Book Review: Difficult Dialogues in Development

Title:                          Difficult Dialogues in Development – A Festschrift: Charity Ashimem Angya

Editors:                      Gowon Ama Doki and Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma

Year of Publication:   2012

Publisher:                  Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria

Book Reviewer:        Oga G. Ajene

This book of 567 pages contains thirty three (33) chapters, which represent contributions from 31 Authors from diverse academic disciplines, including English, Political Science, Economics, Education, History, Religion and Philosophy, and with the majority coming from Theatre Arts.

Considering the division of labour in the knowledge industry, anyone attempting to review such a rich product of knowledge, derived from such an array of experts, drawn from such diverse background, in honour of such a remarkable leader, in the personality of Professor Charity Ashimem Angya, must either be quite pretentious or courageous. Being that I am neither of these, I accepted, with great trepidation, the humbling invitation to participate in this celebration of greatness as Reviewer.

The truly remarkable insight, quintessentially and colourfully rendered in such enviable verbiage, which provided the forward to book, written by one of the academic giants of the Arts, Professor Olu Obafemi, offers an engaging appetizer to Difficult Dialogues in Development and the subject, Charity Ashimem Angya. Indeed, As Professor Obafemi points out, “the selection of both topic and executing authors and the subject is as apt as it is envisioned (9).

Professor Charity Angya’s lifelong engagement with Drama and theatre as well as gender and development are reflected in the two parts into which the contributions of the authors in the book are grouped. While the various authors have interrogated different aspects of these issues, I view the challenge of this review or, to wit, the difficulties of the present dialogue to be the interrogation of the philosophical and literary academic worth of the book: Difficult Dialogues in Development presented traditionally as a volume of writing by various authors as a tribute to a scholars (known by the German word, festschrift) and in this case to Professor Charity Angya.

The two-sided question in this review dialogue about the book is whether the personality being honoured is deserving of the honour. The other side of the question is whether the book in its literary form does justice to the personality being honoured. On the first side of the question, there is no doubt that the Professor Charity Ashimen Angya deserves to be honoured at any level and not the least with a festschrift. This is in evidence not only in the deafening accolades of a renowned and far older professor in the Foreword to the work, where Professor Obafemi justified the honour to Professor Charity Angya on the grounds that:

She is s scorer of a few undiminished first: the youngest Nigerian woman to become a Professor of Theatre Arts; the very first female Professor of Theatre Arts; the very first Professor of Theatre Arts to become a Vice-Chancellor of a Nigerian University

Professor Obafemi’s unwitting combination of Professor Charity Angya’s personality of “inimitable humility and disarming grace and charm in power,” and behaviour “manifested in symbolic and iconic manifestation of humility led him to the discovery of a foremost student of socio-semiotics – “the contextual science of signs as a tool for epistemic, cognitive and ideological interpretation and perception of the theatre for social transformation.”

Both the recognition of Professor Charity Angya’s personal qualities and achievements are extended in the elaborate and glowing tribute to Professor Charity Angya by Professor Samu Dandaura, representing the voice of her professional Association, (Dandaura is the National President of SONTA) in his insight into the difficult dialogue or what he considers to be an Emerging conversation between the Theatre of Development and Development Entertainment. Furthermore, a more detailed description of the personal attainments and achievements of Professor Angya by an academic protégé were offered where Dr. Gowon Doki attempted to “Unravel the Conundrum – Charity Ashimem Angya.” While Dr. Gowon Doki has done an excellent job of providing a bit more than a very brief resume of Professor Charity Angya, by telling us who she is, her work experience, service to the University and her publications, he presented an interesting dialogue with his colleague on Professor Angya as Vice-Chancellor, which from the point of view of this review, became a difficult dialogue (to wit). While his presentation and those of his colleagues more than answer the question of whether the person being honoured is deserving, his half page, single paragraph presentation on this is limited in detailing the most significant contributions of Professor Charity Angya as Vice Chancellor. For example, the construction of ICT building is important but far more important is bringing the connectivity to the doorsteps of every student in the University by increasing the internet bandwidth, developing the University Portal, developing and building MIS content and bringing the University out of obscurity into the World Wide Web (www), thereby witnessing a meteoric rise of the University in web ranking.

Similarly, the increased funding of Academic departments and providing more comfortable living or working environment for staff and students in the University for Professor Charity Angya, are significant but as new priorities intended to propel the University towards her greater goals of scholarship and excellence. Her efforts recently yielded not only the Medical Council of Nigerian accreditation for the MBBS degree programme but also literally 100% for 19 other academic programmes, spread across the Faculties of Arts, Education and the Social Sciences. The leadership qualities of Professor Charity Angya is recognized among her peers in the Committee of Vice Chancellors and led to many benefits for the University. The Nigerian University System recently acquired an Anti-plagiarism software at a discount through her combined effort with the former Chairman of AVCNU and Benue State University is one of the few State Universities to have subscribed to the software. Similarly, Benue State University is at the forefront of Ng-Ren (Nigerian Research Network) and ahead of many Federal Universities in the preparation for it.

Yet if Dr. Gowon Doki believes, and correctly so, that he had sufficiently justified the honour being accorded by making short shrift of the remarkable strides of Professor Charity Angya as Vice-Chancellor of the University in the space of two years and a few months, he may be forgiven because any attempt to completely and accurately capture this achievement will require a volume larger than the present book.

In drawing lessons from the achievements of Professor Charity Angya, Dr. Gowon Doki did an excellent job of drawing attention to one of the secrets of Professor Charity Angya, her profound belief in the working hands of the Almighty God and in her enduring faith and obedience to his words. There are other important lessons that must be mentioned. First of all, she continually acknowledges the support of and lavishes gratitude to two very important personalities. In her modest manner there is no achievement that has been gained without the support of the Visitor to the University, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Dr. Gabriel Torwua Suswam a tribute that is well placed because the Visitor has been a rock of support for the University, sometimes at the most difficult times and in the most difficult circumstances.

Then the support from her family, particularly her husband, Barrister Paul Angya. Evidently, this extraordinary man has been a pillar behind Professor Charity Angya, having not only endured self-denial over the many years that enabled his wife to reach the giddying professional height that she has reached but continues to provide the home environment for her to excel. Again, this support is never lost upon Professor Charity Angya, as she never misses an opportunity to acknowledge it. It is also important to add that this support is not one-dimensional. Professor Angya is constantly worrying about the welfare of her husband and beautiful children and indeed extended family.

The other important lesson, which was given passing reference in Dr. Gowon Doki’s work, is the extraordinary work habit of Professor Charity Angya. The typical working day of a normal hard-working person is about eight (8) hours. Professor Charity Angya works for at least thirty (30) hours per normal working day. This feat is achieved by working every day from Nine (9am) to about Six (6) or Seven (7pm), during which time she is carrying out three equally important tasks at the same time and with equal efficiency. We are told that the millennial generation is different from the previous one, in the West, because of their ability to multi-task; but I have never seen anyone that is capable of multi-tasking with such efficiency. The next time you are in her office, watch out. She may be cleaning up the mail that quickly pile up on her table with meticulous attention to detail, while at the same time she is receiving an important call totally unbeknown to you whom she has received with warmth and charm and resolved your problem seamlessly and with grace.

If there was ever any doubt about the strong grounds for this Festschrift, I hope that it has been sufficiently and persuasively put to rest.

On the other side of the coin, the Authors who have made contributions to this work have equally fulfilled their side of the bargain. The importance of the contributions of the various authors to this tribute is implied in the sections of the book to which they have been parcelled as the sections reflect the lifelong academic concerns of Professor Charity Angya. However, a more careful review reveals still greater categorization. Apart from Dr. Gowon Doki’s piece which deals broadly with the biographical profile of Professor Charity Angya, the relevance of the work of the authors has ranged between those that specifically deal with her work and the significance of such work for either her life or world view. The is the example of the contribution of the piece by Leticia Mbaiver Nyitse who explored the difficult dialogue in Professor Charity Angya’s transformation from humanism to feminism in her work, The Circle of the Moon.

In the majority of contributions of Authors in the first part of the book, while it may be said that they broadly reflect interests in the field of theatre and drama that would have engaged the intellect of Professor Charity, they nevertheless grappled with diverse concerns. For example, Saint Gbilekaa revealed an intriguing insight into the place of literature in the difficult dialogue between conflict, reconciliation and positive advancement and harmony following the violence in Zaki Biam in 2001. Alex Asigbo, who brought together the intimate relationship between actor, theatre and audience of Igbo traditional theatre into what he calls, a “Holy Alliance,” incidentally captures the same theme of harmony in the piece.

The other contributions reflect an undercurrent of what may be viewed as differences between instrumentalist proponents of theatre and those that may be regarded as constitutivist. Samu Dandaura in his interrogation of the “Emerging Conversation Theatre for Development and Development Entertainment,” sets the main tone for this division. By pushing the lines of the later concept, he reflects the Constitutive view of Theatre. Representing the instrumentalist view are the contributions of such authors as Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, who in interrogating “Appearance, Reality and Cultural Confusion in Nollywood,” argues that Nollywood is veering off towards a state of confusion of appearance, through obfuscation of appearance and reality. He insists on a promotion of Nigerian culture through film, instead of the hurried assemblages propelled by mere mercantilist tendencies. Mvendaga Jibo in even clearer tone, restates and persuasively illustrates the instrumentalist role of theatre in social engineering.

The richness of the assemblage of the contributions in this book sometime defies simple categorization. However a large number of the works are significant for their focus on the challenges faced by the girl child or the travails of womanhood in social and political life. These include discussions on gender in the Contributions of Irene Salami-Agunloye in which she examines “Sexual Politics, Phallocentric Control and Resistance in Iyorwuese Hagher’s Aishatu,” Asabe Kabir Usman’s reflections on “Radicalism and the Representation of Assertive Womanism in Zainab Alkalis’s The Descendants,” Josephine Odey’s concern with “Masculinity and Violence in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are Not to Blame,” Nicholas Ada’s “Gender and Educational Opportunities in University Education in Nigeria,” Okpe O. Okpe Jr.’s “Historical Review of Gender and Women Studies in Nigeria,” Akwaya George-Genyi’s examination of the “Politics of Gender Inequality and in African Universities,” and Saawua Nyityor’s “Winds of Transformation,” which deals with the changing role and place of the Tiv woman in society. These contributions are significant broadly in sharing the concerns with gender issues, which has preoccupied much of the administrative and intellectual life of Professor Charity Angya. Others represent actual challenges which she faced as she treaded the treacherous road that has brought her into prominence. Yet others are instructions on the challenges she will continue to face.

One of the contributions that represent, not only the mentoring responsibilities of Senior Academics in the University system which Professor Angya herself is well known for, recalls the early potential of Professor Charity Angya and then placing before any reader, the benefit of a rich experience provided as an intelligent toolkit for facing the challenge of governing a State University. In offering this tool kit, David Iornongu Ker dated the establishment of the University to 1982, with the date repeated for the second time shortly after the first, I hoped that he was not opening another difficult dialogue since the official date of the University’s founding is 1992. Furthermore, an aspect of the challenge of governance, which Ker forgot to mention, and which he handled creditable as Vice-Chancellor is the problem of cultism which was nevertheless, the main focus of Fola Fosudo in the piece on Akin Okunowo’s Beware of Cultism, of which Professor Charity Angya’s unique strategy and stance was represented in the quotation by Andrew Ame-Odindi, which surprisingly he captured accurately from an interaction with students by Professor Charity Angya and contained in his piece on “The Strengths and Weakness of Major characters in in Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty.”

As one reads the array of rich contributions from scholars of diverse disciplines and on diverse subjects, simplicity once again fades into complexity. Even when some of the contributions require great creativity of mind to appreciate their relevance, they offer something useful to this book even as the entire work confounds our appreciation of the person described by Gowon Doki as an enigma: Professor Charity Angya. At least the book gives the reader a real, even if intuitive, anticipation that another volume must follow to finally unravel the enigma, now that great effort has been made on the conundrum. Before the next one comes, this work is a must read for everyone.

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