An Associate Professor of History, lawyer and immediate past Head of Department of History, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Dr Tunji Ogunyemi, speaks to DARE ADEKANMBI on decision of the Federal Government to regulate the social media, restructuring, ASUU strike among others.
The Federal Government has moved to regulate the social media to prevent the spread of fake materials and misinformation which it said are capable to endangering the unity of the country. What do you make of this move?
The social media is actually outside of the jurisdiction of what the public sector can say it is regulating. If the Federal Government wants to regulate the social media, then Nigeria will be similar to North Korea’s Kim Jon-un’s Empire. It is like what in journalism is called Afghanistanism which means leaving those things that you should do, things such as fixing roads, ASUU strike and so many others things for regulation of social media, which is clearly an informal sector. I think this government has lost a lot of credibility in terms of the capacity to govern.
You don’t see any merit in government’s argument that the social media, if unregulated, is capable of falsely inflaming passions to endanger the unity of the country?
We have said it many times, even at the national conference convoked by former President Goodluck Jonathan and even elsewhere at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and ASUU, the civil society organisations and even the private sector have also stressed it that there are 89 errors in the 1999 Constitution. What is causing disunity in Nigeria and the possibility of an implosion is not the social media, but the wrong structure of Nigeria.
This one is overbeaten. Imagine a federal structure that is being run in a unitary way. What do you expect? There are 98 items in Second Schedule Parts I and II of the 1999 Constitution which give power to both the federal and the states under Exclusive and Concurrent Lists. The Federal Government alone has cornered 68 out of the 98. And According to Section III of the same constitution, whatever power or authority a state exercises on the remaining 30 items, if it conflicts with that of the Federal Government, that of the Federal Government supersedes. In other words, the Federal Government has actually covered the field and is in charge of the totality of the powers of the Federal Republic. There is no way you can describe an irresponsible federal system than that. We have a system in which, in my state, Osun, we cannot explore or exploit the gold reserves in Ifewara and the whole of Ijesha territory without a federal licence because it is seen as a federal property. How do you expect that the people that are in the state will be able to use the advantages of the natural endowments for their own welfare and economic progress? We have a situation where the Federal Government is in charge of things like stamp duty, state tax and others. Nigerian leaders gathered in Lancaster in 1953 and 1957 and continued the same conference in 1958 in Lagos to determine what shall be the structure and power relationship in Nigeria when the Nigerian federal system was to be founded. They resolved that issues that have to do with local taxation, for instance Value Added Tax, shall be the responsibility of the regions or the local government councils. Now, the Federal Government has appropriated it. There is a Value Added Tax Act. When a state like Osun is completely derobed of the capacity to internally generate revenue, what is the fiscal sustainability of the state or any of the states in the country in such instance? I insist that the current structure and system which is ludicrous and highly unworkable will self-destruct some day. An implosion will come more as a result of a ludicrous structure and system that we run than it will come from the social media. At any rate, what has the social media done other than making the #EndSARS protest vibrant? The social media has been with us for about 10 years. How come it didn’t cause problem until some people misbehaved during the protest?
It is not the social media that is our problem. There are deep-seated, fundamental problems that the Federal Government and the states need to solve than the issue of social media, for example, the issue of joblessness. Why is it so difficult for government to strike a deal with the Chinese pharmaceutical companies who are interested in cassava pellets? Cassava will grow in at least 30 states of Nigeria’s 36. Government can give all the polytechnic matching grants and ask them to give it 20million tonnes of cassava pellets in three years. Two million youths will be employed through such initiative. NISER in Ibadan has already done a research on that. It is in the archives. Our problem, the Achilles’ heels of the Nigerian state is utterly poor governance. We have a group of sheep leading lions. Whereas in smaller countries that are not as endowed as Nigeria constitute themselves as a group of sheep being led by a lion. But it is the reverse in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, the states have a lot of endowments but are being led by people who are decrepit in ideas, people who have isolated those who helped them to come into power and surrounded themselves with people who are more interested in nepotism than in driving the country forward. That is the problem, not the social media. In fact, what is the social media? It is the pastime of our children. If you take that away from them, then they will have nothing to be able to play around with. I tell you, there will be more cataclysm from that than we have ever seen. With Lai Mohammed and other people who are in the vanguard of the social media regulation campaign, I think it is just poverty of ideas that is their problem. When people are poor and decrepit in ideas, they will be looking and hanging on to straws.
If Nigeria were to be in Europe, it would be six countries. The whole of Belgium is just the size of Lagos. Lagos is 3,000 square kilometers and that is about the size of Belgium which is a country, not to talk of the South-West of Nigeria which is bigger than Germany, the biggest and the most productive country in Europe. But the GDP of Germany is about $980billion. I don’t know why we think we can continue with this kind of structure that is not helping us and then we expect that there will be employment and people will be sober. How do you sober a youth that has no job? Is it by taking away his phone? It is purely poverty of ideas that the people in government are suffering from.
You touched on the issue of restructuring which has been on for some time now. In fact, the Southern and Middle Belt leaders met this week and said restructuring must be done before the 2023 elections…
Restructuring is the tonic we need for the country to be healthy now. To put it more metaphorically, we need restructuring more than we need food. It is not as if Nigeria is ungovernable. The problem is we have people who have no ideas and they are in government. Those who have helped them to be in government and who have the real ideas for growth and development have been isolated, alienated and chased away through nepotistic appointments and all manner of local politics that helps nobody. The Nigerian state is 923,000 square kilometers. The South does not have as much land as the North. The land in the North can be put to greater use by different ways: agriculture, manufacturing, rail transport and so on. Except we develop our rail system, we are not moving anywhere. It is the rail system that is utterly reliable in terms of moving industrial products. No nation grows in any meaningful way without industrial production. A country must be able to mass-produce something, must be able to turn something that the nature has given it around by adding value and to benefit from the economics of scale that is associated with the backward and forward linkages of the production. This is what will guarantee and generate more jobs. No nation can be happy if its youths have no jobs and that is where we are.
In talking about restructuring, would you canvass that President Muhammadu Buhari dust up the reports of the 2014 national conference for implementation?
It is not necessary. All we need to do as a country is just to wake up the 1963 Constitution and adopt same. That will be enough. That constitution is in the archives of the country. We have copies at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife and the National Library will have copies. All we need to do is make consequential adjustments to time, space in terms of the names of the regions which has obviously changed. Nobody is saying we should cancel the states of Nigeria. We are saying we should collapse them into not more than seven states, so that that the whole of the South-West will be one state which we can call the Western State. The six states in the region will still be there. But we will have a Governor-General in charge of those areas and we won’t be going cap in hand to the federal for monthly revenue allocation. We will generate revenue from within the territory, using a combination of manpower and the resources withint he region.
The North is not a poor area. The North has an infinite capacity to use land resources. It has extremely cheap labour that can be put to use in the farm. That is a resource. It also has the largest deposit of solid minerals than the South. In fact, the gold they have in Zamfara is greater than all the gold you can get in the entire southern part of the country. In the North, they have limestone in large quantities and that is why they have Ashaka and Benue Cement there. The North also has steel in the Ajaokuta corridor. So, why is anybody in the North afraid of restructuring? Those who are against restructuring of the country are essentially in the North-West and North-East zones. They feel they will lose out in a restructured Nigeria. That is the poverty of mentality. When people are poor in the way they think, they think the whole of the world is against them. Whereas the North is actually richer in potential than the South; it has extremely cheap labour. Even in the South, the Northerners do the work our people will never want to do. They dig latrine and work in quarries and do the work in civil engineering and construction. Restructuring will be in favour of the North. That is the truth.
As a lecturer, I am sure you are not happy students are not on campuses across the country. What do you suggest is the way out of the logjam between ASUU and the Federal Government?
No good teacher will be happy. Let me say that the job of a university teacher is not only about teaching students. There are three major areas we work simultaneously and with the same effects. The work we do in these areas is important in whether we move up or down in the academic ladder. Number one is research which has not stopped. Number two is community work, serving in communities through giving public lectures, seminars. In fact, this interview I am doing now is part of community work. The third own is teaching students. So, the first two are continuing. It is only one that I s not there and that is why a lot of resources go to waste because the salaries paid to non-academic staff and support staff that help in the teaching process goes to waste. But when lecturers are not teaching, it does not mean they salary paid them is a waste. They are doing more work in the area of research and publishing. But we are not happy because they end products of our research must come from some sources and we must be able to also use that research to teach the students.
But what can the government do? The only thing that is there now is UTAS. Issues that have to do with IPPIS on which government has migrated 70 per cent of its workers have not been permanently resolved. In OAU, most of us are of the view that it is not strictly too nice to argue too strongly that our employers must use a particular style to pay us. The government may pay us by cheque, cash, transfer or other means. The most important thing is for us to be paid. But the leadership of ASUU at the centre believes that ASUU has developed a platform to pay salary which is better than IPPIS. But the Federal Government is saying before it can go to NITDA, an agency that must certify any technology before it can be used in the public sector and the process of certifying it can take up to six months. Does it mean we will close down the universities for six months? UTAS was submitted to government in September and government has accepted, at least on prima facie, that it is good. But the process of validation by NITDA will go up to April next year.
Don’t forget ASUU is an extremely strong union. The job of ASUU members can’t be done by any other person. That is where the issue is. When doctors go on strike, government is always saying it will sack them and bring in young doctors. Sack university lecturers and let us see those who government will use to replace them with the same level of experience. Can they do that across the 45 federal universities in the country?
ASUU is not being rigid. When Medical doctors were on strike, Nigerians were asking government to pay them their money. But when lecturers are on strike on the issue of payment, people will ask us to go back to classrooms and teach. Can you see the level of intellectually hypocrisy in that? We taught medical doctors and we are still teaching them.
I have worked for 12 years unbroken and I have not taken one single day of leave because I have to make sure my students graduate back to back. Who pays me for that? The NUC says a class should not be more than 52 students, that anything more than that is excess work. I have three classes that I teach. One is 1,670 another 1,200 another, 924. How much of that will I calculate? We begged government, please employ more teachers. We don’t need the extra income. When government refuses to employ more teachers, ASUU now said pay us 15 per cent extra as a mark of our excess workload. We signed an agreement to that effect since 2009 and up till now, government has not respected that agreement. So, who is cheating who? When the public does not know the fact, they will be saying it is ASUU that is misbehaving. This issue goes to the poor quality of governance that has been plaguing the country. Even Jonathan who was one of us did not do anything better. It is as if when people enter that Aso Rock, something just gets into their head.
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