Huge blemish on the Oxford of Africa




Ali Mani the renowned African scholar arrived at the Ahmed Barak from a top American College where he was the head of the Institute of Global Culture. He came to give a series of public lectures all across Nigeria. Dr. Aziz had arranged the show. Aziz had been a star student of Ali Mani when the latter taught him at the Great Lakes University. At first Ali Mani was reluctant to come, but Aziz reassured him.

“Man! It is ten years since you been gone.” Aziz wrote to Mani. “You need the gentle caress of mother Africa!” Aziz wrote. “You need to eat pounded yam again. You need to renew your African credentials!” Aziz insisted and in the end the professor agreed to come.

Ali Mani thought ofhimself as the top most scholar in African Studies and was a well-known figure in academic circles worldwide. But he was not yet the super star he already imagined himself to be.

The Marxist campus at the Ahmed Barak knew about Ali Mani and did not really love him. Two weeks before his arrival the Library put up a display of Ali Mani’s publications and they were impressive! Books, articles, novels, poetry, even plays. The collection included a magazine article Ali Mani had written on Kwame Nkrumah in which he lambasted Nkrumah as a dictator. The piece provoked outraged among the youths of Africa for whom Nkrumah was a hero.

It was not clear whether Dr. Aziz, a fan of Dr. Nkrumah, was not setting up his old teacher so that others can pull him down. There was no shortage of people prepared to give Ali Mani a run for his money. Ali Mani made enemies but Ali Mani was that kind of man. He enjoyed making enemies.

Professor Mani’s theme was Africa and the world. Mani, loved grandiose themes. Now on stage, he rejected the use of the microphone. He knew his booming voice was part of his charms. He wasted no time but took the battle to the opponent. This was before the fall of the Soviet Union and he loved to have fun with the Marxists.

Oh, mother oh mother why was I born black?

He threw everything into the works. His robust frame and ragged good looks, his rich baritone voice, his quick wits. He brought them all to bear as he played on the words of the great poet. He knew the poet had used these words in jest, but what did it matter.

And now this mock line coming from the mouth of this great academic, threw the Ahmed Barak audience into confusion. It was the response Ali Mani desired. Get them dazed and then strike!

From where I sat I caught the eye of Dr. Aziz. Aziz had a wicked smile across his face. He knew perfectly what was going on. Aziz knew his colleagues. Born again Marxists, hard core patriots, zealots. I wondered: “Had Aziz set his friends up for Ali to shoot them down?” In that split second, Ali Mani launched his attack.

“Are we Africans fated to be our own grave diggers!” Was he mocking us? “Why go on and on about how others have undeveloped us? We ourselves are doing it!

“Look at the mess we have made of the paradise that God gave us. We have turned the Garden Eden into the most inhabitable place on earth!

“But I have good news for you.” Ali Mani smiled.

“Let us change our ways! Stop crying foul! Stop mistaking every shadow, every noise from a breaking twig, for a nonexistent enemy. Change strategy! And all shall be well.

“Look at me!” Ali Mani was self-obsessed.

“Look at me! I am one of those many Africans working in the West in positions of great visibility.

“Let us use our positions to bombard the West with our own messages. For long the West has penetrated Africa. Let us counter penetrate the West!”

We looked at him in his colorful robs complete with Islamic headgear. We heard his roaring voice.

“Let us, you and me. Let us bombard the West with our own messages. Let us counter penetrate the West.”

There was some giggling in the audience. Ali Mani loved symbolism. The sexier the merrier. Ali Mani once wrote a poem about his own wife and himself … it was in the tender hours of the night:

She sensed that I was brown and she was white. I lost no time. Manhood was my law!

Ali Mani had married an English girl. Now as he stood there on the podium with the audience before him, I found myself unable to disentangle from the web of this erotic self-painted image, of himself and his wife in the tenderness of the night.

And suddenly, all around me, in the great hall, the storm broke.

“Who do you think you are?” a man shouted at Ali Mani.

“What are you going to bombard the West with?” another asked. “When all you say is what they want to hear!”

 “Are you not the slave that does their dirty jobs for them!” a voice thundered.

“Tell us!” A woman shouted. “Who ploughed the ground for the coup that brought Al Harun to power?”

Comments, questions, insults, flew across the auditorium. The chairman lost all control.

I looked at Ali Mani. Standing there. To all appearances quite unruffled. Was Ali Mani having fun at the expense of these crazed people?

A professor of history, thought she saw an opening. To finally bring down this rascal as she called him. Ali Mani hit back and the historian went into tears. This was the final straw. The Marxist campus went at Ali Mani full blast. The assault was massive and merciless. I feared that things might become physical.

A young Ghanaian professor in typical Ghanaian good sense attempted to placate the crowd. The crowd turned on him.

“Are you his father?” The crowd demanded.

“Foolish man! Shut your dirty mouth!” a woman yelled. And that was it.

As the crowd streamed out of the auditorium, its fury spent, I stepped forward, to shake hands with Ali Mani. We had never met. But we had corresponded. Now that Ali Mani was in town, I felt it encumbered upon me to introduce myself.

Ali Mani was courtesy itself. It was as though we had rolled out the red carpet for him. His courtesy deepened my embarrassment, at the blemish I felt we had this very night inflicted upon our great campus

Dr. Aziz soon rescued me. He stepped forward to escort his guest. Aziz and his old teacher were men of the same cut. Regardless of what he thought of Ali Mani and of his role in the events of the evening, Aziz was propriety itself. Aziz apologized profusely for the shameless conduct of the audience. This sent Ali Mani roaring.

“Oh! Aziz!” Ali Mani laughed. “You have never changed! But you and I know that this is our daily bread.” In the past I hated the man and his politics! But now I found myself in spite of myself beginning to like Ali Mani.

“Ali Mani!” …  “Oyee!”