Prof (Amb.) Iyorwuese Hagher is former minister, ambassador, senator and presently the Executive Director of African Leadership Institute, Dayton,Ohio in the United States of America. In this interview with RALIAT AHMED-YUSUF, he discusses the challenges facing the Buhari–led government and the way forward. He also says that those calling for the break- up of Nigeria are doing so for their selfish interests.
You were in government at various points (two times minister, a senator and ambassador to two countries). How would you rate this government?
I don’t want to rate the Buhari government. It would be patronizing for me without proper metrics to generalize and worse to imagine that being ex-this and that gives me such an authority. I summarize this government with one word:STRUGGLING. The government is struggling to justify its mandate, struggling with the economy, with how to deal with monumental corruption of the Jonathan government, as well as its political ideologically confused predilections.
The Government has performed well by degrading the Boko haram terrorist group. This is no mean feat, since evidence shows that the Jonathan administration instead of surging against the terrorists was surging, critical resources meant for overcoming the insurgency, from security votes to private accounts.
President Buhari continues to win the admiration of the international community by his exemplary aversion to corruption. What is missing is the absence of outstanding men and women to provide a critical body of well-thought out of policies. I don’t know if Mr. President has an economic adviser like the nation had during one of our worst economic moments- when the west turned its back on Nigeria and General Abacha. Professor Aluko, renowned economist, it was who got Abacha’s ears and using Keynesian economic policies stabilized the naira and the economy. Of course whatever else transpired and is now being labeled “Abacha loot”, is a different topic for another day.
President Buhari needs an economic adviser to co-ordinate all opinions that are bombarding him every day, to render them coherent, and impactful otherwise there are so many predators from IMF, World Bank, and other international organizations and local businessmen who are pretending to have all the answers.
The government is facing a lot of challenges, the latest being economic recession. What could have been responsible for this?
We must not underestimate the effect of the fall of revenue from oil our prime foreign exchange earner. The latter part of the Jonathan government started to witness this dwindling income as the oil glut from OPEC production and the boosting of oil production in the US made the US less dependent on Nigerian oil. The US pulled out its faithful purchases in the same manner they did in 1983, and depressed the economy that made the Buhari-Abacha coup against the NPN government of President Shehu Shagari easy to win popular support. It was the inability of the PDP to pull back from their excessive consumption that collapsed the economy and made the election of Buhari a foregone conclusion. President Buhari inherited an economy that was on the brink of recession, but the lackluster approach of the Buhari’s administration in jumpstarting the economy with an economic team of experts pushed the economy into recession.
But it is not only the inability of the Government from identifying and using sound economic advice to enforce sound policies that has pushed us into the abyss of recession. Nigeria has made itself unattractive as a foreign investment destination. In the eyes of the West; Nigeria is a risky place to conduct business. The killing fields of Boko Haram, nomadic terrorism as well as the floodgates of criminality like; kidnappings, and armed robbery compounded by a pathetic infrastructure are enough to drive all, but the foolhardy investor, from coming to Nigeria.
What is the way forward?
Before any economic blueprint can work for Nigeria the mindset of the people must change. Nigerians must look inwards and realize that salvation cannot come from outside Nigerian shores. We must change the character and culture of excessive consumption. We must also accept that we are really a poor country where the elite that is really less than one percent of the population is consuming our entire national wealth.
We are a country of poor people with the world’s richest elite, comprising the politicians, bureaucrats and civil servants. Only very few businessmen in Nigeria can survive without government patronage and without corrupting public institutions like Customs, NAFDAC, the Police etc.
The no way forward is to generate IGR, internally generated revenues from the poor for goods and services required for their living standards. The hike in taxes, tariffs and fees for the poor is no way forward. The poor have become more pathetic and desperate while a lie is being fed to them that this is necessary in order to improve their conditions soon. We lack the highly skilled labour force necessary for market-based economies.
The sad state of our educational institutions especially where skilled technicians, artisans and professionals are in short supply now and in a foreseeable future means we will have a dysfunctional economy.
As a seasoned educationist, what solutions would you proffer for the continued falling standard of education in Nigeria?
When we say the educational standards have fallen we really mean that the educational infrastructure is no longer able to provide critical solutions to national needs. Nigerian graduates are unable to function as graduates in the workplace and society. Nigeria’s educational system needs to get back to the drawing board. Our tertiary institutions have been infected by the deadly virus of corruption and can no longer serve the nation. Our educational system should be a fertile soil where our children considered fertile seeds could grow.
The country must shift focus to provide functional schools, laying a very strong foundation from crèche through nursery and primary education.
Our Secondary Schools should be free up to SS3 and be compulsory. This is the educational level where the next generation of leaders will be recruited. No child should be left behind if we desire a Nigeria of responsible citizens and a viable workforce of citizens who are obedient to the laws of the land and will pay their taxes and create future wealth of the nation.
Exam malpractices, sexual harassment, cultism, and corruption by staff and students should be taken as grave crimes and dealt with decisively.
It is gratifying that the private sector is now driving tertiary education in the country. Amazing things are happening in private universities and we are growing a robust capacity. What the government needs is to fashion out a research and development and innovation policy where our academicians can now join the rest of the world with new fresh and creative bankable ideas that can generate wealth.
Nigeria spends trillions of naira on education abroad with over 100 tertiary institutions in the country. Even the professionals that are trained here prefer to practice abroad (brain drain is on the increase). What do you think can take us out of this nightmare?
Take us out of brain drain? This is an interesting question. There is no easy answer. Several factors contribute to brain drain. I remember one of the early TV jingles in the 1984 adverts of the General Buhari’s Military Government, which cajoled Nigerians running out of the country with patriotic cat calls.
If you left Nigeria to a foreign land because there was hardship in the land you were the unpatriotic Andrew, who checked out while the rest of us stayed and built the Nigerian university system enduring extreme hard conditions and humiliation by successive military governments.
Today like yesterday you cannot stop anybody who can migrate from leaving inhospitable conditions to more favorable conditions. To make matters worse highly developed countries of the world like America, Canada, Australia, and Europe head hunt for intellectuals by giving them favorable terms to live and work in their countries.
As the economy worsens we should expect more Nigerian academics to leave Nigeria in order to give their families better quality of lives. With the galloping inflation and the loss of value of the Naira, all the gains of ASUU with new salary structures will become obsolete and new agitations will find expression again.
There are calls from various quota to restructure the country? What’s your take on this and how do you think the government should go about it?
Those that are calling for the restructuring of the country are playing politics. Many are frustrated by the Nigeria Project and feel that Nigeria needs to break up before they can realize their personal or collective ambitions and aspirations. Others are just plain mischief mongers and grudge collectors. They cry restructure as a negotiating strategy for power sharing.
We have been restructuring since independence. The different constitutions brought in new structures. We were a Parliamentary democracy before we became a Presidential democracy. We were even a Republic of Nigeria, a unitary republic without federating units under General Aguyi Ironsi. Nigeria will never stop restructuring.
Even in the world’s most celebrated people’s democracy, the United States the federation gets jolts from time to time. Several states signed petitions to pull out of the United Sates Federation when Barack Obama was elected president eight years ago. But the constitution stood strong. They had their say but did not muster a critical mass to deserve a national agenda.
The Federal Government must create space for free expression by all Nigerians. A culture of peaceful demonstrations must be tolerated and enhanced so that democracy can grow.
There’s uprising in different forms springing up on a daily basis- From BokoHaram to Niger Delta avengers to IPOB and Herdsmen. Do you agree that the federal government should negotiate /dialogue with these groups in the name of peace?
Yes. I do. There is no price too great to pay for peace. Without peace we cannot do anything. The Government should establish dialogue and the grounds of the grievance. Such grievances or grudges should then be put through the appropriate organs of state or institutions for attention. But if the uprisings threaten public peace then the Government must first of all re-establish peace, enforce law and order then bring the warring group to discussion table.