Title: Democratic Transformation and Social Change in Nigeria
Author: Udenta O. Udenta
Publisher: Kraft Book, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
When Udenta O. Udenta, initially, contemplated producing a book on his critical social practice vis-à-vis different historical, political and cultural turns experienced by Nigeria from the mid-1970s to the end of the 20th century, he was afraid he might risk a self-conceited reading by a few. But this narrative is long overdue, for, if he doesn’t do it now, history might not be fair to him. Democratic Transformation and Social Change in Nigeria, therefore, is the first of the three books he intends to publish in this regard.
The author’s teaching career, lest we forget, was periodical interrupted by his involvement in pro-democracy and human rights activism in the 1990s, with stints in detention, leading to his abandonment of the academia. He was to become the National Secretary of the Alliance for Democracy following the death of the dictator, General Sani Abacha, and the commencement of a new democratisation process.
This book details the momentous epoch in our national life when the Second Republic was birthed with the death of military regime in 1979. It captures, too, the rape of democracy by another group of marauding soldiers in 1983 and a series of military coups that culminated in the dissolution of the Third Republic in 1993.
In addition, Udenta captures the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme by the World Bank that crippled Nigerian economy and the attendant failure of the state from fulfilling its obligations to the citizenry. There is also a chronicle of the despicable annulment of the June 12, 1993 election won by the business mogul, MKO Abiola, and the coming of the despot, Gen. Sani Abacha, whose ruthlessness saw the emergency of different prodemocracy movements in Nigeria, of which the author played a prominent role, to wrest democracy from the stranglehold of the Nigerian pharaoh.
Udenta, in this book, traces, also, the emergence of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and its involvement in creating geo-strategic, political map. Reading this book, one begins to see clearly where Udenta is coming from and how he has made the most of his engagement as an academic, a political activist and a public intellectual.
In the first chapter of the book, Udenta maps the historical, ideological and cultural context of an age. It is a tribute to tutelage, especially in the years following the Nigerian civil war and the 1980s, characterised by introspective awakenings. These years mark the author’s passage from post-primary to the university educations, during which he defined the pathways of his academic and social trajectory. He also recounts the socio-political convulsions of Nigeria, albeit, the Igboland where he grow up.
The end of the civil war saw the emergence of new political parties. Of the five registered political parties, says Udenta, only the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) had an Igbo core, soul and conscience, which saw the former ceremonial president of Nigeria groom the likes of Sam Mbakwe and Jim Nwobodo to lead the old Imo and Anambra states.
On the sports scene, Udenta records the cult following enjoyed by Rangers International Football Club of Enugu, which became a formidable team representing the Igbo spirit. The remarkable feat by Rangers, he says, was replicated by a number of Igbo pop musicians based in the East during the same period. On a personal note, it wasn’t until he entered the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1980, to study English and Literary Studies that his awareness of an alternative political course –Marxism –blossomed, where he played a role in the Marxist Youth Movement.
The Nsukka narrative continues in the third chapter where the author became immersed in the literary tradition. Those who made the burgeoning Nsukka School thick, he recalls, included Chinua Achebe, Emmanuel Obiechina, Donatus Nwoga, Romanus Egudu, Kalu Uka, Obi Maduakor, among others. This chapter highlights the reception of Chinweizu et al’s controversial book, Towards the Decolonisation of African Literature at Nsukka, the influence of Achebe’s presence and absence among the students, campus publications, etecetera. The highpoint of his Nsukka sojourn, as recounted, was being taught by Obiechina and Ukah. He tells us, too, the maturing of his creative spirit as a final year students at UNN, among other leading roles he played before graduating.
The fourth chapter traces Udenta’s trajectory as a graduate, becoming a youth corps member and enrolling for his masters in English at the University of Benin where he encountered another set of brilliant literary scholars who guided his literary path well, laying a secure foundation for his intellectual development and confidence as a literary critic.
By 1988, Udenta had relocated to Abia State University, Uturu, from the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, where the journey to the incarnation of intellect took full flight, as told in the fifth chapter, setting the tone for the foundation of the scholar’s works, like Revolutionary Aesthetics and the African Literary Process, Ideological Sanction and Social Action in African Literature, to mention a few. He hints on the books of remarkable intellectuals he read that shaped his grip of Marxism and the steps taken in producing his early works.
When Udenta was introduced by Tess Onwueme to the third year and final year students of English and Literature as their new lecturer in Drama and Prose Fiction, they were baffled, for how would such a casual looking, young man, whose age was close to theirs, be their lecturer? Udenta narrates in the sixth chapter that, within a short time, he won them over with his polemical and teaching skills. All the dramas of his teaching years at Absu are recounted here.
In the next chapter, he recalls his encounter with Arthur Nwankwo of Fourth Dimension, Enugu, who gave him a break as an author of critical works; while in “Afterword”, Udenta entertains the hope that the real Nigerian possibility isn’t far off. You will also find interesting in Appendix I, the workings of the Marxist Youth Movement of the UNN and, in Apendix II, the evolution of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU).