Heart of Arts

Farooq Kperogi: A Book And A Conference

Toyin Falola


My book, Citizenship and the Diaspora in the Digital Age: Farooq Kperogi and the Virtual Community, received its first attention on June 15, 2023, at a conference woven around it that attracted about sixty presentations. This book, which will be the first of two books on the art of social media use, social commentary, and political analysis by Dr. Farooq Kperogi and others, has created comments, debates, and reviews from within and outside the global academic community. The complementary conference on June 15, 2023, provided the best platform for the earliest thoughts on the subject matter and related themes. Citizen engagement, citizen journalism, misinformation and fake news, new media, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and virtual community building were some of the themes the scholars presented in direct or indirect relationship to the case study.

The complementary conference, hosted by the African Center for the Study of the United States at the University of Pretoria, was centred on Kperogi as a point of call for the digital age and US-Africa Diaspora Diplomacy. In what was a marathon event, we had Dr. Dannica Fleuss’s brilliant review of the book, which sparked some questions for me. Professor Christopher Isike also had enlightening insights to share about the US-Africa relationship and the role the African diaspora plays in all of this, especially seeing as there is an economic tussle between the US and China, the latter proving to be the latest widely acceptable suitor of African states.

I enjoyed the new ideas, and I consider both the book and the conference a success. I have chosen to define the conference and book as already successful in the context of the chain of conversations the book has birthed. Every author — whether a scholarly writer, a literary legend, or an up-and-coming biographer — aspires to that level where their book does not only see the light of eventual publication but also draws enough relevance such that it sparks conversations and debates, thereby birthing new commentaries, perspectives, and arguments that could well lead to the writing of new books.

Since officially announcing this book, I have received mixed responses from people, including bewilderment from some quarters that I chose to make Prof. Kperogi — someone younger than I am — the book’s subject. Kperogi echoed this during our conference, expressing shocking gratitude for his work to have been found worthy of study. I have personally responded to some of those emanating from bewilderment; this will also be a joint response and an academic beckoning to reshape how we view and interact with knowledge and information.

Academic spaces — and I am more convinced of this being the Nigerian reality, as I worked as a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University — are rife with ageistic and hierarchy-based ego. It is a case of the most senior academics — most senior here defining both age and rank — considering themselves out of bounds for collaboration with younger academics, not to talk of making someone younger and rank a focus of study. Our focus has been to pay more attention to the older ones, write more festschriften in their honour, organize more conferences, and write more books. And in most cases, this is often based on the fact that older academics have had more years to work, research, make contributions, and make impacts. Therefore, according to them, respect and making them the focus of such attention is not out of place. At a celebration to mark Professor Nimi Wariboko’s essay on Professor Adeshina Afolayan, I remarked that we canonize too early, saying that canonization closes the spaces for successive generations. I have a date with Babarere Baba Ke but won’t buy the roses.

Gerontocracy is a different matter. However, when it becomes a case where we would rather not interact with a useful body of knowledge because of its source, it has become problematic; this is one of the problems that has rocked academia, which we need to address. Many researchers and scholars cannot bring themselves to interact with, engage, or explore knowledge sources in people or places they consider academically inferior to them. It is why many would ask who exactly Kperogi is that he should be worthy of being a subject of discourse. Aside from Kperogi being indeed worthy of being a subject of discourse, many fail to understand that what is more important is his work with new media and within the virtual space — especially in building virtual communities, amassing followers, and engaging citizens — is a repertoire replete with knowledge and information; a new portal of study that needs to be explored, not necessarily because it is Kperogi, but because of the work Kperogi has done and how significant it is.

Thus, there is a need for academia to revise its approach to study and research; we need to revisit and reawaken our curiosity, so much so that we pursue knowledge for what it is and devoid of debilitating personal bias. We must re-ignite our spirit of inquiry to engage new bodies of knowledge, not forgetting that knowledge is knowledge, and information is information, regardless of the source. What matters is to gauge if such knowledge or information is useful.

This first output of mine on the significance of social media work is an elaborate consideration of several interwoven themes — the Nigerian diaspora, the Nigerian diaspora’s influence on the Nigerian polity, virtual community building, social media usage, social media, and social-political issues in Nigeria. Citizenship and the Diaspora in the Digital Age is divided into three parts. These are interwoven in that they make a single Nigerian spatial entity, which has mostly been the subject of discourse and criticism in Kperogi’s decade-long commentary. The book is an all-encompassing profile that covers the breadth of Kperogi’s work, from contextualizing his influence by establishing philosophical foundations for his views and perspectives to extrapolating his commentaries on black cultures and Africans in the diaspora to examining his socio-political commentary and academic writings as unified contributions to discourses and debates on several topical issues within and about Nigeria and Nigerians.

The most significant part of the conference yet was its ability to generate ideas along similar but not exact topics and concepts, so much so that we had participants who spoke on fake news, traditional media, deliberative democracy, conflict and peace-building, youth sexual awareness, diasporic soft power, and digital governance, among other topics and issues. This ties back to the initial reason I claimed that the book is already successful — its ability to spark issues and open doors for related analyses and newer perspectives.

The papers presented at the conference have confirmed the eagerness of the academia to explore and be curious yet again — hopefully, the perceived eagerness is not a result of responses to explore because it was a university-related conference. There is now the need to sustain the eagerness so that it births new papers, publications, books, reviews, and bodies of work to keep the flame burning for long enough to make this a self-sustaining attraction.

Although it might not have received as much attention in the past, new media, social media, and African and African diaspora relations are critical aspects of discourse for Africa’s overall development. For Professor Kperogi, the praises and the celebratory criticisms energize him to renew his commitment to his passion.

I am grateful to the University of Pretoria, the African Center for the Study of the United States at the University of Pretoria, the conference’s organizing team, the presenters, members of the audience, the eminent Professor Kperogi, and everyone who participated. Professor Christopher Isike, thank you, thank you, thank you.

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