How do you begin to unpack Claude Ake? Is it from the perspective of a social theoretician? Is it from the position of a committed social activist and patriot? Is it from the vantage point of his humanism? Or is it from the standpoint of a wordsmith and logodaedalus? However you choose to unpack Ake, the task is enormous, engaging and very fulfilling.
In a sense, I consider myself privileged among many of my peers because I did not only read numerous works by Ake, but had the singular opportunity of meeting and discussing with him a number of times. I am sure that anyone who had such an opportunity would have come out with the feeling that an hour with Ake is like a year of thorough university education. Consequently, I want to begin by sharing with you some of my personal experiences with Claude Ake in a space of four years preceding his untimely death in 1996. I feel that this is useful because through these personal experiences I learned more about Ake and his work than I did from nearly 20 works of his that I have read. These include his seminal books on theory of integration, theory of political development, political economy of Africa, democracy and development in Africa, and political economy of Nigeria, which he edited. They also include a number of journal articles including those on Rousseau and rights, the scientific status of political science, the state in Africa, and explanatory notes on the political economy of Africa, among others.
I first knew Ake when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the late 1970s. At that time, he served as the external examiner to my Department. I should add that Professor Adele Jinadu succeeded him as our external examiner. But it was within the four years preceding his death that I came to know him closely, principally through Professor Okwudiba Nnoli, his longstanding friend and associate, who was my professor at Nsukka. My first close encounter with Claude, as Nnoli fondly called him, was in 1991 at a conference we held at Nnoli’s country home in Oraifite, Anambra State to commemorate the completion of the house. Ake and Nnoli had embarked on building their homes at Omoku and Oraifite respectively following the constant threat of the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo to eject lecturers from their official quarters each time they threatened or embarked on an industrial action. They had been deeply worried about the anti-intellectual proclivity of the junta at the time.
The theme of the conference was ‘The Academic in Government’ and I had the singular honour of giving the keynote paper, notwithstanding that I was just a neophyte graduate student. In spite of my sense of inadequacy, especially considering the crop of social scientists expected at the meeting, Professor Nnoli encouraged me to do the keynote, and I must confess that Nnoli’s repeated confidence in my ability became an immeasurable impetus to my academic career. I recollect that conference was attended by Claude Ake, Okwudiba Nnoli, the host, Sam Oyovbaire, former Federal Minister of Information, Tunde Adeniran, former Minister of Education and now Nigeria’s ambassador to Germany, Elo Amucheazi, then Director General of the National Orientation Agency, and my very dear friend and teacher, Professor Adele Jinadu, then a Commissioner of the National Electoral Commission.