What is your assessment of Nigeria’s political direction in the last one year?
I can say that we are moving in the right direction if only for the fact that we can say what we want to say without the fear of molestation. There is freedom of speech to a large extent. We are far better than many countries. So in that regard, I can categorically say that we are making progress. Achieving our goal democratically depends largely on freedom of expression. Many had thought that under Buhari as President, someone with military background, there may be clampdown on individuals particularly media houses but the opposite is the case. So, I commend Buhari’s administration for that and I want them to continue to uphold freedom of expression.
As a former Senator, what do you make of the unending clashes between the Executive and Legislative arm of government and the refusal of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to honour invitation by the Senate?
I think that particular individuals or public office holders may have reasons for what they do or want to do. You also know the history of National Assembly and its relationship with the Executive is obviously not what many would have wanted it to be. But it is all part of the progress that we have made in our democratic journey. The story was that the Executive obviously wanted a particular individual to be the President of the Senate and by extension the Chairman of the National Assembly, but the legislators themselves made their different choices by electing people different from the choice of the party. Naturally, some persons in the party and the Executive may feel slighted by their actions. We may not like their actions, but that is part of politics and democracy. I would have expected that by now, both arms of government should have ironed out their differences and settle down to work. But what appears to be happening is that the party and the Executive seem to be testing their supremacy power. That has encouraged impunity. They are challenging those who oppose the power and will of the Executive. They are taking action against them by bringing charges against them. They are out to embarrass them in the public and if possible unseat them and replace them with the people they want.
What is the implication of this battle of supremacy?
The President needs to change his strategy. As one with military background, he ought to know that he cannot open war on many fronts and still succeed as a leader. For example, you cannot have a serious war like Boko Haram in your hand and go open another one with Niger Delta militants while your Military officers open another fresh one with Shi’ite Islamic group. Even the National Assembly impasse is a war. You cannot make any progress in the midst of so many battles.
What role do you think the party, All Progressives Congress (APC) should play in addressing this challenge. Do you think it is doing enough?
I am not aware of any plan by APC to resolve all these issues. So I won’t comment on that.
Is it true that the Benue State government under Samuel Ortom has not paid due attention to the issue of farmers/herdsmen clashes which have resulted in the death of hundreds of people?
No, I disagree with you because you do not have the fact. I have been part of the process that is seeking a lasting solution to the clashes between the farmers and herdsmen. A committee was set up by former Governor Gabriel Suswam and I was a member of that committee. We did a thorough study of the problem. We visited stakeholders on Fulani matters everywhere in Nigeria, starting from the Sultan of Sokoto to the leader of the Fulani people, which is the Lamido of Adamawa. We visited several other relevant stakeholders within and outside Benue State. We made recommendations and one of them was that in this age and time, the best thing is to keep cattle in ranches instead of moving them from one point to another grazing. We in Benue have studied the entire report and offered our suggestions. The present government has been doing a lot in solving the issue too. It is not true that the government has been shying away from the trouble, rather we have collectively proffered solution to this problem. The problem is that the government at the centre is not showing more seriousness in bringing an end to this problem and it is very unfortunate. They must find a way to bring solution to this because some bad eggs can infiltrate the Fulani herdsmen and begin to cause terror in Nigeria. We have studied them, because the kind of weapon that these guys are armed with are not the type an ordinary Fulani man would love to carry. Our committee was reliably informed that most of the armed Fulani men are from Niger, Chad, Central African Republic and other neighboring countries.
Do you support the call by the federal government that states should give out certain portions of their land for grazing purposes?
It may not be acceptable to many people because it will be injustice done to the owners of the land. Take for instance, if I have a responsibility of raising cattle, then it is my business to find a way to feed them. You must not say that people must give out their lands for grazing. If I have cows and I want to raise them in Katsina, it is left for me to go there, buy a land and feed my cattle there.
There are fears that if the current APC government continues to treat this issue with levity, it might cost them some states in the 2019 general elections…
I am not interested in who wins or loses power. I am only interested in the application of the various recommendations that would bring lasting solutions to issues at hand. It does not matter which party is in the position of authority. All we want are solutions that would save the lives of our people.
What is your take on the ongoing probe of the activities of the past government?
It is natural for any government that comes to power to look into the books and records of the previous government with the view to studying the activities of the government it inherited.
What is your assessment of the fight against corruption?
Yes I have my view on that. Take for instance, in marketing, there is a concept called advertising and another one called bad advertising. The way the corruption fight is going paints a very bad picture of Nigeria. It makes us look like the most corrupt country in the world. British Prime minister had recently described Nigeria as a fantastically corrupt country. It affects our businessmen, students and international relations. It makes people suspect us at airports and international meetings. They take extra ordinary care when dealing with Nigerians. That is very bad on our image. But the positive part of it is that it will discourage current public office holders from touching public funds because they know the punishment that awaits them.
As an educationist, are you satisfied with what the administration has done so far in the education sector?
Very little has come up as regards the steps the government is taking to improve education in Nigeria. The only thing that came to the open was the recent cancellation of the Post-UTME exams which the government felt was having no purpose except for some institutions using the platform to exploit innocent students who are seeking university education. It is a good step in the right direction. What is left now is for JAMB to be eliminated. JAMB has outlived its life span. It is okay for a body like JAMB to exist but not for the purpose of conducting exams but for keeping accurate records, statistics of enrolment into higher education and other similar functions that would support higher education and create information database that government can use for planning.
What then will be the function of the National Universities Commission?
National Universities Commission (NUC) is basically for Universities. They also have a critical role to play. In the UK, there is such body called the University Central Admission which is equivalent to JAMB and University Grants Commission which is also equivalent to NUC. What they do is what I am canvassing that the system in Nigeria should do. Both NUC and JAMB need restructuring. For instance, NUC should not have any business with accreditation of Universities. Their functions ought to be to provide support to institutions with grants and help set up new ones. They are not even playing that role rather they are creating unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks that would make it impossible to set up institutions. It is all part of the corrupt system that only encourages rich people to set up universities. They know only rich people can afford to bribe their way through the system. We need to copy the UK, US, Ghana and even Benin Republic education system.
Does Ghana have better educational system than Nigeria?
They have better, more friendly conditions for allowing institutions to be set up. It is unfair to know that our children are hungry for university education but they cannot find a chance to realize their dreams. About two million qualified candidates applied for admission into universities in 2016, but only few hundreds will be admitted. It may interest you to know that those who were disqualified through JAMB are mostly children of the less privileged in the society who might have spent their hard earned money to buy JAMB form and prepare for the exams. The government should not be comfortable to hear that many Nigerians were not able to secure admission, not because they did not meet the basic requirements, but because of limited space in the universities. Other serious governments encourage candidates with interest in university education. Ghana, for instance, has a very flexible way for people to come and invest in their education sector. They allow small University colleges to be set up. There are over 300,000 Nigerians studying in Ghana. I have secured a license to set a small University in Benin Republic and we are starting this October. But that does not mean that I have relocated to Benin Republic. My partner from Australia and I are harnessing the great opportunity that was provided for us by Benin Republic government. I even run a school in London.
What about the standard?
Standard is there. Government cannot claim to be the one providing the best standard in everything. There are individuals who can do better than the government agencies and schools can do. Private sector promotes standards. There may be abuses, but if such arises, it is left for them to set up mechanisms to check mate standards. Government cannot have all the needed resources to finance education in Nigeria. As such, they need the contributions of the private sector.
At what stage is the conflict between you and NUC?
My issue with NUC is irreconcilable. NUC is like 30 years out of date. We are in new era as regards education. We cannot reconcile because they are living in old school. They have tried to peep into my activities and I took them to court and won the case.
When the issue that you had with NUC was going on, you alleged that there was political undertone to it. How far with the allegation?
Yes there was at then. There was one person at the NUC called Professor Uber. He hardly goes home. But when the time for elections come, he will be running from one place to the other trying to convince politicians that he has control of the people. It is unfortunate that he is from same local government with me.
He became serially defeated and thought that he could use his position to damage what I was doing.
Culled from The Sun, 20th July, 2016 available at http://sunnewsonline.com/buhari-fighting-too-many-battles-ilornem/