It was an expressive shift from discourse to disturbance when electricity failed in the middle of the Convocation Lecture to mark the 17th Convocation and Investiture of New Fellows of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) at the main auditorium, University of Lagos, on August 13. For significant minutes, darkness reigned and many people in the hall must have wondered about the country’s unstable power supply.

The lecturer was Prof. Moses Akin Makinde, a retired professor of Philosophy and NAL Fellow, who referred to himself as “the Academy’s philosopher”.

His subject was apt and timely in the context of the country’s historic electorally- endorsed regime change at the centre. The title of Makinde’s paper was: “Reflections on the pains of growth.” He said: “We shall try to analyse the phenomenon of change in the process of growth. The kind of change envisaged in this lecture is positive change such as associated with progress and growth.”

In his seventies, Makinde is the DG/CEO of the Awolowo Centre for Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance based in Osogbo, Osun State. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of The Nation. An internationally recognised name in the field of African Philosophy, he taught for many years at the University of Ife and, following a name change, at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, in Osun State.

Makinde offered a “conceptual clarification”  that should be useful in the country’s new political order under President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who was popularly elected on a platform of change.

“The word ‘change’ does not entail forward motion alone. It could be backward motion like turning the hands of the clock forward or backward – backward like Nigeria’s case of oil boom to oil doom. Therefore, while growth involves moving forward, change necessarily does not. It could be forward or backward change,” he said.

By implication, Makinde’s intervention was intended as a guide to “positive change”, “forward change”, “progress and growth”. He was clear about the democratic premise of his perspective and quoted from Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address: “…that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from earth.”

“I shall begin the events of our pains of growth from 1959 through independence in 1960 and the various changes that led to nowhere, but to a lack of positive growth in the polity, “ Makinde said, at the beginning of  an excursion that covered the “First Republic 1959/60”, “Second Republic (October 1, 1979 – December 30, 1983 and Military Rule, December 30, 1983 – June 12, 1993)”, “Third Republic (June 12 – November 17, 1993)”, “Fourth Republic (1999 to date)”.

In tracing Nigeria’s trajectory, Makinde highlighted two particular military administrations, which he blamed for aggravating the country’s pains. He said: “From Abacha’s era, it appeared that the pains of Nigeria’s growth were getting worse after two possible eras that would probably have alleviated its pains: Buhari’s and MKO’s eras. One was cut short, the other never allowed to be. In all circumstances, Babangida’s and Abacha’s military rules were a setback to Nigeria’s democratic experiment, development and economic growth.”

However, Makinde objectively painted a picture of pains inflicted not only by military rulers, but also by civilians in power. “We sometimes blame the military interventions for our woes and lack of systematic growth in social, moral, political and economic activities and behaviours,” he said, adding: “Unfortunately, the restorations of civilian rule in 1979 to 1983 and later 1999 till date have constituted severe pains of growth to the nation at large.”

Against the gloomy background, Makinde argued that Man is the instrument of change and growth in the society. He supported his position with references to Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, and played up the role of scientific and technological revolution in advancing human societies.

Referring to the ascendancy of the APC and Buhari on the promise of change, Makinde said in conclusion: “Now that change has come, the expectations of Nigerians are that this change must be for the better and no longer motion without movement.” He added: “It must also lead to growth in a genuine democracy with strong institutions, employment opportunities, fight against corruption and impunity of various descriptions, enshrine transparency and accountability in governments, parastatals and agencies, social responsibility and social justice, fiscal discipline, morality and rule of law.”

Three achievers were decorated at the event: Professor Amechi Akwanya as Regular Fellow, Professor Jacob Kehinde Olupona as Overseas Fellow, and Mr. Sam Omatseye, Chairman of the Editorial Board, The Nation, as Honorary Fellow.  In his remarks on behalf of the new Fellows, Olupona, who is based in the United States (US) made reference to the power cut. He sympathised with home-based Nigerians, who experienced blackouts with frustrating regularity. It was a fitting end to the event because it helped to shed light on the burning need for change.  Inaugurated in 1991, the Nigerian Academy of Letters is positioned as “an apex organisation of Nigerian academics and scholars in the Humanities to promote, maintain and encourage excellence in all branches of humanistic studies”. The organisation “is intended to cater for a very important body of disciplines of vital importance to the development and refinement of Nigerian Society.”

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