It’s sad Nigeria has been left behind by countries it started with – Adeniran, ex-Education minister
A diplomat, politician and former Minister of Education, Prof Tunde Adeniran, shares with John Alechenu his thoughts on the National Rescue Project, Nigeria’s independence anniversary, the education sector and other national issues
You attended a meeting of the Rescue Nigeria Project on Wednesday and some people have insinuated that the meeting was a precursor to floating a new political party, how would you respond to that?
It is a pity that some people have misinterpreted the meeting, because everything that happens especially if it’s a meeting of like-minded Nigerians, people associate it with power politics. Many people do not think or cannot see that it is indeed necessary to have a country and that it is when you have a country and there is peace and stability that you can give effect to some expectations and aspirations. What we are trying to do in the Rescue Nigeria Project is first of all to reconcile Nigerians and unite them. We feel this can be done through people who know what a nation is. What is the essence of a nation, the principles of justice, equity, what it means to be in a government elected by Nigerians, the principle of accountability and the values and virtues that make a nation? We believe at this time many people, particularly young people, have lost hope. You see, we live in Nigeria and pretend that all is well and when people speak the truth, people are either not ready for the truth or they pretend not to know that it is the real truth. They are not ready to say the truth but by the time reality dawns on them, it may be too late. That is why we are where we are today because we were living in denial and pretending.
You said it may be too late by the time reality dawns on them, could you expatiate on that?
Insecurity caught up with us, for example. We have a country today where production doesn’t mean anything. Nobody is producing, the emphasis is on sharing and sharing and that is why when you see a group coming together to say, look, we need to rescue this land we need to share experience, the next thing that comes to the minds of some people is that they are coming together because they want to grab power, they cannot see beyond personal individual ambition. It is not possible for many people to believe that indeed in this country, we still have some people who are not self-seeking and self-serving. They simply can’t believe that there are people who are still passionate about this country and who are still interested in uniting the people to ensure that we are able to actualise the true potentials of this country.
So, what is your coming together about?
What we are about is really to get people, sensitise them, mobilise them to rise and do what is needed to make this country what it should be. People who are in government today appear to only be interested in doing whatever they please but after sometime they will leave. When some people are critical about what is going on, it is so because they would be there and see nothing wrong. But we are saying no, we have to get it right. We need to think for tomorrow, we have to be our brother’s keeper, we have to do things in such a way that there will be peace, justice, stability and development as well as sustain this for generations to come. That is why we will be focusing more on the process of leadership recruitment, thinking about tomorrow; who are the people who would be in charge of the affairs of this country? Nigerians of today have not done enough. We feel the country is on the brink and we feel that, look, we should stop this blame game. This was caused by this; this was called by that. The reality on ground is that things are not the way they should be in this country. The people to do something about this are Nigerians and we believe those who can do that are those who are truthful and those who believe that God gave Nigeria the very best of human and material resources that any nation can ask for. We have to justify that benefit that we enjoy from God and our target is to ensure that we all wake up to redeem this country to do for this country what we believe is right, not expecting some people from here and there to do it.
How do you mean?
The way people see these things now is that when you look left and right you say these people that want to do this or that, what is the difference between them and those who are there now? However, in the various political parties, there are good people who, given the opportunity, will do well for this country. There are people who have been in politics before and have retired. There are also people who do not take any interest in partisan politics and are worried and concerned about this country. They are all coming together, including the young people in particular who have not been deeply involved in politics. So, people who are coming together are people who are passionate about this country and who believe that indeed this is our country and we have to make it great and that all the challenges that are holding this country down should be removed for us to move forward. We will have a country that enjoys peace, accountability and development; that is the summary of what we are trying to do. It is not to reposition some people or to get some people to be doing what we are currently complaining about. We love this country and we want this country to actualise its potential. There has been so much talk in the past and we believe there should be action now. If some people now call it third force, some are calling it other names and so on, we believe it is within our strength to participate. It will be unfair to see our efforts in the light of another power game or a group of people coming together. Their interest is just to grab power to do what these people are doing. That is not our goal; that is not our vision or mission.
In about a week, Nigeria will be marking its 61st independence anniversary. Having been in the academia, diplomacy and politics, can you say we have made substantial progress vis-a-vis the dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers?
My expectation is that by now, we shouldn’t be where we are. But first of all, as a believer, I think we need to thank God that the country is still together as one. We should continue to pray to God to continue to make it one and we should work to make it one to have the country and the people united not just by word of mouth but by action to relate to one another as brothers and sisters. When you look back and see what Nigeria used to be, you lament today and wonder what has happened to our orientation, what has happened to our bright potential considering that countries that we were more or less at the same level with at the time of our independence have all left us behind. Other countries that are not as endowed in terms of human and material resources are far ahead of us. If you look and continue to ask, you wonder. You look at the various sectors, the way our economy ought to have grown. If you look at the level of the diversification of the economy that ought to have taken place in the education sector, in terms of quality and in terms of access, you ask yourself what has happened to this country. However, when you look back to the time of independence, you will be happy about one thing; the fact that the percentage of children in school was lower than what we have today. We have more pupils going through school than what we had before. We have many schools in relation to our population and all that but the access to education, we cannot say the same thing about that because by now, this country should have moved to the level of having free and compulsory education for Nigerians up to the secondary school level so that people will be able to know their rights and their responsibilities as Nigerians and we will be able to utilise the knowledge we have acquired, the skills acquired that should have been integrated into our education system to now earn a living through the knowledge we have acquired.
Do you suggest people have not fully deployed their education in societal development?
We should be able to use the education acquired in terms of civic responsibility to do the right thing for our society. To know what is wrong and what is right. When you look, for instance, at the way people drive on our roads it is as if some people have been brought out of the jungle and you wonder who gave these people the license to drive. These are basic things that talk about the level of development and civilisation of a people; little things that matter. You look at infrastructural development. We can say in the past there were certain things that were happening, like we did not have the number of flights that we have nowadays in terms of air travel and that we have many airports, we have the rail system as so forth.
Some have listed these as major achievements which should be celebrated… (cuts in)
But when you look deeply, you ask yourself, our rail system, is it what we ought to be celebrating at this time? We thank God it is being resuscitated now; we pray that it will be sustained. And we pray that it will be run in such a way that it will be sustainable and contribute to production and development. Look at the airlines and so on that we are talking about. In the past Nigeria used to have an airline. What happened to it? Through wanton and criminal corruption like in many other sectors it was ruined. Yes, we have many airports now but that is not enough. The quality of those airports is something that we should pay attention to. For instance, when you travel by air in Nigeria, you see people shouting all over the place; are you going to Owerri; is this for those going to Yola or is this airline going to Ibadan. What does it cost in the 21st century to have screens there that will show this airline is arriving here, when it is taking off, where it is going and so on? If there will be any announcement it will be occasional but people can see it on the screen. There will be less noise, there will be more orderliness and there will be value for travelers. The facilities there should also be maintained. It is not just having these structures or facilities that amount to development, the maintenance culture should be built into it. You move to the area of agriculture, the question is that, is this where we ought to be? Nigeria by now ought to be known and recognised in word and deed as an agricultural country by the quantity and quality of our export. Without oil, Nigeria should be able to survive compared to where we are coming from, between the decades after independence and now. Where are the cocoa industries; the oil palm plantations and so on? Where they still exist, they are scattered all over the place, is this the level we ought to be? By now, cocoa and its by-products should be able to sustain the economy of this country and when you now add groundnut to it and other farm produce, we should be doing better than we are doing to it. I’m yet to see a country as blessed as Nigeria, I’m also yet to see a country as wasteful as Nigeria.
Many Nigerians have blamed most of the problems we have on our kind of federal structure. What is your take on the subject of restructuring?
There is no single state that does not have something of value that we can use for development but what have we got? We have a structural deformity that is affecting us at all levels and in all sectors. When the foundation is faulty, other things about the structure will also be faulty and that is why you look at the constitution that we have at independence and during the first republic and look at what we have presently, you can see where our problem is coming from. You can have a constitution that provides an opportunity for a healthy competition for development among the federating units. You will not be having the kind of problems that we are having now in the area of development. That is why some of us have been talking about restructuring which many people know and understand but because they just want to turn this country into a renter state, they are not interested in that. The constitution that gives the federating units the right and opportunity to tap their resources and pay taxes to the federal government is what we need. Some of the minerals that are being stolen now from the soil all over the place from the north to the south, from east to west will not be. This will be properly harnessed for development by the states. You have a situation where as a result of the constitution we presently have, a governor of a state that does not produce anything and can hardly boast of paying staff salaries receiving the same salaries of governors of more endowed states. This is a unitary system of governance but we say and claim to be running a federation, yet as a result of the intervention of the military and the kind of constitution that we now have, we are running a very defective system.
Do you think our values have changed between the time of independence and now?
At that time, during independence and immediately after, you can see that our values were different. Go and look at the salaries of teachers and look at the salaries of lecturers at that time and compare it with what even the Prime Minister was earning and look at what is happening today whether our values are still the same. We have the manpower, the manpower of a nation is the greatest asset of that nation. In the past, our forefathers were investing in us, but we are not doing that for upcoming generations. Our value systems have so collapsed that people are now running after the wrong things. We have a situation in which people now believe that it is better for you to be a councillor and occupy a political position than to be involved in production and be in some critical areas where intellect and skills are required. That is why we are mass producing thugs all over the place. What will we get out of that system? In the past, we had men of character and integrity occupy public office but now because we have thugs who grew through the ranks and found themselves in public office, they have made looting of public funds a profession. It has become a calling, a career, a goal and when you do that the nation suffers. It was possible in the past for people from different geographical backgrounds and ethnicity to occupy elective offices outside of their native homes. In the past, a Hausa man was elected Mayor of Enugu; an Igbo man could contest elections in the South-West and actually defeat a Yoruba man and so on and so forth, this emphasises the call for unity.
What went wrong?
We are now so inward looking that not only is ethnicity now rampant and twisting everything upside down and threatening our sense of unity. Nationalism and our nationhood are being sabotaged. Some ethnic consciousness is now rampant in most communities of the nation. We do not just see an unhealthy struggle for dominance; it has gone deeper than that. That is why we warn and continue to tell the people who are saying oh, we want Yoruba nation, Biafra and all of that. When you have all those, that is when you start another stage, another level and of course another season of agitation. It is then that you know that oh, some of the people that you claim to be working together with to have a new country are also different from you and of course the gradual growth of ambition will get destroyed. The way our differences were being managed in those days, we ought to have reached the point where we have become a beacon of hope for the rest of not only Africa but the black race in terms of seeing the essence of unity in diversity and being the pride of the black race. Instead, you see some self-seeking and self-serving people weaponising our differences and taking undue advantage of it, which is temporary but which is having a very negative effect on our nation. You see people becoming so self-seeking that the vision of a common feature of a greater Nigeria becomes blurred.
You worked as a lecturer and served as the Minister of Education. What in your view is the crux of the unending industrial dispute between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the successive governments?
No nation can grow beyond its level of education. But we have to get many things right because if we do not, we will be the worse for it. Like what is said in the medical sciences, wrong diagnosis will lead to wrong treatment. You cannot have a wrong idea of what is on ground and hope to have the right solution. It is not possible. We have to go back to the basics. Two fundamental things we have to start with. One of them is to place things in proper perspective. We must change our value system and begin to pay greater attention to education right from the primary school level. We cannot escape this. I was in the executive of ASUU during the administration of the late President Shehu Shagari and we were negotiating and on the negotiation table, so many things were revealed and we made it clear at that time that university autonomy should be protected, the conditions of service should be revisited, particularly the capacity to perform through the provision of equipment which is necessary for teaching and research. In fairness to the late President Shagari, the committee set up after our negotiation at that time granted some of what we requested but refused to grant autonomy and successive governments have held on to this. For as long as this remains the case, the dispute is not likely to end. To the credit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was aware of what transpired during the Shagari era and took steps when he took over as a civilian president. Some of the proposals that were brought to his attention he went ahead and tried to implement many of them. He believed that we needed to do some things differently; that was why we agreed to establish the Universal Basic Education Commission and what is now called Tertiary Education Trust Fund, which is doing a lot in terms of provision of infrastructure and equipment. That is why the president or governor has no business appointing the vice-chancellor for a university. Let the lecturers choose from among themselves. For these, this country owes him a lot of gratitude.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
This content was originally published here.