Former Minister of Education and ex-Ambassador of Nigeria to Germany, Prof Tunde Adeniran, is a distinguished academic and politician. He also served as the Chairman of the Directorate for Social Mobilization (MAMSER).
The erudite university teacher 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 of the party.
In this chat with Sunday Sun, he speaks on the COVID-19 pandemic, what should be done and lessons learnt, the problem with Nigeria and why Nigerians bother about the political zones that would produce its leadership, among other key issues. Excerpt:
Let’s start with the COVID-19 pandemic and how the government is tackling it in its management and control. Are you satisfied?
The way the thing has been going and by the very nature of the virus, it is not a government issue and the government should not take it as a government issue. It is not a partisan issue and the government should not let anybody politicize it or make it partisan. It is something that involves all humanities and in our case, it involves every Nigerian, so everybody should be mobilised and starting from the committee (Presidential taskforce committee) that was set up etc. It should be known that this is a national tragedy, a national calamity that has befallen humanity and everybody ought to be brought on board, the private sector, the technocrats, the politicians, everybody fully mobilised to know that this is a war situation and that this war is a different war because you don’t see the enemy face to face, you don’t see where the guns are coming from. So, the government must review and revisit the situation and make sure that they really touch base with all the various stakeholders. What we are passing through is a serious matter and goes beyond something being handled as if it is a government project. It is a national project.
Do you think the government has been living up to expectation in terms of welfare and palliative provisions for the less privileged which are in a great majority in the country?
Well, that is the second level and by that I mean, if these other people that I mentioned, critical stakeholders have been involved, they would have advised the government appropriately, that it is not something you handle as if you are handling market women, tradermoni or things like that. That is not what it is rather this is something that concerns every Nigerian and the way to handle it is not just carrying some cash to display, that in itself is a contradiction of government’s policy of social distancing. When you carry something and put them on the table and you ask people to go and queue and they all come together, you are not keeping the social distance policy rather you are violating it, it’s a negation. What ought to have been done which I believe should be a better alternative is that if they had involved all relevant stakeholders, they would have been best advised to say, look in Nigeria we know those that are the poorest of the poor. For instance, you have the BVN of every Nigerian, you bring in the bankers and instruct them to, for instance, collate the BVN of people that have a certain very low amount in their account, you know that such category is poor. Then you can go on from there and say, look, whatever amount that you are releasing release it to those accounts. And it will go round. Nobody would go and be carrying money all over the place violating both trust and the essence of social distancing. Of course, there are some people who may not have accounts, these people are very negligible, few and it is possible that by the time you are doing with the stop-gap measure you will be able to discover some of these people and then communities, where they are, will detect them also because you have involved larger stakeholders that should be involved they will be able to identify such people and these are the people you can now get their community leaders, stakeholders, non-governmental organisations particularly those who have been very involved in terms of mobilising people and all that, they will know who these people are and they will be able to coordinate the needed palliative for such people. At the end of the day if you are going to miss out on any Nigerian it will be far less than two per cent, but the way it is being handled now if you are able to cover up to five per cent to 10 per cent, that will be a miracle. Knowing the way some Nigerians are, the way they behave, some take advantage of tragic situations. We are facing a major disaster, social chaos and there is a lot of deprivation, so we must know how best to tackle it. We must also be able to cover people who earn a living by their daily exertion. There are people if they don’t work in a day they don’t eat and there are people who may eventually die of starvation if palliative did not get to them so you must put all this in view while making arrangements for the people’s welfare. There is again another category of people that also need to be given attention. You look at the people that are paying tax and all that, generally more people pay tax through the PAYE (Pay As You Earn) system. What is going on now there are so many people that medium and small surviving industrialists are paying salaries to, they have been locked down now. At the end of the month, I do not know how they are going to be catered for, I believe that some of those employers of labour in that category should also be assisted for them to carry the burden of their workers not working and they have to earn a living. Now, when you don’t work how do you earn a living? Social insurance will take care of some of these things partially, but then our system is not structured in such a way that that could be done. So, the government should be mindful of this and that is what will reduce the burden that families will carry.
Do think lessons have been learnt in terms of government’s neglect of critical sectors over the years?
I believe that so many lessons have been learned not only by Nigerians, but I believe the government itself must have realised at different levels both states and national, and of course, even the local government that so much ought to have been done in the past that we did not do. For instance, in the health sector, if the government had said okay, if you are going outside the country on health grounds if you are going to use the taxpayers money or put it differently if you are going to use government’s money, so long it is public fund you cannot do that, you cannot be allowed to go. That will force some of the policymakers and those who are there to improve our healthcare facilities to do so. Even if you want to go out for medical care now you cannot. People should have been mindful of this. When we were saying look, use what is produced locally people were saying, no, that it was not possible. Now that you have this type of lockdown, is it possible or not? Of course, you have no choice and these are things we could have done systematically, programmatically and patriotically if we had tried it as a possibility, as a measure, as an option, but people said it was not an option, that it was not possible, but now we know it is possible. So, one of the lessons to learn as I keep saying is that this COVID-19 is an equal opportunity that will get our government, the authorities, the power, to do the needful by taking care of those health facilities in this country and get them to such a standard that our medical practitioners will be running back home to come and work here within the system. It is also an equal opportunity to invention because it will also direct the attention of our scientists to direct their research to areas that are relevant to the needs of the country. In other words, we should be thinking ahead, we shouldn’t wait until certain things happen, right now we should not be waiting for some vaccines or for certain things to be discovered either in Israel or Cuba, USA or China before we go into our invention. We should become creative enough to be able to have a local solution, a national solution to some of these things that are confronting us.
Now that even the world economy is on its knees what do you expect our government to be focusing on as a solution?
I expect the government by now to have put in place a very powerful, strong team, not just economic advisory team or economic team, but one that will be all-encompassing, that will look into what is happening now and beyond what was predicted before because nobody thought we will find ourselves in this situation. Six months ago nobody ever anticipated this, we knew that the challenges were coming, but not of this magnitude. Now that we have this magnitude it is important for us that the government should not shy away from the fact that it cannot solve this problem alone. The government did not create this problem alone and it cannot solve it alone. It was created by circumstances beyond human comprehension so that they should all now come together, think together and find a common solution. The government should not be blamed for it, the government should also not be given all the credit, all Nigerians should be given the credit by the time we should have rallied around the government, by the time the government would have done the needful by bringing in all that needs to be brought in, we will move on from there to ensure that we solve the problem.
Are you really concerned about the political zone that will produce the Nigerian president in 2023?
That doesn’t bother me in anyway rather what bothers me is that we have been most unlucky in this country from time to time and we should solve the problem at hand now, after solving it the question of what will happen will surface. People already know that right now what they need to do is to get the very best within the Nigerian nation and when you look in terms of getting the very best there is not a single state in this federation where you do not get one patriotic, knowledgeable Nigerian, people with capacity and commitment that could run the affairs, but we should go about it in our best interest, what we have been doing over and over is that we have been getting it wrong, we should now think seriously. We have reached a situation whereby this country must get it right in leadership, if it means going to beg people to come out and rescue this nation we should do that.
As a renowned university professor with so many researches on leadership where do you place the problem with Nigeria?
It’s in leadership. Once we get the leadership right, nationally, at the state level as well as at the local government level we will get our focus right. There is a need to get our priorities right and you cannot do this doing it the way we are still doing it now. Poor leadership stifles the nation’s growth. If, for instance, you look at the state Houses of Assembly and you see what some of them are doing or you look through the National Assembly and you ask yourself whether some of them know what the National Assembly is supposed to be doing. Even within the executives. There are some quality people there, but because of the way we are running our system some of the products that should be coming out, the efforts, end results that some of them are making, do not show because they are negated within the system. By the time you have the right leadership the question of whether you are from this or that zone will be minimized. You believe in the leadership because the leadership also believes in you.