I was excited when my phone rang on Sunday, September 13, 2020 at exactly 5.25 pm, and it was Dr. Jimanze Ego-Alowes. We had not seen each other since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and we spoke last in March when he called over my mother’s kidnap.
That was untypically long period because we spoke often on phone. So, in my excitement, I picked the call, shouted his name and was already poking him of being overwhelmed by the country’s intractable problems when his voice stopped me in my track.
He was barely audible and I could hardly hear him. His breathing was laboured. I was alarmed. That was quite unlike Jimanze, always vivacious and effervescent.
I asked him if anything was the matter. He answered in the affirmative. All the while we had not spoken, he was ill, he told me. My heart suddenly skipped a beat. But what he told me next aggravated my palpitation. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer at the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital. Apparently, there was misdiagnoses when the health crisis started.
When he ended the call, ten minutes, 39 seconds later, I was numb, knowing it was a tough battle. But despite the seriousness of his medical condition, he was positive. Jimanze was a fighter. He knew it would be difficult but he was optimistic he would overcome. We spoke a couple of times after that September call. He assured me he was getting better and I prayed for a miracle.
But apparently, as at the time proper diagnosis was done, the cancer had metastasized. On December 25, he lost the battle and we lost a great friend in his prime. Death has robbed Nigeria one of its finest, yet understated intellectuals. Jimanze’s death once again shines a light on the ephemerality of life.
Our paths crossed sometime in 2006 when I was editor of Sunday Independent. The man who described himself as a “journalist, poet and writer with a passion for new knowledge and human development” sent me an e-mail requesting to be a columnist with my newspaper. I asked for some of his works which he sent. Impressed with the quality, I was in the process of signing him on before I left for my Chevening Scholarship programme at Cardiff University, Wales.
We reestablished contact after my return but he was already writing for another newspaper. Our friendship acquired a new momentum when consummate mass communicator and veteran columnist, Akogun Tola Adeniyi, former Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Times conglomerate, brought together renowned columnists – Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed, late Henry Boyo, Dare Babarinsa, Martins Oloja, Ben Lawrence, Prof. Anthony Kila, Dr. Reuben Abati, Dele Sobowale, Sam Omatseye, Ms. Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, Akin Oshuntokun, etc., – to found the League of Nigerian Columnists (LNC) in 2018.
Jimanze was a committed member of the League. Our meetings usually held at Prof. Kila’s Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS) office, off Adeniji Jones in Ikeja. After every meeting which Jimanze religiously attended, he will hitch a ride with me on my way to my Allen Avenue office and drop off at Allen Roundabout and we will talk about Nigeria.
I once asked him why he was so committed to the League and his response was that Nigeria’s woes can only be addressed by committed, selfless thinkers that the League boasts of.
A brilliant polemicist with an independent critical mind, Jimanze embodied all the virtues of a thinker – intellectual responsibility, courage and humility, imaginativeness, perseverance, open-mindedness, empathy, integrity, confidence in reason, love of truth, curiosity and autonomy.
He loved debates, no matter how controversial. He had very strong opinions, which he was never afraid to espouse, yet he was intellectually humble. His ideas were as eclectic as his interests which spanned the fields of economics, sociology, history and strategy.
In his tribute on Sunday, Akogun Adeniyi, who is the LNC President, described Jimanze as one of the greatest intellectuals Africa produced in the 21st Century.
“A great genius has passed. Underreported, underappreciated underutilized, uncelebrated, yet Jimanze will be adjudged one of the greatest African intellectuals of the 21st Century,” he wrote.
“A profound philosopher of uncommon depth, Jimanze was bold, forthright and stubbornly unapologetic about his convictions. Great minds live forever, so shall your noble soul.”
A prodigious author, Jimanze wrote seven books, including Nigeria: The Unreported Genocide against the Igbo, which chronicled unreported post-civil war genocide against the Igbo by past Nigerian rulers; How and Why the Yoruba Fought and Lost the Biafra-Nigeria Civil War, which focused on the roles the regions and their lead personages played in the events leading up to the civil war of 1967-70; Minorities as Competitive Overlords, The University-Media Complex As Nigeria’s Foremost Amusement Chain, which argued, contrary to Chinua Achebe’s position that failure of leadership was Nigeria’s bane, that the failure of scholarship is at the root of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.
Each of these books is not only authoritative, controversial and groundbreaking, but grounded in rigorous, encyclopedic, impeccable logic and innovative, fundamental ideas. So impressed was Chinweizu, another literary giant, that he eulogised Jimanze thus: “It is refreshing to see a Nigerian venturing into the frontiers of ideas.”
Jimanze knew what he set out to do. He was a man of ideas, comfortable in the non-conformist garb. He loved being avant-garde in his ideas – new, modern, experimental, unconventional and innovative.
“Actually I have done about seven books. Four or five of those are considered to be groundbreaking. And this is particularly so for Minorities as Competitive Overlords and the University Media Complex. What is interesting is that these two books are powered by the African concept of ofo na ogu. All we did was to scale it up and apply its inherent logic expressively,” he told Nduka Otiono, his friend, who teaches at Carleton University, Canada, recently.
The University-Media Complex as Nigeria’s Foremost Amusement Chain, which was published in 2018, is particularly audacious. It will only take a scholar who is supremely confident in his own ideas and the originality of his thoughts, to take on the entire Nigerian academic community as he did.
Rather than blame poor leadership for Nigeria’s under-development as Achebe did, Jimanze identified scholarship as the bedrock of modern development and argued that lack of it or the failure of Nigerian scholars to develop original and innovative ideas was at the root of Nigeria’s developmental debacle. I t was revolutionary.
“In the disciplines, there are two subgroups of scholarships,” he wrote. “There is the genius for learning or consumption (of knowledge), and there is the genius for contribution or innovation … You can only redeem your claim of genius by contribution or by innovation, not by possession of Harvard sheepskin (degrees)… Education is not a banquet. Education is production; it is harvesting new yams of knowledge and not eating barn-held ones.”
Jimanze contented that ‘’history has no records of any nation that has become great without manufacturing great ideas. Nigeria cannot be an exception to the iron lore.”
“It is the Nigerian scholar that has failed the Nigerian nation the most,” he insisted. “Our duty as scholars is to produce new culture and new knowledge. It is not to consume extant knowledge, no matter how brilliantly.”
He was strident at making that point when he hosted a book reading and discussion session to promote the book on Friday, September 27, 2019, at the Page Bookstore, Allen Avenue, Ikeja. Even when Odia Ofeimun, poet and scholar, introduced an extraneous issue into the discussion, Jimanze firmly but gently steered the discussion back to the main focus of the book, which is to help sensitise Nigerians on the role of the scholar as the foremost development agent.
“The problem with Nigerian civilization may be said to be a failure of the intellect,” he said. “It is rather painful and humiliating to know that it is only in Nigeria that people are looking for new big leaders. All over the progressive world, people look for big new ideas.”
In a September 2017 interview with the Daily Sun where he wrote a popular and well-received column, The Turf Game, he talked about his mission as a writer. “I consider myself a lay historian. The job of the historian is to bring out that which is hidden into the open and which is already in the open into perspective. And I believe that history is one of the primary sciences. The primary sciences are those sciences that characterise who man and, therefore, the society is. And if you get this right, you are on the path of personal, group and national development. It is a place I think I have comparative advantage.”
The prolific author has gone the way of all flesh. He did his utmost best while he was on this side of the divide to expand the frontiers of knowledge. It is a sad commentary on the nation’s pathological contempt for scholarship that he is not being celebrated as a man who contributed so much to the country should.
You may disagree with some of his ideas, you can’t but admire the sharpness of his mind, tenacity of purpose, originality of thought and audacity.
Yesterday, Jimanze, the Great Lion roared loudly. He was an intellectual pugilist, who never retreated from the ring no matter how tough and intense the cerebral bout.
Today, a precious one from us has gone, a voice we loved is stilled. Shalom, Jimanze.