General Interviews

“Despite Being Regarded as ‘the Most Published among the New Generation of Nigerian scholars in the Social Sciences’ I still feel unfulfilled as a Nigerian academic” – Dr. J. Shola Omotola

It was indeed a pleasure to have Dr. J. Shola Omotola open up on his tremendous achievements in relatively short years in the academia. I find his story particularly inspiring and that which the younger generation of scholars will find beneficial. A few years ago, a reputed professor in an informal discussion with me in South Africa, remarked with all sense of confidence, that “Shola is a phenomenon!…Many professors with long years of service in the university do not possess what he has in publication record.”

Interestingly, Dr. Omotola is a thoroughbred Nigeria-made academic, having completed his BSc. (Hons.), MSc. and Ph.D. at University of Ilorin and University of Ibadan, respectively, which debunks the theory that one must leave Nigeria to acquire a foreign qualification to be successful.I consider him the most published scholar in the social sciences amongst the new generation of Nigerian academics, which he disclaims out of his very humble nature. But this goes beyond exaggeration; it is a matter of fact. My conclusion is based on a content analysis of contributions in popular publications (not predatory ones) of the Nigerian social sciences scholars who got their PhDs in the 2000s.

Apparently, a simple search on Google Scholar would confirm that Shola Omotola, with over one hundred pieces of quality writings and 843 Google Scholar citations, has been the most visible in that category of scholars both at home and abroad. His writings cover different areas in the political sciences including African politics, elections and democratization, oil and environmental politics in the Niger Delta, conflict and terrorism, foreign policy analysis, academic corruption, and development question in Nigeria.

Interview by Hakeem Onapajo, Editor-in-Chief, The Nigerian Academia


TNA: Would you agree with me that you are the most published Nigerian scholar in the social sciences in the new generation?

Omotola: I have no clear idea about what you are talking about. How do you define ‘the new generation’ of scholars in the social sciences? What criteria did you use in arriving at such a conclusion? How many other scholars within that ‘new generation’ did you include in your universe of scholars? Honestly speaking, I have mixed feelings towards such a classification. While I feel highly honoured that I could be so considered, I also feel flattered. In any case, one thing I know for sure is that I love this job so much and I have devoted the whole of my life to it. In the process, I have been lucky to publish a few works, locally and internationally, mostly in reputable scholarly outlets. My intention has always been to be among the best in my discipline, and I will continue to strive hard to attain that lofty goal.

TNA: In numbers, could you give us an estimate of how many publications you have in your record – including journal articles, books, technical reports and book chapters?

Omotola: I have over a hundred publications across different scholarly outlets. The breakdown is as follows: one (1) co-authored book, One (1) guest edited special edition of the Journal of African Elections, three (3) coedited books, six (6) monographs, 43 book chapters, 60 journal articles (including an award-winning article in African Affairs, Oxford University Press, 2010) and 16 book reviews, making a total of 130 as at last count.

TNA: Can we have an idea of some of the highly reputable platforms where you have published your research works, and how rigorous their peer-reviews could be?

Omotola: My publications have appeared in many journals, including African Affairs (Oxford University Press), Commonwealth and Comparative Politics (Routledge), Africa Today (Indiana University Press), Journal of African Law (Cambridge University Press), African and Asian Studies (BRILL), Philippine Journal of Third World Studies (University of the Philippine), South African Journal of International Affairs (South African Institute of International Affair), Taiwan Journal of Democracy (Taiwan Foundation for Democracy) Defence and Security Analysis (Routledge), African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review (Indiana University Press), Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (Routledge), Africa Review (African Studies Association of India/Routledge), among others. All these journals are reputed for a rigorous review process.

 

TNA: How did you achieve this impressive record in relatively short years in the academia?

Omotola: There are some explanations for this. First, I was able to discover early enough, beginning from my undergraduate days, that I have genuine interest and passion for scholarship. Second, I was lucky to come across some good teachers who identified my potentials to do well in the academics early enough. In this particular case, credit must go to Professor Hassan A. Saliu, a Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin, Nigeria. As the supervisor of my undergraduate project, he was the first to identify my potentials and did everything within his powers to encourage and mentor me. When we started, I thought he was unnecessarily too strict. But as it turned out, those things I learnt from him turned me into an instant star among my peers in my graduate class at the University of Ibadan, where my classmates were quick to nickname me ‘Ilorin School of Thought’.

At Ibadan, I was lucky to come under the heavy influence of Professors Bayo Adekanye, Eghosa Osaghae and Rotimi Suberu. They all made lasting impressions on me in different ways: Adekanye for his exemplary teaching style, which I adored so much that after my first class under him I went straight to tell him that I would like to be like him one day. He was glad and took a special interest in me. Coincidentally, I was allocated to him for the supervision of my MSC thesis. Like Hassan Saliu, he was also demanding and tough, but I came out better off; Osaghae for his inexplicable mastering of ‘all’ available literature on colonialism and social formations in Africa, and the oft-repeated mantra: ‘Ogbeni, work hard, hard work does not kill’. Right in our first class, he asked a question about PP Ekeh and from my response he told the class straight away to watch out for me. When I presented my seminar paper on ‘Explaining Succession and Legitimacy Crisis in Africa: Colonialism Revisited’, he said that I had the mind of PP Ekeh and encouraged me to try the paper for publication in a journal. I did, and it was accepted in the highly rated NISER journal, Research for Development, which turned out to be my second publication. The first, published in the Nigerian Journal of International Affairs, the flagship journal of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), was also a seminar paper from my MSc class in Ibadan. In fact, my first set of journal publications were all seminar papers from my MSc class in Ibadan.

Rotimi Suberu became my PhD supervisor after Professor Adekanye’s retirement. Apart from his keen interest and encouragement, especially at my most trying moments when the PhD programme seemed an endless journey, I also I learnt a lot from him. Dr. E. Remi Ayede who eventually completed my PhD supervision was also great and made a positive impact on my career. Together, these erudite scholars kept admiring my potentials, always having positive comments and words of encouragement anytime they come across my publications. There were also some mentors that I was not privileged to come under their direct teaching and/or supervision, but have nevertheless been pillars of support and encouragement till today. Professors Oyewale Tomori, Oye Ogunbadejo, Adigun Agbaje, Isaac Albert, Samuel Egwu, Okechukwu Ibeanu, Adebayo Olukoshi, Said Adejumobi, Abubakar Momoh, Augustine Ikelegbe, Cyril Obi, Charles Ukeje, Christopher LaMonica, Gilbert Khadiagala, Antonia Simbine, Musa Abutudu and Lere Amusan, as well as Drs Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, Khabele Matlosa and a host of others, who have always had diverse means of encouraging me, including their open acknowledgement of the depth and quality of my publications. These people have been worthy mentors to me, and have proven to be genuine and sustainable sources of motivation for me.

Moreover, I was lucky to learn early enough to live a life of total dedication, hard work and discipline on my career. Though there were prices to be paid, most particularly in the beginning, including having to struggle so hard to resist some viable sources of temptation and distractions, these virtues eventually became part and parcel of my everyday life as I grow in the job. I have learnt to be totally focused on doing what I believe in, hoping that the rewards will come with time.

I have also been blessed with a godly family, where my darling wife, Roseline Olayemi, has been a pillar of support in all ramifications. Together with our lovely children –Favour, Joshua, and Goodness, they have come to terms with my nomadic lifestyle, including long absence from home in the name of one research activity or the other. No matter how long I may have to be away, my mind is always at peace that ‘honey’, as I used to call her (my wife), is firmly in charge of the home front and that all is well. Without them, my academic attainments would not have been possible. I am deeply indebted to them and pray that God will grant them all long life and good health to enjoy the fruit of our collective labour and suffering.

Above all else, however, I must admit that the most important factor has been the grace of God. Yes, I know the virtues as mentioned earlier guide me. But it is possible there are also other scholars that are much more rooted in those virtues and even beyond. It has only pleased the Almighty God to bless the works of my hands for which I am grateful. To Him alone be all the glory.

TNA: At what point did you realise that an academic career is the most suited for you?

Omotola: As I said earlier on, I realized early enough that I have the potential and the passion for an academic career, beginning from my undergraduate days. The notion received a boost when Professor Saliu discovered me, not just as my supervisor, but also the best graduating student in the department and even wanted me to do my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in the department but to no avail. When I was eventually posted to Borno state for the NYSC, he also tried to get me to serve in the Department of Political Science at the University of Maiduguri, where he had given me a note to Dr. Sulu Gambari (now of blessed memory), speaking glowingly about my potential. That move also collapsed. During my NYSC, I did a test with the defunct Standard Trust Bank in Kaduna where I was rated among the best performers and shortlisted for an interview in Lagos. I declined to go for the interview because I had made up my mind to go to the University of Ibadan for a Master’s degree, having decided to be a university teacher. My decision to attend the test in the first instance was because of my next senior brother, David Omotola, had to raise transport money the hard way and took the risk of traveling from Kaduna to Sani, Borno state, where I was serving, to call me for the test. The diverse forms of encouragement I got from my classmates, teachers and mentors at the University of Ibadan, where I also graduate as the best student in my MSc class, further convinced me that an academic career was truly the best option for me. So it was an easy decision. Ever since, I have never looked back until recently, specifically August 2015 when I resigned my position as a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Redeemer’s University.

TNA: In what ways have you benefitted regarding opportunities from your publication records?

Omotola: It has pleased God to bless the works of my hands in diverse ways through my publications. First, I have been able to serve as a consultants or resource persons to many reputable organizations in various forms.

Internationally, I have transacted academic businesses with the UNDP, Ethiopia; UNECA, Ethiopia, African Union (AU), the GIZ-sponsored African Union’s African Peace and Security Program (APSP),, Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, the European Union through the International African Institute (IAI), Rome, Italy and the Centre for European Progressive Studies (CEPS), Brussels, Belgium; Nordic African Institute (NAI), Uppsala, Sweden; Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA), Ethiopia; Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), Accra; NATO Defence College, Rome, Italy; CODESRIA, Senegal; Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Ethiopia and South Africa; South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), Johannesburg, South Africa; Centre for Advanced Social Sciences, Calcutta, India and Association of African Election Authorities (AAEA), Accra, Ghana, among others. 

Nationally, I have been engaged with the Electoral Institute of INEC, Abuja; Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja; the CLEEN Foundation, Abuja; the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Abuja; YIAGA, Abuja; and a host of others.

Also as a result of my publication records, I have won several travel grants and attended diverse academic activities in several countries. These include the USA, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Israel, India, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa, among others.

 I have also been appointed to serve on the Editorial Board of some important journals nationally and internationally. These include: a) Democratic Theory: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Catholic University of Australia, Berghahn Journal, Oxford, UK; b) Africana, African Studies Center, Boston University, USA; c) Ibadan Journal of Peace and Development, Peace and Conflict Studies Programme, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria; and d) African Journal of Peace and Security, Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria.

My publication record has also earned me an appointment as external examiners nationally and internationally at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These include: a) External Examiner (Masters and Ph.D. Theses), Department of Politics and International Relations, Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, North-West University (Mafikeng Campus), South Africa, 2015 – 2017; b) External Examiner (MSc Thesis), Department of International Relations, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2013; c) External Examiner (MSc Theses), Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria, 2014, 2015 -; d) External Examiner (BSc Theses), Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria, 2015. I was also appointed to the editorial board of the leading and prestigious Nigerian daily, The Guardian, Lagos, where I serve for close to two years before I withdrew my services as a result of distance engendered by the relocation of Redeemer’s University to Osun state in September 2014.

Finally, now I get invited to important academic and policy gatherings without application, including as keynote speaker.

 

TNA: In your opinion, what do you think is responsible for the poor research profile/activity of the new generation of scholars?

Omotola; some factors can help understand the poor research profile/activity of the new generation of social science researchers. The first and the most basic has to do with the excruciating state of intellectual corruption in the country, which impact negatively on the processes of academic recruitment, promotion and tenure (For detail elaboration, see my publications: ‘Corruption in the Academic Career’, in Global Corruption Report: Education, London and New York: Earthscan; Transparency International and Routledge, pp. 185-188; and ‘The Intellectual Dimensions of Corruption in Nigeria’, African Sociological Review, Vol. 11(2), Rhodes University, South Africa/CODESRIA, Dakar, Senegal, pp. 29-41).

Many other factors, which derive in part from the above problem, include the acute shortage of resources, including funding, up-to-date books and journals, collapsed/collapsing infrastructures, etc; the declining quality of graduate studies and training in Nigeria; a culture of impunity whereby the rules are hardly respected; replacement of mentoring with sycophancy; erosion of academic culture; the proliferation of ‘cash and carry’ journals where papers are accepted with immediate effect, irrespective of their qualities, in exchange for hard currencies; and the general lack of a system of reward for exceptional academic excellence and productivity.

TNA: What advice would you give the new generation of scholars concerning building a strong record of scholarship?

Omotola: Firstly, it takes strong self-determination to be positively different, especially in a profoundly corrupt and polluted academic environment where mediocrity has been elevated to a dizzying height and sycophancy rated over and above academic excellence. The tendency to want to join them, especially when one cannot beat them, has always been (and continues to be) exhibited. Only the strong-willed can survive it. Secondly, they need to have academic mentors, not necessarily those you meet on a regular basis or your previous teachers/supervisors. It could be those you love their style of writing, and you enjoy reading their publications. I have a few like that, whom I have never met but I will always look for their works to read: Larry Diamond, Michael Bratton, Staffan Lindberg and Rita Abrahamson, among others. Moreover, young scholars should know that there is no shortcut to academic success, it is only by hard work, dedication and discipline. So they should avoid the cheap but ominous alternatives provided by the predatory publication/journal outlets, and face the rigour of scholarly publishing squarely. They may have to contend with some rejections at the initial state. Such decisions should not discourage them. Many established scholars today had similar experiences in the past. As an emerging scholar, I have encountered same on many occasions. But if mine is understandable, how about one of the Professors I respect most for his outstanding record, who told me recently that he still got a rejection from one of the leading African studies journals recently. They should learn from the comments to rework the paper for another good journal. That is the way to go. Finally, there are many tempting distractions in this job. High level of disciplining is required to overcome them. We have seen from the experience of those who fall cheaply for such distractions that all such things constitute only short gains that hardly endure. In the long run, a rich scholarly life matters and pays.

TNA: Finally, do you feel fulfilled as an academic in the Nigerian university system?

Omotola: The answer is CAPITAL NO. For me, the system has become so poisonous so much so that over the last couple of months I have been deeply engrossed in the thoughts of what should be my next line of action. It was so bad that I had to resign my university appointment at Redeemer’s University voluntarily and took up my current position as a Consultant at the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), National Assembly, Abuja. But the academic in me keeps troubling my mind that I have not reached my destination. I know that I will one day return to the university system, but probably outside the country. In our systems, no one cares about academic excellence and productivity. Instead, emphases are placed on some other funny considerations. I don’t want to say much about this here. Then I began to question myself about the whole essence of my dedication to scholarship if it cannot earn me any benefit from the system. Nevertheless, if things work according to plan, I am getting ready to return to the university system in the next academic session. That is my right constituency.

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