Renowned academic and politician, Prof Tunde Adeniran, was former minister of Education, former ambassador of Nigeria to Germany and served as the chairman of the Directorate for Social Mobilization (MAMSER).
He was also a former member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before his defection to Social Democratic Party in 2018, where he took over from Chief Olu Falae as the acting national chairman.
He opened up during a chat with Sunday Sun on the Nigerian condition, his hope, and disappointment, electoral process, security challenge and the Amotekun creation, among other national issues.
How do you see the dust being raised by the Federal Government concerning the establishment of Amotekun, the security outfit recently launched in the Southwest?
Well, my position on it is that whatever could be done by the Nigerian people and the various governments to assist the security architecture that we have on the ground should be encouraged, should be welcomed and coordinated properly in the interest of the people and the nation. It is becoming a frightening situation when people do not feel secure on the roads, in the house, anywhere, and then our existing structures are more or less being overstretched as things are now and, of course, you know I am one of those who have always supported this idea of community policing, etc, so anything that could be done to save the lives and property of Nigerians should be encouraged, but it should be properly coordinated. And when you have that type of outfit it should be seen, meant and directed towards protecting every Nigerian wherever they are. They go into protecting them against criminals and criminality; it shouldn’t be seen as something belonging to either a particular state or group of states etc; but for the interest of all Nigerians for the safety of life and property.
You don’t have the fear that it may be abused?
That is why I keep talking about proper coordination. There is nothing in Nigeria that cannot be abused, anything in Nigeria is subject to abuse, but as a people, we have to get our orientations right, so those things once the initiatives come they should be properly directed and there should be no room for abuse.
There was this conference held in Lagos recently concerning the Nigeria-Biafra civil war 50 years after. Many participants expressed worry and fear that most things that lead to the war are beginning to characterize the present state of the nation. Do you share in such a view?
My position is that we have to be mindful of the lessons of history, we have to watch out. There is a saying that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. History should teach us to do things better as it was done before. History should remind us of things that were great and good and glorious in the past and things that were bad, ugly and unedifying in the past. So, those that are good, great and glorious we improve on them while those that are bad we try to avoid those mistakes and not to repeat them. The civil war was such a bad experience. We were undergraduates in those days and we know how we felt and then the roles that some of us played, making sure this country was kept together. In fact, during that time some students were more or less mobilised to go and work in the liberated areas to ensure that people were assisted one way or the other voluntarily because of the passion, because of the patriotism in us in those days. Right now what we will like to see is the greater Nigeria, a more united Nigeria, a more humane Nigeria and above all a Nigeria where there is justice, fairness and everybody is happy. That should be our goal that should be what the government should be doing and be developing. Any tendencies that tend to divide us or to create frictions or that could cause conflict should be avoided, there is no reason for that and there is every opportunity for our leaders, for our government at the federal level, at the state level, at the local government level to work hard towards it and in our own young days, when we were much younger we took pride in being Nigeria and we loved it, you see people coming from different parts of the country, we loved the competition, we loved the varieties and above all the diversity was part of our strength, it was great, we want Nigeria to be great again, where we will be our brother’s keeper, where there will be no distrust among the various ethnic nationalities within the nation. We have to do everything to make sure that this country falls into those fundamentals and be a model for other countries in Africa.
Recently the INEC chairmen, Prof Yakubu Mahmood raised concerns about security during elections, particularly how it is used to subvert or manipulate the process. Do you think if this security issue is gotten right that subsequent elections may be free and credible?
This year or subsequent years Nigeria is more than ripe for elections. What is not ripe is the framework within which we undertake our elections. People tend to take delight, take joy in violating laws, violating rules and regulations that guide certain things. If you see the tendency in the average Nigerian he too does things that are convenient to him. We are endemically selfish people because we find joy in violating things just to please ourselves and you only need to put not just the rules there, but people to implement those rules, to make sure they are enforced and things will fall in line. It is the same Nigerians who used to do things right, yes, of course, there were some shortcomings even in the past, but they were not as terrible as what we have now. Be on the road and see the way Nigerians drive, you will feel ashamed. Just stay at one corner and watch them and you are shocked…you keep on asking what for… just to gain an unnecessary advantage. But when the rules are followed, when you follow the green light things will be normal, but because of people who want to cut corners there is chaos and there is chaos all over the place when elections come simply because people are thinking more, planning selfish opportunity and stealing to more or less violate the process, to break the rules instead of making efforts, mapping out strategies to comply with the regulations and make elections be like a festival that it ought to be. Festival of free choice, celebrating democracy that is what it should be, people should be looking up to it and then you do it, you go about your normal duty. I believe that people should be able, with what is on the ground now, go to the polling booths to vote quietly and walk away and if the person wants to see the outcome then hang around to monitor it following the rules, without even raising your voice or abusing anybody talk less of causing violence. The rules are there and can be put to practice particularly by the time the Electoral Act is signed by the president. What makes the difference now is the attitude of the average Nigerian, particularly the politicians who want to reap from what they did not sow, many of them. You are popular in a place you still want to impose yourself. And public office is service, nothing else and that is why at some point I hope and expect that some of these things will be reviewed so that political jobbers will have no place in our system. When people have means of livelihood, they have their own career there wouldn’t be that desperation to win by all means. Once the attitude changes, of course, the officials, the bulk of the burden is also on them, even when the politicians want to manipulate and they do not get cooperation from the officials’ things will go well, particularly the security officials, no matter how the arrangement is, if the security people do not compromise things will get well, but once the compromise they make a mess of the whole thing. It doesn’t take years; it doesn’t take months to do that. The rules are there, all they need to do is to comply, follow the rules and implement the guideline. All that may be required also is that before the exercise there should be some orientation to them; call it refresher course to ad hoc staff so as to bring them in line with what has to be done in the field. That is all and that doesn’t take ages, but only a short period to do that. Ordinarily, when we have patriotic and selfless citizens even some of the logistic problems that we have occasionally, people will come willingly and assist them to make sure that the entire exercise is flawless.
Do you think there is the need to deregister some political parties given its large number and with many creating no relevance or adding value?
I believe absolutely that we have too many political parties, some of them you cannot call political parties they are just outfits for political negotiations. In this country, there was a time when there was a two-party system and it worked wonderfully well. If you say okay, do not militarise the system, do not force or impose, let parties evolve on their own, yes there has to be that minimum condition that parties must meet otherwise you will also be constituting problems for the management of the process. In essence, real parties that you can call parties in this country are not more than about 10 or so, gradually they have a tendency to be reducing by the time they see their performance. If their ideological tendencies are reflected there will be a situation where some will merge and we will no longer have too many parties scattered all over the place.
Most Nigerians are worried about the nation’s continuous rising debt profile. How do you feel about it?
Well, I am worried too about our debt profile and I know that countries do borrow, but you should borrow when it becomes absolutely necessary and in a situation like this what one will expect is that we need to have more analysis, more debate to really decide…okay, we want to borrow, what are we borrowing for, why do we want to borrow and also learn from the past, not just the past of other countries, but our own past. Yes, we borrowed in the past what let us to the borrowing? When we borrowed what did we spend them on? How did it come out? Was it for the benefit of the nation and the Nigerian people? So, whatever we are going to borrow must be, for instance, to improve, to check the youth out of the streets, to get them gainfully employed, to improve infrastructure, to improve the wellbeing of Nigerians, to ensure that there is proper transformation.
This government led by President Muhammed Buhari has been criticised for bad human rights records in terms of not respecting certain court orders, but not too long it respected the court order to release Sowore, convener of RevolutionNow, former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, among others. Do you give government kudos for such a feat?
I believe that the fact that one doesn’t do things the way it should have been done at a particular time and one now does it right does not mean that one shouldn’t give credit to the government for complying with court orders and we want them to do more as a matter of policy, our courts have to be respected, the rule of law must govern this country. We should commend the government for what they did, but with the proviso that it must be maintained, it shouldn’t be a one-off thing. The rule of law must be consistently obeyed and it will also have a spill-over effect. It will also encourage the judiciary who want to do what is right for Nigeria and the Nigerian people.
Let’s round off with your assessment of the education sector where you are also a giant with outstanding records?
I look up to a lot of transformation in the education sector. Every day I reflect on what the sector will be many years from now…. And one thing that gives me satisfaction is that those in authority, those in positions are aware of the shortcomings in that sector and they are trying to do something. When you see what the man-in-charge of JAMB has been trying to do, then you see that they are trying to tackle the problem and the more you admit there is a problem, the more you tackle the problem and the more you are able to focus on it and try to do something to solve it. One is also encouraged by the fact that there are officials who are dedicated, who are committed and want to do things the way they should be done. But in the overall, I believe that a lot of work still needs to be done, generally nation-wide and particularly by all the stakeholders. The area that I am very worried about is in the quality of those who are teaching in our various schools because you can’t give what you don’t have, so we have to be concerned about it and we have to make sure that from time to time we visit and re-visit and re-train those people so as to do what they should do. At the tertiary level, we have to be careful the way lecturers are being recruited, the proliferation of universities calls for concern. It is good the more universities we have the better, but let’s make sure they are solid and to make sure that the quality does not go down and to ensure this you have to start with the quality of people that you have there, not just the teaching staff, the lecturers, but also the administrators. The administrators must be aware of why they are there, their various responsibilities and, of course, the teaching staff must be solid, must be able to deliver.
Do you have fears for Nigeria today?
No, rather I have hope for Nigeria, hope based on the fact that we have sufficient number of Nigerians who are worried, who are concerned about the problem, the challenges we are facing. My hope is that all these people will let their views manifest by way of proffering solutions, by way of putting heads together, let people brainstorm, let people think and then let the appropriate authority put to use the outcome of those findings and Nigeria will get it right and let those who are in authority, everybody think positively about the country and what we can all do to turn things around for the better, to secure lives and property and to ensure that indeed we build the economy, and the political process which is very fundamental, a political process based on the rule of law and people behaving as good citizens not those who will want to bring down the system. We should all work to promote the society, work for the good of human community, humanity, the collective good of humanity must determine how we move forward so that we can all be proud of our society and of our country and we can now use that, of course, work with other nations to have a world that will be free of all the terrible things that we are witnessing today. Those things do not just fall from the sky, it develops from small communities to the state, to the national level, to the regional level and escalates globally and it becomes a serious problem for humanity. I have hope and I appeal to all Nigerians to share in the hope not just by talking about it, but by doing something that will reverse the negative trends wherever sector we look at nationwide.