Wednesday, 31st May 2023

Our founding fathers & fumbling dealers

By martins Oloja
01 October 2016   |   4:05 am
More than anything else today, as our great country clocks 56, we need to congratulate ourselves that we are part of the celebration this year. Thank God, we are not singing our national anthem ...
Martins Oloja

Martins Oloja

More than anything else today, as our great country clocks 56, we need to congratulate ourselves that we are part of the celebration this year. Thank God, we are not singing our national anthem in a foreign land as refugees. We, however, greet our compatriots who are living in bondage within the country, no thanks to the wicked ones that have taken up arms against their people who now live as internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Today is yet another time to agonize over development indicators that are constantly debatable in our dear country. While some others are saying that the promise of an egalitarian democratic nation has been tarnished by the entrenchment of poor leadership culture, younger ones are lamenting about alleged concentration of political power and wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer interconnected politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen who are not creating wealth through work.

So, we should reflect on the new aristocracy that has replaced the colonial rulers and kings of earlier times who have effectively subverted the ideals of a true people’s democracy. Even before the mocker called ‘economic recession’ was welcomed recently Nigerians had been uneasy that they no longer feel empowered to determine their destiny.

But as we continue to debate the challenge of change management culture and who will win the battle for the soul of national assets the ruling class and the business barons would like to sell to stay afloat just for today, I would like to reflect on a prayer line of our national anthem: “…the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain”. Really, our selfless past heroes indeed laboured that our today might be better, but their successors have contracted a globalization disease called “enlightened self interest”.

I think it is quite relevant to thrill the young ones who do not have the benefit of history lessons that indeed “there was a country” as Chinua Achebe wrote. I mean that we should be made to know that once upon a time, we had leaders who indeed showed us a glimmer of hope but some dealers that later succeeded them have been labouring for only themselves. What is more, even the monuments that the past heroes, our founding fathers had laboured to build have been ruined by today’s dealers.

It is so convenient to blame the military for the years that the locusts have eaten but we need to reflect on how the dealers who masquerade as leaders squandered all the promises of independence even with more resources from the oil and gas sector. Even before independence, the founding fathers had had clarity of purpose about the expediency of quality university education. And the university of Ibadan set up in 1948 came with quality and it reportedly ranked among the top four in the Commonwealth. And so was its teaching Hospital, which used to be the only reference and referral point in Africa. Today, only one of Nigerian universities, indeed the same pioneer university (University of Ibadan could make a list of 1000th top universities in the world in a recent report.

For instance, pre-independence federalism worked so well that the Ashby commission set up by the British, (1959) which was to review tertiary education needs of the soon-to-be independent Nigeria, actually recommended that universities should be set up by regional governments of the time. And one of the selfless nationalist leaders, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, was ahead of the pack in setting up the instrument for the establishment of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) via an Eastern House of Assembly Law. No 23 of 1955. It was formally opened for classes on October 17, 1960. UNN was the first full-fledged indigenous and first autonomous University in Nigeria. The great institution was inspired by a great leader, then Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Similarly, the University of Ife, a brainchild of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was established by the regional government of Western Nigeria in 1961 and classes commenced in 1962. It was a child of circumstance and protest against the Ashby commission that had recommended additional regional universities in northern and eastern regions of Nigeria and another university in Lagos protectorate, but none in the more educationally advanced western region, which had a “free and universal primary education” programme. The leader, Awolowo and his people did not want to rely on the ‘federal’ universities or those of other regions to admit its numerous secondary school leavers. The protest of the foundation of the University of Ife was not only in rebuttal to the perceived politicization of education opportunities in Nigeria and the western region but was also designed to fill the gaps in manpower needs of the time. The government announced its intention to establish a world-class University that would be open to students from all parts of the federation in 1960. And on June 8, 1961, the University of Ife law was passed by the Western House of Assembly. It was nicknamed “Great Ife”.

It was the same way the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was founded on October 4, 1962 then as the University of Northern Nigeria. The equally great University was established by the first Premier of Northern Region, Alhaji Sir, Ahmadu Bello.

This is to show how great and competitive the regional governments that established them without oil and gas resources were. The regional governments then relied on internally generated revenue, especially from agriculture and they didn’t have to wait for Abuja every month before training manpower for these universities. All of them had robust scholarship schemes even after the federal military government arbitrarily took over all of them in 1975…
There was a country then to the extent that even from the University of Ibadan through Lagos to later Universities of Maiduguri, Sokoto, etc, there was no religious or ethnic bigotry in the management and manpower development of the universities.

The first indigenous Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan was a scholar of Igbo extraction, Professor Kenneth Dike. Nobody protested. He was qualified and was named Vice Chancellor as he even began as Principal of the University College. Even in Zaria, the first indigenous Vice Chancellor of ABU, Zaria, Professor Ishaya Shuaibu Audu, was a Professor at the University of Lagos when he moved to ABU as first Nigerian Vice Chancellor in 1966. The most significant element here is that Audu was a Hausa Christian. No one protested then. He was adjudged the most successful Vice Chancellor of the ABU, Zaria till date.

Besides, Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe, a Yoruba, served too as Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello, Zaria; and the University of Ilorin; Professor Adamu Baike, a Christian from Kano served successfully (even a second term) as Vice Chancellor University of Benin; Professor J. Ezeilo, an Igbo and Christian served as Vice Chancellor of the Bayero University, Kano. Others who had served outside their ethnic backgrounds included Professor Essien Udom, an Ibibio, who was the founding Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri; the late Professor Tekena Tamuno, an Ijaw, was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of the university of Ibadan; Professor Cyril A. Onwumechili, an Igbo was also the Vice Chancellor, University of Ife and Professor Emmanuel Alayande, a Yoruba was the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar; Professor Eni Njoku, an Igbo was the first Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos; Professor A.O Adekola, a Yoruba was also the first Vice Chancellor of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi; Professor Umaru Shehu was Vice Chancellor, University of Nigeria. These are more of these appointments in other federal institutions when we had leaders. But since dealers have been consolidating in Nigeria, we have been having parochialism nurtured by leaning on religion and ethnicity.

The situation has been so tragic that today, because of the advent of dealership nurtured by the worst kind of transactional leadership, a Professor Ishaya Audu as a Christian would not be accepted by the dealers in Ahmadu Bello University, a federal University. By the same tokenmany Yoruba will quickly question an appointment of professor Eni Njoku today as the university of Lagos. Just as many would protest an appointment of Akinkugbea christian as VC, Unilorin. I am sure a Professor Akinkugbe, a Christian would not like to accept a letter to the University of Ilorin where Yoruba is widely spoken, let alone ABU, Zaria. Even if there is still another Professor Ezeilo Jnr, in BUK, Kano today, and there is a vacancy appointment for the post of Vice Chancellor, he cannot even apply. This is Nigeria’s saddest story at 56.

What is more tragic than the fact that the University Teaching Hospital, UCH, Ibadan built by the British colony and maintained by our leaders as an African heritage has been ill-equipped by today’s dealers in power who have also ruined other teaching hospitals in the country. Today, Nigeria is 56 and the apex hospital in the nation’s capital, called National Hospital Abuja cannot be trusted to treat the president’s ear infections. And so all our dealers, sorry leaders, fly over all the bad roads and hospitals to India, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UK & U.S for treatment of common ailments.

Remember, our leaders in Azikiwe, Awo and Bello, for instance, did not site the universities they set up in their hometowns: UNN is in Enugu State (Azikiwe hails from Onitsha in Anambra); Awolowo, an Ijebuman in today’s Ogun State, sited his university in Ile-Ife (Osun State) and Bello established University of Northern Nigeria, now (ABU) in Zaria and not in Sokoto, his home state. In the same vein, today’s dealers who want Nigeria to be members of G-20 think that the best way to improve education and develop human capital for 21st century is to underfund the institutions set up by the founding fathers and establish theirs while in office. The more ‘patriotic’ ones in the states such as Edo, Ondo, Ogun, Nasarawa set up Universities and sited them in their villages as in Professor Ambrose Ali who set up Edo State University in Ekpoma, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, another State University in Iyamho, his hometown. The same is true of Senator Abdullahi Adamu from Keffi who as Governor, sited the Nasarawa State University in his place. The situation in Ondo is more interesting: Governor Adebayo Adefarati, a politician set up a general University in Akungba his village; Governor Olusegun Agagu, a scientist set up Ondo State University of Science & Technlogy in his local government area, Okitipupa and Governor Olusegun Mimiko, a medical doctor has set up University of Medicine in Ondo, his hometown. Since the imminent governorship battle is between two lawyers in the state, Ondo citizens should expect a University of Law in either Owo or Akure. That is the price we have to pay for electing dealers instead of leaders.

The saddest story about Nigeria at 56 is that our president a former military leader who had served in all the geopolitical zones in Nigeria before he was elected has been displaying what is generally regarded the worst kind of parochialism in presidential appointments. This is why as we celebrate Nigeria at 56, we the people should wake up from our slumber and rethink our political recruitment strategy for 2019 so that “the labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain”.

***Grammar School Returns Next Week