding or the reading of a different meaning exterior to our discourse. The possession of certain know-how of one subject or even the possession of academic laurel does not necessarily make somebody an intellectual, though oftentimes it coincides. All over the world, there are many degree holders and professors who do not engage in developing knowledge, or even finding solutions to the problems besetting their society. On the other hand, there are people with no academic degrees, who are intellectuals. The difference is that, they engage in thinking or professing solutions, by utilising their thinking capacity to solve human societal problems.

Herbert Spencer was a sociological theorist and philosopher, but had no known academic qualification; yet he was an intellectual of repute. In the contemporary time, the likes of Steve Job, Bill Gates and Richard Branson were undergraduate drop outs, but they are outstanding intellectuals. Similarly, in our clime we also have such people. The difference however is that, our people try to buy certificates to cover their inadequacies, which is most unfortunate. Others go for dubious titles to cover their inadequacies and show that they have arrived too. These people suffer from the spirit of inadequacy which results in a psychological problem termed inferiority complex. Thus, the intellectual is not just a person with more knowledge, but a person who has the ability and the will to think and who knows the consequences of such an undertaking.

Intellectuals, as a sociological group or subculture, should be distinguished from the intelligentsia and the fools. By 'intelligentsia', we mean those who have gone through the mill of higher formal and modern education, and those who have acquired higher level education by other means than the formal. They make up the specialists and the professionals. In our country, just like most developing societies, the intelligentsia operates and functions as a group. They are engaged in business, in government as functionaries, elite members of the political party, the media, or any publicly organised activity - whether festivals or effort to control epidemic, in what we call Non Governmental Organisations, NGO. The society recognises the need for them; that is not always the case with intellectuals.

Conversely, a fool is not just a person who has not gone to school, or has not had a form of training, experience, knowledge, as some would want to think. A fool basically is one who is not able to recognise problems; and if told to him, he still is unable to solve them. He is unable to learn what is required; is also not able to learn the art of learning and usually does not admit he is a fool. We normally say that, a man who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool, shun him. A medical doctor with all his years of training could be a fool, if he cannot solve difficult problems which may not necessarily be in medicine. A lawyer who calls himself ‘learned’ could be a fool if even with his knowledge of law; he is unable to solve multipart problems. A doctorate degree holder could be a fool if, with his knowledge, he is not able to solve complex or composite problems confronting his society. A man does not become a fool for the fact that he does not know everything. No! No one is expected to know everything. It is only God that knows everything! In like manner, neither failure nor success, knowledge nor ignorance, constitute the ontological essence of the fool. An ignorant, illiterate person need not be a fool, if he has the ability to learn and successfully make use of the opportunity available to him, to improve himself. One of their traits of the foolish elite is that they engage in illegal change of the conditions of legality.

We can add to this quality of a fool the following: if he does not think contextually spacio-temporally (in terms of time and space) and in the dynamic interrelationship of factors; if he cannot see far beyond the immediate and reacts only to the immediate. The foolish mind thinks in terms of limited causes and not of successive causes and effects. He is a creature of habit, and is not critical of the foundation of his own thinking. He usually does not bother to reflect upon a problem or situation, is inconsistent, not analytic in thinking but descriptive. A fool lacks mental energy and so is mentally crippled, with a mental luggage that situates him well away from others, always following the line of least resistance.

Finally, a fool cannot speak at a high level of abstraction without contradicting reality. These are the factors that stand out or isolate the fool from the intellectual and the intelligent whose traits are the exact opposite. Since the fool represents everything negative, he precipitates and survives on nepotism, statism, regionalism or provincialism and parochial party politics interest, as against national interest; to condition selection and ascent in the hierarchy of administrative power. Since totalisation will always totalises itself, we get a situation where mediocrity will continue to reproduce itself in the society. That is what plays out in this country when a recruitment exercise is announced, people in positions will bring in all of their type, most often not qualified, do not possess the mental aptitude and sagacity to solve complex web of problems confronting the society. The end product of these types of people reproduces a degenerated society, since fools cannot cope with a situation where merit and hardwork are the criteria of success. Corruption is the hallmark of the rise to power of the fools, making a farce of laid down protocols and employing bureaucratic intrigues to gain office or promotion. When fools dominate, their values becomes the society’s values, their consciousness becomes the society’s consciousness. Hence corruption assumed the position of statecraft in the past regimes.

Intellectuals manifest certain undeniable social qualities that cannot be bought with money. They are recruited from all strata and class, though in differing proportion. They are found supporting or opposing various cultural or political movements. They are involved in non-manual occupation like writing, lecturing, poetry, journalism, etc. To some extent, they are withdrawn from the rest of the society, or keep a distance from the rest, mixing in a group of their own. They are not merely interested in purely technical and mechanistic side of knowledge: ideas about religion, the good life, art, nationalistic movement, culture, planned economy and the likes to their world of thought. In contrast with specialist, intellectuals see things in a broader perspective in terms of their inter-relation and totality. The specialist investigates or studies and gets deep knowledge, and knows much about little areas. The intellectuals are a very small proportion of the entire society. However, a society without a functioning group of intellectuals is deprived of certain levels of consciousness and lack insight into its virtual problems, as there are many aspects of the problems of society that deserve intellectual attention, prognosis and prescription.

Rulers with intellectual bent can perceive more things and be more effective planners, than one with a circumscribed mind. They have what is called substantial rationality, which is an act of thought revealing intelligent insight into events in a given situation and always apply what is called functional rationality which refers to the series of action required to attain the set goal, like the implementation of a policy decision. On the other hand, rulers without intellectual bent are easy to be manipulated, and in the multitude of evil counsel, they end up making terrible, stupid and regrettable mistakes, that torment them if not for the rest of their life, but certainly for a long time. In a leadership position requiring an overview of a whole complex situation, as indeed for many other positions, official and private, an intellectual mind can contribute effectively in finding solutions to the myriad of problems plaguing the society. Oftentimes, intellectuals are not only overlooked, but mostly ignored to the peril of the society. This is partly what happened to Goodluck Jonathan and many of our past leaders. The second thing that happened to that administration was that it had many intellectuals but very dishonest people around the President. One thing that goes well for this nation is that we have very many people who are law-abiding but look up to the leaders to set the roadmap. When a weak leader emerges, they make him very foolish and dishonest so that they can profit corruptly.

In developing societies, we have four types of bureaucrats and political office holders, namely: the intelligent and honest; the intelligent and dishonest; the foolish and honest and lastly, the foolish and dishonest. When a fool is corrupt and mischievous, his corruption and mischief bears his trademark. If he is honest, sometimes his honesty results in serious difficulties. In Nigeria, we have the trademarks of the foolish, dishonest and corrupt officials everywhere. Let’s take a few examples. From the Abacha regime through to Obasanjo, until Jonathan’s inglorious regime, we saw foolishness and dishonesty displayed as a national standard.

During these regimes, we took out crude oil to refine outside this country, and we brought back only petrol, kerosene and diesel, leaving behind many very useful ingredients which we turn around to import. This is in spite of the fact that we have refineries that should have been made to work with a good political will. We can even build new ones within the life span of an administration. The fuel so imported was sold at exorbitant prices and yet paying spurious subsidy. It was obvious that during those regimes, the leaders were corrupt, lacked political will power and consequently refused to make the refineries to work. They and their cronies accordingly continued with the importation of fuel which they sold at prohibitive rates, at the same time claiming subsidy. They forgot the many benefit of a functioning refinery to a country. The government, for fear of popular revolt, kept subsidising the fuel importation, when such monies could have been channeled into improving societal facilities like power, portable water supply, good roads, better equipped schools etc. That is a classical imprint of fools and dishonest people in the corridors of power. Another simple one, for fear of confronting corruption, they killed our national carrier and spent billions on foreign travel. They then indulged in the acquisition of more than necessary airplanes for the presidential fleet, which are used mostly for things that brought no benefit to the generality of the citizenry.

The intellectuals engage in problems that are not and cannot be handled by specialist. The area of intellectual inquisition cannot follow any demarcation laid down by any particular discipline. The intellectual attitude cannot be created by formal and discipline-oriented training in terms of syllabus or course content and fixed number of years of study. The object of intellectual quest is always related to the wider context of life and thought, penetrating into fundamental values and loyalties. Their intellectual pursuit is not a profession, and therefore not subject to the sort of factors which determines the emergence and development of professions. The intellectual interest is eclectic and involves the past, present and future. The intellectual possesses the psychological flexibility and mental dexterity to move from topic to topic without being superficial, morbid or dogmatic, and without repeating known truth which he disguises as new discoveries. In other words, they are truthful, honest, blunt and factual. The magnitude and complexity of the intellectual field of interest makes its subject matter more easily demonstrated than defined. One of the problems of developing society is intellectual indolence itself. One of the factors that bring this about is the limited or even lack of disposable income.

So, how can the Nigerian intellectual help the government especially that of PMB in his fight to eradicate the monster called corruption from our nation? When crisis situation which often exacerbate the need for intellectuals are lacking, members of the intelligentsia or non-functioning intellectuals are urged to form a functioning group by an act of will. Since intellectuals are born only by such a process, and without an intellectual community, it is futile to hope for a conscious and intelligent choice of solutions to the problems faced by the developing society. Our current problem is not to make a choice between systems or forms of government or political philosophy, but to have a community of thinkers ready to make this choice. In the words of Alatas, countries have been talking about economic injustice, social injustice, judicial injustice, but there is also such a thing as intellectual injustice. He affirms that our national problems should be tackled with intellectual justice, not with exploitative ignorance’.

The Nigerian intellectuals must begin to diagnose the various multifaceted problems, and help the government to make informed decisions. What is the remote cause of the problem of corruption in Nigeria? I strongly believe that a proper diagnosis of the problem will bring out the solution. For instance, why are civil servants so bent on corruptly enriching themselves? What gave rise to this malady and strength of mind to carry it out without fear of the law catching up with them? Has it always been with us? A proper analysis will reveal that the lack of basic necessities of life, which the society, by this, I mean successive governments should have provided, created the fear of destitution after work and propelled them to steal from the government that feeds them.

We will recall that prior to Obasanjo's sacking of permanent secretaries; this attitude was almost nonexistent in our country. The affected permanent secretaries woke up one fine day to find out that they have no roof over their heads, after many years of meritorious service to their fatherland. Similarly, Gowon's sacking of lecturers, who went on a legitimate strike to back up their demand for better condition of service, who had no place to move their families into, impelled the development of this tendency. These were the spring board that fuelled the corrupt disposition. Actions like these precipitated an ugly reaction, and in our case fuelled the emergence of corruption.

The actions of politicians in our clime, who flamboyantly flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, with impunity, at the helpless population also fuels corruption, as their actions are seen as the norm to be copied. In other words, if we had active intellectuals, they would have advised the government of the day to embark on programmes that takes care of retirees. Programmes that will afford them seamless transition from government quarters to their own homes equally as decent or close to the one they just left. They would be told that we need to invest on socially beneficial programmes that will be for the citizenry. Intellectuals should be able to articulate actions and plans that will ameliorate the hostile economic conditions the people are faced with. Is it that there is no corruption in the developed countries? Of course, there are; but not to the level that we have.

Over there the effect of corrupt acts does not have the kind of impact it does in our country. In the developed countries, certain things are taken for granted. These include housing, water, electricity, gas, quality education and jobs for the educated; (and ready to work). Have we asked ourselves why sporting events are so patronised by the citizens of the developed countries? The simple reason is that those things that bother us do not bother them. Those with no jobs are given stipends to survive with. At the end of such sporting activities, the citizens are able to return home with less stress. If you attend a sporting event in Nigeria, there is the likelihood of trekking back home, because the public transport system is most unreliable or unavailable.

This is where intellectuals are needed. They should be able to articulate solutions to these common problems in the society. But the problem is, what happens when they are not allowed to come up? The society suffers for the lack of visionary leaders and not intellectual indolence. The intellectuals must continue therefore to talk, write, publish, lecture, organise small groups meeting to impart knowledge, articulate their position, and tackle hitherto neglected problems in such a manner that is not in conflict with the specialists or the technocrats in the society. They must do so until somebody recognises them; for by so doing, they unwittingly announce their existence and prove their necessity, as they cannot create the crisis situation that throws them up.

Intellectualism constitutes a vital factor in any development. Those, whose social system and circumstance permit, should go into politics and prove their mettle in thought and deed. The intellectual should know when to quit, instead of compromising and being sucked into the corrupt system they intended to remedy. Those in the educational system should work consciously to awaken the intellectual spirit in their students. To lack intellectuals, is to lack leadership in the areas of thinking namely: the posing of problems, the definition of the problems, analysis of these problems confronting the society and professing the needed solutions to the problems identified. It is for this reason that we should consider the emergence of a functional intellectual group as a development need, a vital condition for nation-building, since the rise of a genuine intellectual consciousness directed to sound humanitarian principles, is an absolute condition for us to develop a sense of nationhood.

Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda is a medical sociologist, security consultant, a social commentator and the author of the books - The Bewitched Church and- Issues in Security Awareness.


— Sep 28, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT


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