By Daniel Kanu
Seasoned scholar, Prof Lai Olurode was former dean, Faculty of Social Science, University of Lagos and former national commissioner of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The respected academic took Sunday Sun through the gamut of the problem with Nigeria and how to salvage it.
He touched on sensitive issues on why the country has continued to record failures in leadership, security challenges, the need for restructuring, INEC challenge, and the raging problem in the tertiary institution, among others. Excerpts:
Many Nigerians believe that the country is at a tipping point. How do you react to such concerns?
All I know is that most countries in the world at one point or the other in their history will be at the precipice, they will be at a breaking point, but something in their history or in their cultural and national asset will just prop up to take them back to the status quo where they were before. Nigeria is not 100 years old as a nation, we are around 61 or so. So, what I am saying in a nutshell is that if you look at marriages, for instance, which is not even a political institution, but more of a social institution, marriages could begin to be troubled from infancy, but after a while there will be a measure of stability, then after a while again it’s possible for the relationship to decline or to even get dissolved. Building a nation is not child’s play, it’s the most traumatic experience. Look at even the issue of America and even Britain up till today, the Scottish people, the Wales are still discussing whether to remain as part of the United Kingdom or whether to go their different ways. What I think we need to do to bring Nigeria out of the tipping point is to strengthen national institutions in such a way that it will be very, very difficult for anybody to predict the people in the place, where they are from, whether they are Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, etc. it should be so unpredictable that you find all members of a nation in America. You get to a typical company in America today you find people of diverse nationalities. And that is what has been holding the country together because there is strength in diversity. That was what Donald Trump attempted with frustration to bring down, but the institution proved so formidable for him to bastardise or to bring down. So, what you need to do is to build national institutions so that appointing people will not be discriminatory, so that everybody will feel a sense of belonging on the basis of your competence. But it is never easy to rely only on merit to construct institutions. In our country, you need to do a mixture of all kinds of criteria, so I will say, we are not doing badly though we are not exploiting to the fullest the potentials that God had endowed us with. But if you ask me I will say it is not really bad enough because we will overcome. Look, if you look at the old regions, the Western region, Eastern region, Northern region, etc, there are some institutions that were put in place by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) is one. The university is still there, not down, it has produced generations of medical doctors, produced all kinds of different people. In the Western region, it is the same thing, WEMABOARD, University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University) and a few other institutions put in place by Awolowo are still in place. If you go to the North you will see the semblance of the samething, so what we need to do is, what can you and I do to contribute to the country? You don’t need Nigeria, if you have never left Nigeria you may not be able to discern its asset, the formidable asset that Nigeria has, not in terms of money, but in terms of its cultural institutions, institutions that have become very formidable. Of course, you will think that all hope is lost, that we are not doing well, things are difficult, no water, no electricity etc, of course, all those ones are true observations, but look, if you leave the Yoruba on their own, they will tear themselves into pieces. If they leave Ndigbo on their own the Wawa group will fight against the non-Wawa, not to talk of the North and where is the North in reality, North is only on paper. The old North as we used to know it has been demystified, it’s not there except in the imagination of people. Look at Niger State? It is a complex state, very diverse; you cannot re-establish the caliphate the way it was before in the whole North. The minorities in those regions have become strengthened and things have become more complicated, all over the country. Don’t let us throw away the baby with the bathwater. Of course, we have challenges, we are traumatised, we are not one country, that is true, we are many nations in one and which country is just one nation (we just mentioned the case of Britain), which country is a nation? You will never find anywhere, but even in those countries, you see a multiplicity of nationalities there. So, what they have done over the years is to strengthen institutions, make them stronger so as to withstand certain anomalies. This real journey got started in 1999, no doubt we have gone through very difficult moments since then. There have been somersaults, but all together we cannot say nothing has been achieved. Of the reasons people say there is no nation is the security challenges that we are confronted with, selective appointments that are not driven by merit, yes fine, banditry yes, insecurity of life, yes, this is true, but again what is the alternative that we have? I cannot discern any alternative rather than how do you strengthen regional bonds? How do you decentralize power, how do you remove the concentration of authority at the centre, so that you and I, if we want to do anything we don’t need to get to Abuja to get approval to get it done. Abuja has taken more than it can bite and that is why there is a kind of suffocation in governance, Abuja seems to be so greedy that it is in control of almost everything, there is no need for that. The resources that Nigeria is endowed within all the regions of the country are so enough to go round, but there is a lot of waste because of greed. The government, especially at the federal level if you ask me, yes we need a Federal Government, but we need to decentralize governance. There are lots of things that the centre is doing that it ought not to be doing, so we need to tinker with the architecture of governance and if you do that I believe strongly Nigeria will be a better place. Look, the population of this country is an asset, what is a liability is the failure to build capacity. What stops Nigeria from being a resource-based country? The world out there, in different directions they are looking for experts. It is sad that because of poor governance, because government has saddled itself with challenges they probably should not be concerned with. Government is the major employer of labour and everybody wants to get to the public sector for a job because they know it’s simply an institution to laziness, you don’t need to work, you just appear and disappear, and with the least qualification you can get the government job, the skill is not there, its man know man and the end you have a plethora of ghost workers. You can’t build your country this way. Look at all the businesses that the government goes into, look at Apapa in Lagos and the gridlock there, that is a national shame. And you ask yourself, can Apapa not be better managed? The answer is that it can be better managed, but is it well managed? The answer is no, because the government is involved. Look at the airline now, what killed the Nigerian Airways, even the railway that is being built, government must think seriously of how to bring in the private sector entrepreneurship. Look at people out of school who cannot read, who cannot write, but government will take them up for jobs and they are among those that will be crying that there is unemployment in the country and we have employment challenges, but do they have the capacity to be retained in competent sectors? Most of them do not. They go to school they cheat in exams, examination malpractices are on the increase, so these are people who cannot function effectively under competition. But I think the challenges are not insurmountable. Sometimes people ask me, is Buhari doing his best and I say yes, he is doing his best, maybe he is not doing well enough. Can he do better, I will say yes, but I still believe that we are practicing a democracy that is not effective, but it is much better from where we are coming from. We came out of dictatorship under Abacha, under Babangida, under Obasanjo, under Murtala Mohammed, under Buhari, under Shonekan etc, we are not exploiting the potentials, the robustness of democratization, of forces of democratization, but the judiciary is not under pressure as it used to be under the military. They rule with the decree and you cannot challenge it unlike in a democracy. Look at Decree 2 and how Nigerians suffered it. You make a statement that is correct in law, that is correct in facts, just because it is causing embarrassment to the military dictatorship you will be jailed, you could even be killed. The East may not be getting what it wants, the West also may not get what they want, our brothers in the North may be getting more now, but it’s not going to be forever. I know that changes, restructuring is taking place, not directly, not formally, but it’s taking place. Can anybody stop you and I from establishing a university now, the answer is no. You want to establish a radio station? It used to be only the Federal Government before, but now if you don’t want to tune to Radio Nigeria or NTA, you can decide to turn to Channels or AIT, it is no longer the time for Daily Times or nothing, today you have a variety to choose from before the law was that you cannot establish an alternative means of communication. You know what it was with the National carrier (Nigerians Airways) and you know what is on the ground today. I believe strongly it will come to a time when there will be private rail lines where individuals will get involved in the business and they will be in the market competing with the Nigerian Railway Corporation. So, what we need to do is to keep alive the tempo of critique, the tempo of the forces of democratization, very active judicial arm, and very active citizenry. These are things to do and I don’t think you can begin to crack another alternative.
So, you are saying that devolution of power is part of the solution?
Yes, if you get more power from the centre to the states you can decide on certain things to do. You can decide to have a regional carrier, airline, your regional and community police, etc. This current system is not working to capacity for anybody and it is a burden even on governance because you see that they spend 75 per cent or more on public officials, a very tiny group when you compare to the population percentage. They constitute a very powerful oligarchy; a very dominant group vested with a lot of influence, very draconian, most of the members unpatriotic. The larger population is hungry. Balarabe Musa, may his soul rest in peace, he cried out, he said people are being kidnapped for less than N1,000 on the farms in the North. In Maiduguri some farmers were slaughtered in their rice farm, that is like a coup against the poor people. So, whatever we can do to make the country more stable we should do. The polity is becoming stabilized, but the security architecture needs to be re-jigged. We all to an extent contribute to this political challenge, the academia, the media inclusive, the professionals, etc but don’t let us be consistently skeptical that there are good people in the land, there are good institutions. Nigeria is largely an agricultural society whatever that is not targeted at them, the farmers, the rural people, forget it.
You talked briefly about re-jigging the security architecture. Do you mean the Security Chiefs should be removed for others to make input?
No, let me say this, you have a structure, security architecture on the ground, things about the security of any country, its an institutional thing. Of course, individuals will come, so you have the personnel to drive it. You can change personnel from time to time, but does it really change much about the security network? What I have in mind, security as it is, is highly concentrated in Nigeria. Security challenges are decentralized, acting at the local level, acting at the grassroots. Nobody can know your community better than you. Let us form regional security architecture, let’s even have it at the local government level, so that minor issues of stealing, killing, criminal tendencies can be tackled at the grassroots, that is where they happen. If the commissioner of police in Kaduna State, Imo State or Ogun State, if they have to call the Inspector General of Police in Abuja to take order, then forget about security.
Recently, the Federal Government accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) and some right groups of constituting danger, especially on their reports concerning the security challenge in the country…?
Yes, I am aware of the report. Don’t let us trivialize that statement from the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed. On the issue of security for the international community, the security of poor nations is business to them. We must get this clear. The more unsecured you are the better for arms manufacturers, the better for Russia, Germany and other countries that are into the big business of arms and ammunition manufacturing and sales. The truth is that they will not want to see a peaceful developing nation, they will not want to see a peaceful Nigeria. They will not because selling arms is big business for them. We need to show as a nation, as individuals more interest in our security, the security of life, and property. The international community most times is not as friendly as you think because of their interest or profit. Look at the issue of COVID-19 and their response. Have they responded to treating malaria the way they are treating and responding to COVID-19? Yet malaria kills more people, but because it concerns them. Look at how they mobilised personnel and the whole world was at a standstill. They never hide their feelings. They slaughtered our people during the slave era, they killed us like dogs in the colonial era, the life of a dog matters so much to the British than the life of a Nigerian, and even until now, they don’t care if you are all slaughtered. They want the world to themselves, if it is possible and they will not miss Nigeria or Africa, if we are removed from the surface of the earth. This is the bitter truth. So, we need to be careful and tread with caution and know when our interest is hurt. Some intervention by the international community is a Greek gift. Bringing your country down, saying nothing good about your country, being consistently skeptical about your country is not the way to go. It takes both the leadership and the citizenry to build a nation. Let’s promote Nigeria and that is not to say there are no challenges, but building a country is not a joke, it’s not a tea party, there must be a commitment from all. No doubt the police are overwhelmed, so what we need to do is to multiply centres of security, have them at the local government level, at the council level, even as sub-units at the area level, at the state level, and give power to them. I think the government seems to be looking the other way, allowing zones either in the West, North, East, etc construct their own security architecture, but we need to back it up with the law. The Federal Government should concern itself with national defence, national territorial boundaries, financial matters, currency, and few other things of national issue, but on security, you must decentralize the centres. Whatever we can do that can make Nigeria become more diverse and heterogeneous and regional competition, competition within the state should be encouraged. There will be healthy competition in the end.
How will you assess activities of the INEC so far?
Yesterday and today, logistic challenges in our elections have become historical, Nigeria’s threshold for malpractices in elections for election insecurity, our tolerant threshold seems to become elastic. As I have always said it requires partnership to have good elections because INEC alone cannot do it, but INEC can do better than it has done in the past elections. I still believe that the 2011 and 2015 elections remain a watershed in our history, but the 2019 election could not be faulted in a large number of ways. I still want to say that former President Jonathan and his party, Peoples Democratic Party, made history with the outcome of that election. It has never happened before that a ruling party will secede power to an opposition party. I will say we are not doing badly, of course, there will always be room for improvement, but let’s note that all of us need to join hands. INEC alone cannot travel far. We need to get our security right, so the attention should be on security, security, and security. We must also re-jig our social security so that citizens can give their best to the country. When there is hopelessness in the land, when the future is bleak and the children are born into a society where there is basic deprivation, they lack almost everything, then how do you expect them to give their best to such a country?
The Federal Government has settled, at least at the moment with ASUU, but the Non-Academic Staff Union now wants to take its pound of flesh?
Government should have known that there will be a reaction to its position on ASUU, so the government ought to have given them attention there is no way they will not be impacted by what has happened to ASUU. Government ought to have been more comprehensive in dealing with the challenges in the educational institution. These challenges cannot be fixed on a piecemeal basis; you will never get the best result. The political terrain is well funded, look at the Senators and how much they are taking home. Government is the one creating these self-inflicted challenges. If I know that my salary as a university professor is comparable to the salary of a senator why will I want to leave the university and go into politics? The political sector is congested primarily because of the greed of the political class and it’s going to be difficult to have peace, in terms of the social sector peace, in terms of national peace.