As an academic, what does the insurgency in the north hold for the region?
In whichever way you may see and describe it, conflict is a natural aspect of human lives. Even in the family, as close as it is, it may not be free from conflict. As long we congregate with our complex backgrounds, varied native experiences and nuances in view, conflict situations will definitely arise.
However, the trend of conflicts we have witnessed (not only in Nigeria but since the dawn of globalisation) in issues of international and national insecurity are not the kind anybody will pray for. These ones have complete negative implications for the development of any nation. It breeds some elements of unsettlement in the minds of the individual. It equally generates fear to a level that people become suspicious of one another.
It also puts off foreign development initiatives, because nobody would want to put his or her money into a ground that is insecure. For us in this country today, what we are witnessing in terms of kidnapping, militancy, armed robbery and the Boko Haram, are issues that no national will ever welcome. It has affected us in all dimensions and it has increased the level of our suspicion of each other on the basis of ethnicity. In addition, it has also destroyed the economy of the large segment of this country that has been sustaining us.
Therefore, whether you like it or not, it is not a healthy development for this nation. Furthermore, academically too, our children cannot even move freely to the north and securely undertake their academic activities. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members who are being posted to the north are also rejecting the posting, yet we are talking of national unity. Invariably, such insecurity affects every aspect of our national life.
But most analysts tend to affiliate the insecurity to politics. Do you agree?
Yes, it is political, and it is succession-related. We are not following the game according to the principles, so when people feel marginalised politically, economically and psychologically, most of them cannot say ‘yes,let it go’. People will take some certain dastardly measures to settle the score irrespective of whose ox is gored.
Also, I think the way we have managed our politics in this country could also be responsible for some measure of the current insecurity. If you look at it critically, politicians use people against each other. They use those who are unemployed, people who have no proper home background and can easily be swayed by a little money to go and ‘hit’, attack kidnap or way -lay somebody as the case may be. When these things are aggregated, you may call them social problems but they are deeply rooted in political immaturity and mismanagement of the cost of governance in this country.
Politics, therefore, has a lot to do with it.
There have been consistent cries over the falling standard of our education. As an academic, where do you think we have erred?
This question keeps recurring, but we must understand that quantity and quality are two-in-one. When we reflect on the old days, people say ‘yes, the product then were wonderful.’ The obvious question is, how many pupils were in a class then? At the primary level, one could only see about 15-17 pupils to one teacher. It showed that there was an appreciable level of monitoring and comprehensive ability in supervising the activities of these pupils. Today, what do we have? In a primary school, you may have as much as 100 pupils per class under the responsibility of a teacher.
The issue of supervision, which many people do not seem to work on, has been a major problem for us. A teacher with such a large class can easily become frustrated. We are talking of quantity but within that quantity, we also have quality. I say so with ease, because I have been within academic circles, at least at the University level, for the last two decades. Moreso, I have traveled around the world (North America, Asia, Africa and other countries) and I can aggregate. Our students here are wonderful: the moment we let them fly across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans or even outside our country to Europe to study, they become high-flying performers. That is an honest opinion. Sometimes, we tend to over-blow this falling standard of education thing,without knowing the kind of restrictions we have.
If it comes to real hard work and quantum of reading, you cannot beat Nigerians. When a student here in Nigeria is confronted with the equipment and this adverse hard work he/she turns out to be the best for it and he/she produces the best. Some of these students who perform excellently are coming from a school that never had a name, yet they are becoming the best internationally. Therefore, what I am saying, in essence, is that there is quantity. Within that quantity, we have quality. Remember that it is a phase of development.
There was a time when Nigerians were rejecting American certificates. Yes, even at our own time when you go to America they will say they will go and verify such results, but you know these were the Americans that were producing scientists and they had confidence in what they were doing; Is it not the same history that we have about Indians?
A British politician once said ‘do not forget to criticise your government at home, but do not also forget to hail them outside’. Nigerians do both and you know it can be very discouraging, because word of mouth is a huge confession. If you completely and consistently continue to confess negatively, you cannot fail to get negative results. The timtime has come for us to be more optimistic. Even when there are problems, we need to call them challenges, not problems.
Nations who move forward are calling their own issues challenges, but here we are saying ‘problems’. We should avoid that word ‘problems’. It may be used instinctively, but let us consciously design it as challenges, so that these little ones can also see that when you are say ‘challenges,’ you push somebody ahead but when you say ‘problems,’ you push somebody down. By the time we develop such a mental attitude, the country will be the better for it.
What would you suggest as the way forward, regarding the current worrisome insecurity we find ourselves in the nation, especially in the north?
When you put a case in the court of a judge, it will go his way. If a case is against a judge and you take it to his own court, it will go his way. It is natural. If we think government can bring all solutions, we will have problems and this is why I believe (honestly) that the voices that can moderate, intervene, and push people to take more positive steps to bringing some element of succour to our national problems are field-based NGOs, the churches, the mosques, individuals of great standing who can speak and make young people listen. People are suspicious of the government, even if government has good motives.
We need to reassure our young people of their position, that we mean well. But as I see it, this government, as it is composed now, cannot not give that assurance. This is why I am insisting that we should aggregate a summit of well meaning Nigerian personalities across ethnic, religious and economic bonds – who are not totally linked and leanning to government – to talk about the question of insecurity in this country and offer a way forward. Only until then can we make progress. These people have the pedigree to make credible suggestions for the running of government.
However, if you organise such a summit along issues relating to government institutions and apparatus, you may not get the kind of solutions capable of bringing an end to the insecurity.
The government also has its responsibilities, but it talks too much without acting. We need to come down to the bases and ask ourselves: ‘What are the required instrument for work in this country?’ Why is there so much unemployment? Government should start talking about generation of employment and make our schools infrastructurally okay. You know the environment plays a huge part in what you do and what you think. Even if you are a genius and the environment is not good, it rubs off on you. If our learning environments do not change for the better, we can awardcertificates and if the environment is not inspiring enough you will behave like a tout outside there.
In other parts of the world, people concentrate on beautifying their academic environment and the moment you enter an institution you will know that you are entering an a special place. This will profit our children and we must not put it aside. Secondly, as I said earlier, every Nigerian has a responsibility but we seem to offload our responsibilities unto others.
If we really want this country to develop, then we must think twice about the roles we have to play, be it in your house or anywhere.