Ahmed Raji SAN, in this interview with KUNLE OLASANMI and MAKINDE OLUWAROTIMI, speaks on the reasons for establishing a library, in his hometown, Iseyin, Oyo State, challenges bedevilling education in the country among other matters
What informed your decision to build the library?
It was one, to honour my late father who mean a lot to me- Pa Raji Ahmed Aderibigbe of blessed memory, whatever I am today, is attributable to him because without him, I wouldn’t have come to read law at all.
He was very particular about education even though he never saw the four walls of any school. He encouraged us to go to school, especially to be honest and to give respect to whom it is due. So, the library is essentially to his memory and to give back to the society that has done so much for us.
Almost all the secondary schools don’t have libraries and most homes don’t have facilities for children to do any meaningful revision – I mean indigenous homes. Those are the motivating factors and that is why we are here.
How much patronage has the library enjoyed?
To the glory of God, the library has between 60 and 100 people going there daily and on Saturdays, they open at 1:00pm and at no cost to anybody.
Why that location?
Originally, my late father had a number of shops and it was an old building and then we decided to reconstruct it- repair the shops and the upper part was to be made a library. We got approval from the relevant authorities and we spent over N30 million and then the government said they were dualising the road, and the property was demolished. Even though the government said to the world that they had earmarked people for compensation, as I’m speaking today, not a dime has been paid to us by the Oyo State government. We had to move to another land, we started all over again and God has enabled us to complete it.
Are you satisfied with the standard of education in the country right now?
Not at all. The teachers are not so well motivated, they are demoralised. I have teachers as brothers and uncles telling me that I don’t know what they go through. Most importantly, most of them are being owed salaries. What is a demoralised teacher going to teach? And a malnourished student going to school, what is he going to learn?
What do you think can be done to hold government accountable?
We are not holding government accountable. For example, we have taking to monetising politics. Who are those taking these moneys from the politicians? It is the same members of the public. They encourage them by their behaviour. But who are these people? They are very few. The generality of the people is not involved. There is a clique, the politicians themselves who organise the delegates- they are the real problem. And what is their population? They are very tiny. It is these tiny irresponsible ones that are causing the problems.
What is your view about young girls being married off early instead of being educated?
It is inhumane, it’s ungodly and it’s like writing off our future. It’s not true that they are getting married, where are the husbands? And it is not only in the north, let nobody deceive you. Illiteracy is growing in the South East; they have abandoned school. They’re a bunch of traders, nobody is interested in going to school because they will ask you- ‘those that have gotten first, second degree have no work, meanwhile, another is selling spare parts and is building houses and driving Hummer Jeep, what am I going to do with education? This is the point.
What can be done?
I think there is need for re-orientation and then, the leadership. We need to change the structure of governance in this country. This Presidential system, we need to tinker with it. Do we really need it and is it suitable for us? All these ‘winner takes it all’ kind of attitude, is it good for us? A situation where the governor behaves as if the entire state is his, is that what we need?
Why don’t we think of a modified parliamentary system of government, which is more in tandem with humble leadership- where someone would be the prime minister and first among equals and not act like executive governor who can do wants. It’s not as if there wasn’t misconduct in the first republic but the magnitude of what is being reported today couldn’t have happened under those regimes where a member of the parliament would now become the premier and you were elected the same way all other members of parliament where elected. All ministers would be from the parliament.
Today, somebody wants to run for governorship, the least amount of money he needs to run for it is hovering around N5 billion. If you put N5billion, is it for the love of the state or for humanity? They go in there and then, they will have to recoup and in an attempt to recoup, what happens to the society?
But if prime minister or premier were elected just like every other person, where would anybody be spending N5 or 10 billion? And all these mongoose expenditure have negative impact on governance. The parliamentary system in a modified form would subside all these because the head of government would be more moderate and would know that he is there at the mercy of his fellow parliamentarians. Today, they will ask ministers to come and they will ignore the invitation of parliament. Commissioners are nobody. They can’t do anything. They are just there and everything revolves around one person in the state who is the alpha and omega- a mini god. No checks and balances, the Houses of Assembly in the states have become mere rubber stamps in all the states. The local government is an aberration. The local governments are supposed to be training grounds for young leaders but are they functioning? In most of them, they use caretakers and when they claim to hold election, it’s mere selection. Whatever money comes from the centre to the local government never gets down. Is that a system?
Before, local governments used to be in charge of primary schools but today; they cannot even pay to repair coverts. All they have is intervention projects which will be controlled, monitored and financed by the state government taking the money from one local government to another and at the most unreasonable cost.
What do you think can be done?
We think we are a rich country but from all indications, it would appear that we are like a family where the head of the family earns N100 in a month and he needs probably N500 to run the family but when he has N100, he will drop N50 at home and then, he will be doing showmanship with the other and creating an impression that it is there whereas what he is holding is not enough to cater for his family. This is who we are. With the amount of infrastructural decay and level of our development, what we are earning even from the so-called oil, if we apply it to infrastructure- almost all the roads are bad, no rail system, no national airline, no water in most communities- there is no water in Maitama, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, and Nasarawa in Kano, it will not be enough.
So, if they have to build modern water works that would supply water and then, you will be on the 20th floor and the water will be running, it is going to cost huge amount of money. If all the roads were going to be fixed, it would cost huge amount of money and these things now have overwhelmed the leaders. So, they have decided to do nothing and the system keeps degenerating.
I don’t want to sound a pessimist, but I think we need a focused leadership, benevolent but necessarily democratic.
Do you think the demands of ASUU are justified?
Very justified but where are the resources to meet them? I think what we should do is: one, we need to restructure the country and also harmonise the institutions because of all these universities and what have you, do we really need such number of universities? Do we really the number of graduates? Is it not better that we cope with technical people? For example, if you want to tile your house, you will have to go to the Republic of Benin to hire tilers because they do not do it here. They want to build the airport; they will bring the Chinese and who are these Chinese? They are from technical colleges and not universities. Why can’t we look inward and see what we can do? I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be universities, but what number? Look at Ladoke Akintola University and see what is happening there.
The children are suffering. Osun and Oyo States cannot pay the salaries of the university lecturers. And most of the states, without the federal allocation, cannot exist. Is that a federation? And these are states that have universities. Now, Osun has opened its own university and Oyo has also opened a technical university. How can they run the universities when two of them have a joint university, which they cannot manage? Two cannot run one and you now have three, one to run jointly and two to be run individually. So, do we really need universities? When Ladoke Akintola University was established, the original concept was for it to be a college of technology and then they would go into practical things so that when the graduates leave, they can do things on their own. That is what we need.