Professor of Political Economy, Pat Utomi, in this interview with CHIMA NWOKOJI, shares his thoughts on Nigeria at 57. Excerpts:
NIGERIA is 57 years today, looking back, would you say that the country has done well in terms of management of the economy?
To ask this, I would say is begging the question. It is obvious that we have not done well as much as we could do. The big question is why? What went wrong? How did we get to where we are? There are many answers but the process of getting the answers will lead us to new ways of doings things.
What is holding Nigeria back from doing what is right for the next generation to know progress? After much ponder, I am convinced the problem is culture; in particular, the culture of the dominant political actors in Nigerian history. Nigeria has suffered state capture since 1966 and the group of soldiers, who ceased the Nigerian state that year, retain a firm grip 50 years after, even if crisis of legitimacy forced them from time to time to install fillers like the Shagari, Yar’Adua, Jonathan stop-gaps.
There is too much of politics in Nigeria, we need to get rid of more politicians and get more statesmen, people who can even think outside party politics. The central thing driving us should be Nigeria, the future, the children, productivity and growth. These are realities and should happen, but they are not happening.
What is your view on Nigeria’s educational system?
Talking about education, there is no question about the challenge of education in Nigeria. I would recollect that at independence, the prime minister of Nigeria set up a commission on higher education in Nigeria. It was led by an Oxford educator who at the end put out the report known as the Ashby commission on higher education. The most profound statement that was made by Eric Ashby was that the quality of education in Nigeria at that time (1961) was as good as the very best in the world. And that in 1961, it was harder to get admission into the University of Ibadan, than it was to get into Harvard University in the United States. This was a statement made, not by a Nigerian professor but one from Oxford University in England. How did we go from that, to this? Until we completely understand what happened, we are in serious trouble as a people. I say this because unless you understand the history of where you are coming from, it is going to be difficult to plot the graph of where you are going.
Nigeria is running behind smaller countries in how we educate our young people about the true future, and how we educate the public not only about potentials which is very important but indeed how we educate policy makers about the possibilities in Nigeria.
On information technology we have not achieved much. I was in Kigali, Rwanda a few weeks ago. The kind of access they have in that country compared to our own country is embarrassing. I think one of the biggest challenges we have in Nigeria is that we have lost the sense of shame. That is the truth. Public officials in our country should wake up every morning, take numbers and compare themselves with countries that are supposed to be much lower than us. If there is any dimension on which they surpassed us, they must not go to sleep until that is reversed. The biggest challenge we have as a country is the loss of a sense of shame. That needs to be dealt with frontally.
If shame has not been buried in Nigeria, all of us should be acutely worried that the state of things is the moral equivalence of war. Nations at war mobilize all available resources, define clear strategies.
Over the years, you have been in the forefront of thought leadership through your Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), how can you assess the impact of CVL on leadership in Nigeria so far?
I think it is not appropriate to ask me. There are other people looking in from outside who might do a better job. On our part, we think that we have set for ourselves huge tasks, numerous goals and the feedback we get is fantastic. Given our limitations in resources and everything, we are probably doing a great job in shaping the young people different kind of future that perhaps nobody else is doing in this part of the world and we are grateful for the privilege and opportunity to do that. We also think that the impacts in future will be seen.
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