Whither Nigeria?

It is pertinent at this time in our history and national underdevelopment to ponder a few things. Nigeria, to some, a geographical expression; to others, the indivisible nation to which we must pledge allegiance, like it or not, is, once again at crossroads. Crossroads, for many great peoples and nations are often events or periods of great national calamity that cause peoples to reimagine their future. Great peoples such as Indians and Chinese were humiliated by decades, if not centuries, of domination by Western powers, reached their crossroads in the middle of the 20th century. Chairman Mao Zedong asked himself: “In this vast land, who rules the destiny of man?” With a strong determination, he embarked on his “long march”, closed his country to foreigners for another half century, taught self-reliance, educated his people, and organized his country until his grandchildren, capitalizing on the structures he created, are now a giving the same Western powers nightmares while teaching them lessons in human capital and social development. It is an ongoing story.
India, another great nation that had also been humiliated, is not too far behind: A completely different methodology. When Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, created the Indian Institutes of technology around mid-20th century, he may not have imagined that his actions will lead to the near dominant stranglehold later Indian generations will have on the worldwide Tech Industry in our time. India has seven companies among the world’s largest 500 companies according to Forbes Fortune 500. While India is not known for being an Oil rich nation, the combined revenues of India Oil companies, listed on Forbes, is as large as half the revenues of the largest oil companies in the world! For Korea, it is about Ships and Chips! At the end of the Korean war, South Korea was devastated, hungry and desolate. Helpful western Charities kept orphanages for many homeless children. In fact, up to the early 1970s, South Korea’s electricity production capacity was lower than that of Nigeria! Today, they are not only producing 50 times per capita, the Nigerian production, they are manufacturing semiconductors, consumer electronics products, cars, and trucks in addition to their historical world leadership in heavy industries including ship building! The return of the so-called losers of the second world war: Germany, Japan, Italy, etc., whose cities were flattened by bombs, into economic winners in its aftermath is another case in point of what successful nations do when they are at crossroads.
Wrong Questions
Beginning from organizations such as MASSOB, IPOB and movements for the Yoruba Nation, centrifugal forces have been unleashed via the ineptitude and nepotism of the Buhari Government in an atmosphere of conspiracy theories on the intention of the Fulani nation that, despite their minority status, have long dominated Nigeria’s politics. The land needs healing from the armed banditry, kidnappings and killings attributed to the herdsmen of Fulani stock, Boko Haram and ISWAP all over the country. Brave Governor Ortom has been shouting from the Benue and others have simply had enough and are ready to break the nation into smaller pieces. How these will all end requires the insight of a prophet – not the kinds of prophets Nigeria is famous for – Horoscope Prophets, living and dead!
While uncertainty pervades the air, unelected Deputy President Garba Shehu has been doing what he does best: thrown a little more fuel into the raging fire by making pronouncements – insolent, to be charitable, idiotic, to be accurate, on the reason why, for example, it was necessary to attack Igboho’s house, looking for arms while ignoring the armed criminal Fulani bandits, ISWAP and Boko-Haram operatives and sympathizers, etc. that routinely kidnap northern children and take ransom money from hapless travelers nationwide! The “professionalism” of the boastful DSS operators remains AWOL when it is needed to confront the Boko Haram/ISWAP alliance that recently held “elections” in Borno State with its own “governor”, “tax” collectors, “law” enforcers and other paraphernalia of “government”! That is where Nigeria finds itself in 2021! And, of course, the situation makes people to ask questions.
Channels Television had two contrasting guests last week: Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a Fulani, and former Secretary of INEC and a vociferous “Southern stalwart” in Dr Katch Onanuju. The questions they were asked and the issues that appear to concern many in Nigeria are not about wealth creation, infrastructure, employment or competitiveness, but where the next president should come from in 2023! First of all, listening to Baba-Ahmed, I wonder why, given that such articulate Fulani people exist in this country, why is it that the ones that actually get to be president need to sometimes have their WAEC certificates presented to them after they have been head of state? If we must have a Fulani President, give me Baba-Ahmed and replace all else we have had in this land!
Of course, he did his best to feign ignorance of the attitude of Northerners in demanding the presidency after Jonathan, such is the selective amnesia and subterfuge that pervades national discourse in Nigeria. Asking the tribe of the next president, unfortunately, is the wrong question in an era of secessionist agitations, large scale insecurity, stagflation and poverty, unemployment, degeneration of public and social infrastructure, and general despondency. Baba-Ahmed asked what the demand for a Southern president would achieve. A journalist drew his attention to the fact that the ACF forgot to ask the same question when the Fulani irredentist, Professor Ango Abdulahi, made similar demands for a Northern president in 2015; a question which Baba-Ahmed masterfully dodged!
The truth is that Baba-Ahmed, cleverly advancing the Fulani agenda, asked the correct question! What is a Southern President supposed to do? (Baba-Ahmed did not ask this question about the Northern presidency in 2015.) Are we going to have a Southern equivalent of Buhari? “A president that will further alienate the North?” because to Baba-Ahmed, it is the North, not the South, that is being alienated right now! Is it supposed to be a temporary opiate for the South till another version of Buhari comes again with his own man-Friday or co-president like Garba Shehu? Suppose there is agreement for a Southerner to succeed Buhari, will that trim the wings of the forces of secession already in full flight? What happens if a Yoruba woman becomes the president in 2023? Will that, for example, stop Nnamdi Kanu from calling Nigeria a Zoo, making him and some fellow Biafran zoo-keepers the only humans in this land? By the way, let us not forget to remind him that some zoo-keepers occasionally end up in the belly of hard-to-tame tigers! Suppose we have an Igbo president, will that assuage the following of Sunday Igboho that believes that nothing short of an Oduduwa Republic will be needed to stop the humiliation of Yoruba people whose potentials have been curtailed by the heavy load of belonging to an unworkable contraption called Nigeria? Will such a president be able to mobilize Northerners against the Boko-Haram/ISWAP alternative governments that only slowed down a little when, Buhari, their spokesperson, was made President? Can the agreement for a Southern president create an atmosphere to begin to develop Nigeria? Will it make us to start talking about wealth-creation, developing local capacity to build large infrastructure projects? Move away from NNPC as a bazaar company to energy and technology companies that use modern technology and research to create energy products and whose scope is not limited to the natural resources of Nigeria alone? Work on improving the Judiciary, law enforcement and fairness for everybody before the law? More accountability: Is it true, for example, that the great railway link between Lagos and Ibadan could have been between Lagos and Maiduguri for the same amount? Will it lead to better, more competitive education for our children?
Right Questions
I have little optimism that the present regime will end well. I pray to God that I be proved wrong while trembling at the fact that I may be right! That will be a shame because, in all likelihood, we shall all pay for the errors committed by Buhari and his government one way or another. Indeed, we have started paying: We pay in hard cash at the market where the most basic food item is becoming difficult if not impossible for the average family to buy; we pay in ransom to criminal Fulani herdsmen and local copycats in the bushes around the highways; In the payments by various governments and individuals to retrieve kidnapped schoolchildren; in the disruption of society by social mobilizations for secessionist movements; in midnight visits of “professional” DSS operatives that only win their successes in unarmed civilian neighborhoods where they can kill and suffer no concomitant casualties; in the exportation of privileged youth whose parents despair of a future for their children and therefore package them overseas to start afresh in new lands where they will need another two generations to fully belong; in many other ways.
It is not likely that these will be our last payments. If we are not careful, the success (or even the failure) of the vocal secessionist movements may easily place us in the same position as Southern Sudan. Divide Nigeria to any number of parts you want, the border of the new entities will be drawn by blood. And it will be our blood (or that of our relatives); you and I – we may not be spared! Perhaps that will be noble and even necessary, for what is the need to live a useless life when there is a good death to die? Perhaps, after such bloodletting, another set of leaders, totalita alia, from what we presently have, may emerge that will allow the different peoples here (Igbos, Yoruba, Hausas, and others) to reach their potentials. They may look back and thank us for giving blood, when it was necessary, to furnish them a sense of purpose and a bright future.
The question we need to ask ourselves at this time is, whither Nigeria? Today, there is no corporate entity in the whole of Africa in the Fortune 500 wealthiest companies worldwide! Not even South Africa nor Egypt has an entry! Nigerians like to ask those of us in the universities how we rank compared to the rest of the world. Wrong question! Universities in Nigeria exist in an ambience, a system and an environment! How do the roads in Nigeria rank? How do the transportation system and motor parks in Nigeria rank? How do the sanitation system and garbage collection arrangements rank? The city transportation and danfo vans? Law enforcement, policing and the Police Stations? Health system, health financing, and the hospitals? The judiciary, their independence, fairness and courtrooms? Rental accommodation, mortgage system, or say, a typical two-bedroom flat in major and minor cities? The hygiene of food service if you want a snack on the fly? These are the corresponding questions that help to situate the answers you get. They are related!
Instead of asking where the next president will come from, let us begin by asking: President of what? Will there be a Nigeria (nation, contraption or geographical expression) to preside over? Or, if you like, to “rule” as Information Minister Lai Mohammed informed us? How will such an entity, if it survives and endures, generate the competition among its constituent elements to create better schools, more efficient industry and fairer social justice that will unleash the creative potential of its citizens? Do the people asking for secession want anything different from these? Why are we always hung up on the opiate of the tribal orientation of the leadership as if they will therefore solve our existential problems? Why is General Buhari and his Government so bent on scoring own goals by foreclosing such discussions insisting that the only changes he will accept must come form the National Assembly and that he cannot listen to those who have not won elections? Has General Buhari forgotten that in a scant six years ago, “inability to win elections” that he is so happy to denigrate now, defined him? That he relied on mass action to make his case? That he did not get any help from the national assembly?
If we break it down, in simple terms, we may ask, how will the electricity generation be tripled in the next ten years? How many local governments will be self-sufficient in infrastructure and power generation as a result of distributed power production that will therefore attract the best and brightest to itself and create wealth? How will infrastructure development companies be developed locally to challenge the tertiary institutions to supply more able products? How do we begin to measure the cost and quantity of contracts awarded in Nigeria to similar ones overseas and keep costs down to the level of our labor costs so to gain an advantage and build more things? How can we produce more doctors to the extent that they not only keep us healthy but also create a health tourism system attracting inhabitants of our region here? How do we make it more attractive to develop local environments instead of always reaching for the sharing bazaars in Abuja?
More than all this, what do we need to do today so that inhabitants of this space, 100 years from now, will consider us as worthy forbears that took them into consideration when planning at the crossroads?

How to get Zero in Olympics

If the watching of foreign football matches can be made into an Olympics event, I am sure Nigeria would have got some medals at the last Olympics. Unfortunately for us, medals were given to nations that developed their people rather than those who specialize on the consumption of the products of other, thinking people. There are still more Olympics to come in the future. There are several ways to continue scoring zero in these games. We shall explore some of them here.
1. Business as usual. While other nations spend up to ten years catching their athletes at a very young age and developing them, a nation that wants to score zero will wait till there only a few months left; Go after those of their countrymen and women who have long abandoned their fatherland to sojourn in other lands but were not sufficiently good to meet the team list in those countries; present these rejects as your Olympic team.
2. Ignore the development of primary and secondary school sports facilities. In the 1960s when foreign missionaries ran our schools, a primary school compound had a school field lined with race tracks; a weather station, Nature Study corners in class rooms; stocked school libraries. Today, governors boast of achievements once they have put roofs on four walls for classrooms on bare earth and everyone is expected to clap! There used to be competitive meetings among secondary schools from the AAA meets to Ionian Cup in the West and the Principals Cup in Lagos. To get zero in the next Olympics, refuse to develop these facilities.
3. Ignore proven experts in the respective areas and appoint party apparatchiks, Political cronies, children, wives and other family members of governors and presidents (incumbent or former), etc into serious positions. Pay more attention to the welfare of officials while neglecting that of the actual sportsmen and women who are the ones that can win medals.
4. Depend on good luck to run governments when other people are using scientific methods and availing themselves of all that experience and empirical evidence can give. Praying fervently for miracles after you have left undone what things you ought to have done.
5. Refuse to adjust the educational curricula so that specific sporting activities and development programmes can earn credits in secondary and tertiary institutions.
6. Allow Old stadia such as National Stadium in Lagos to rot while looking for money for new mega projects.
There are more things to do (or to leave undone) to arrive at the same end. It is time again for Nigeria to choose. Rio 2016 is closer at hand that it appears. A stitch in time …

No Going Back

OA Fakinlede

“Yes sometimes government decisions get reactions from the populace, we do not as an administration see this as a disapproval.” Labaran Maku, Minister of Information

If the present government ends its life as the best government Nigeria has ever seen, all the praises would go to President Goodluck Jonathan. And behind every successful president, there are several loyal officers whose untiring efforts assisted in achieving that success. If, on the other hand, this government, as I fear, ends up to be one of the most effete that Nigeria has produced, the first blame will be for the president of Nigeria while lesser blames will be for the officers. It is no use blaming people for not giving the president good advice. In a presidential system, the incumbent has the power to select his advisers from among the 150 million Nigerians. If he selected those who have a flawed sense of history and therefore give wrong advice, he better changed them, else, whatever faults they have, the bucks stop on only one table.

With the background in the above observation, the pronouncement of the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, reported in the media yesterday is quite noteworthy. Before looking at Maku’s statement, let us observe that he is a product of the Nigerian University system. He is expected not only to have the amount of history dictated by his age, but beyond that as a university graduate capable of reading about events that took place long before he was born. There is therefore no hiding place for Mr Maku. The press reported that there is “no going back” on the decision of Government to change the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University. What reasons is Maku giving for this obduracy? Is there no going back because Abiola is deserving of honour? Is it because the president has the power to name and (un)name? Is it because due process has been followed? Is it because people are happy with the decision? Is it because there are no viable options to achieve the same objective in a non-controversial way?

Of these pertinent questions, Mr Maku addressed only the first. He even went on to picture Chief Abiola “turning in his grave” with approval. This statement may not have been intended by Maku as the signal point in his argument, however, on a closer look, it seems consistent with the whole mindset and understanding of this government. We shall now examine this in a little more detail.

To the Minister of Information of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the spontaneous demonstration and protest of the students of the University of Lagos is NOT viewed by the Jonathan Government as a sign of disapproval! Ladies and gentlemen, did you hear that! And, coming from Labaran Maku, you should please believe it! Remember that Labaran Maku is from Plateau State. He attended university in Jos. Over there, when you disagree about something – especially in recent times, you do not just protest. You set markets on fire, you throw bombs at people, you massacre villagers by setting their huts on fire. Is that what Mr Maku will want to see before understanding that the people are voicing out their disapproval? Now that the authorities of the university have decided to close it down in order to avoid a breakdown of law and order, how can Mr Maku be convinced that people are not happy with the illegal renmaming of their university? Or is it the Boko Haram paradigm that is defining for the Minister what true dissent is and how to express dissent? Is it not allowable in this present government’s eyes that dissent can be expressed in a peaceful and orderly manner? If those who make peaceful change impossible can be blamed for the inevitability of violent change, what can be said about those who find it difficult to understand peaceful dissent?

The most damaging conclusion we can draw from Maku’s announcement is that this Government is happier with the approval of dead people. Late Chief Abiola, according to Maku is approving from the grave; the protest of living university of Lagos students, which everbody can see does not constitute disapproval! Such convoluted logic in leadership may well explain why Nigeria is not getting it right! Are there more people like Maku in this administration? That will be a great pity! It is time for us to look for governments that will take the protest of living people seriously. Governments that will not wait for people to first die before hearing what they are saying!

Mr Maku is sure of Abiola’s worth to be honored. On that, we agree fully. We even think it’s a honour that should have been more thoughtfully considered earlier. There is no need to belabor that issue. This appears the only point in favour of the government and it even appears that the decision was taken with good intentions. Yet, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The fact therefore you have good intentions does not secure your destination. It will therefore be necessary, for the sake of Nigeria, its future and the life of its teeming young adults that Officers of government be such people who allow their minds to engage reality. It is pertinent therefore to note that neither the president of Nigeria nor its council can legally change the name of any university that was given by an act of parliament. The due process has not been followed and hence this present act is not only reversible but is a nullity as it stands.

The violation of the process is beyond the arbitrary naming ceremony of May 29. The president went further that there will be a Center for Democratic Studies at the University of Lagos in Honour of Abiola. Commendable! But still a nonstarter so long as it has not been examined and approved by the Senate of the University of Lagos. I am sure this is a large pill to swallow for people who have been brought up in the party with a culture of “capturing power”. The essence of a democratic setting is that of separation of powers. The president of Nigeria has tremendous powers to have things done in the way he wants at any Federal University. Dictating by military fiat is NOT one way of getting this done! The Government has the power to dissolve the governing council and appoint a new one. The most powerful positions in this body are selected by Government in a way that nobody can legally challenge. That is tremendous power but can only be exercised with patience. President Goodluck has Patience! He should exercise patience and use his power appropriately. A council can approach senate and convince it of the need for a new Centre that will be well funded by the Federal Government. With patience, it should have little problems. Setting it up “with immediate effect” on a radio announcement will not fly. This is beyond President Jonathan’s powers!

The present controversy over university renaming may still end well. Government officials such as Labaran Maku will need to get some more education on democratic processes or be shown the way out. The government will find that it is much more pleasant to eat the humble pie and follow due process than face the snowballing of opposition he will inadvertently create by the obduracy announced by Labaran Maku.

Moshood Abiola University

The Government of President Goodluck Jonathan has done it again! Act first, Think later. This is the burden Nigeria continues to bear as it has been saddled with this present iteration of PDP in government. By what looks like a Babangida masterstroke, at the end of a better-forgotten alibi of a “Democracy Day speech” he announced that the “Federal Government of Nigeria has decided to rename the University of Lagos, Moshood Abiola University”. And so it is, I am now a professor at the MAUL – the Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.

I live in close proximity to the students at the university of Lagos. My present accommodation not so far from one of the residences I called home since my days as a student at the University of Lagos  nearly forty years ago. It is natural that an old hand like myself immediately reacted with disbelief as I heard the president’s statement. What I did not prepare for was the spontaneous action from the student’s hostel across the road. They were even more vehement than I and would have nothing to do with the purported name change. This article examines the issues around this new name. Does it benefit anyone? What is gained, and what is lost? What is the best way forward to save our university and our nation unnecessary chasing of shadows when there are real problems on the ground to solve? I hope there will be sufficient room for the government to work with in getting out of this self-immolation.

First, the government wants to honour Chief MKO Abiola. He extolled the sacrifice of the late winner of June 12 1998 elections. He was therefore trying to find a worthy National monument to immortalize him. This is the good intention of the President. On that score, even those of us that may not agree with his decisions must at least give him credit for the good intention that must have motivated this move.

Second. Looking over the entire Nigerian Landscape, President Goodluck Jonathan could not find a monument big enough to honour Abiola than Unilag! What is that so? There are airports, stadia, edifices all under the control of this government. Why does the President need the University of Lagos? Even if a university must be offered for this noble cause, it is a reduction in the status of Chief Abiola to seek a University located in the SouthWest. The University of Abuja looks better than Lagos in finding something national on a neutral ground to fully carry the import of Abiola’s national effort and appeal. There are also several newly-created Federal Government Universities looking for identity that Abiola’s name would have conferred on them immediately. There are the National stadia – notable national edifices and which, considering Chief Abiola’s support for sports throughout Nigeria, would have been befitting. The Airport in Port Harcourt is another cognate edifice. It is a no-brainer to find up to twenty suitable things to name after Abiola that would likely attract the support of most Nigerians and create little controversy. In the midst of these, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan chose Unilag!

There are two immediate reasons why Unilag is an inappropriate choice. First, this university is presently mourning the loss of a well loved Vice Chancellor. This is certainly not the kind of distraction required by anyone in Unilag at this time. The advisers of the president are probably too far removed from the reality on the ground, else such an obvious fact ought not to have eluded them.

The second immediate problem is that the University of Lagos is celebrating the fiftieth year of its founding. Who did President Jonathan consult? Did he talk to the council – a place where the president selects the chairman and where several important representatives of his government sit. What did they tell him if he did consult them? I know for certain that the Senate of the University of Lagos was NOT consulted. I am a member of that body and there is no record of such a move by the government. Did the Government consult the staff bodies? Neither ASUU nor the other staff organizations were consulted. What about the students? These went on instantaneous demonstration at the announcement! In a democracy, the government is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people. It appears to me that the present government is not consulting far enough. Its understanding of democracy seems to have a typographical abbreviation: Government of the Pdp, by the Pdp and for the Pdp! It will be difficult for him to make this decision of a military fiat stand. At least I am certain that several interested parties at Unilag will challenge this action in the court of law. That is a distraction that even this president and his government do not really need.

The above are facts that ought to be obvious to President Jonathan. They are easy facts that a working government ought to have considered before making an announcement. Yet these are NOT my reasons for not supporting the idea. Against the action of President Jonathan, I have three reasons to object:

  1. The name of a University is part of its branding. This is the first time that a 50 year old brand that is doing very well will be jettisoned like a worthless dross. People argue that the University of Ife was changed to OAU without any fuss. The University of Ife was 28 years old when its name was changed to honour the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. There is the inevitable comparison. This may be the basis and encouragement that President Jonathan is relying on. However, there are three differences we should bear in mind: The late sage occupied a place in the hearts and souls of the Yoruba people that they may not even mind if the Oodua nation were to be named for Awolowo. Apart from being the chief architect for the University that now bears his name, the free education he pioneered in the West remained the biggest reason people remember him. #We must not also forget that this was done under the military usurpers who are a law unto themselves and are both legislature and executive combined so their decrees can override acts of previous assemblies. Even in that case, we had twenty eight years of a brand now we are talking about fifty. It is not too late in the day to revert OAU back to University of Ife and find better things to name rather than well supported brands. President Jonathan is dreaming of life as a Military dictator who can issue decrees! No sir, you are claiming to be an elected president! No decrees from you!
  2. It will cost no less than two to five hundred million Naira just to give effect to this purported name change. This is coming at a time when the infrastructure at the University of Lagos is crying for renewal. That money, spent on revamping the Coastal modeling laboratory, replacing the obsolete equipment in most engineering labs and purchasing new equipment will give more hope to hapless Nigerian students. This is the time when students are likely to be told to pay fees; This is at a time where parents are out of employment and we have a government that has little more than promises and platitudes to give them. What is the madness of an unnecessary name change going to add to these miseries? More pain! Who needs that?
  3. The name change creates a disconnect between the alumni and the University at a critical time in the life of Unilag. Here we are celebrating our fiftieth year. Change the name now, old students will never accept they attended MAUL. This new entity will need to build its own brand and that unnecessary burden by a university that does not need it. Instead, it needs all the goodwill its brand can give it to get the funding the neglectful government cannot give to reestablish its position as a university that can be reckoned with in Nigeria and beyond.

Mr President, we thank you very much for your “Democracy Day” gift. There are no takers at the University of Lagos. See you in Court!