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MOST NIGERIANS DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT DEMOCRACY MEANS – OKUWA

Professor Bankole Okuwa, a political scientist and analyst in this interview with our The Issues Magazine expatiate on the failures of the Nigerian government and suggests probable solutions to some societal challenges. Excepts

*As a university don, would you say successive governments in Nigeria have been giving education the required priority compared to your days as a student and later, lecturer in the University sir?

Well, if we are to discuss education in Nigeria, you have to consider its pre-independence history and shortly after. To say the least, the standard of education in Nigeria of today is falling gradually. Why does it fall? There are many factors that led to the fallen standard of education in Nigeria today; the first was the takeover of governance by the military. The fact that military regimes for a good part of Nigeria’s history, took over the government and couldn’t handle education appropriately. They are not trained to govern. The politicians could have handled education better. The military took over and actually disorganized the whole process from primary to secondary school and tertiary education. Things started falling apart when the military took over and they started indiscriminate transfer of school principals, experienced teachers, patriotic teachers with honours and dignity. The reasons behind their transfers were adduced to their having stayed too long in their schools, Take for instance in Ijebu-Ode Grammar School where we had great principals, and great educators. We had many principals like Rev. Nicholas, who spoke English, Greek and Latin excellently, who taught us all how to pronounce English words correctly and fluently. There was no student who attended Ijebu-Ode Grammar School in the 50s who wouldn’t have experienced thorough and well-grounded learning experience.

After him, came Rev. Osisanya who was a well-trained teacher who came from the University of Ibadan. He read history and did so much to impart knowledge into us while struggling to retain the high level of our secondary school education.  At that time, if one passed through secondary education, one would be good enough to hold government and company jobs and would be good enough to do much speaking of English language with its rules. Who does that now? The moment these principals were transferred from one place to another, it started unnecessary frustration and competitions against one another.

Abeokuta Grammar School, Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, Ibadan Grammar School, and these great principals did so much. So also was Oduduwa College in Ile-Ife. I didn’t attend a University here in Nigeria as a student. I went to Ijebu-Ode Grammar School and then proceeded to Ibadan Grammar School for my Higher School Certificate. Later, I went overseas and attended one of the best universities in the United States of America in New Jersey. I got my Bachelors degree from there and also my Masters. The military governance in Nigeria couldn’t handle a lot of issues. They became interested in politics by holding political positions. If you look all over the country today, you’ll see people with military background holding political offices. Once they got there, they discovered that it was a different life from their military background. Babangida got there, he told us he was going to spend just 3 years, but spent 8 years, after that, he was nursing an ambition to come back. Educationally, we have intellectuals in this country, who can come together and build this country but the military boys came on board from 1966 and never left government until 1999 approximately 33 good years! That was why everything broke down. It broke down because when the military held the government, there was no constitution. The Constitution was set aside and they did whatever they liked. Though, it’s not in Nigeria alone, it’s everywhere, there’s no discipline.

* Sexual harassment has found its way into Nigeria educational system most especially in our universities. But some argued that ‘sex for marks’ syndrome has been with us many decades back. Is this true sir?

That area is unfortunate, it happens in higher institutions in other countries. Here, it can be controlled if a neutral body or committee can be setup over the matter. The moment a lecture begins to harass a female student, don’t allow it to continue for too long to become a bigger problem. So many issues that are rampant in universities which people are not aware of. Many of our female students make advances to some lecturers, some of them requested for it from the lecturers by the virtue of their characters. They agree to it. They have a way of doing it and get away with it. It is the lecturer who ought to know his stand in the institutions irrespective of the status. Take for instance in Olabisi Onabanjo University when I was serving as professor, a lady reported to me a case of harassment by a male lecturer. When we did our findings, six lecturers were dismissed immediately.

* Being an expert in Political studies, would you say Nigeria has got it right in democracy as it is being operated by the government of the day As well as the opposition?

It’s not the government alone, Nigerians don’t understand what democracy is all about and it’s not their fault, it is lack of education. Civics should be taught in the primary schools. The essentials of democracy are freedom of speech, movement, association and choice among others. Do the politicians themselves practice real democracy?

Look at the National Assembly for instance. They are proposing to renovate the Assembly building with N3billion! Tell me; ask those that are proposing this Bill, how many motions have they moved and passed? What kind of ideas do they have to move the nation forward? Why do you want to choose Senate president at the Senate and you start considering the opposition? Once your party wins the election, it should provide leadership; to me it is promotion of corruption. Nobody is talking about this wrong attitude and it is damaging the system. It doesn’t allow the government to run perfectly. At the Senate, Lawan who is the leader is now named as Senate president. We don’t need a president at the Senate, the only person who should be called president is the head of government and State; President Buhari. You see, we love unnecessary titles in this country and that is what ‘killed’ Bukola Saraki, because when he won in 2015, he became ambitious within the APC. He was doing too many things and that was why he lost his focus. He later opted out by himself and joined the PDP where he initially came from, you see, they have no principles, they have no vision, they do not know what governance is all about. Most of them are in politics for free money. It baffles me a lot that when will this country move forward? Once you don’t have good leaders, followership can’t be right.

* Being an elder, what do you think we should be doing to build a nation?

To build a nation, we need to build the required institutions. What I mean by institutions is, for instance, the presidency is a major aspect while the other is the National Assembly itself, which is the legislature. Our judicial system can still be re-organized, because what we are doing is a British way of building the judicial system which we acquired from the colonial setting. So if you want to build institutions, the governors need to declare their assets; in fact, corruption is destroying a lot of things in Nigeria. To forestall all these, we need these institutions to be well built. Take for instance on the recent Amotekun matter, though it’s a good idea but it has to be legalized, if a bill has been made upon the issue, then it should be passed into law. What is the role of the southwest legislators; assemblymen, representatives and the senators both at the red and green chambers? Why can’t they make motions on the matter so the idea itself becomes a legal one? The Buhari government is not opposed to the idea, but there must be a fundamental law to back it up.

Nigerian leaders make too much noise every day. We cannot build a nation without effective actions. How can you have a federal system that fails to work with one another? There’s no federal system in the world which works like ours. We don’t need 36 states in Nigeria, we are wasting too much money and time in Nigeria’s governmental system. One thing I like about Buhari’s agenda is his fighting against corruption. How can a chief justice have five bank accounts? Nobody can fulanize Nigeria, nobody can Europeanise this country. It is still difficult to evaluate President Buhari because he was sick in his first term and now that he has been re-elected, I want to advise him for whatever he can do to prosecute our treasury looters, those who have stolen our commonwealth resources and I think Buhari is doing better now. For instance, no political office holder should be given immunity including the governors who are seen as experors of Nigeria’s political system.

My story of Nigeria at 60years independence is that, though nations don’t grow like human beings, nations grow through stress, but it needs visionary leaders, leaders who have visions, leaders who can commit themselves, leaders who are committed to serve the masses genuinely. It is just unfortunate that we don’t have such men in Nigeria of today.

– Published in Njgeria by The Issues Magazine Vol 6 No 39




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