By Daniel Kanu
Prof Sherif Folarin is of the political science department at Texas State University, where he has served as a visiting professor.
A Covenant University Professor of International Relations and Politics and two-time departmental chair. A former director of international programmes, former chair of the board of African Leadership Development Centre. A 2007 Study of American Institutes Fellow and 2015 Carnegie ADFP Fellow. Folarin teaches in the Master of Science (Security Studies) programme at the Rwandan Command and Staff College, and a visiting professor in the Ph.D conflict studies of the Centre for Conflict Management of the University of Rwanda.
In this encounter with Sunday Sun in Lagos, the renowned scholar looks at the Nigerian condition, 2023 election, INEC and the danger of abandoning BVAS, ASUU strike and what to look out for in choosing the next Nigerian president, among others. Excerpt:
You now stay in the US, as a lecturer in one of the universities what are the sounds and bites like politically, on issues concerning Nigeria, particularly the coming 2023 elections?
Nigerians in the Diaspora are very anxious; they want to see a change, a very genuine change not a superficial change. They want to see good governance, they are very anxious to see that we have peace and a well organised election. They want to see a peaceful transition of power, from one democratically elected president to another, from one democratically elected political office holder to another. Nigerians in the Diaspora are really hopeful. However, there is a flipside of it. They are also afraid. They are afraid that things might actually explode if not properly handled, they feel that there might be combustion in view of the fact that the polity had been on a steady fall for a while, they feel strongly that the country has been on the edge of a precipice and that there might be a total collapse. Given the bandits attacks, abductions of ordinary Nigerians as well as very important, highly placed citizens, farmer/herders clashes etc there is fear. There are cases of middlemen that seem to be energizing these bandits and terrorists and who are probably giving out very vital intelligence, who claim to be providing or trying to provide or create a melting port between the government and those bandits and terrorists. We have had cases of attacks on churches, kidnappings; we are seeing very dangerous trends as far as our political landscape is concerned. If you want to put issues on a genuine scale, on a non-partisan scale and its disturbing… you will see that we have some not-too-popular candidates that are bent by all means to snatch victory by hook or crook. There is this strong feeling that the man that should be the president may not get there so there is apprehension.
Also there are others who are also leveraging on some kind of intelligence that they have gathered, the fact that there might be very serious crisis in Nigeria as the 2023 elections build up and that this might lead to, probably some kind of political stalemate that might either make or break Nigeria. So people don’t really want to come home not only that the political landscape is endangered and dangerous for them to thread upon, they also feel strongly that the entirety of the Nigerian social clime is a very delicate one, unsafe. The kidnappings, banditry, armed robbery, ritual killings etc are all discouraging factors, remember too that the jobs are not there, and your life is not safe either. So to cut the story short, they feel that Nigeria is not safe and this is real, people here live in fear. Life means and worth nothing again in my dear country, Nigeria, and I think it’s time for Nigerians to stand up and make a statement with their vote. These are some of the sound bites as far as Nigerians in Diaspora are concerned.
There is this speculation and fear spreading around that the use of Biometric Verification System, BVAS, may be suspended for the usual manual exercise of conducting elections…?
(Cuts in) Nothing surprises me about Nigeria any longer. So nothing is going to break my heart about Nigeria because in Nigeria everything is possible and why, you may ask? In Nigeria when all things are going well, there is usually somebody, somewhere or something somewhere plotting to derail it to ensure it doesn’t work any longer. I will not be surprised if the PVC is programmed to fail. I know at the beginning the PVC was not a total success and even in 2019 it was not, but we should have gone beyond that. I think by now we should have gone beyond what we are experiencing because even smaller countries in Africa that are not as big as Nigeria are doing better, and have gone beyond what we are doing here. Some smaller countries are not only using PVC, but their regular national identity card to vote and they can vote from anywhere. I think some African countries now have their Diaspora being able to vote. It is sad we are still talking about goats and chicken going to line up for the ballot papers to thumbprint and all that. So, I am not going to be surprised, I am not going to be agitated if they want to sideline the use of BVAS, I will only see it as one of the symptoms of the failure of the Nigerian electoral system, which is an extension of the failure of the Nigerian state.
But do you think that Nigerians will take such development kindly, given the way citizens have been sensitized?
Well, you see, there is nothing that Nigerians will want to take kindly this time around, I strongly believe so. I know that Nigerians are patient people and the patience and our good nature are what our political leaders have taken for granted, that is why you can have an unpopular candidate foisting himself on everyone and having a Muslim as his vice presidential candidate and he thinks he is one MKO Abiola and all of that. So, because of the long suffering of Nigerians some people think it will be business as usual, but from the kind of things that I have seen in recent times, particularly the EndSARS movement shows that Nigerians are very dauntless, they are undaunted, relentless and pushful about what they believe in, they go for it, and the youths are really taking the centre stage, they are wizening up. And you can see that the Peter Obi’s Obedient movement, for instance, has sent jitters to all over the arms of political rivals and everybody is sitting up because Peter Obi is a serious movement that you cannot ignore unless you are living in delusion. I want to say that I am seeing very positive signs of the fact that Nigerians will no longer take nonsense from the political class any longer. Well, 2023 might just be the defining moment.
At last, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) called off its over eight months strike. Any lessons learnt?
There is no lesson learnt, no lesson. I recall that when we were students we also had endless strikes at that time and we thought we had learnt our lessons, but the government still repeats the same agenda, I won’t call it mistake. This is a government that is both deaf and dumb and blind, it cares not. I cannot blame ASUU wholesale as you can see government itself is consistently irresponsible and does not really care about what is going on. I am not surprised. We have said it and it’s a fact that many of them, don’t have their families in Nigeria, they don’t have anything at stake to make them to want to put things right. It is in the same manner that the power sector is dead because they don’t really have anything at stake except to rip Nigeria off. They simply begin to concession and do all sorts of things about the Nigerian power sector, about the Nigerian railway system (Thank God there is some improvement on this, but you then ask yourself: At what cost? It is the same story of neglect and failure about the Nigerian aviation system, about Nigerian health system, about Nigerian school system, which, of course, ASUU is battling on how to salvage the sector. In fact, everything is just upside down, nobody cares, why? It is simply because they really don’t have much at stake, except to rip off the country. There is this agenda always to shortchange ASUU because they feel that lecturers are gentlemen and ladies, sometimes they threaten them, deceive them, make them feel hungry sometimes, give them subtle or overt threat sometimes. At other time they threaten to dismiss them from their job or to send them packing from their apartments. After all of this, ASUU will still come to the round table. You can see that all the issues have not yet been resolved, including the payment issue regarding IPPIS. A lot of issues are still outstanding, so will you say much was achieved? The government is giving them a promissory note as usual and I just hope that my colleagues will eventually get to see that this is not a government to trust, it’s not a responsible government. I think the time has come for ASUU to come up with something that is more different, something that is more effective as far as pushing its course is concerned. But we have also seen that while on strike some students have become more creative and dynamic in what they do. Some of them now have start up businesses and a lot of young people who have ventured into comedy. I must confess to you, I am one of their biggest fans, as it is what I use for relaxation. I use their comedy to unwind. Of course, we should not encourage strike, but I am glad some people took advantage of the strike to be creative, while some also went into Yahoo-yahoo, which has become a fraud that is phenomenal. I learnt that there is a school of Internet fraud in Benin. This is the dark side of the industrial action. Even as a lecturer at the University of Ibadan, we were still on this strike issue, and I thought we should have gone beyond this level by now. Do you know the impact caused by shutting up schools for over eight months? And the government does not seem to care? Imagine how they are playing politics with the destiny of the children. It smacks of irresponsibility on leadership.
What type of president does Nigeria need in 2023?
We need a man of integrity; we need someone who truly loves Nigeria. We have had leaders that never loved Nigeria. We have had leaders that just mouthed it, but it is not coming from their heart. The closest to anyone that loved Nigeria is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, but he got carried away too and was blown away by the Nigerian wind. Another person coming close to loving Nigeria was Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, but his term did not last. Even General Yakubu Gowon could be said to love Nigeria, even though, he was not politically matured at the time he was Head of State. We need someone who is fearless because for you to put things right in Nigeria you must be fearless in tackling those powers and principalities that have formed very strongholds around the polity. We need to pull them down if we must succeed. You must be fearless even in taking critical decisions so as to restore hope and confidence. Why do South Africans not travel the way Nigerians travel? Why do the Egyptians not also travel like we do? They have made their country attractive and if we do the same here, many of those in the Diaspora will come back. We must make our country attractive enough for Nigerians to live, to stay, to do business, to school, to get quality medication etc. We need that leader that will make this country, first Nigeria. Look at the issue of security alert all the time…. And you ask: when did we degenerate to this sad level?
Look at how the economy is in dire straits today – visionless leadership.