I DON'T WANT TO SEE ANOTHER WAR - Cries Prof. Chinwe Obaji

By FactNews Admin on 16/08/2014

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Chinwe Obaji, professor and first Nigerian minister of education had opportunity to discuss with Chioma Nelda Efughi on many serious issues in the country – from politics to education; insecurity to baby factory. She explained that dealing with the issue of incessant strikes in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions was a simple matter.

 

 

Welcome madam, how do you see politics in Nigeria today?

 

For me, I would say that what we have are political platforms. People move from one party to another to achieve their political quest. I also believe that there is no political ideology that is why it’s easy to move. I see all these as a process of growing up. Even America’s democracy took them a long time to get to where they are today, so I believe it is a process of growth.

 

2015 is around the corner, will you be running for any political position?

 

No

 

Is there anything that can make you change your mind?

You may have heard some time ago, that my people asked me to run for Senatorial position. But when I saw the things involved, I asked ‘why must I do this and that because I want to serve my people?’ You see, Nigerian politics is becoming a do or die affair. Nigeria will be a better place when politicians stop seeing politics as do or die affair. Most of our political appointees do not have post appointment value. When people don’t have anything doing before venturing into politics, they tend to loose post appointment value when they are in power. My advice to people, especially the young generation is that they should not get into power when they have nothing to fall back on.

 

Madam, which one would you prefer, Jonathan for a second term or Igbo President?

If Mr. President is constitutionally entitled to run for a second term, there is nothing wrong with that. Talking about Igbo presidency, it’s not like a ripe mango you wait for it to fall from the tree into your hands, you work for it! Igbo alone cannot make someone a president. So, what are we doing to woo other tribes? Each time I log on to the Internet, I see Igbos insulting people from other tribes. Igbo presidency cannot be achieved that way. Again, what can we offer to the society? The society is dynamic and culture is also dynamic. What previewed in the elections in 1999 is different from what happened in 2003, 2007, and 2011; and it will also be different from what will happen in 2015.

Look at the Ekiti election few months ago, the Imo state election in 2011. Times have changed. That notwithstanding, I believe the Igbos should be giving a chance at the presidency. But point is, how are we working towards it? Is it by discrediting other tribes and concealing our own shortcomings? We should understand that Nigeria is larger than any tribe and without any group coming to vote for you, you cannot win election.

 

Recently, Professor Ben Nwabueze urged the federal government to send northern armies in the East back to their part of the country. On the other hand, some Northern youths issued a press statement urging the Southerners in their midst to vacate within one month. What are your personal opinions on these two issues?

What professor Nwabueze said is his personal opinion. But we remember that we are Nigerians and that people from the North can school in the South, and that people from the South can do same; we are still a country.

When we divide, we can begin to talk about that. That’s my opinion on that. As for that the of the Arewa (Northern) youths, if you go to the Internet, you will hear people agitating for the Easterners to come back home. At a time, buses were even sent to bring them back home. You didn’t see anything wrong in that.

The bomb blast in Kaduna, was it the first time? The one which nearly killed Buhari and Sheik was it against the Igbos? If most of you had seen what happened during the Nigeria/Biafra war, you won’t be saying most of the things you say now. I wouldn’t want to witness another war in my life time.

What the Arewa youths said is equally wrong. But at the moment, we are still one Nigeria and we should learn to live together. Again, why must we tolerate one thing from the other place and fail to tolerate in the other end. After the war, our properties were seized in River state. Why are we not talking about it? Even Igbo names had to be erased from their streets. Rumuigbo used to answer Obigbo, Elelenwo used to be Elelenwa, Rumukurushi used to be Umukurushi. Everything about our identity was removed from that place. I still know that in Jos, you’ll still find Igbo market, in Kaduna you’ll still find Nnamdi Azikiwe Street but go to Rivers, Benin and see if you’ll still find such names. Why are we not talking about it? Why must we choose what we want to talk about and leave the rest? The youths should be careful with what they say on the social media. I remember when they were about to appoint the Emir of Kano, we made it our business on the social media. Now they turn around and said you should go, you are saying it is wrong. The sooner we begin to mind our business the better for us.

 

What’s your take on the current security situation in Nigeria?

The security situation in Nigeria is very frightening and it’s all over Nigeria. This is because, if you look at South-East, we have been kidnapping ourselves; and in the South-south, the kidnap challenges are there. In the South-west, we also have the kidnap challenges there and in addition, in most of the Southern part of the country, we have issues of rituals. People are missing; there is a lot of kidnapping going on; and a lot of baby factory, which is why we’re here today. They’re all security challenges. And in the North, we have Boko Haram menace. So, the security situation in the country is not palatable.

 

Would you say that the Nigerian security agencies have lived up to expectation?

I wouldn’t really say that because, what is happening in Nigeria especially in the North, you’ll find out that it’s not only happening in the North, it’s also happening elsewhere. In Kenya, there is a lot of bombing going on, supermarkets are being burnt. Even in America, people wake up, get to school and kill their fellow school children. There are usually a lot of shot out all over the place.

I wouldn’t say it’s a failure of the security operators in the country, rather I think it’s a failure of the society. A failure of our values, because if you look around, you will find out that in the South a lot of kidnaping is going on. Most times, people kill their kidnapped victims. Look at the case of baby factory that we came here to talk about today; most of these day old children are equally killed. There are countless killings. That’s why I say that it is not the failure of the security operative but that of the society.

 

There is belief in some quarters that growth of Boko Haram was because some people believe they are born to rule, and because a Southerner is now President, they will not rest until he is pushed out. Do you hold such view?

Definitely not! I think the issue is beyond President Jonathan. It’s not about him. I don’t believe it’s about him. In any case, I thank God you said “people said”, which means it is an allegation. If they said it and the government is in power and they can prove they said it, why don’t you round them up and ask those questions. So I think its mere allegation. And you also equally remember that in Nigeria, most of our neighbours are not happy with us. And like the President has said is terrorist movement and it’s not only Nigerians that are involved in this. Look at the last time, the Nyanya bomb blast, the mastermind is even from Benue state here! And then where was he picked up? In Sudan. Where did he train? In London. So I think is more of a global issue. I believe that every Nigerian should come together to fight it. In as much as we are fighting the Boko Haram issue in the North, we should also look at the incidences of baby factory in the south east, we should also look at incidences of kidnapping. There are people that have been kidnapped and have disappeared. In Imo state, sometime in August, about two years ago, a permanent secretary, Iheakwuaba, was kidnapped and up till today, nobody has seen him.  It’s worrisome.

The other day in Abia state, Kenneth Nwosu, the commissioner for Agriculture was murdered. These are worrisome situation even in the South-east. So, will you now say it’s because somebody said you can’t have a president from a certain part of the country? Is that why these other ones are happening in the South-east? So we should go beyond “hear say” and tackle our problem squarely. That’s my stake on it.

The incident of insecurity in the country is threatening and it’s all over the country, It’s not just in the North and that’s why I said it’s not just about President Jonathan and he does not believe that it’s about him too. Like he has said it is a terrorist movement.

 

Madam, your core area is education, and Nigerians have been wondering why students have continued to record poor results in WAEC and JAMB. Can you enlighten us on this?

The society

 

How do you mean by “the society” ma?

You see, in those days, like I keep giving that example. I came from a village school, took common entrance examination to Queen’s College, Lagos. I attended the interview with the children of this and that. They failed and passed. Today, you don’t have such things. You don’t have people going from village schools to such schools in the country anymore. So, when talking about society, you find out that most people who are privileged in the society will continue pushing their children even right from kindergarten. During any common entrance examination today, even into kindergarten, nursery schools, you find parents hanging around the windows trying to buy marks for their children. It happens even up to the university. And when the child feels that parents can always see them through, do they have any reason to work hard? They don’t work hard!

I tell you this for example, in 2005 as the minister of education, when we had determined the carrying capacity of the 75 universities we had in the country at that time. We discovered we could admit 148,000 students. After the post-jamb screening test, we could not find 148,000 students to admit. We only got about 80% of that and these were the people we admitted. There was no list! But today, you find list flying all over the place. People keep sending list. These people you are sending their list to these universities for admission, are they qualified?

Still talking about the society; we say we are to achieve education for all by 2015 and 2015 is by the corner. Who are the people to teach at the basic education level? Graduates of colleges of education, and of late, these were on strike for month than 9 months. They’ve only just called- off the strike because we now have a new minister of education and they’ve given three months’ notice to see whether their demands can be met.

Now, almost one year! Why? Now strike has been called-off. These children have not been taught for one year, for nine months. In the next two weeks, they will put-up exam for them, and it becomes garbage-in, garbage-out. We don’t even have the right teachers to teach our children. Most of the people in the primary school, you’ve been reading about it in the papers, even in the North, in the North, in Edo state, in Ekiti state, in kwara. You give teachers same examination, and they cannot pass. These are the people who are teaching our children. That’s why I say the problem is the society! It’s not about the government. Mothers, what are we doing? Do we teach and care about our children? We are busy looking for money, busy pushing politics and leaving the upbringing of the child to the maids who don’t know any better. That’s why I said the society is responsible.

 

Recently we saw different cut-off marks for different quarters of the country, we noted that Northerners were given a lower cut-off marks than the southerners. What do you have to say about this?

It is not fair. But whom do we blame? The Southerners, because the junior minister of education is a Southerner and everything about secondary school is under his care. Who conducts the common entrance examination to the unity schools? It is NECO. The chief executive of NECO is a Southerner. He’s an Igboman. The chairman of the board is an Igbo man. So, why don’t we ask them why they made such a law? Where did the law come from? Our problem in this country is that we look at something and we don’t try to find out what is wrong. So why don’t you go and ask the minister of education who approved this and people in NECO who conduct such exams why they should allow such a thing.

For me, it is wrong. I’ve had to talk to a few Northerners about this, they are not even happy with it. There is no tribe that does not have intelligent people. , when you look at the records, when somebody like Professor Jibril Aminu attended university college in Ibadan, he beat all the Southerners in his class; he had the best result in his year; he made a first class! But he is from the North! So why don’t you go to the minister, find out how the policy came about.

 

We’ll take that up. We would want to know how you handled the threat of strikes during your stint as minister.

There was nothing like strike throughout my administration as the minister of education. Whether university, polytechnic, colleges of education or secondary school, there was nothing like strike whatsoever.

 

What’s your opinion on why there are incessant strikes? There is this allegation that the different staff unions of polytechnics, universities and colleges of education make outrageous demand from government. Do you think this is right?

Well, I taught for 25 years. So, whether you are talking about ASUP, ASUU or COESU, it all depends on the matter of approach when you have conflict. You should first look at the cause. I think that the cause of conflict in the educational sector, which was not there in my administration, is a matter of approach. No one is stupid. I don’t think the demands of ASUU, ASUP or COESU is unreasonable. It all depends on manner of approach. Those demands were equally made when I was there. But it depends on how you approach such issue and how sincere you are in solving the problem in the educational sector. I give examples, most of the universities where over-enrolled before 2005 when I got in there. In some of the universities, engineering students where writing exams on the floor. They were over enrolled. They exceeded their carrying capacity and the lecturers were complaining. But on the other hand, who are the people admitting these students? They were the university professors. They were admitting these students whether they were qualified or not qualified. It was the politicians who were putting pressure on them to admit these students. We had all kinds of lists – ministers’ list; vice chancellors’ list; local government chairman’s list; and all what not. The lecturers came, complaining about lack of space and other such things.

I told them they were over enrolled; let us determine your carrying capacity. We were able to solve that problem together. But what if they came to me and I told them “to hell with you” and continue sending lists to them, what happens? That’s what I mean by “manner of approach”. The university lecturers are not stupid. Their demands are very genuine. I will say it! We tend to term them trouble makers, far from it, they are not. They are very reasonable. I tell you something, ASUU by law do not travel by air, and they go by roads. So, if they were demanding anything for themselves, they would have been flying all over the place. They will not be going on most of our ill-maintained roads from one place to the other. So, it boils down to what I was saying. They have to see how sincere you are to solving their problem.

Education is not something anybody does alone and it is not an abstract thing. You have to understand the plight of the people, understand what it’s even about, listen to them and talk to them nicely.

 

If given opportunity to handle such portfolio again, what do think you would do differently?

I think there was anything I did at that time that I will do differently. No! I will still do what I did at that time; show sincerity, transparency and exhibit an open door policy.

 

How has life been aside being a minister?

Fantastic! I must say I feel happier.

 

You feel happier? Were you bored then?

I am somebody who believes in the family. Every other thing can actually wait but not the upbringing of a child. I did not have enough time then, to do things like reading, taking care of my family. But I think I have such time now.

 

Are you saying that should a political opportunity come calling, you will not sacrifice your time to embrace it because you missed your family?

I will have to discuss that with my family. But you know now that my children are grown-ups. Again, it depends on the level of involvement. If it involves going back to sleep for 4 hours like I did then, am not interested.

 

Let’s talk a little politics. Are you a politician?

 

Prof: Yeah. I am a politician

 

Are you a member of any political party?

I am a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); a founding member.

 

We have heard APC claim theirs is a reformist party and better than PDP, even though majority of them are PDP decampees. What can you say to that?

Hmmm

 

Madam, why are you here in Enugu today; away from Abuja, your city of residence ?

I came here because of a teething problem that is facing us here in Igboland, the issue of baby factory. Since there was a talk on it being discussed here today, I have to come all the way from Abuja for it.

 

In what capacity did you come?

 

As the keynote speaker

 

You came here to present the keynote address on baby factory conundrum. What is your view on this baby factory issue?

It is evil. It is sacrilegious. Period!

 

Evil and sacrilegious? You are invariable saying that it is something No human being should indulge in under any disguise. Is that a message we should take to everybody?

Yes.

 

It’s been wonderful chatting with you, Prof.  We appreciate every minute spent with you and hope to have you deliberate on other topical issues as the need arises.

 

Thank you too and feel free to call on me any time.

 

Posted on August, 16 2014

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