Keeping the Spirit of the Nairobi Process Alive: Some messages for Researchers in Nigeria

It is amazing how much one can learn in just four days. From 23rd-26th April 2012, the British Academy and the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom (ASAUK) engaged a group of Early Career Researchers in (West) Africa in two truly scintillating and re-energizing training and development workshops on scholarly writing and publishing. It was a great privilege for me to be part of the cream of participants, which were drawn not only from various disciplines in the Social Sciences and Humanities but also from four countries Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon. The workshops were reassuring to me that there is still hope for scholarship in my generation and the next, thanks to the resource persons who shared their knowledge and experience.
Among the resource persons were renowned scholars who had invested a good part of their lives engaging with Africa and African issues: scholars like Professor Ernest Artyeetey (Vice Chancellor of University of Ghana), Professor Graham Furniss (British Academy/SOAS), Professor Tunde Zack-Williams (Editor of the Review of African Political Economy{ROAPE}), Dr Gabrielle Lynch (Associate Editor of the International Human Rights Journal and Editor of the Review of African Political Economy), Professor Ralph Mills-Tettey (Ghana Academy of Arts and Science), Professor Francis Dodoo (Regional Institute for Population Studies, RIPS), Professor Kwadwo Koram, Professor Chris Gordon (University of Ghana), Dr Ama de-Graft Aikins (RIPS, University of Ghana), Dr Helena Asmoah-Hassan (Librarian of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), Dr Africanus Diedong (Ghana Journal of Development Studies), Dr Lem Atanga (University of Dschang, Cameroon),  Dr Ernestina Coast (London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE) Mr Ravi Murugesan (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, INAPS) and Jonathan Harle (of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, UK & author of the Nairobi Report), to mention just a few.
The organization of the workshops was simply amazing. The participants were fully sponsored for their travel and stay. The organizers did a wonderful job of making our stay a comfortable one. The venues, British Council Accra and International House, University of Ghana, were ideal. The Training and Development Workshop for Early Career Researchers in West Africa was organized by the British Academy while the Writing Workshop was organized by the ASAUK.
The workshops were organized as part of the practical steps taken to advance collaboration between African and UK scholars in the areas of social sciences and humanities. Reflection and discussion on that was documented in The Nairobi Report, available on the internet (https://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/nairobi-report.cfm). The Report has, however, now become a process, or the Nairobi Process. The Nairobi process includes ‘initiatives and activities that shared a particular perspective with the Report…if not generated by it’. Among the initiatives and activities is the training and development of early career researchers in Africa.
The four day training and development workshop was one of serious academic and intellectual voyage aimed principally at developing our skills to be able to a) carve our own research niche, b) undertake good quality research, c) understand mentorship and seek its benefits, d) seek collaboration and stay connected with colleagues overseas, e) seek and obtain grants, f) communicate our research findings g) access online research resources, and h) publish our research in high quality international journals. These, in my opinion, are what every academic is (or should be) looking for.
Now there are a number of issues that were raised during discussions in the workshop, which I believe are worth sharing with my colleagues in Nigerian universities and research institutes. The first issue is the importance of research collaboration with others, whether from your discipline or not. Why is this important? This is important in the sense that through collaboration one may access funds or grants from areas where grants are available or adequate. Some disciplines usually do not get adequate funds. For instance, when you compare the natural sciences with the social sciences, the natural scientists get more funding from different sources than the social scientists. Hence, social scientists need to collaborate with the natural scientists to access funding and advance research in their area. More so, interdisciplinary research may be more likely to attract funding in this age. We are in a world where interdisciplinary research is sine qua non for overcoming some of our complex challenges. Sometimes I feel it is lazy for researchers to blame government for depriving them of research funds. I am not saying the government should not fund research. But the government is often preoccupied with pressing and more visible problems of providing water, food, security and health care to the people that they push research down the list of their priority. It is the duty of researchers to seek funds from other sources, such as collaborations and entering into competition for international research funds. In many instances, some researchers in Nigeria are reluctant to prepare and submit good research proposals to win funding. Instead they wait for government. This is not an excuse given the existence of research community in different areas. It is up to the researcher to identify his or her research community and get into collaboration with identified colleagues, thereby benefitting from funding and other forms of support.
The second issue has to do with the importance of impact or value of research in the development of our society. The big question here is what is the value of our research to our society? What is its impact on specific issues, say on governance, on the economy, on employment reduction, on poverty eradication, peace, security, etc? How can we make our researches have practical meaning in our society? The point I made during the workshop was that our researchers often have little or no impact on our society that some are beginning to question its utility. Some will say the government is not using our research findings, or there are no industries to utilize it. Again I ask: why is the government uninterested in the research? Why are there no industries? Are they the only targets of our research? Can’t we find collaborations with others within and beyond our state boundaries who may be interested? As researchers we should be interested in finding solutions to our problems. Sometime ago, a group of members of the National Assembly were said to have challenged researchers in Universities for failing to sponsor a single bill. In that sense, they seem to point a finger at the social science and humanities complex of the Universities as having little or no bearing on the realities of the country. When the politicians are overwhelmed with the problems of the country, it is the responsibility of the social scientists to point the way, to direct the course of the nation out of the conundrums. For instance, the security challenges facing Nigeria need to be reviewed by researchers in the universities. I am not sure if there is any position paper addressed to the President or a State Governor emanating from any faculty in the over hundred Universities in Nigeria on how to deal with the current security situation. The impact of our research is necessary for people to believe in the education they receive from schools. Otherwise, it will, as it has started to be viewed as useless or Haram!
Lastly, there is information about The Africa Desk: This is an online resource developed in collaboration between the British Academy and the ASAUK, with support from the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and Standing Conference on Library Materials on Africa (SCOLMA), the UK Africanists librarians group. The website is a veritable tool for ensuring network and collaboration between African and UK scholars. Scholars interested in information on the activities of Africanist research community, accessing research funding or fellowships, collaborating with UK scholars and publishing in UK Africanist journals are advised to register on the Africa Desk portal. These services are free and aimed at resolving some of the identified challenges of the African scholar in the Nairobi Report. It is important to state here a research finding by Jonathan Harle and his colleagues, which was obtained from survey of 11 African countries. The finding revealed that information is largely available and adequately accessible for researchers. The problem however is low usage. This may be true with most institutions in Nigeria. We should therefore avail ourselves of the Africa Desk, to stay connected and reach out to colleagues in the UK and elsewhere.

Bappa writes from the Faculty of Social Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria, he can be reached at habibyb@yahoo.com

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