Nigeria At 55: Not Much To Celebrate –Ajiboye | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Cover Choice, POLITICS

Nigeria At 55: Not Much To Celebrate –Ajiboye

Posted: Sep 27, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The Chairman of the University of Ibadan (UI) chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Segun Ajiboye, in this interview with WILLIAM IGENEGBAI speaks on the nation’s coming 55th Independence anniversary, the challenges so far, and the solutions.



On Thursday, Nigeria will be 55. In your view, how has the country fared in these 55 years?

Yes, Nigeria at 55. Ordinarily it’s supposed to be a time for us to celebrate but, unfortunately, the period we are in calls for sober reflection as a country, as a people, because even the gains we had before independence in 1960 are being lost gradually. Instead of gains it is pains that Nigerians have witnessed generally. When one considers the hopes that Nigerians had at Independence and the reality that has greeted Nigeria today you will agree with me that there is nothing to really celebrate.

Politically, have we progressed, because here politics plays a big role in everything we do?

In the area of politics we are picking up again. We lost initially with military intervention which truncated civil rule in 1966 and on until 1999. That was a big setback for the country. But gradually we are getting back. Having returned to democracy in 1999, and having sustained it for 16 years I think we are getting it right again. Even in the civil rule we have got some bad leaders who have not given us good direction. That notwithstanding, one will agree that there has been some political progress in the past 16 years, at least without any interruption by the military. That has put the country back on the map of democratic nations. That is a good thing but the leadership has been a major problem in the democratic dispensation because we had leaders who could not galvanise the country towards development. However, the democracy that we have now has given Nigerians a big measure of freedom unlike the dictatorship under military rule. In all, in terms of politics, the country is finding its way into its deserved place in the comity of nations, given the fact that we have been able to run a democratic rule for 16 years uninterrupted.

What can you say about the economy?

The country’s economy at Independence had the capacity for growth and development but where we are today is not comfortable because Nigeria missed it. Instead of developing agriculture the discovery of oil distracted us and closed our eyes to other sectors of the economy. We abandoned agriculture completely and that left us at the mercy of the international community. This is because the price of crude oil depends on the vagaries of the global market, it’s not stable. It can witness a rise today and tomorrow it will fall. That is what has led us to the current state in which we have found ourselves today, and when one considers all of these, one begins to wonder if the Independence is really worth it. Because of the state of the economy today poverty has really increased. About 72 per cent of Nigerians are living below $2 per day, and when you look at the indices of development Nigeria is at the lowest rung. When you look at sanitation, health, and even education, you see that the country is at the lowest rung.

What can you say about the education sector, because standards have really dropped?

Our education sector has not also been spared from the bad leadership and poor management we have had. There is policy somersault where today you introduce one policy and tomorrow you have another, from 6-5-4 to 6-3-3-4 and so on. The country has not got it right in terms of education policies and that has robbed us of development in education. At the time of Independence the University of Ibadan was ranked very high among world universities. Undergraduate students from other countries, even Western countries, were coming to the university to study medicine, especially tropical medicine. University of Ibadan was ranked number three in the Commonwealth then.

Today when you look at the bastardisation that took place under military rule and the starvation the universities experience in terms of funding you see that things have gone terribly bad. It is only with the intervention by the immediate past government that we have begun to see some changes. We can also see the same rot in primary and secondary education. No one wants to patronise public primary and secondary schools any longer. The emergence of private schools was due to the bastardisation of public schools in the country, and if we want to develop we have to improve our standard of education because no nation develops beyond its standard of education. The way things are currently shows that our education standard is still in the doldrums.

What should be the way forward, what should be the solution?

We have to harmonise our education policies bearing in mind the fact that we cannot continue with these policy somersaults as we have been doing over the years. We need a good policy that will guide our children from kindergarten through primary and secondary to tertiary levels, a policy based on envisaged national goals. The current education policy cannot take us far. Right now, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other unions in the universities are putting together an education policy that will give direction to the new government. So we must get the policy right and inject the necessary resources into the institutions and perhaps also declare a state of emergency in education to discuss the issues of funding and governance in the sector. It is important that we must get our education right.

On the economy what should we do, considering that we have been running a mono-product economy?

The reality that is facing us today with regards to crude oil price in the international market has made Nigeria to realise that we need to look at other areas of the economy, especially agriculture. This is an area where Nigeria has strength. If you look at the quantity of rice and other food items that we import yearly you will agree with me that Nigeria has to go back to agriculture. Let’s go back to the 50s and 60s. Agriculture used to be our major foreign exchange earner. We need to go back to the era of groundnut pyramids; we need to go back to the cocoa, timber and palm oil era. Look at Malaysia; that country which took palm kernel from Nigeria in 1968 is now the world’s largest producer of palm oil. It now makes grease (lubricant) from palm oil and was at a time planning to make biodiesel from it. Do you see the irony? We should go back to those abandoned rice farms and embark on rice production. Let us concentrate on agriculture and if we can feed ourselves and save the funds we spend to import food items, the saved money could be used to boost our economy.

It is my belief that Nigeria can get it right again.