An excerpt from Francis B. Nyamnjoh’s
It is late into the night. Bobinga Iroko is unable to sleep. He is working on the editorial for the next issue of The Talking Drum. He has deliberately refused to carry the story on homosexuality. His priority remains the strike at the University of Mimbo, which, curiously, hasn’t attracted much coverage from the rest of the national press concentrated in Nyamandem and Sawang. He and The Talking Drum, the formidable odds against them notwithstanding, are determined to crusade along like a lone ranger, until victory day. They believe the sun must not be allowed to set on a good idea.
He is also struggling with an obituary following the sudden death, under very mysterious circumstances, of one of the rare genuine intellectuals at the University of Mimbo. Despised by the authorities as an ‘unbelievably vain, hopelessly incompetent and disestablishmentarian crank,’ and known popularly as ‘Intellectual Warrior’, Dr BP (‘Burning Pen’) was found dead last night at his home, his skull shattered, his brain and genitals missing. In his transition from Burning Pen to Buried Pen, he looked more like the victim of a ritual murder than of a robbery. Dr BP was not afraid to make career-limiting statements, and would rather die than be cowed. He had absolute disdain for those who were neither here nor there in their convictions; those who seemed to say things only to please the way a chameleon would its vicinity. To him, such people were shallow, myopic, spineless irrelevances. A screaming and fearless critic who once described the University of Mimbo as the ‘burial ground for enthusiasm’, Dr BP was writing a commentary titled ‘J’accuse’, when he was smashed to death in mid-sentence.
Dr BP died doing what he has always done: fighting to make a difference and making a difference by fighting. To Bobinga Iroko and The Talking Drum, Dr BP died keeping hope alive in a hopeless situation, adding the weight of his pen to efforts to bring back a bit of dignity to the lives of ordinary Mimbolanders stripped bare by shallow pretence, sterile rhetoric and its radical vocabulary of hate. He died fighting the battles he would want those he leaves behind to keep fighting. In a context where many an intellectual has been silenced by the lure and allure of easy virtue and the sterile politics of reckless impunity, BP was the rare exception who stayed wedded to the ideals of the genuine intellectual, academic freedom and social responsibility.
Bobinga Iroko will always cherish BP’s essays and contributions in the pages of The Talking Drum, which were as clear about what he believed to be wrong with the land of his birth as they were about what he thought it would take to make right those wrongs. It is therefore unfortunate and indeed ironic that BP should pass on in a suspicious death most cruel, and not those excesses his essays and commentaries were meant to bury. And it is equally unfortunate that he should leave the scene just when he was ready to share with the world in person the richness of his experience of a country and a university community where a reluctant government and those whose intellects it has numbed would spare nothing to derail the train of hope and human dignity.
BP epitomized those who refuse to stand by and watch the train of hope and human dignity derailed. He stood for those who would rather fight than run away (wasn’t it Bob Marley who said it all – he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day?). BP the flesh and blood may have died, BP the idea has never been more alive. This can be seen in the determination and resilience by students of the University of Mimbo to keep aglow their ambitions of academic freedom and the quest for betterment in equality, dignity and opportunity for all and sundry.
This, as BP and others who have sacrificed their lives have always claimed, requires a particular calibre of leadership. As BP has stressed ad infinitum, any leader, no matter how good, needs others to compensate for their weaknesses. A good leader is one who encourages others to lead without overly dramatizing the fact of being in charge. He or she is one who surrounds themselves with people of contradictory opinions in order to be forced to think, compare and contrast before reaching a decision.
The way forward for the University of Mimbo and for Mimboland, BP stressed in what none could have imagined was his last commentary in the pages of The Talking Drum, is by recognising that leadership is not about the leader. It is about the enabling environment the leader creates for experts in various walks of life and for all and sundry under him or her to offer leadership. A good leader is one who is able to purge him or herself of the delusion that bosses are necessarily better than the people under them. Modesty is the master key to success in leadership, for a good leader immediately recognises that he or she needs support to lead, and that a leader never leads alone. ‘Leadership is more of a privilege than a right, just as a leader is more of a servant than a master’, BP emphasised, adding that only at the University of Mimbo and in Mimboland did the contrary obtain. ‘With leaders who have neither modesty nor generosity of spirit, who thrive on the argument of force and not the force of argument, institutions dry out and wither, not for lack of talent but for lack of purpose.’ Woe betides the leader who takes decisions without consultation, and who excludes from leadership people who have a lot of talent because he or she is too afraid to be contradicted or to discover that no single individual however gifted has a monopoly of good ideas.
‘It is difficult to advise a leader who is always right,’ argued BP, ‘hence the need to create circumstances where other leaders can be fostered. This starts with inclusion, fairness and opportunity for all and sundry.’ BP ended his commentary with the words: ‘We often get the leaders we deserve by giving myopic individuals the power to silence the creativity and difference that should normally edify and strengthen an institution, a community or a country. The University of Mimbo and the people of Mimboland deserve a better fate than the disgrace lumped on them by the predicament of a mediocrity called leadership.’
* Francis B. Nyamnjoh is associate professor and head of publications and dissemination with the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). Nyamnjoh’s Married But Available (Langaa Publishers, 2008) is available at the both .
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