Former minister of Education and ex-Board of Trustees member of the Peoples Democratic Party, Prof Tunde Adeniran, shares his views with CHUKWUDI AKASIKE on the ongoing ASUU strike, the PDP crisis and other issues
Nigerian universities have been shut down for several months owing to the disagreement between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities. How can the impasse be resolved?
It can only be resolved through dialogue and understanding. Education should be given its pride of place in this country. It is the key to any development. It is the number engagement that both the government and the people should embrace. All the stakeholders must regard education the way it should be regarded. It should not be seen as if it is an ASUU palaver alone. Our future is involved; the future of the country is involved. When you joke with education, you are joking with the entire nation; you are joking with the future of a country, not just the future of the students who are at home doing nothing, it is the future of the entire nation, because education determines what a nation will be.
When you see the nature of the education system of a particular country, you can see the nature of that particular country. You can see whether it is a country that will make it or not. We have to pay more attention to education. Once we do that, we will take it with more seriousness than we are taking it now. It is a tragedy. It is bad enough that bandits and terrorists are preventing children from going to school in some parts of the country. To now have a situation in which the entire country’s university system is shut down, particularly government institutions, is a rare tragedy that should be addressed promptly.
ASUU is saying that the Federal Government should be blamed for the ongoing strike, but the government does not think so. Who should take the blame in this situation?
When you say ‘blame’, I think they should avoid the blame game. It is not a question of who is right or who is wrong. The nation is in trouble because our future is at stake; the future is in danger. Though the government and ASUU all have roles to play, they can all come to appreciate the big challenge before the nation when they sit down and really review the situation. What ASUU is asking for is not something that you just wave away. You sit down, you analyse them. ASUU members are also stakeholders, they are also Nigerians. So, they will understand when you take each of those issues and you discuss them. The Federal Government has not said what they are asking for is not reasonable; I think the issue is the implementation. There are agreements that have been reached. We have to get our priorities right. There is so much wastage in the country.
What do you mean by so much wastage in the country?
When you hear on a daily basis the looting going on and all that…if these resources have been properly utilised, there will not be so much left to be looted. When money comes, for goodness sake, you hear from time to time news about resources looted from the nation’s treasury. You have always heard about the Abacha loot. They will tell you that a particular amount of money has been returned to the country. We have heard about the Paris Club refund and others. Have you seen a kobo of it being directed in the area of education? Have you seen any kobo being earmarked for education? Education should be the number one priority. Once you solve the problem of education, you have solved the other problems, because education is the key to other areas. Look at the way people are leaving the country in droves. This portends disaster for the future.
You resigned from partisan politics in 2020 after serving as the national chairman of the Social Democratic Party. But your contemporaries are still in partisan politics. What informed your decision to quit?
I just thought that it would be better for me to play a neutral role so that I can at the same time be more effective. That way, I will be able to look more critically and more objectively, and my voice will also carry more weight because when you see some problems and challenges now, and you raise issues, they will interpret whatever you say from a partisan perspective, whereas if I disengage from partisan politics, they will know that this one, though he is a political person, he is not partisan. So, my advice will carry more weight if I am not involved in partisan politics. That was why I stepped aside, disengaged and now focused in terms of global issues nationally. In other words, to look at things from a global and non-partisan perspective, I will be able to call a spade a spade without being seen as a partisan advocate. I will be able to do things the way I want things done and I will be able to caution people if they are going the wrong way.
Now, when I make suggestions or when I take a position, people will know that this is informed because of my passion for this country, because of my commitment to the Nigerian nation and because of my concern that we should get things done properly not minding who is there. It will also enable me to encourage as many people as possible to be involved in coming to the centre and carry the can and fly the flag without caring where they are coming from in terms of their background and all that. In other words, I think it is the orientation that will now inform my attitude towards them.
There are good Nigerians all over the place, wonderful Nigerians who can lead this country in the right direction. Unfortunately, they may not be with some of the parties that can give them the advantage, but I believe that we need to do something without necessarily being partisan. The time to do that is now. I am happy I left partisan politics because since then, it has given me more opportunities to look from a wider perspective at what is unfolding in this country, and to also be able to encourage the younger generations on how to move forward without them seeing me as a partisan ideologist.
You were a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party. What do you make of the meeting between the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State in London amid the crisis in the PDP?
It is good because people have to talk. Dialogue plays a great role in resolving issues. I believe that by the time they speak, if there is a misunderstanding among members of the party, they will be able to identify the areas of misunderstanding, and if they can reconcile their differences, then they will go ahead and do so. If the differences cannot be reconciled, then they will know. That is better than just keeping away from each other. Their meeting is a good thing and it is good for the system. If they are serious about coming together before the 2023 elections, of course, they will come together. If they are just playing politics, they will get nowhere. Sincerity, honesty and truthfulness are fundamental to any forward movement.
The economy of the country is not looking good and inflation and other economic factors are making Nigerians go through tough times. What do you think can be done to improve the economy?
Many things can be done to improve the economy. We know why the economy is where it is and how it is. First of all, the challenge of insecurity would have to be tackled. Take for instance the agricultural sector; when you talk about inflation, the first contact with inflation that the average Nigerian feels is with food items. The prices are soaring and they are soaring because food is becoming limited. More food cannot be produced because of insecurity. Farmers are being driven out of the farm by terrorists and bandits, and unless we have more food in the market, you will not be able to drive down the prices. When there is food, people will be happier and there will be peace, because when people eat, the majority of the problem is solved. When there is no food, the money that is available will be chasing the scarce commodity that is available, and it drives up the price.
Again, when you deal with the issue of security and there is security in the land, some of the other things will be solved apart from the food items; there are some people who move, there are some people who want to move, and when they move, they move goods and services. When they cannot do this, because they are afraid of what they will see on the road and the railways, this will limit the choices available to them. When the goods are not moved, they become scarce, and that creates another problem and it bounces back on this issue of inflation. So, these are issues that should be looked into and concrete things would have to be done about it.
Of course, the government itself will have to sit down and revisit this. The economic team should sit down and do concrete things in the interest of the Nigerian nation. Also, our monetary policy is not what it should be. So much is wrong, and I pray that even the Central Bank will sit up and do the right thing instead of gambling or going into areas that it is not supposed to go into. I also hope that the unnecessary interference in our international monetary policy will stop so that the Board of the Central Bank of Nigeria will wake up to its responsibility.
You talked about insecurity. Killings and kidnapping for ransom have become a big challenge to the country. What do you think the Federal Government can do to stop the wanton killings in the North?
Many things have to be done. I believe that the leadership of our security forces needs to be encouraged more. The government itself seems to be committing some resources, but the situation is one in which we should no longer be throwing money at situations per say for the sake of it. Our security forces, including the police, all of them have roles to play as well as the DSS and the citizens themselves. But people should be given the necessary awareness. They all should be equipped in terms of technological knowledge. You cannot be fighting the current insecurity using old tools. The government has to devise innovative ways of countering the insurgents. I believe that the time has come when we really need to network to be in alliance with some foreign countries or partners to really tackle insecurity.
We will be deceiving ourselves if we say we will be able to overcome the challenges immediately. We have dragged the challenge of insecurity for too long and this has enabled it to grow and get to a situation where we now need the support and collaboration of external forces. Once we do that and we also mobilise the entire nation to say, ‘Look, what is happening is a situation of emergency and we cannot afford to let our country be overrun by terrorists’, they (security forces) will wake up. It should not be about the government in power; it is the responsibility of all us as Nigerian citizens to ensure that our country is protected.
University lecturers are leaving the country in droves. What can be done to stop the exodus?
The number one thing that should be done is to motivate them, and the motivation comes in at least three different ways. One, the enabling environment; there should be equipment for them to work. The atmosphere should be conducive; in other words, security should be guaranteed. Of course, their welfare and wellbeing should also be guaranteed. If you are not well motivated, if your pay cheque cannot take you home, then it will be difficult for the lecturers to put in their very best. They will then be looking elsewhere. But once you have an environment within which you can work, you have the equipment, your wellbeing is being taken care of through good pay and other good conditions of service, then the lecturers will be encouraged to stay.
Beyond this, even the students that come also constitute factors in the determination of the wellbeing of the teaching staff. In other words, do not impose all kinds of characters on them. Make sure that the students that are coming up are well prepared so that they become teachable and they are people that can understand what the lecturers are saying when they are in the classrooms. Some people get to the university without being able to write two sentences. How did they get there? These are some of the challenges affecting the education sector. We need to critically look at the entire thing. It has got to a very bad situation that people like Prof Wole Soyinka were suggesting that the universities should be closed down for two years and begin again. My own attitude is that there is a need to have a serious conference on education. We need to declare a state of emergency in the education sector.
Looking at the main presidential candidates ahead of the general elections, some of them are above 70 years. Don’t you think Nigeria, with her enormous challenges, should be led by a young person?
I think the point to start from is to look at the spectrum of the candidates that have emerged from the political parties. They are about 20 or more. When you look at them, there are those who are young and there are those who are old. We should examine them on the basis of what they are offering Nigerians; how will they tackle the issues facing Nigeria now? What are they saying about the problems? You see a number of people being paraded, but what they are saying amounts to nothing. But when you examine critically the messages, the issues they are advancing, you now put that against their various backgrounds and their capacity to deliver. So, it is not just a matter of age. There have been young people who have been disasters. We’ve had quite a number of them in the system either at the national or state level. I wouldn’t want us to use just one criterion to determine. There are a number of criteria to determine how far they can go.
As a former BoT member of the PDP, how will you describe the call for the removal of the National Chairman of the party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu?
I think that sometimes, when you look at issues, people make such calls, from what I see very often, based on purely personal grievances, which is wrong for the system. When you make calls for someone to vacate a particular position, it should be grounded on fundamental principles. When someone is deviating from it or someone is not doing the job properly, in other word, there are some fundamental issues; maybe someone has betrayed the oath of office, then you can call for the person’s removal. It should not be because of some personal grievances or the person who is wanted out is not kowtowing to your whims and caprices.
Are you not worried that the constant sacking of the PDP national chairmen can affect the party’s fortune in the future?
My own position is that in this country, we need to be very careful; we need to build institutions. The way some of these people have been removed at one time or the other has been based on the fact that there are some people who never wanted them. It was purely on a personal basis rather than the reasons of the institution itself. A situation where people are just removed casually without regard to due process and not based on fundamental principles is not right. When people are not performing, of course, we can remove them, and in doing that, due process must be followed. We should know that the reasons for removal should be concrete and based on principles.
It was learnt that Governor Wike and his team made some demands to assuage their feelings after the PDP presidential primary election. Do you think this is a welcome development?
One thing I know is that there will be demands; there will be requests and positions taken one way or the other. My position is very clear on that. Whatever demands anybody wants to make, there are appropriate forums for that. You have the BoT, you have the National Working Committee, you also have a formal channel to review the situation and probably place them within the framework. Don’t make it like a personal thing. It should be seen as something affecting the interest of the party. The interest of the party must determine what agreement will be reached in the interest of the nation rather than what will be in the personal interest of the dramatis personae. When you look at how some of those people in some positions today got there, there is a big question mark. So, it is important to bear that in mind. Let discussions go on, let dialogue go on. That is part of the processes of democracy. But in doing this, our people have become dangerously self-seeking and self-serving. So, they need to think of the interest of the party, the interest of the nation and the system. Democracy is in danger when individual interest overrides national interest, override party interest and override the interest of the generality of the Nigerian people.
What do you make of the call for secession and how do you think the government can assuage the feelings of those involved?
Things need to be done. I have always said that where there is justice, there will be peace. Where there is fairness, there will be stability. Where there is equity, there will be mutual understanding and cooperation. All these will allay the fears of those people who feel that they are not being well treated. The leadership must address things at the national, state and local levels following due process and the rule of law. Nigeria must be run as a federation to survive and develop. People tend to run away from restructuring. They are not appreciative of the fact that there are certain things that will be done and other things will fall in place.
When you restructure, it reduces the burden at the national level and it makes it easy for those who are governing to govern properly. But when you are running a federation and you are running it as a dictatorship, you do not even have the opportunity for the institutions to develop. You do not even have the opportunity to run it in a way that some of your actions are not misinterpreted. Of course, if you do not govern well and you have a proper federation, the weight of poor governance will be limited; it will not be so total on the entire nation. But when you run a rigid unitary system, and things are not properly done, it will rob off on the entire system and create disasters nationwide, whereas it could have been limited in scope if there had been restructuring. The call for secession would not have happened if there were opportunities for people to actualise their potential, and that they have not been held down because of some people elsewhere.
If there is restructuring, the education system will not face such challenges that we see today. If something is happening in the University of Calabar, the University in Yola will not feel it. Something may be happening in the University of Maiduguri, but it doesn’t have to affect Ibadan. It doesn‘t have to affect the University of Nigeria; but right now, we are operating a unitary system, where you decide everything unitarily. Of course, people are going to continue to suffer. There is no way you can be talking about autonomy.
Elections are coming in February, what is your advice to the youth, some of whom may be hired to cause violence?
Well, my advice to the youth is that they must know that the fact that they are suffering now, no jobs for them, the environment is insecure and there seems to be not much for them, is as a result of the grievous act of commission and omission. Things that ought to have been done are not done, though they had the opportunity to do something about them. This means that they have to consider all the various presidential candidates who are showing up, and then objectively determine who can meet their aspirations. No sentiment about it because it is their future that is at stake. It is about their future leader. The number two thing is that with what is going on, it is happening now, it has been around, and it is bound to happen in the future, whereby their conscience is bought, their future is bought, their career is bought, their security is bought by being given some money. They have to make sure that they do not make themselves readily available as purchasable commodities.
The third piece of advice is that politicians go around, rallies are held, and people are encouraged to create mayhem. Some of them don’t realise the process; they must know that none of these politicians carry matches, guns, or cutlasses, it is the children of other people who are recruited to do these, and once disaster strikes, whatever they go through could be a lifelong impairment if they do not lose their lives. So, you must know that it is not worth it and that those people who encourage them to violence, thuggery and hooliganism do not mean well for the youth, the nation and the electoral process.
It is supposed to be a festival of choice, an opportunity for you to choose and decide who will govern you; the youth should not make themselves available for such. And finally, they should know that indeed those who will represent them should be those who will believe in them, who believe in their today, who believe in their tomorrow and their forever; in other words, those who can create a self-sustaining system whereby no matter who comes whereby it will be difficult to reverse it. So that things will continue to go well today, tomorrow, and for the Nigerian nation. They should think deeply and not on the spur of the moment. They should not be carried away by unnecessary or undue sentiments, they should think seriously and make a choice that will solve their problems for today, solve their problems for tomorrow and solve their problems forever.
What is your advice for those who engage in vote-buying, which has been alleged to be rampant in Nigeria?
Those who are engaged in vote-buying are enemies of this country, they are as dangerous as those who kill people. What they are doing is that they are killing people by making sure that they do not allow the things that will transform life that will bring about good healthcare, preventing people from dying in the hospitals. That will save people from poverty that will save people from killing themselves as a result of their ignorance and lack of education. That they are buying the future of people who could have been helped through some others who could have had better offers for them in terms of development, in terms of things that could have brought about gainful employment and transform the lives of people.
Not only are lives being short-changed, the future of the country is affected. Not only are they being prevented from exercising their lives, even their right to good life, the benefit of life, things that are available in the constitution, things that are possible because of God’s mercy are denied them. The one who buys a vote is as dangerous as the one who kills. You are robbing someone of his rights and of his opportunity to make a good choice by buying his vote.