Professor Akin Oyebode was born in Ado-Ekiti of Ikole-Ekiti extraction on December 9, 1947. He attended the famous Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti for both his secondary and Higher School Certificate education before proceeding to the Kiev State University, Ukraine on a Federal Government scholarship in 1967 to study International Law. After obtaining the LL.M. with highest distinction, he returned to the country in 1973 and joined University of Lagos as an Assistant Lecturer. In 1974, he was, according to www.ondoevents.com, admitted to the Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, obtaining another LL.M. in 1975. He subsequently went to the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Canada, the largest and leading law school in Canada, earning the Doctor of Jurisprudence (D.Jur.) in 1988, having specialized on the Law of Treaties. In 1991, he was appointed Professor of Law and founding Dean of the Faculty of Law of the then Ondo State University, a position he held until 1997, when he returned to the University of Lagos. Two years later, he was invited back to be pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ado-Ekiti. Upon completion of his term in 2004, he once again returned to the University of Lagos, where he occupied the Chair of International Law and Jurisprudence. He was also Chairman of the University’s Office of International Relations, Partnerships and Prospects. He retired over a year ago. As an avid commentator on current affairs, he fielded questions from ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE on the coming general elections and other pressing national issues. Photos by AyodeleEfunla
Congratulations sir on your retirement from active academic service, though I know that you are retired but not tired. How has the transition been from active academic days and in your retirement?
Thank you very much. It is an interesting transition, what you just mentioned. To God be the glory that one was able to retire and become a pensioner. It is a different ball game because when you are in the university, you have all manner of schedules, that you have to comply with, teaching schedules and public service but now I don’t have to rush down to any class at 8am for Jurisprudence on Mondays and Wednesdays but, paradoxical as it may sound, I am as busy if not more than when I was a full-time academic because I have all sorts of invitations, commitments and consultancy services.
I guess on your way here you must have run into a student that came for consultation, not from the University of Lagos (UNILAG) but from another university, How he got me I don’t know but, to God be the glory, one is able to answer to these requests. Two months ago, I was in Madagascar for the elections in that country and as part of what they call the Commonwealth of Independence States, that is to say, the old Soviet Union, election monitoring organization, I went there for ten days. Now, I am due to be in Juba, courtesy of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a five-day consultancy, to help that country in its moment of travail. She has so many challenges and they are bringing scholars from different parts of Africa, from countries that have witnessed such a debacle to assist in organizing a national debate on the way ahead. So, those are the types of things I am currently engaged in. I am due to conduct another interview soon. One is, in fact, amused that people still remember us, not as dinosaurs… So, that, in brief, is what retirement is all about. I eat (I have eaten my pounded yam), go to sleep, take life easy, now for more than one year since retiring and I must say I am enjoying it.
You spent a long time in the university untainted and we have cases of academics that ran into one problem or the other- maybe they compromised with marks, women…How were you able to walk that tight rope without scandal?
Well, Jesus said, those without sin, should cast the first stone. I think it is the Lord’s doing. Quite sincerely, it is not that I am so virtuous that I can’t admire the female anatomy but I decided to separate issues. Academics is academics, politics is another kettle of fish, and the two should never meet, more so as the only claim an academic has is his reputation. As a scholar, when you inspire students and all that, you feel fulfilled because these young undergraduates you teach, a few years after, become big , as we say in Nigeria. I remember YemiOsinbajo, now the Vice President. In class, he was quiet, almost like a mouse, but with an incredibly high absorptive capacity. He later came and said I was his role model because I used to lecture without notes and said I had influenced his decision to become an academic. By the way, he also taught my children, who confirmed that he carried all his knowledge in his head and never used any notes. He would speak for the next one and half hours, just like that. And when you see the ground that he has covered, you would just marvel at his prodigious intellect.
The opportunity and advantage, academics have is to play the role of models to succeeding generations and, as God will have it, I have been privileged to teach about 70 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, over 30 Law professors, countless judges, from the Supreme Court to the lowest courts in the land. So, God just gave me that privilege that I was able to come across very interesting students and colleagues who made good with their lives. So, when you have such a track record, you are very careful not to soil the image. It was God that enabled me to triumph or to even survive in the face of so many challenges of maybe what we lawyers call infamous conduct and all manner of imprudent licentious behavior because in the university, you have young people and you have elderly people and sometimes there is the danger to succumb to temptations by these young people who sometimes get infatuated with their lecturers and you see you need a lot of discipline in order not to fall into the cesspit of impropriety, I will call it moral turpitude. I just declare my gratitude to the Almighty that I escaped unscathed.
You painted a picture of ability to rise above temptation but this cannot be said of certain politicians. This brings me to the things that are happening in Nigeria now, elections are approaching, do you have any feeling of apprehension?
Well people frequently ask me that question and my usual response is there is no cause for alarm. We have been in this game for quite a while and, thanks to God, Nigeria is growing in its democratic practice. But since coming back from Madagascar, I have come to realize that there has been a rising apprehension as a result of claims, counter claims, recriminations, self-doubt and all manner of misgivings from the political actors with respect to the next elections.
Now the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said they are ready and they are willing and able to conduct what AttahiruJega, the former boss of the body, called free, fair and credible elections and some have since added transparent elections. I was in Abuja a few weeks back, at a forum organized by the Transition Monitoring Group and an INEC national commissioner was in attendance. I was pleading that we give INEC the benefit of the doubt and the lady said for the first time, she was intrigued to hear me pleading the cause of INEC and requested that we should Praise the Lord!
I think that we are in a dire situation right now. A journalist interviewed me in Abuja from The Punch, I gave him an impromptu interview on the state of affairs and I told him that the country has some problems, INEC enabled 91 parties to strive for political power which to me looked likes carrying a good joke too far. I know they would say that they are complying with the law, after Gani had gone to court on account of the National Conscience Party but then as I said in that interview, the road to hell is paved with good intention. I think it is actually a rude and crude joke to have 91 political parties, registered with 71 of them intending to run for presidential office, so that’s one problem. The other problem that I see is that the front liners, the candidates of the leading parties are northerners (muslim, Fulani), So, Nigeria is faced with a sort of Hobson choice or should I say, a choice between six and half a dozen That scenario is not altogether encouraging because, in effect, the southern geo-political zone has been neutralized, So, I would say that the demographics and optics of the elections, especially the presidential, are not too encouraging. I suggest that we need younger and bolder and aggressive contestants, people like Moghalu, Ezekwesili, Sowore and FelaDurutoye but they don’t have the capacity right now to be real contenders as their time does not seem to be now, maybe subsequently their time will come.
In terms of the smart card reader, the permanent voters card, I think INEC is doing its best to provide and prepare for the elections and am not sure if there would be lateness in arrival by election officials at the various polling units. I think INEC has learnt from experience and the running of elections so that the elections will go without squabbles, at least, this time around. It will be difficult to blame INEC. So, that is the reprieve we have.
However, in terms of the political scene, I am a little bit skeptical that things will go without incidence. Luckily, snatching of ballot boxes has abated though it is not completely eliminated. I would have preferred e-voting, so that we have a seamless elections and then in terms of transmission of the results to the coalition centre and the announcement, speedy announcement. Look at how it is done in Europe. You conduct elections in Europe, the same day, latest the next day, the results of the elections are known. Their development is at par with their democracy, their advanced technology and political stability have taken care of everything. Here, we are still haunted by underdevelopment in all its ramifications which impact negatively on the electoral process.
It is going to be hoping against hope to think that we will have a flawless, seamless set of elections. Part of our underdevelopment will lead negatively on the whole process. Elections are a process, democracy is a goal but to arrive at the goal, you have to go in fits and starts and that makes it mandatory for all poltical actors to give peace a chance, to have confidence and be ready to salute and congratulate the winner, meaning that the process is considered by all and sundry free, fair, credible and transparent. I am not sure because of what I am hearing from different contestants, even doubts regarding impartiality of INEC itself, it is highly unconscionable to seek to hang that woman just because of circumstances of her birth, I think is most objectionable.
So it seems as I said in a previous interview the experience we have in this country is playing democracy without democrats. Until and unless the various actors rise up to the occasion, educate themselves on the niceties and nuances of democracy are imbibed by the various political actors, we will continue to have all these arguments regarding the Nigerian practice.
There is also this argument going on, rather than the two major candidates delving into issues, telling the electorate what they will offer, they are busy with dirty propaganda. Do you share that view?
I said, it is not unexpected. For me the beginning of understanding Nigerian politics is recognition and awareness that we don’t have political parties in the true sense of the term.What we have are synthetic, plastic, groups that they are not organic and don’t reflect any ideological positiosn. We don’t have leftist parties and rightist parties. Babangida tried a little to the left, a little to the right but he was insincere, In the event, you know, he cancelled everything to suit himself. What I am saying is that until and unless Nigeria’s political parties are founded on ideology, we might continue to go round and round in circles. When we have ideological based parties, then you can expect them to make their case based on their ideology. Look at how the Labour Party in the UK and its leader in parliament is confronting the prime minister., More often than not, his argument has been based on labourist ideology.
For me the APC, the PDP, the main parties within the spectrum, represent two sides of the same coin, I have said on television and elsewhere that Nigerian political parties represent the same beer, only the labels on the bottles are different. If you really want contestation, let us have really different parties, so every Nigerian can then choose his own route to heaven. With the way things are, there are no ideological differences. The Nigerian situation is reminiscent of Dickensenian England, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, hence there is no difference and we have seen in our political practice the way people change parties. In the morning, they belong to one party, by lunch time, switch to another party, when it is time for dinner, they switch yet to another party, by breakfast the following day, they switch to another party and people take it as normal. Nobody has winced about the rapidity of change of complexion, Nigerian politicians are chameleonic, you know how the chameleon changes colours to suit its environment. So, you have to look at that, with sociological perspective, in all of these, understand the tribulations we are experiencing. Like it or not, the Nigerian political system has not come of age. That’s the truth.
The fault is not that of the Nigerian voters, Nigerians have been voting, exercising their franchise since 1922; so, we are not altogether new to the ballot box but to say the political actors and those who are contending for power have not felt the need to rise beyond the ordinary, is bewildering, to put it mildly. Parties must be rooted in ideology, when that happens then problems will be reduced. So, that is my own perspective, you might have a leftist party, at the left of centre then you have a centrist party that maintains the status quo, here and there. Then, you have a conservative right-wing party that wants more of the same, without any changes of the establishment.
One of the contestants recently said he would sell off the NNPC. Now, that is a right-wing position. He stated that didn’t care if it was himself or his friends, who bought NNPC. That shows he is a dyed-in-the-wool, out and out, capitalist protagonist. So, if he continues to espouse tenets of free wheeling capitalism, then I would love the opposition to say, No the state has a role to play, take us from the clutches of this capitalist. We may, therefore, be gradually attaining the level of development that approximates a liberal western-style democracy. Of course, we are not yet there. That is why some people are suspecting that the government in power will do anything to remain in power and I was tickled by the response of the leader of the government who said well he is used to losing, he lost three times before, if he loses another time, no big deal. But what people are saying is if he loses, is he willing to concede defeat and retire and be tending to his cattle? Nigeria is at a crossroads in terms of where do we go from here and that should bother any patriot because the destiny of Nigeria seems to be up for grabs and that’s problematic.
The candidates presented different campaign documents/manifestoes…
We know what manifestoes are, they are just good points on paper. Look at the present government in power, promising all manner of magic, parity between dollar and naira, 3 million jobs, fight against corruption. Hardly is there any of their manifesto promises that this government has implemented. Their apologists have just been trying to conceptualize and say well, the reality of the situation has made implementation of our manifesto practically impossible. Now, if we can’t believe what you say, next time you say good morning to me I would have to check my watch before answering you. That is what has happened in the political scene.
Appraise the response or the epistolary approach of former President OlusegunObasanjo in criticizing government. He just wrote one against Buhari
Obasanjo has the right to exercise his freedom of expression, freedom of speech. So, definitely nobody will begrudge him for exercising his freedom. But then, Obasanjo should see himself even if he is not aware of it that he is an elder statesman and should not be the source of confusion or destabilization within the polity. He has had his time and his time was not altogether glorious, to put it mildly. So, he is better advised to exercise circumspection, on what he says where and when. I think this self-delusion of a failed king is worrisome. Now that he has armed himself with a PhD, he believes he has the right to pontificate on all subjects under the sun but Nigerians are not dummies. Many Nigerians are well schooled and are quite knowledgeable on the political history of the country. People like Obasanjo should be on the sidelines and not make pontifical statements about contestants. Who made him a judge over Nigeria? His own political record is not that ennobling. That is why he is best advised not to bring himself into self-demystification.Many people now see him as a perfidious character who does not wish others well and that he sees himself as the only star in the firmament. No, that is not correct. Let the political actors play the game while history be the judge. The Obasanjo situation calls for concern. I don’t know who he wants to impress, maybe his friends abroad, because I understand his is now president of the association of former presidents.
Look at Tony Blair, former British prime minister he is still talking but the way he is talking is not in abusive, pontifical, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou manner. Obasanjo should play the role of an old counselor, wise old man, that opinion-moulders journalists could approach for comments or opinions on what path the country should take, not that of a vituperative, self- serving know-all.. At first, I accepted the letter he wrote and delivered, I even defended it on national television but this time around, I think he has carried a good joke too far.
If either of the two major candidates win, what issues do you want him to tackle?
Well, as we are speaking right now, the greatest threat to the survival of Nigeria is the unemployment of its youth, I don’t know whether the statistics are right, but I heard that 85 per cent of young Nigerians are without any employment. Nigerians always say an idle hand is the devil’s workshop and that has taken most Nigerians into drugs, crime and into especially the yahoo yahoo syndrome. I think if you can solve the problem of unemployment, considerable amount of the problems of Nigerians would have been resolved but unemployment is tied to other issues like the exchange rate. I remember when I was a student abroad, in the 70s, the naira exchanged for 1 dollar 20 cents. Now, the exchange rate to the naira in what I read in the media is one dollar to N306, that is, the official market, but in the parallel or black market, it is much higher and something must have to be done about the depreciation in value of the Nigerian currency.
That leads to another issue that afflicts Nigeria, criminality, manifested in kidnapping, ritual killings. Now, I read in the papers today that a man was set ablaze in Ekiti for being caught with female panties. I don’t know what use is made of female panties by desperate wealth-seekers. Which kind of rituals? A country that has been led into superstition is to be pitied but it is frustration that forced people into seeking easy ways of becoming rich- that mentality among Nigerians that you play the betting game or you play the pyramid game and you could make money just like that. I don’t think such money will even last. So, criminality, exchange rate, youth unemployment, those are the most critical priorities.
I have left out what is ravaging the northern part of the country, the Boko Haram and then, the herdsmen and farmers imbroglio, instability brought about by terrorists elements in Borno and also in Adamawa and to some extent in Bauchi and Zamafara. So, that is an issue. We all believe Buhari being a tested army general who had commanded almost all the divisions in the Nigerian Army and who, when he was in the military, had chased out the Maitatsine marauders with military prowess and dexterity had all it would take to cage the Boko Haram. But three years down the line, it seems he has run out of gas. We continue to hear that they are on top of the situation but some of my friends say the situation is really on top of them!
So I believe it is a very serious matter because if a part of Nigeria is in trouble then the rest can’t just relax and say it is none of our business. It is one for all and all for one and more so we have in the recent past been arresting Boko Haram activists in the southern part of the country. They seem to have infiltrated even into Lagos. So, God forbid, before too long, the whole country might be engulfed by these terrorist actions. Mind you, Boko Haram is affiliated to ISIS, they see themselves as the ISIS army in West Africa. Accordingly, we need to block the arms supply chain in order to bring them to heel.
I don’t think for me, you need a PhD to analyze the problems facing Nigeria, something a very bright secondary school kid can do. It is not because the government does not know what the problems are but how the government prioritizes the issues at different points in time. Some will say the Buhari government is so ethnocentric and it is only people from the areas of origin of Buhari that are deemed fit for some certain offices. Look at the security architecture of Nigeria, how come that only two members of the national defence councils are not from the north or Hausa speakers? It doesn’t sound right, you don’t need to become a leper in order to cure leprosy. Military officers abound across the country, well-trained graduates of military academies both local and foreign who possess the wherewithal to manage our security and the earlier Buhari’s appointees at the highest command are inclusive and reflect the federal character of the country, the sooner his image as a patriot and nationalist would be burnished as against the perception in many quarters that consider him as an irredentist, chauvinist, or ethnic jingoist.
In order to give people a sense of inclusion that we are all Nigerians, we are all involved in the resolving the contradictions of Nigeria, they should make sure that appointments made are inclusive or reflect the federal character. No group has a monopoly of knowledge or wisdom, wisdom can be found in all the ethnic groups of this country, different parts and we should never apologize for where we come from. It is saddening and untenable, in fact, unacceptable for some to give the impression that only they are born to rule. We have moved past that, this is not a caliphate, where only the friends and family of the caliphate get high office. Indeed these are not issues that require rocket science to solve.
Coming to the judiciary now, we want you to analyse, appraise the state of the judiciary, especially the problem thrown up by the Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen. What is the best way out of the problem because many people are talking about the process…
Well I don’t know if you watched my interview on Channels TV, now, the best solution is for him to ease out, ease himself out of that position, because like Caesar’s wife, judges should live above board, once your integrity has been impugned, then you lack the wherewithal to preside over the temple of Justice. It is not by accident that when you enter the court room, the judge sits on a pedestal higher than all the people in the court. They are like gods on earth, They can even sentence a fellow human to death, Very powerful position and very honourable personalities, that’s why we talk of honourable justice so, so, So, they are not ordinary mortals, but that is for as long as they do what is fit and proper.
The allegation are grievous that the declaration of assets, submitted by the Chief Justice of Nigeria is incomplete, that he omitted certain critical elements, domiciliary accounts, dollars euro, three different accounts and he allegedly made deposits of $10,000 in different accounts, and so on. It would seem the government had a dossier and possesses knowledge of his malfeasance and impropriety.
So, the only problem the lawyers are arguing about is how do you deal with the matter. I don’t know if you saw Robert Clark who was the lawyer in the Ndagila case, he said you have to distinguish between public officer and judicial officer. If a judge does certain acts, he commits any transgression in his judicial function, you have to take the matter first to the National Judicial Council (NJC). Any malfeasance that the judge does as a judicial officer goes to the NJC because the NJC presides over the discipline of the judiciary but whatever malfeasance that the judicial officer commits as a public officer, what he is alleged to have committed is a misconduct that is almost criminal in nature and it falls under the umbrella of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
But before you can arraign before the tribunal, you must strip him of the toga of the judiciary, a sitting judge cannot go and appear before the CCT. We made the same argument during the case of NiyiAdemola because he was a sitting judge. The respect we accord him arises from his status as a judicial officer. So, now that he has done something unworthy of an occupier of high judicial office, we must strip him of that status because they will arraign him as an ordinary person, it should have been ideal he had recused himself or stepped aside or resigned from the judiciary so that it will be easy to deal with him but he is staying put and his friends, even the National Industrial Court which ordinarily handles employment matters got involved so much so that it is now a very messy case and Nigeria is going to be the loser at the end of the day. Right now, the judiciary is on trial, the bar too. You saw 81 lawyers went to defend him, so the bar also is on trial because people will say the interest of the bar is self-serving, you see when you go to any court house you find the figurine of Themis, the lady of justice, blind folded, sword on one hand and scales on the other, epitomizing the notion of equality before the law. So, everybody should be deemed equal before the law including judges, judicial officers and court officials. They are, in fact, priests in the temple of justice. Once they are scandalized by any infraction or allegation of misbehavior, impropriety, unquestionable conduct, then such people should resign not that they have been found guilty but in other to allow them prove their innocence.
There is presumption of innocence, there is separation of powers. The tenets of the law all fall flat in the face of the Onnoghen situation. Now, I was reminded recently that he was part of the people indicted by Justice KayodeEsho Panel.
TheNEWS magazine was the medium that actually published a cover on the Esho report/corrupt judges.
But for the grace of God, Onnoghen was to be fired for his incompetence or something, he was elevated, he escaped as it were, with the skin of his teeth. The sword of Damocles was dangling on his head before he became a justice of the Court of Appeal and you know it took some time before Buhari could confirm him as CJN then but we were attacking Buhari then, but maybe he knew something we didn’t know then and you know it was when Buhari was ill, when he was away that Osinbajo thought that why delay? He approved his elevation to the highest office in the land. So, in hindsight, I read Osinbajo saying he was saddened by the turn of events, he must be feeling the pangs of the events that maybe if he hadn’t appointed him CJ, he would not be in this mess. Nigeria is in a mess now, the world is watching us, like Buhari told the National Assembly that the world is watching us, is it that we don’t know what to do or what they call propriety?
The issue is that of propriety. This man has lost the respect of the generality of Nigerians, because he has been caught with his hands in the pot of soup and because of that, he has forfeited the respect that we normally accord people who hold high judicial office. So for me, it is necessary for him to remove himself from the Judiciary now to let due process of law take place. So, he is frustrating due process, running from pillar to post to stop the indictment and who is going to be the loser? It is the Nigerian Judiciary. That is why it is a very testy situation, you know people say if a fly hangs on the delicate part of the body, you must be very careful how you hit the fly, you don’t destroy that delicate part of the human anatomy. So, we are caught on the horns of a dilemma, if you ask me. He would have helped us out of the situation if he had eased himself out, then allowed due process to apply.
President Buhari has suspended Onnoghen, a development that has given rise to acrimonious debates . While some are praising the President, other critics accuse him of circumventing the process, thus becoming a full dictator who has no respect for the Constitution. What is your expert opinion on this?
The President is sliding along a steep slope since there is no provision under the Constitution or any known law for the action he has taken. His legal advisers should have advised him accordingly. Regrettably, he has since boxed himself into a corner. He has, to paraphrase Anthony Enahoro, now embarked on a journey the end of which no-one can foretell. He apparently wanted to resolve the conundrum but, regrettably, the medicine he applied looks worse than the disease. None of his spin doctors was able to come up with something as disingenuous as the doctrine of necessity. If the National Assembly was not in such disarray, perhaps we could have now been looking at impeachment proceedings against the President for outrageously trampling on the Constitution. With the bottom falling from the wide appeal he enjoys across the land, President Buhari has to take drastic action in order to cut his losses and bounce back into reckoning as a self-confessed born-again democrat shorn of his dictatorial, military antecedents.
On ASUU sir, what is your thought on the way out because they have really not settled, government said it had paid some money, ASUU said the strike should continue…
Well as somebody who was legal adviser to ASUU, in 1990 and as part of them, I helped write the constitution of ASUU, I understand ASUU and its politics but also as a one-time Vice- Chancellor, I know the thinking of the government, because in 2001, I was on the government side against ASUU and ASUU members were then angry with me saying I had become a turncoat. In fact, one of them said they should not shake my hands, having been contaminated by my association with government! My response was that I couldn’t stand in one spot for 10 years and asked if it was a crime to become a professor? I explained that as Vice-Chancellor, I was in a position to understand their position and put same across to the government side. So, being both a former ASUU activist and a university administrator, I was at a vantage point to appreciate both sides of the argument. However, we should be frank with ourselves, over the years, government and ASUU have been at cross purposes with government ever unable to live up to solemn undertakings.
When you sign a solemn pact with a government, it is imperative to honour that agreement, I don’t want us to fall into the clap-trap of Ben Nwabueze that collective bargain agreements are agreements of imperfect obligation. That was his approach and, in fact, I was asked by ASUU to do a response to him and did a 42-page response in that regard. I went to tender it before the HonourableKayodeEsho, and KayodeEsho upheld our submissions for which reason Nwabueze removed him from his position as UNIBEN Pro-Chancellor within 24 hours. You sign an agreement, you carry out your agreement, otherwise crisis would erupt.Government has been defaulting in agreements with ASUU and other unions, that is why universities are shut down now because ASUU is insisting that they can take it no more. Why should we have a situation where you promise something and you refuse to deliver?
The way I understand it, ASUU is not just asking for just backlog of its own payments, it wants the university system to be refurbished so that the universities can effectuate their obligations to the students, parents and society generally. The universities are engaged in human capital development, the universities want a situation where they can produce students who can hold their own against students from elsewhere. Quite frankly, the facilities are just not there.
Sorry, I want to be a bit personal. One of the universities I attended as a student over 40 years ago, had 99 libraries, with the law school having 4 law libraries. You can’t give what you don’t have. So if they want top quality graduates, the proprietors must put their money where their mouths are.
For me, ASUU is fighting a battle for the survival of the universities. It is instructive that nothing in terms of facility improvement has come to the universities except through ASUU struggles. ASUU will struggle, money will be promised, money will go to the Vice-Chancellor and the Governing Council to spend, not to ASUU. So, instead of vilifying ASUU, I think we should award them medals for their patriotic endeavours. They have patriotic zeal and commitment. That is why it is so sad that many of our kids are out of the universities now because of failure by government to see reason with ASUU. That is the blunt truth. ASUU wants to place our universities at par with the best universities in the world and the earlier that is understood by all and sundry, the better for this nation. If you go to the universities today, you would see that they are not well appointed in terms of facilities and ambience generally. We have 154 universities in Nigeria but they are all. I remember when I was consulting for the African Union, one of my trips to Addis Ababa, an ambassador saw me and said, ah, professor from Nigeria and I said Yes, he said ASUU must be on strike, I said Why? He said because ASUU is on strike that is why you find time to come to Addis Ababa. I said No, ASUU’s strike has nothing to do with my finding time to travel.
But at that time ASUU was actually on strike. Then he asked, by the way, how many universities do you have in Nigeria. I told him we had 94 universities. He nearly fell off his chair! He said in my country we have only 2. And I said the 94 we had then was not even enough. So universities all over the world, have within them the best and the brightest charged with the task of producing high quality manpower for the economy. So people should not attack ASUU or abuse them or vilify them. Rather, we need to congratulate them for a job well done and provide the wherewithal to equip the universities to do what they know best how. I always say that give academics the tools and they would deliver the goods because these are people who have studied all over the world, know what is needed to do but they lack the wherewithal to do it. So, I will plead with Nigerian people to understand the position of ASUU and not just throw away the baby with the bath water.
There seems to be a shortage of quality leadership in the world. The US has Donald Trump, a man many wave off as a buffoon. What is your own take on that?
If you remember on the day of the election of the man you are talking about, I was on national television, I was sure in my head that the Americans would elect his rival, Mrs Clinton. So, I went to sleep and woke up, four o’clock in the morning, put on the TV and it was breaking news that Donald Trump had been elected president. But, in fact, I think you are being generous by your adjective, a buffoon., Donald Trump is unworthy, unfit for that position and he shows it every day. You just wonder how the Americans would have allowed such a man to preside over the destiny of their people. So, for me, he lacks the credentials for leadership of a country as important and as powerful as United States of America.
Look at Emmanuel Macron, just about 40, he has promises. He attended the best schools in France, well tutored. You think of the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau. When I was a student in Canada his father, Joseph Philippe Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, He was a professor of constitutional Law, Justin is now following the tracks of his father, and you could see what he has done, the cabinet, gender sensitive 50/50 and he is doing all sorts novel, interesting things. Any time he has an encounter with the man we just talked about, he leaves none in doubt about his capability and ability to hold his own. So also is Theresa May. Although she read Geography at from Oxford, you could see that she is no-one’s fool. When you are about to write her off, she bounces back. It means she has tremendous political savvy. Look at Angela Merkel, with a PhD in Physical Chemistry. When they were together, our own President made a tremendous gaffe by saying his own wife belonged to the other room… How could a president make such a fool of himself, before a PhD Chancellor of Germany? Who says the woman is an ignoramus?
If you go elsewhere, all the way to Singapore, Lee HsienLoong is now prime minister. You see what Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore within three generations to quote his book, moving his country from the Third World to the First. So, there are quite a number of intelligent leaders across the world.
Again, look at Cyril Ramaphosa. He was a good unionist, brilliant and knowledgeable guy, you can see how he is handling the situation in his country. He is a different kettle of fish unlike his predecessor who relished his romance with his AK-47. Next-door in Ghana, we have an Oxford-trained lawyer with demonstrable dexterity in charge. So, let us be fair and recognize the smart alecs among world leaders.
Even near us here, KayodeFayemi in Ekiti with a PhD in War Studies has been the come-back kid. He has been in Ife, inUnilag and the University of London. Fayemi can hold his own anywhere. So, I want us to be cognizant of the capacity of various leaders. The US example should be taken as a misnomer, and I am sure by 2020, there is going to be a re-set and he will be in the past tense. So many of his functionaries have since jumped off the Titanic. He is a cantankerous person with a penchant for insulting everybody. Africa, he says, is full of shitholes, the media he called the public enemy number one. He forgets that you can’t win a battle against the media for, the media will write your obituary. Even in Congo, Kabila, the young man who succeeded his father and now brandishes a grey beard to give impression that he is an elder but you can see how he successfully managed the elections and so, the young are growing and what people are saying that this is the time of the young people, the old people should, therefore, yield and give way to young, intelligent people.
Look at Kingsley Moghalu, ObyEzekwezili, Oby was my student, she topped her class in 1987, she was the best in the entire masters class on International Law and Diplomacy in UNILAG and when they wanted to appoint her as VP of the World Bank, World Bank got in touch with us to confirm that she had indeed attended UNILAG. I said she did not only attend UNILAG, she topped her class. Look, Nigeria has lots of brilliant people everywhere, brilliant wiz-kids in this country. Moghalu has an impressive CV and is highly qualified to seek the office of President. I have nothing against gerontocracy (after all, I am now in my 70s, an age mate of the oldies that you are talking about). I think you should allow the young people to take charge and occupy its rightful place within the international community. Nigeria is ripe for change and those who have continued to hold the country hostage would be properly summed up by history. I listened to some of the presidential debates, the young aspirants were all effervescent and impressive. I have great faith and confidence in our young people.