Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Prof. Jerry Anthony Agada is a former minister of state, Education Federal during former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration. He spoke to Daily Sun on various issues including tips on how to handle the prevailing security situation in the country.
Recently, the issue of insecurity seems to be on the increase in this country as everywhere seems not safe any longer. What do you think can be done to address the issue?
Well, I must emphasize that the issue of insecurity is of great concern to every Nigerian. Each time you read through the national dailies, cases of insecurity stare you in the face. The thing (insecurity) is on the increase. Insurgency, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, cultism and the rest of them are all on the increase in this country. I think what we can do to tackle this insecurity issue is basically to start speaking the truth to ourselves because something is happening and we all must rise up and address it before it consumes us all. My people have this proverb that it is when you know a problem that you can think of a solution to that problem. But in a situation where you know the problem but want people to believe that there’s no such problem, then we have a bigger problem on our hands. For instance, how can the military come and tell us that Boko Haram has been defeated and the people are saying that it has not been defeated. For me, I feel that one of the ways to stop this insecurity issue is to make sure that we come out with the truth at all times. Say things as they happen and as they are so that if possible, attention can be drawn to such places. Take for instance, I was supposed to be attending a programme in Kaduna recently but the truth of the matter is I am afraid to go since there’s no flight from Makurdi to Kaduna. If you go by road, you’re most likely to be kidnapped. If you want to go by rail, from the stories we read in the news, the confusion in getting ticket is terrible. Nothing seems to be going properly. So, I just thought to myself that the best thing for me to do is to forget about that trip. We are celebrating the reintroduction or reinvigoration of the rail system in Nigeria. What is government doing to ensure that getting tickets to travel by rail would not be a Herculean task? All these problems constitute the insecurity we are talking about. People in high places who are speaking for Mr. President must endeavor to always tell him the truth as it is. You know, some of them think by distorting the facts, they are supporting the powers that be and that is not correct. Say things the way they are so that the powers that be, can focus their attention on tackling those problems.
Okay then, do you support the call by some prominent Nigerians and some members of the National Assembly for a security summit?
That call is okay but let me tell you that there have been several security summits in the past without any tangible result. The other time, did the Senate not carry out a security summit? What came out from it? It is not the holding of security summit that matters, it is working with the outcome of whatever is discussed at the summit. If not, we would just keep talking without any result. It’s like all these conferences that we have had in the past -national conference, sovereign national conference and the rest of them. Everyday, the same problem continues to emanate.
So, are you also agitating for the restructuring of this country as things stand now?
I can tell you that I am one of those who are agitating for the restructuring of this country. It seems to me that everybody has become overwhelmed with the enormous problems that we have. So, why don’t we cut it to size by making sure that problems can be handled more easily than the way we are doing now. At the center there (federal level), where every power is concentrated, things have become so wieldy there that to trickle down to the states to make sure that things work becomes a problem. I am thinking that if restructuring is done in such a way that power is devolved to the federation units as it’s supposed to be, things can be more easily tackled having to go and wait on the commander in-chief who would direct the IGP of police to direct the Commissioner of Police who is seeing that there is a problem but will not tackle it because orders have not come from above. So, to me, if there can be restructuring in such a way that things can be a bit better managed at the micro level, it will be good.
There is also this insinuation in most quarters that poverty is what is responsible for the high level of insecurity that we are experiencing today. What is your take on that?
There is no need belabouring that point. Poverty is a contributory factor to the high level of insecurity that we have in this country today. Some people go to steal as a result of not knowing what to do. To get food to eat becomes a problem. Of course, we tell on moral grounds that poverty should not push you into committing crime but where there is no food to eat, some people, if they know that they can go and pilfer from somewhere to be able to have something to sustain themselves, they will do it just to stay alive. The poverty rate is too much and we keep talking about it with very little action to stem the tide. Look at the issue of minimum wage that they have been talking about. Till now, it is not being implemented yet. They will bring one stumbling block to talk about all in a bid to delay the implementation of that minimum wage of just N30,000. Then, compare that meager amount to the salary of National Assembly members. The disparity is too much. And then, there is no job for the teeming graduates who leave school yearly in this country. When you talk, they would say government cannot provide job for everybody. If government cannot provide everybody job, can’t the same government do something to alleviate the suffering of the people?
So, what is the solution to this socio-economic quagmire?
The solution is to have the welfare of the people at heart. Let government think about the feelings of the people; that if people are suffering this way, what do we do to ease this problem? To me, the amount of money they spend in unnecessary things like buying of big vehicles and the rest of them can go a long way in alleviating the suffering of the masses occasioned by poverty. When these unnecessary spending is a bit reduced, the money can be spread to areas that can cater for people’s welfare. Tag it welfarism if you like. In other places where there is this social security system, people even get unemployment allowances for people who are supposed to be in jobs but because out here is no job, at least, at the end of the month, they get something to keep them alive until job is got. These are things that are possible and could be done in this country. But where a single person or a group of people carries the whole thing and then thousands, if not millions of people are suffering, there will be crime all over the place. And then, people’s tendency to grab where they don’t even have is another thing. Then, the get rich quick syndrome is another major issue. Some young people want to drive big jeeps and build big houses with fat bank accounts when they know that they don’t have the wherewithal to acquire those things. It’s better to be moderate in your lifestyle so that you can contain yourself and be contented with what you have. Some young people who have not seen life want to be in money and if that money is not readily available, they will go and kidnap so that they will get millions for ransom, and the. You will see them in money. So, these are some of the things that create insecurity in our system because everything is distorted.
Recently, the IPOB members attacked former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ikweremadu in Germany. We are also hearing that the group is currently in Japan where our President has gone to attend TICAD7. And the same people are said to have vowed to sustain the attack on Nigerian leaders outside this country. What is your reaction to that?
What is the reason for them going to other countries to start attacking their own people? Is that fair? It’s not fair. No matter what grievances IPOB claims to have, the best thing for them to do is to come to their country and iron it out. What they are doing right now is very shameful and they are putting everybody in shame. I started by telling you that where truth is not being told, it will create room for crimes and criminality. I know that the presidency will come out and say there is nothing like that even if there is all in a bid to create the impression that everything is all right. Let the presidency rather condemn the development out rightly instead of trying to hide the truth. If I were the Presidency, there is no smoke without fire, the best thing is to shout about it so that people will know because what they (IPOB) are doing is not correct and I don’t support it.
What is your view on the agitation for the establishment of state police?
Well, I am not an expert in security matters but whether it is state or community police or whatever, if you adopt any of those, it means you have reduced it from the unhealthy situation that I have talked about from the center there. So, once it comes down to that level, it’s okay. Whether it is community policing or state policing, I was thinking that when you talk about the idea of community policing, you have people from within the community who are the officers serving in the police because they know the area and things like that; that is fine or even if it is state police, everything is within the control of the state governor instead of going to Abuja to go and get permission before you start tackling a problem that you have seen there. It is also good whether it is state police or community police. Call it whatever name you like, as long as it helps to reduce the problem that we have within the country, I think it is better.
What would you say about the proliferation of universities and other tertiary institutions within the country?
You know the country’s population and Nigerians’ quest for education whereby everybody wants to be educated which is very good, and there is no access and you said that they should not create or establish these illegal schools; where do you want them to go? The ones that are Federal Government owned institutions, how many are they to take all these numerous people that you have all over? So, they should continue to establish these institutions as long as standard is maintained. For me, I was reading from either SSANU or whatever; they said that no more higher institution should be established. It’s not just enough to say no more universities should be established, are you expanding the existing ones? Are you furnishing them, equipping them? If not, let them be so that as many people as possible can have access to education but the only thing is that let it not be at the expense of quality or standard. This is what I know about that. If the powers that be can make sure that quality standard is maintained, you can establish as many schools as you want. The only thing is that let a school not be established as long as it does not conform with the standard. That’s that but to call it illegal, to me it is not correct.
Recently, the Federal Government asked 35 states to repay some money given to them as budget support in form of bailout. What is your take on that?
To me, money is money and then of course, people are suffering and the Federal Government gave out this money as bailout so that salaries and things like that would be paid. Now, you want the money paid back, then the state would go back to the same situation. Is the money not meant to cater for Nigerians? To me, if they have given out that money and the money had been used for the purpose for which it is meant, forget about it. The only one I will not support is when you see the state government misusing that money or not using it for the purpose for which it has been given. If the federal government knows such states, call them and let them pay for it. But where it has been used judiciously for the advantage of people, Nigerians are happy but to say pay back, then you take people back to the situation where they will be suffering, I don’t support that one.
With your position in the state, do you think Benue state government used its bailout support judiciously?
Well, as chairman of the state civil service commission, I am not part and parcel of when or where this money is expended but I do know that salaries are being paid now which is part of the usage for the budget support funds and things like that. In that aspect, I want to say that Benue State has judiciously used it because at the time we started, salaries were not being paid because money was not there until bailout budget support was given to states. So, I can say without fear of contradiction that Benue has used the funds judiciously but like I said, it is not my duty and more so, I am not an auditor. I don’t know how they do it. If any state is found wanting including my state, let such state be held responsible but to come and say after we have used it, we now pay it back, and when we pay it back, there is no more money, then we go back to the situation where salaries would continue to be owed, is not good.
As one of the elder statesmen in this country and a major stakeholder in your state, if you are to advise the governor of your state, what areas would you want him to focus on this second tenure?
As an elder statesman from this state, my advice to my governor is to make sure that he keeps to the promises that he had made to the people. He has told us that in this his second coming, he would focus on things that affect the people. To me, that’s what I would advise him to do, to keep to those promises, continue to pay salaries as he is doing, continue to make sure that they are doing roads, renovating schools and let them continue doing such things because that’s what people would like so that at the end of his tenure, even though he is no longer here, people would say it was during his time, this one was done and we would be happy. And to me, that is what is necessary and my appeal and advice to my governor is that, he should continue to keep to those promises he had made; he knows them and people are expecting that he would do as he had said.
What is your advice to the governor over the fracas between him and his estranged leader and now minister, senator George Akume?
For me, there should be no problem at all. You know, sometimes, some of these reports you read here and there especially on the social media, cause the problem. Take for instance, the current governor congratulated the former governor for being appointed minister; some people would say why is he doing it and that is the problem to them. We should look for areas that would bring unity among them. I want to tell you that if our current governor and our former governor are working together, more developments will come to the state and things will augur well for us but when some people think that, this one is there and this one is there working at crossroads, it is not the best and Benue State would be worse for it.
What are your feelings about the new cabinet of President Buhari?
We are all hanging on expectations waiting for what they can do because we expect them to do much. If you remember, some former ministers were retained, others were not called back and we want to have the impression that, well, Mr. President called those he feels have performed so well to bring them back and let them come and continue so that we can see their effect. Even the newly appointed ones, let them please have people at the back of their minds. They have not been given these appointments for personal aggrandisement, it is for us because they are our servants. And what I like about the newly inaugurated cabinet, is the coming back of one particular minister, the minister for Education, Adamu Adamu. Because I keep saying it, forget about somebody’s background and things like that, it is the effect of what the person has done. You will discover that this Adamu Adamu in the first tenure, if you read his three years strategic plans for education, I have it here and I was reading it and I said if this is done the way it was planned, it would be the best for our education sector and then, he is coming back again and I like it because if you remember, shortly after the dissolution of that cabinet, there was an announcement that the Federal Government has approved the establishment of secondary school commission which some of us have always advocated. You know in the education system, at the university level, we have what is called the national universities commission; for college of education, we have what is called national colleges of education commission, also for polytechnic, we have national board for technical education and you have Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for primary schools but what do you have for secondary education? Nothing. And everybody is floating; every Dick and Harry will go and start putting schools here and there where teaching is not even taking place because effective supervision and monitoring is not there like the other commissions. Secondary school doesn’t have. We have always advocated that let there be a commission for secondary school education. So, when that announcement was made, I said that let it not be left at the level of announcement only but let it be implemented. I am feeling that the coming back of this minister will see to the completion that, that project would come on board and it would do well for our secondary school system as far as education is concerned.?