Professor Oba Abdulraheem, distinguished scholar, former Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin, former Chairman, Federal Character Commission holds the traditional chieftaincy title of Talban of the Ilorin Emirate. Now a politician and one of the elders of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Kwara State, in this interview with Midlandpost bares his mind on the burning issues generating anger within the party. He also talks about other sundry national issues especially the intractable ASUU face-off with the government. In his opinion, Unilorin ASUU is not wrong going back to the national fold.
There appears to be crisis in the leadership of the Kwara APC, we want your opinion as a chieftain of the party.
Well, it depends on what definition or status you give to a crisis, but when it comes to describing a situation as a crisis, then it is a ridiculous one. In the party, we can talk about disagreements, based on how to organize the party and the government but I don’t think there is any reason to allow that to degenerate into a crisis as such.
To an outsider it might appear so, but for the insiders, I think we are not beyond redemption. The party is a vehicle that brought in the government, and there is no way in which the party will part ways with the government or government with the party because, they are united by one thing, the manifesto, which provided the vehicle for their access to the people. So, there should not be anything disagreement or crisis in that. The party campaigned on the instrumentality of the manifesto. Government’s job is to implement that, to the satisfaction of the people. Yes, we recognize that it is impossible for a government to do everything that it promised to do because of the vicissitudes of the times. There are changing dimension in the climate to problems and roads to solving them might require more consultation, patience and tides, as anticipated. So, if we are talking about that, yes there appears to be impatience on the part of the party, but the things that we have promised which enticed the voters to the party must be seen to be perfected. Of course unless you are in the saddle, you cannot know where the bumps are. So it is a question of sitting down for the government to explain its difficulties, to the party first. And it is the party that is going to explain to the people. It should never be the burden of government to explain. But where there is a misunderstanding and miscommunication, to the extent that you now find that it is the government that is now trying to explain.
But if there is smooth relationship within the party and the government, there should not be any crisis at all. So, I don’t see a crisis, I can see a misunderstanding that is not being properly managed by either the party or the government. But the zero point in this is the interest of the voting population which we, by whatever means, persuaded, pressurized, convinced the people to vote for our party. If that party should continue to survive, the people would want to see something that is in the image of the promises of the campaign. So I think, it is managing how to deliver that, that is creating misunderstanding. I think it is resolvable.
Are you satisfied with the level of development in the state?
Truly, I am not. But it is not because I am against what the government is doing. There are many factors that can influence the delivery of promises. And in Nigeria today, nothing is actually predictable. We are subjects and victims of changing times, changing positions, nationally and internationally which must have an impact directly on the local and state governments.
So, yes. I cannot say I am satisfied because the pace at which we are implementing or we appear to be implementing the campaign promises is very slow indeed, if they are actually taking place at all.
Any move to resolve the differences or disagreements in the party?
I think in politics you keep dealing and making concessions. Yes, there are efforts at doing that but how fast or effective that has been is a question that we need to re-examine on its own. Are there obstacles in the communication between the government and the party? Are there obstacles between the perception of the people and the commitment of government? Those are areas that keep those of us who are elders in the party worried a lot and, we want to implore especially the government, which has the long rod as it were, to take the initiative, because the buck ends on the table of the government, whether it is achieved or not achieved, not for today but for tomorrow.
As an elder of the party, what has been your personal efforts or involvement in resolving the crisis?
As far as I am concerned, my commitment is first and foremost to the party, because the party is the image which the people recognized and voted for. Candidates who became beneficiaries of that are only doing so by virtue of being members of the party and I will, as a party person, urge that people should see things from the point of view of the party, because it is the party that is closest to the people, not the functionaries of government that you pick, here and there, who hardly understood actually where the party was coming from. So, I think the government should engage directly with the party; give the party assignments, what to do, so that people can see that it is the party that is doing things and not government.
You paint the picture of a situation where elders of the party are not in harmony with the governor. Is this the case?
Yes. Unfortunately, that is the burden on the conscience of the party and government. If you are elected for four year duration, on the platform and policies of promises made, it is too early- 18 months into the government- to begin to talk about 2023. But that appears to be the bane of politics in Nigeria today. We are yet on the seat, we have not even done anything and everybody is talking about 2023. What time will you have to actually serve the people? So, I will rather advise the government to lower its pace, look at the present condition of the state and how to better the lot of the people than look at the politics of 2023, because, actually it is those who are well fed, who are satisfied with the performance of the government that would actually dance to your drums, when 2023 comes. I think it is too early to begin to do that.
It is short sightedness indeed for anybody to say that the time for politics is now. When you get into politics, you tend to forget about the people. Unfortunately, people are not sufficiently educated to recognize that their future is being mortgaged. So, as far as I am concerned, the party needs to be brought into greater limelight; and given greater responsibility as the vehicle through which government is voted into power.
Your followers believe you are the rightful winner of the last primary election of the party that produced this government. Has that been a burden on you? Secondly, imagine that you are the one on the seat of power, what are those things you would have done differently?
Well, that has gone. It has gone. It is a matter of perception. The reality is that the government has been given to somebody else and what do I do?
I live as a loyal, committed member of the party. If I am approached, I would give my own honest opinion on what I would have done if I had the opportunity. But it is only when you are consulted and you are involved that you do that.
So you are not consulted?
Well, I cannot say I have been consulted on anything.
Considering the present situation in the Kwara APC, what are the chances of the party in 2023 elections?
Party’s chances in 2021, 2022 and 2023, depend on what you can do and seen to be doing for the people now. So, it is on the interest of the party and government to come together and do the needful, because the people were not forced to make a choice in 2019. It was a most emphatic statement of the people that they are the people and they can choose and not choose. They can appoint and disappoint. If we put that at the back of our minds we must know that it is the people that we should serve, if we have anything that we want to be gifted in 2023. But 2020, 2021 are the years of action that the government can show to make sure that there is a hope for them in 2023.
Talking of not being consulted, was that the situation prior to the part coming to power?
You see, we came when, as one might say, under the atmosphere of uncertainty and mistrust. That is the truth. Uncertainty and mistrust following the circumstances by which we found ourselves. And the person to take the first steps to removing doubts is actually the Governor. If he had done that at the right time he ought to have done it, we would not get to where we are. That is the truth. But for whatever reason, there is still this idea of winner takes all mentality. So, if elders complain of not being consulted, I am not the only one. I am saying virtually the idea and opinion of majority of those of us who actually labored to get the government to power, because after the primary, we came together and decided we must make APC win the government of Kwara State. We gave everything that we had. We campaigned and moved from place to place. We cannot afford to allow those efforts to be wasted and dumped into the dustbin of history. We are consciously aware that if the government had done a little better than it is doing, the situation would have been much better than it is now.
By saying you were not consulted and so the elders, are you referring to consultation in terms of projects, contract awards and other benefits for you?
Do I look like a contractor to you? I have never done a contract in my life. I have never registered a company for anything. The contract I have is with the people. If I say we are going to do this, and once we are alive we must see that the people are getting what we promised them. Yes, there might be people hoping for financial rewards, which is a legitimate expectation. But then, whoever has the yam and has the knife, must know how to apportion it. Everybody cannot get what they want, but you cannot say nobody would get anything, especially when you get the mentality of polarization. Those are the ‘we’ and ‘them’ kind of sentiment. It cannot auger well for government and actually in a situation like a place in Kwara State.
We know where we are coming from. People want to see a difference; much difference between the one we rejected and the one we have adopted. But whatever it is, by desire or by accident, we seem to be working at crossroads and cross purposes with what we actually promised the people.
So you can’t identify the difference between the past and the present?
No, there is a clear difference, only that the management of the present difference is poorly done.
Are we expecting any possible realignment or alignment as a fall out of the rumbles in the State APC?
What alignment? There is only one party and that is the APC. Anybody thinking of a realignment - well, they may have it in their heads and, everybody is free to think about options when they are in situations- but as far as I am concerned, I cannot see any option than the one which has put me on a contractual relationship with the people of Kwara State and, that is the APC. So, as far as I am concerned, whoever is thinking of an option or realignment has the right to do so. But as far as I am concerned and as far as the majority of us who are in the party are concerned, we are not thinking of any alignment or re-alignment in any way. The only alignment we know is the one with the vehicle which we came on to power and, that’s the APC. Anything other than the APC, we will have to wait until 2023. If it is strong enough, let it come and meet us on the field.
Not too long ago there was this rumble in your party in Abuja where a faction of the state branch went against the nomination of B.O.B as the Kwara state’s caretaker committee chairman. We discovered that you, Senator Gbemi and some elders of the party rose stoutly to his support. Could this be a fight towards 2023?
No. It is a fight for the party’s supremacy and credibility. And that is the argument we gave to government and the party hierarchy that, if you are organizers of the people you called together in a meeting here in Abuja, that we should go and work for the person who got the ticket and we have done our best, what more are we expected to do? So, the idea of what happened, whether somebody worked against the party or not - that is party politics anyway- but the leaders of the party know what they want; what shape they want to give to their party. They want a party that will be strong and embedded among the people, to assure future victory in 2023. So, those who resolved the crisis as you called it are the people at the national headquarters of the party and they know what interest they want to serve. It is not this small interest of individuals within the State. The overriding interest is the survival and saleability of the party in future. So, it is on the basis of that, that decisions were taken to keep the current executive body in place.
As an elder statesman in this part of the country, the North Central Nigeria and perhaps the whole of the North where there is alarming rate of insecurity, how much does this bother you and how do you think we can tackle this?
The issue of social and political instability as evidenced in the Boko Haram phenomenon, banditry and kidnapping actually is not native to the North even though they have found a home somewhere around the North. The long time genesis of the problem is a national one, not a northern one. It is a result of abdication of responsibility of government and government is not regional, it is a Federal government, which began to fix this difficulty since around 2005, or thereabout. They have had succession of government. They know it and they know where and what to do. For whatever reason, they have neglected to do the rightful and that is why the problem is allowed to fester the way it is. As we have it now, the state of insecurity is really alarming. We are not talking only about Boko Haram, and banditry alone but we are talking about loss of lives, valuable lives, people’s lives, young men, promising people who died needless deaths, because of the negligence of their leaders. If the appropriate counter measures had been taken at the appropriate time, I think we would have got over the issue of Boko Haram.
The banditry is a spillover of that, because when there is insecurity and instability somewhere, the perpetrators want new enclaves and they move from North East to North West. They are now coming to North central through the Niger and part of Kogi and we think that we are living in a society that is safe. We are not truly safe. We call on the government to redouble its efforts, call all the interested parties and find a lasting way to remove the scourge of banditry and Boko Haram. But if you are looking at it as a Northern problem alone, it is not so. We have issues like that, banditry and kidnapping down in the South as well, but because the perpetrators have been tagged to a particular racial group, they think it is a Northern problem. But I think we have issues of kidnapping, banditry also in the South. That is why there are regional and sub-regional security outfits and bodies that are springing up here and there. The South West is talking about Amotekun, the South East is talking about something else, each one trying to secure its own environment, but I say nobody can be secure unless everyone is secured. Where there is insecurity in the North, there cannot be security in Nigeria. So, the person who is in the comfort of his house in Port Harcourt or in Akure and thinks that the issue of Boko Haram belongs to the North, is actually sitting on a keg of gunpowder. We must all rise up to know that this is a national problem that we ought to have concerted efforts to attack and to defeat.
As I said, it is not a military solution that we need as such. The military solution is going on but may not be good enough. We need something to embed that, to make it strong. The military are not wizards, and the bandits and Boko Haram are not ordinary people. Unless they have credible intelligence, it cannot work.
Sir, there is a major issue trending within the nation’s education sector today and it is one that may interest you. You used to talk about the universality of universities in those days as Vice Chancellor of Unilorin. Today, there is loud cry and clamour by states across the country to have ‘sons of the soil’ as Vice-Chancellors of Federal Universities. How do you see this?
Again it is a question of perception. If every state has a university, what business do they have looking for the heads somewhere else? One of the realities of it is that the Federal Government is doing that to create equity and balance by establishing universities in these areas. Why decide having university in Otuoke, and getting somebody from Damaturu to go and be their vice-chancellor? If you are talking about university, it is not only about research, it is also about community relationship. How can somebody from Gusau come and relate with somebody in Akure properly and make the university look like it is their property and own the university and its products. So I think we should not be worried about where the head comes from even if he comes from the town where the University is.
The point is, it is the universal standard and expectation of the University that should be the interest. It should only be known for its efforts, landmark achievements and research -socially applicable research, international research. Whether you come from the native or you are not a native shouldn’t count. Somebody who is not a native, who is a lecturer there can make a research that will actually liberate the people. So, I think this concern about ethnicity and who heads should actually go to the background. We should focus on what actually the university is supposed to be doing and ask if it’s doing it.
But does that not negate the concept of federal character policy?
No. If you have federal university in every place, then you have achieved federal character. So, if you have a federal university here, the natives here should be the vice-chancellor, just like it’s theirs. The more of that there is, the less of the burden that the government would have to shoulder in implementing section 14(1) of the constitution or 14 (2).
ASUU just suspended its nine month old industrial action conditionally. What is your reaction to these incessant industrial strikes by ASUU.
The suspension of the strike is a welcome relief to every Nigerian who is interested in the future of university education in Nigeria. It is coming late, but not too late. Common sense has prevailed and the lecturers are going back to work. But so much damage has been done, not only to the education system, but to the reputation of the persons that are engaging in these things. Sometimes, as far as I am concerned, there is the need to disagree; to call government to do what is necessary and that is why you have the unions. But the unions have their own code of conduct which they must abide by, just as government has its own responsibility to the people. We must always find a meeting ground between high caliber human needs like the ASUU and the government and the people. We should never allow ego to deny and deprive the young Nigerians, who would also want to have the kind of privileges they have had in their own time. But if there were these limitless and numberless strikes, in the time when the current executors of the strike were students, they won’t be here. So, whatever we are doing, we must always still have public interest as number one primary principle.
Yes, ASUU is fighting for better condition of service, it is legitimate. But better conditions of infrastructure is the responsibility of government. ASUU can only call the attention and pressurize government, it should never lead to a situation where you down tools and forget actually about the primary job for which they were engaged. It is the failure to draw the line between that, that is creating a crisis.
Like I said, it is good news that the strike is over, but we need to have a rethink about what the government and the university’s relationship should be. The current argument on the part of the academics is, this demand for academic freedom; autonomy. Yes, autonomy is good. Without autonomy, you cannot function as a university. But I think that autonomy must be properly defined so that there are no dark areas or potholes. It must not be misconceived what role every one of us is playing.
Your take on the frequent strikes in Nigeria but not frequently the same in universities around the world.
It is a question of reorientation and perception; what you think your contribution to the society should be. Of course, we don’t hear of strikes in Ghana. We don’t in Zimbabwe, even in Togo, as we have in Nigeria here. That shows that we have a problem that we need to address. And it is not a problem of government, it is a problem of the academics themselves. They must see themselves as the light of the society, and it is in the way that people see them that they will access their complaints. Who will value Nigerian educational system that is so rundown by strikes? What quality of education are you giving? If you count the man-hour that is lost, as a result of strikes, it runs into millions of hours- man-hours. When we lose an hour in the life of an individual, it multiplies into so many other things. So, I think I will appeal to the academics that strike is not the only instrument for fighting for their rights and for the improvement of university education. Dialogue, persuasion is important. But when you are doing that too, you must do it on the spot; doing your job and be seen to be doing your job. You cannot abandon your station and expect things to move on. If you abandon your home it grows weeds.
Prof., let’s come back to Kwara Issues. When last did you speak with GOV AA?
We talk. Sometimes, he calls me and I call back. We always exchange social greetings.
Don’t you see that as an ice-breaking effort?
There is no ice. We can communicate socially. But if it must turn to political communication it has to originate from there.
Why can’t you initiate it?
Initiate what? Why? I am an interested party and have my particular ways of doing things.
Sir, Unilorin recently returned to the main ASUU fold. But then some people are saying that the present Vice-Chancellor kind of floundered the gains of almost 13 years. But one read somewhere where the Vice-chancellor came up with the argument that it is godly to be peaceful. What is your reaction to people’s opinion about Unilorin’s re-absorption into ASUU?
As far as I am concerned, what becomes of university of Ilorin is not actually my responsibility. In my time, I did what God has guided me to do and I have done. The gains of that is what has spread over and has consolidated into what is described as unbroken academic calendar. But that took agreement of all parties concerned- of the management of the university, the academic staff, non-academic, to keep the university opened. But when you find that strike has become an obtrusive and an obstacle to achieving the kind of dreams that parents and students have, then we need to draw back, sit back and re-access what has actually gone wrong. So, that the University of Ilorin has joined the strike again, it is difficult to put here and there. They are joining a national strike, not a local strike. The notion may be wrong-headed but it is the reality on ground that, there is a national strike and they are loyal union people and they have joined the strike. But when it comes to actually disrupting the academic calendar in the university- itself as a local entity- you will see that the situation would be different. After all, you don’t hear of ASUU of University of Ilorin engaging the management and calling them out to a duel. No. The leadership that we have now understands where they are coming from. They have been through the hell-fire before, so they will never make one again.
As far as we are concerned, the University of IIorin has not derailed as such. Rather, they should watch their steps, that they cannot be dragged unto every disputes that is not directly related to the delivery of the responsibilities they carry on their shoulders.
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