‘Do we need another civil war to unite Nigeria?’
Professor Tony Afejuku, a Justice of the Peace, is a columnist, poet, critic, public intellectual and commentator and former Head of Department of English and Literature, Faculty Arts, University of Benin and Professor of English and Literature and Creative Writing. The very versatile personage of very strong views spoke to ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU in Benin City.
Your assessment of the country
Maybe I should try and answer this question by way of referring to Chinua Achebe via his last published book before his demise. He entitled it, “There was a Country.” If you have not heard of the book I will request your editor to issue you a query (laughter!). In the book, Achebe dwells extensively on his Biafra country that he was in as a rebel against Nigeria. So, let me say now that it would not be wrong of me to say that there is a country called Nigeria and that there is no country called Nigeria in view of current happenings in the land. I’m trying to reformulate Chinua Achebe. When I was growing up, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, let me look back from that time of the country, our country called Nigeria. Again, this reference to Achebe’s ‘There was a Country ‘ will only make sense to many people now in the context of what is that shouldn’t be.
In my growing up years there was a country. I enjoyed rosy childhood and boyhood. Our kids can’t see that kind of life again. We never knew the kind of pernicious oppression or marginalization that is everywhere about us in modern Nigeria indeed. Our playmates were from everywhere. Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Ishan, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Etsako, Kwale, etc. were one. Though, our tongues and tribes differed, we stood, jumped, swam, laughed and cried in friendship and brotherhood. There was a country. Foreigners used to come to Nigeria to get medical attention. I can recall that a king of Saudi Arabia was once in Nigeria for health purposes. How many foreigners now come to our country? Our President has been frequenting the UK for his health challenges.
In the period I referred to, our big men didn’t do that because our facilities were excellent. Then, talking about education, our premier university, University of Ibadan was the apex, the acme of our educational system was well thought of; it was the apex of our educational system. It compared with the best anywhere. We had the right education, excellent education. Our universities were not only universal, but were truly universal in terms of international students and international scholars that graced them. And our home-grown students competed favourably with international students. The institutions were truly glorious as at that time. We had good teachers, excellent teachers. Our universities were gloriously universal, I repeat. In fact, ABU, Zaria, for example, was a beehive of European activities. It might interest you to know that a teacher who taught me in the primary school in Sapele was several years later on my lecturer in the university. I am talking of Professor Sam Egite Oyovbaire. He was a former federal minister. He taught me Political Science in the popular Faculty of Arts and Social Science, FASS, then the most popular faculty in the university. He was a great teacher. I read English, but Political Science was one of my electives. You don’t find his kind again. His tribe of teachers, including Professor Femi Odekunle, presently a member of Buhari’s anti-graft committee, is rare. Odekunle taught me Criminology, one of my electives, in part two. Of course, I can remember vividly my other distinguished teachers in my parent department, who mainly were English, Scots, Americans plus other Nigerians and Africans. Let me spare you their names.
Today’s Universities have become somewhat ethnic. So, talking about Nigeria, today’s independence represents things that are really and totally bad indeed. Do you understand what I’m saying? Then, Nigeria was fabulously good in every way. I am not dwelling on fantasy. The kind of security worries we have today was unknown to us even after the civil war. As at that time there was nothing thing have like bomb blast or what have you. Shout ole or barawo then and a thief would scamper away. But, today, with guns, bad guns, things are different. Things have really changed, things have badly changed. Even when the soldiers came to do what they did, based on the rubbish they dished out as excuse then, things were not like not this rotten. Since then we have been going round in circles taking us to destination. Nigeria then and Nigeria now, O there was a country. We said the soldiers were bad but of today are one of a kid. They have outdone the military in the art of lootocracy. Their civiliantocracy supersedes militocracy. Swine, each and everyone of them is. Everything is haunting and daunting. I don’t know what else to say than to invoke Achebe once again – there was a country.
How Nigeria got to this state
The military incursion into our polity and policies put us where we are today. Some people will argue that the right guys, the right military guys, were torpedoed along the line, that those who emasculated them had no visions for our country. But generally those military boys had no business doing what they did. They betrayed the trust that Nigerians reposed in them. Yes, our rulers were bad if that was what they said. But, looking at it from hindsight, those so-called bad leaders were saints. They were saints. So, we got to this bad state because of the visionlessness of the successive military regimes.
When they came they came to loot. For example, our military cannot be equated with that of Egypt. From what we know of Egypt, their military leaders were not involved in the kind of political assassinations as we used to have here even though Egyptian military leaders have suffered badly at different times. Egypt gave us examples, which we did not follow, or copy properly. Even the civilians who came after the collapse of the first republic couldn’t do anything politically wise or meaningful. And the same set of people in different guises has been ruling Nigeria since that time.
Our problem is that of leadership. Bad leadership that has thrown us into an unimaginable level of corruption. The same group of people that has been ruling us is the same people in power. Even those in the west, who are in power or in opposition, are the same people. They are not doing what Awo did. They are merely using that superman’s name to feather their own nests. They are using Awo’s name to do what Awo did not do. The Sardauna people are also not even doing the kind of things he did. The same thing is applicable to Zik’s people. What the fabulous Zik did in the East in a different way his people are not doing anything like them.
And what the formidable Okotie Eboh did in the Mid-West his people are not doing them. We have leadership problem, serious leadership problem. And things are that bad as everybody knows. Some are even talking of restructuring. What is restructuring? There is no system that is good or bad. Even at times dictatorship can be good. That is why we have what we call benevolent dictatorship. Why should the same set of people be the ones ruling us since independence? Maybe we should fight another civil war to end the rubbish and to cement and unite post-British, post-imperial Nigeria, not another civil war to dismember, to dissect Nigeria into pieces. I am a lord of peace, a peace lord. War, any war, is evil but if we fight another war to retain our great country, it is alright and sound, it will benefit us, why not? But we must not beat the drum of war. War chants are not for us in modern Nigeria.
Rate President Muhammadu Buhari
As far as I am concerned Buhari is good for Nigeria, because he has finished his assignment spiritually, morally speaking. Buhari’s assignment was to come and show the people that corruption is not only bad, but that it also pernicious evil. If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us, to use his term. Unfortunately, again, to use their epithet, corruption fought back and is fighting back. Buhari’s silence, I can tell you, is spiritual. There must be errors especially man-made ones. For example, his nepotism we must query. His appointments we must query and condemn. They are acts of corruption. But we must applaud his crusade against thieves and rogues. And his attempt to jail all the rogues failed or is failing. You cannot blame him because the judicial system has failed or is failing him. It is part of the corrupt setting we are talking about. And then there was a report which listed the most corrupt institutions in the country. The judiciary was listed, the police was listed the custom was listed. The judiciary doesn’t do its work the way it should be done. If gold should rust, what should iron do? The judiciary is our gold. It is turning into rust. You don’t blame the man, you don[t blame Buhari for this. I said leadership is our problem. What can he do? He has finished his spiritual assignment. If I were him I would quit. But they will not allow him to quit. The cabal, the wolves, the desert crocodiles, will not allow him to quit. But they will fail ultimately. Mark my words. And expect the unexpected.
I want a Restructuring Resistance Brigade. I don’t know what they mean by restructuring. Those who are talking are talking because of resources that are not within their immediate reach. What is the fiscal federalism nonsense that they are making noise about? I t is nonsense in view of present realities. Take it to Delta where I from, for example. Things are terrible there. My people are being exploited by the majority of people of there, who are championing this restructuring agenda and propaganda. Look at what has happened there. Every month the Local Government Areas try get something but they waste the resources. In terms of money that should go to LGA they paid them stipends. And the same people in the local government, what are they doing with the so-called oil-money they have? They are just busy doing nothing but siphoning the money; what Fayose called stomach infrastructure is plaguing my people. Instead of attacking stomach restructure stomach restructuring they are talking of divisive restructuring. That is what they are doing. It is like, when Jonathan was in power I was one of those talking and warning him. What have we seen today? Things we accused Jonathan of doing many people in my place are still doing. Buhari is not yet strong enough.
They see that as an opportunity to do what they like. Nobody does that which is right. But they hypocritically admonish us to do the needful. Ironically, Stella Odua, invented the epithet on the need to do the needful. She employed it negatively, but who cares! Many of us lambasted her for her negative use of the term when she invented it. They now pretend to use it positively. Hypocrites! These are the una done too chop people, who are saying leave there so that we too can come and chop. So what do they actually mean by restructuring? Is it fiscal federalism or new power restructuring such that the states, should be in charge of the police? I think I read in your paper when Chief Gabriel Igbinedion said that “write it down with your ten fingers, no to state police.” Those preaching or talking about restructuring, equally would want state police to be part of restructuring. You wonder what will happen to minorities like us? We are finished. And you are finished.
There are those who believe that restructuring shouldn’t be part of it. It is better for us to live in what we have now but we should galvanise ourselves to the point where we have new leaders that will break away from the past way of doing things though. We should follow the example of Buhari by dealing squarely, beautifully, without mincing words, without fear or favour with corruption. We need new leaders with new thoughts that will bail Nigeria out of the political quagmire. There is no country without problems. Are there not people in America protesting against Trump? Are they talking of seceding? No! Are they talking about restructuring? No! We need good leaders and good followers. For now you can see that there is no country. But as I said, Buhari has finished his assignment. I am telling you, he has finished it. Meanwhile, let us wait patiently for the unexpected.
Incessant strikes by lecturers
Well, well, well, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to GOD what is due Him. We, who are in school and belong to the educational system, I don’t know whether you are going to call us Caesar or collectively God but either way, give us what is due us. What is the UNESCO’s percentage for education? Twenty six per cent of a country’s annual budget. Our leaders are failed ones at that. We don’t think give due regard to education. Nobody is thinking straight anymore about education. In fact, they don’t believe in education, which is extremely wrong. Those who have been ruling us over the years, what form of education do they have? When I was in the university, handouts were given to us free of charge. We were very many. They typed materials and printed and give them to us. It doesn’t happen anymore. And then government had the resources.
But the resources are always there. But they are being mismanaged. That the five universities we had then were universal in thoughts, vision and in practice is unquestionable. We don’t have that anymore. What you call education today is not education. That is the truth. Students are in the classrooms, they are overpopulated, do not enough lecturers or teachers for them. In the primary schools it is the same thing the same problem. Go to the public schools teachers there are more qualified than the private schools. So, imagine what is going on in both places. The teachers from the private schools are not well remunerated because there are no jobs. They take anything. The public schools where teachers are relatively well remunerated compared to private schools are not ready to teach, in fact thins, facilities to a decent job are not there. This question of overpopulation is there. You get my point. Go to classrooms of many schools, you will weep. Go to the surroundings, you will weep.
Where are the Polytechnics, Colleges of Education, Universities, primary schools of real value in modern Nigeria? It is a problem because our people believe in education. How many of our political people actually have their children here? They steal our money to go and train their children abroad even though their children are not better in many cases than the ones here. So, they have no regard for our education. Come and look at our classrooms in the universities. The same problems that ASUU have been talking about year in year out are still with us. The teachers are fighting for the improvement of education and we cannot keep quiet. Let them do what they are expected to do but let them pay us well. But, I will not be happy, if they are not paying me well, and they are not paying me well. Let me shout it loudly. Then my students are languishing. Many of them don’t eat well which has always been the problem, anyway. Many of their parents don’t have jobs. Parents don’t buy books anymore. Some students vandalize books in libraries. For Christ’s sake, what is education without books? They pay fees but the books are not there. Some of them though have parents who do not have the wherewithal. They don’t have jobs. School fees are skyrocketing every now and then. We have all kinds of variables running down the system, it were. In the good old days, if you were a PhD student, you had a job. When I say job, something that can make you have some money while you do your research. Many of them don’t have anything.
The best men don’t get anything Many students doing their Post Graduate programmes today, in many Nigerian universities are doing businesses because there are no jobs they must not do, jobs that are demeaning, but they must survive. Everything has collapsed. And ASUU is fighting for improvement. They make give you all kinds of promises. And when it comes to the point of implementation, they speak political grammar or the grammar of corruption. They have taken all the monies away and they will start telling you there is no money. So, it is a huge problem. The educational system in Nigeria has collapsed. Even though we have external students, the system has collapsed. The funniest, thing is that they are giving license for universities almost on daily basis. Where are the lecturers? Where are the lecturers to do all this? Which research are they doing? We have professors all over the place. What are the researches they are doing? I am a professor. What are they doing to benefit the society? Some people who call themselves professor, they don’t do any research. The Nigerian system is sick. Ask them, what have they contributed? The university system is almost dead. The Nigerian education system is almost dead. We are yet to do anything o.
The way forward
I am a writer. And writers, if you allow me to say so, don’t really prescribe solutions. I don’t have the antidote. I am feeling headache and you have a pharmacist, give me medicine I will tell him. And the pharmacists that are supposed to be in the helm of affairs are not really prepared. They don’t listen. They just find themselves where they are because they know this person that person. They belong to this society, which the other person belongs to. They are in the helm of affairs. They. The best people don’t get anything, no matter how good you are. Unless you know somebody or you come from the right ethnic group, you cannot get anything. Do you understand? No matter how good you are you cannot get anything. They just look for excuses to ship you out. And they look for that excuse to ship in those who come from their ethnic groups or the right society.
Assessment of Edo state government under Godwin Obaseki
Honestly, it is too soon but remember that I said that before his coming he would perform well. I was the only one who said so. Even when he had not gotten the ticket, remember that in my column in Tribune, I said he was the next governor of Edo State. I, Tony Afejuku, was the only one, the only person, the only columnist, who foresaw his gubernatorial tomorrow. He will do well but may he not derail. I can see the antics of the ethnic cabal who are competing to hold him hostage. He should beware. May what spiritually befell Dr. Jonathan not befall him. Let me tell him straightaway that he is expected to be a spiritual governor. He should read this and beware and be wise. I will say no more than this. I don’t know him but this is a revelation, one of the revelations, on him given to me. It matters not to me if or whether he believes me. It matters not to me if or whether not his men and people believe me. But also remember that I was the only columnist who told his PDP opponent not to waste his time and money to contest his gubernatorial defeat to the God anointed governor of Edo State. The PDP barrister-contestant and Redeem pastor to boot did not listen to me. He must be wiser now.
Tell our readers a little bit about your attitude to life
I love truth. Ask me to choose between wealth, riches, money, fame, position and truth, I will choose truth. Ask me to choose between love and truth, I will choose truth. Ask me to choose between friendship and truth, I will choose truth. But the world does not like truth. A man of truth is always maligned, vilified and plotted against. Awolowo was a man of truth. He was not a prime minister or president of our country because he was a man of truth. I also strive to live above board. As my father used to say, there comes a time in a person’s life when he must live above board. Yesterday’s sinner can be a saint today. And today’s saint can be a sinner tomorrow. I have my flaws as a human, but, ultimately, I must live above board. I strive always to live above board. You better believe me. And our political leaders must strive to live above board always. It is never too late to do so. This is one lesson they must learn and imbibe on this occasion of our 57 years independence anniversary.
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