IN the literary circles, he hardly needs any introduction. For several years, his column in Newswatch magazine was a delightful must read for who would want to drink from his fountain of knowledge and enjoy his beautiful use of language. That notwithstanding, Niyi Osundare, a professor of English language, is also what journalists call ‘an editor’s delight.’ When you encounter Osundare, 67, for an interview you are not only sure of getting a good copy, you are also sure of getting more educated on any subject under discussion.
When the Realnews team of Maureen Chigbo, editor and Olu Ojewale, general editor, spoke with the erudite teacher on Wednesday, December 17, in a telephone interview for almost two hours, there was no dull moment. In fact, it was as if the interaction should go on for another two hours. There were so many catchy phrases that usually mark him out as a down-to-earth and humorous person. The professor was in his usual elements. He spoke on the state nation from the current Boko Haram insurgence to the coming election in 2015, as well as his recent recognition as winner of this year’s Nigerian National Merit Award which was presented to him by President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday, December 4.
While a lot of persons across the world believe that corruption is the problem facing the country, the poet differs. He said repeatedly during the interview: “The biggest problem of this country is impunity.” He, therefore, warned that the impunity should not be taken to 2015 elections to avoid backlash. Osundare appealed to politicians to be fair and allow transparency in the conduct of the elections. He said elections must not only be seen to be free and fair, politicians must also be ready to accept defeats if beaten. “Let them blackmail people of Nigeria with sincerity,” he said.
The university don similarly appealed to all government agencies handling the polls to be upright. “Let our police, police well. Let there be no rigging,” former University of Ibadan head of English department said. For the 2015 elections to succeed, the university don called on President Jonathan to be decisive and also allow transparency in the conduct of the elections. “President Jonathan should know that the bulk stops at his desk,” he said.
On the issue of insecurity, Osundare said the Nigerian intelligence gathering had become too inefficient. Besides, he noted that some soldiers were ready to sell their arms to Boko Haram insurgents rather than using the arms to fight the opposition. “Our army is not as coherent as it should be,” he said. The social critic expressed disappointment that the military which a lot of people used to look up to for discipline and patriotism, had allowed corruption to erode its values. He lamented that it had become impossible to insulate the military from corruption which had crept in, thereby making the military to lose its sense of patriotism. “Morality flows from the top. If there is weakness up there, either in the military or among the civilian there it goes down,” he said. According to him, that is why the country is going through a very difficult time. Osundare said: “Nigeria is a badly run country” by politicians whom, he said were stealing the nation blind.
The university don also spoke about the decay in the Nigerian education system, which he said started to collapse during the General Ibrahim Babangida era. “Our value system collapsed with the military… We the people have to fight our way out,” he said. Despite its problems, he said Nigeria must not only survive as a nation, it must also thrive.
Osundare was born in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, in 1947. He was educated at the University of Ibadan, the University of Leeds, England, and York University, Canada, where he got his PhD in 1979. He became a professor in 1989 and was head of English department at the University of Ibadan between 1993 and 1997. He became professor of English at the University of New Orleans, United States in 1997. In 2005, Osundare and his wife were almost killed by Hurricane Katrina. They were stuck in their attic for 26 hours and were saved by a neighbour, who at the time was driving by in his boat, who heard their shouts for help. They stayed in many rescue shelters until they moved to Ringe, New Hampshire, where Osundare got a teaching job as a professor at Franklin Pierce College.
He holds several awards for his poetry, as well as the Fonlon/Nichols award for “excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa.” Osundare has several published works to his credit.
Politicians Rob Us – Niyi Osundare
NIYI Osundare, a professor of English and the winner of 2014 Nigeria Merit Award speaks with Maureen Chigbo, editor and Olu Ojewale, general editor, Realnews, few days after his award. The interview which lasted for two hours had Osundare baring his mind on topical national issues including insecurity, Chibok girls, 2015 general election concluding the biggest problem in the country is impunity and that politicians are thieves who rob us. Excerpts.
Realnews: Congratulations on your award. How do you see the Nigerian Merit Award. How significant is it to you?
Osundare: As I said in my acceptance speech, it is a very significant award indeed, one because of the time it came in my writing and professional career. More importantly, is the kind of award it is. It is the Nigeria highest award for intellectual, professional and creative achievements. Nigeria is a country of give or take, about 170 million people, and when your country recognises you with this kind of State Award, it means a lot. Another way of looking at is, that the award is one order of recognition in Nigeria that I personally recognise and that I personal would have accepted. It didn’t come because of nomination from a governor, senator, local government chairman or the Oba of your town, as it always happens in Nigeria. It doesn’t come because of my huge contribution to nation building. It doesn’t come because I associated myself with the favourable media of the ruling party and it doesn’t come because of the kind of people that I know. It came because of what I have dedicated my life to, particularly in the last 40 year. So it worth giving the kind of reverence and gravitas that it has. I am also looking at my predecessors because all of them are my teachers either at the high school or at the university level. I remember about two weeks ago, holding Professor J.P. Clark’s hand and also holding Professor Alaguwa’s hand and I looked into their eyes and I say to them thank you very much. How do you express your feelings in that kind of occasion that I had today? Why, because I got my poetic views, that is the word on the works of people like JP Clark. And it was Alaguwa who told the world that Africa indeed has history. And my set was the first set to study African literature examination certificate at the Grammar School and that is the beginning of my political consciousness. We also studied African literature and came in contact with the works of people like JP Clark, Wole Soyinka and of course, Chinua Achebe. These are all prize winners of this award. If there is one thing that is really good well for Nigeria at this moment, as so many commentators have said, is the works of J.P Clark. He was critical and set the precedents of telling our government that there is something in our culture and that we should preserve it just like any other Nigeria indication.
Realnews: Did you apply for this award or where you nominated? How did you get it?
Osundare: Nobody applied for me. I didn’t know in fact. Nobody told me about it and that is one of the beauties of this award. It is just now that I’m getting to know more about it. They were people who won it in the past and they didn’t know the modus operandi and the board operate in secrecy. I understand that the board usually swore an oath of secrecy. It is very much like Nigerian version of the Nobel Prize. In fact, what I learnt is that the moment the board finds you lobbing for the award you lose your credibility. The logic is that if one is good for it there would be no need to lobby for it. So it is solely on merit. I think this is really good, the people who initiated it didn’t tell people. In fact, when I got to know about it was when they were looking for my book because they needed my assistance so I contacted the publisher and the publisher sent the book to them. So I didn’t apply and it is through nomination by people who are in the field. And then a thorough assessment by group of experts and I understand that it involves a lot of discussions and debates before decisions are being made. That is all I can say for now, as I said, I hope to know more about it but up till now I remain a nominee.
Realnews: I hope when you find out you will let us know too?
Osundare: What do you mean? I am not going to betray the group. I think certain things are better kept protected by a certain level of secrecy to prevent them from getting contaminated.
Realnews: How come you were the only one who was given the award this time around. Has it ever happen before?
Osundare: I understand that it had been done before. One of the former winner and my former teacher, Prof Bamgbose actually told me it had happened twice before. One was 1998 and one, Professor Bamgbose was the sole winner. Again, it depends on how they select the people every year. I had no hand in the way it was decided but normally they should be four. I understand I didn’t know till I heard the chairman of the board that is Professor Etim Essien, when I heard his report that we were 22 nominees this year.
Realnews: How is this going to help your profession and the work you do?
Osundare: Of course, remember they gave me a medal and a Diploma. So what I have decided to do is that at the beginning of the year is to arm myself with all these things and embrace Abuja for a new job (laughter). It is a great psychological and professional boost. I have had many awards in my life. I have been really lucky beginning with our own Nigeria Association of Writers Prize and the Cadbury Award. Beyond Nigeria, I receive the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, African Highest Poetic Prize, which I won under the regional level before becoming the overall winner in 2006. Soon after there was another award, African continental award and there were so many others. So many awards have come my way but this one is a lifetime achievement award and it is very important. I must tell you, it lifted my spirit especially at this time in the history of our country. Most of those wishing me well and congratulating me, including my white colleague in America are saying the same thing; that this is good news for Nigeria because Nigeria has been having a terrible name in the last couple of years. As Kunle Abimbola of The Nation newspaper said this is a breath of fresh air not just to Nigerians but to me as well. It means a lot to be recognised by one’s own country. It means the little we have been doing have not amounted to nothing. And I’m particularly happy that Nnomo force mentioned my poem. This is the passion of my life, one creative area that I have devoted my entire life to and it really means a lot. But the problem is that Nigerians don’t read, I have been told so many times without number right from the time I was a columnist for Newswatch. Although I wasn’t privilege to be a chieftain like Maureen Chigbo, I was a columnist. People will tell me it was a good article but you Newswatch people who is reading you? What this award is doing is letting Nigerians know that intellectual work pays; intellectual labour pays and it is very important to a country. It is very good to the soul of our country.
America knows how to do this with presidential Medal of Honour, which the president bestow every year on deserving citizens and they are celebrated. They do so in countries like Germany, England and Japan. One of the reasons for the anniversary and the supernatural developments of those countries is that they recognised that countries developed from the might of the people not from the fatness of their bank account or the kind of political power that they wield. The future is decided by ideas. The developed countries we talk of because they already have ideas. In Nigeria, we are very much people of the moment, intellectual work don’t pay. We still have poor professors. Let me tell you something, if you are a footballer and you people happened to have won the African Cup of Nations or won some medals at the Olympics, when these boys are brought home they are celebrated, given land in Abuja and local governments with big cash prizes. When Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize, who gave him a plot in Abuja? Does anybody give him a plot in Ishara, his home town? Our kind of value is wrong and I say this because it is really killing us.
Realnews: Nigeria will hold general elections next year. How optimistic are you about the elections with all the security challenges we are having?
Osundare: As I mentioned in my acceptance speech because I have to tailor it to suit the occasion, that Nigeria is going through dangerously difficult times. That is exactly what I said because I have never seen our country in this kind of state not even during the civil war. Our government has lost control of the whole northeast part of this country. It is dangerous. It pains me every minute of the day that, as I was receiving that award in Abuja and shaking hand with the president of my country, there are over 200 girls in Sambisa Forest and I hope they are still there. I am a parent so I know what it means for your child to be taken away for over six months ago. That is a huge blow to our country and to all right thinking and feeling individual. We never knew this kind of violence in our country before, suicide bombing for 14-year old girl. There is no place you will go that is safe now. If you go to the shopping mall you could be blown off. Even in the Mosque. People might say that violence is universal now, look at what is happening in Pakistan, Yemen and what happened recently in Kenya. The globalisation of violence doesn’t necessarily make violence prevail or less human. Anywhere where you have this kind of violence, it is unnatural and dehumanising for people not to be agonised. Our country is going through difficult times and as the election is coming all kinds of predictions has been made about Nigeria and what called the Ides of 2015. But we must not submit to any kind of inevitability. Our country has to survive, not only survive it has to strive. But how can we do this? Our politicians need to be responsible for their actions. This is very important. President Jonathan should know that these are very terrible time in Nigeria and I’m sure President Jonathan must be having sleepless night. He needed to be much more demonstrative in his attitude towards political developments in the country and this is the time when we really have to be careful the way we handle elections. The major crises we have been having in this country have one thing or the other to do with elections. The causes of the Nigeria Civil War could be traced to the elections in 1964 and of course the one of October 1965, where the National Democratic Party rigged the election and introduced violence in the western part of Nigeria. Even before that people were being burnt and the army took over and then the war. We have not recovered from the war up till this present moment. Our rulers must be made to remember this. Nigerian politicians have no mind and memory. It is we, people in Nigeria that should remember them, they are so momentary. We must not allow all the political manipulations that happened in the past to repeat itself in 2015. If you are in power and people said you have done enough, you should go. If you are vying for power and the people said they are not convinced about your performance, accept it but people can accept you then election must be seen to be free and fair. Nigeria has never had any free and fair elections except the one of June 12, 1993, and because it was free and fair they annulled it in an un-free and unfair way. Look at the elections of 2003, we thought it was rigged; now compare it with the elections of 2007. I hope Professor Maurice Iwu is listening to know, we need to let eminent people like him to know their roles in the political tragedies of our country. Whoever that is in power in Nigeria will always like to rig the elections in his favour. If we repeat the mistakes of the past in 2015 the country is going to be in real great danger. We are 170 million people I don’t want a large number of refuges because it is going to mess up the country and the continent of Africa. Let our rulers know the entire world is interested in the way we are running our affairs. America particularly is interested. The European Union is interested why because they know that there is something universal about peace or warfare today. When there is war in one part of the world it will affect others. We must get 2015 right. Let us tell the world that we are capable of hold credible, free and fair election. That is a tall order but we must make it happen. Finally, the reason why elections don’t go right in Nigeria is that there are so many interests. When a former president said it is a do or die affair, people were calling him names but fortunately they actually called him the right name. Right from 1959 when we had the first elections, I know that elections had always been a do or die affair in Nigeria because that is where the power is. And wherever the power is, is where the money is and wherever the money is, is where influence is. And wherever all these things are, there you have Nigeria version of impunity. Our biggest problem in this country is impunity and who is strong enough to arrest it. People who rule us, we are ashamed of them, the president of this country, the governors, the legislators, the local government people, they have to do something fast. Look at what is happening in my state, Ekiti State where seven legislators have now constituted the majority, approving the list of commissioners and bashing the state budget. Do you think this kind of thing can ever lead to something good? No. If you keep damaging, damage is what you will get at the end of its all. They are beginning to lay foundation of another crisis for this country and our politicians must be told the consequence of siphoning our money to foreign accounts so that when there is crisis in this country they sneak out and enjoy their loot. There are millions of Nigerians that don’t have this kind of opportunity and I tell you, I’m surprised that nobody is talking about illegalities that are happening in Ekiti State. Illegality happened before in Rivers State, these illegalities can never make a strong country. The Constitution we are operating at the moment borrowed from America but is this how America is running its country? No. Impunity is our major problem now and everybody is doing it all over the place. We must make sure that this kind of impunity does not go beyond December this 2014. Again, I said it the president must know that the entire Nigerian nation is under his constitutional constituency. He doesn’t know that people in the northeast are part of this country and he must protect them.
Realnews: You have said so much about this election coming, but there is no alternative to election. So what is the practical way out of all these problems we are facing in Nigeria?
Osundare: You have answered it. There is no alternative. Whether we like it or not this election have to take place in 2015. How do we handle it is the problem. There is nothing wrong with the election it has been taking place in other parts if the world. What is wrong with Nigeria election is that the results are determined even before people cast their ballots, the election officials are compromised and the ruling party never want to leave power. So what we have to do is to make sure that we get it right. Let all the parties prepare for one thing, if I will win I will win gratefully and if I will lose I will lose graciously and acceptably. The reason why people don’t accept election results in Nigeria is because elections in Nigeria are really not acceptable because of the way they are being carried on. It boiled down to what I said earlier, impunity. We will have to fight impunity and let our ruling people obey the law, let them do things according to the constitution and let the police, police well. Our major problem is the security people. They know who to keep out and who to keep in. Many of our security agents supervise the disappearance of ballot boxes and papers. With this you know we won’t have free elections and we if don’t have free elections we have violence. So let our politicians conduct the rightful election. Let there be no rigging. Let them leave INEC to do its work and let INEC be truly acceptable by that I mean independent, that is very important; that have always been under question mark. In fact that it is too ironical because it contradict what it means. We cannot avoid elections. People have to do things right and finally the people of Nigeria must stick out their neck for their future. The problem with Nigeria is that few politicians we have do everything they like because they know they can always take the Nigerian people for granted. No ruler can force himself or herself upon the people that do not want that ruler to rule them. The politicians in Nigeria dehumanise us because they take away our lives. So let this election be credible and devoid of violence. Let the people vote their future, vote themselves, vote for the future of their children and not their stomach.
Realnews: There is a school of thought that if Buhari wins there will be trouble in Niger Delta and if Jonathan wins that will be trouble in the north. What are your thought on this?
Osundare: It looks like the obvious thing but somehow one person has to win. This is why sincerity is so important here. The more reason that the ruling party and the president should really make sure that the election is free, fair and also credible. Let the president and his party rule the people of Nigeria with sincerity and somehow this is a very contentious country, we know but if Mr A is voted into power and Mr B is saying, this is not the votes we counted, that is where sincerity comes in. I think public opinion is still important for us living in Nigeria and world’s public opinion is also important. But the moment the election is messed up, it will give rise to all kinds of insinuations and negative possibilities. In this country, the president has to come from one part of the country, either from north, south east or west. This is one reality that we Nigerians have to discipline ourselves into accepting. It is extremely wrong for one to say that someone from his part of the country must not be defeated in an election. It doesn’t happen in any other part of the world, if we are really going to have a country, this is one attitude we really have to do away with. Whether Buhari or Jonathan, this is the fact the people of this country must accept and very important, this election has to be openly canvassed and the result has to be free, fair and credible.
Realnews: When you where talking you mentioned that the world is watching Nigeria, the US, EU, UN and all our partners. We would like you to comment on our current relationship with America, which refused to sell arms to Nigeria and on the other hand they are telling us that they will help us to fight the insurgency in our country. How do you see the two positions America has taken on our country?
Osundare: Count it on our failed intelligence gathering mechanism. I have said it before US know more about Nigeria than Nigerians themselves do. Anybody who is familiar with intelligence gathering knows that intelligence gathering in Nigeria is so inefficient and that is why Boko Haram is thriving. Many Nigerians are in the dark as they are being caught with their hands behind their back. America knows what happened and the fact that they are refusing to cooperate militarily with Nigeria should really push us back to rethink our priority as a country and reorganise our intelligence. The Nigeria army today, I don’t know but I think the army is weak. How can Boko Haram defeat African largest army? Whenever they attack, the Nigerian soldiers will run away and this people seize their weapons and it is Nigerian weapons that they are using against Nigeria. I think there is something about it though. I don’t know what happens in the diplomatic circle and the kind of diplomatic relations America has been having with. But I think there is a lack of confidence on Nigerian authorities to manage whatever resources sent to them. There is no need sending weapons to Nigeria since those weapons will end up in the hands of the insurgents. Our army is not as coherent as it should have been, our intelligence gathering mechanism is poor and this is all over the place. Now see the questions my friends in America ask me and I have no answers. How could a group of insurgents could have come to village in the middle of the night and took their time to search the offices and set the school on fire, put these girls in buses and then drove in a convoy and disappear into forest? And the questions they are asking me, where are the Nigerian security authorities? Tell me what kind of answer will you give to these questions and in what kind of country will that happen? In this age of telephony and all that is just needed is to call. So Nigeria is a badly run country and people know about it. This is why America doesn’t sell us weapons because they won’t be able to manage the weapons well.
Realnews: Look at what happened in Pakistan with 146 school children dying. It is something akin to what we have been experiencing in Nigeria?
Osundare: I agree with you, that is what I said earlier on that generally, violence has become global. And I’m also saying that the globalisation of violence does not in any way explain it. I believe that violence is inevitable. Even if you look at the violence in Pakistan and every other place like Yemen and Kenya you will see that they are very similar to what we are having in Nigeria. This shows that we are not unique, but you can’t go to one of the parents of the missing girls and say it is a pity that your child is missing, it is also happening in Pakistan. There is something about tragedy that is essentially unique to individuals. So my heart broke for the people in Pakistan, though every country has a way of coping with it, America itself is a victim of this kind of violence. We still remember the 9/11. But the way a country responses to it is also very important, we still remember the way America responded to 9/11. We may quarrel with the human rights abuse but they have put so much resources into it that this kind of thing cannot be easily repeated again. Those who perpetuate this kind of act are very creative. Their actions need an equally creative and imaginative kind of reaction. Nigeria has not been handling this well because we are not an efficient country. Even at this time nothing works, if a country cannot make electricity work in 2014, if a country cannot put potable water for people, if a country cannot create good roads for people to move on, this country doesn’t have one specialist hospital, every sick person must go to India and if a country cannot do all these things it goes without saying – inefficiency. Our military is not efficient and our political system is not efficient either. There is no transparency and finally, corruption is another problem in the country. They belief outside this country is that there is nothing in Nigeria without corruption. There is no patriotism in this country because the people don’t have much trust in their government. So that is why there is so much uncertainty and that is why it is so difficult for us to fight terrorism with a united voice. But Nigeria has not always been like this.
Realnews: Yes, Nigeria was not always like this. There were days gone by that things were a little much better. But the thinking is that the fight against terrorism in Nigeria is something that is new and took the country unawares. If you take the fact that it took America with all her gargets and satellites and intelligent network all over the world almost 10 years before it could get Osama Bin Laden. Terrorism has just started in the country, what do you think?
Osundare: You are right but the important thing is that they got Bin Laden at last. It took efficiency, patience and knowledgeable, you know sending people around two years, five years studying the movement of people. Intelligence gathering is what we call it, but what we are saying is that there is no intelligence in Nigeria. No, violence is not indigenous to Nigeria, it’s not restricted to Nigeria but the reaction to violence is what I’m talking about. How we react to it is the case, let me give you another raw example, God forbid, if any plane crash happen today anywhere in Nigeria there are no rescue strategise, there is nothing that could be done immediately. We are not ready made for disaster and we don’t know how to handle ourselves out of it. We are in a helpless country because we don’t have the knowledge and the intelligence neither do we have the efficiency. The kind of army that fought the Civil War is different from the army we have at the moment.
Realnews: But is it not the same army that went to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and achieve results. And all over the world they lauded Nigeria for what they have achieved. Why is it that we don’t have confidence in our army?
Osundare: Impatience, we have every right to be impatient. People who have lost properties and loved ones to violence, they have right to be impatient. Yes, we give it to our army, they did a fine job in Liberia, Sierra Leone and so on and both countries are still greatful to Nigeria. We have an international profile, many of our people went to Congo and they fought bravely there, but the question I am asking is why should our army go to other countries and perform so credibly well and they are not able to do the same here. I see that those they sent out are just a few and because they are so few they command is constantly under watch. Again, here it is different because what we are looking at is bigger and we are dealing with a larger population too. The population that can be easily influenced by the surrounding segments within the area and when you are in Liberia, you believed that you are surrounded with a certain code of conduct. But in Nigeria you could relax and you are easily corrupted. We have some of the bravest and brightest men and women in our army but we are also looking at the chain of command. The question is how can, we remove our army from the corruption that have shaken every fibre of our country and this is really the issue. Morality flows from the top. If weakness flows from the military, police and the political circle, the people below will exploit the weakness. If our army had been more coherent, I think the insurgency we are facing in Nigeria won’t have been as unanswerable as it is today. I must tell you that many of the soldiers are so ridiculous that they throw their guns away but I am not condemning them and the knowledge of war has shown that in a cooperate country like Nigeria, when the army is weak, it is a total invitation to crisis. This is what happened in Congo, Rwanda and this kind of issue we are facing people always look up to the army; not even out politicians because they are corrupt and there are so many of them who don’t love this country. The army had always been the source of patriotism and that is why there are so many ex-military people in leadership positions today. The army secured them through discipline and patriotism. Not long ago, we were talking about the Inspector General of Police who commended the dethronement of a man who was dually elected speaker. But in a civilised country such a person should be in jail by now. Our country is facing a state of no solution and we have to talk about it.
Realnews: The price of oil is falling everyday and the pump price in the country is not falling. We are being told that there is likelihood that they could also increase the pump price of fuel next year, how do you see it?
Osundare: Everybody knew that this was a disaster that was foretold and as usual Nigeria is not a country that prepare. Nigeria doesn’t know how to run out of danger and this is a very poorly managed country. I remember last year one of the interviews I granted someone was captioned ‘Very soon the world will wean Nigeria of crude oil’ because I’m sure of what is happening. The way America was practically looking for shale oil, alternative source of energy like shale energy and solar energy. And I knew that this will happen, in 1979, I remember an article warning Nigeria that this will come but Nigeria didn’t take the warning. Nigeria has wasted all the money and that is why things are the way they are today. What borders me now is that the traditional victims of the Nigeria problem are the common people. Those who have stolen money in different banks have no problem with this. In fact the weaker the naira is better for them because they will bring in their foreign exchange. Our oil industry has not been well managed because it is not transparently run. We hear all kinds of rumours and these rumours work as facts. What about the guy that was charged for manipulating the subsidy and brought Nigeria into this kind of mess. I haven’t heard that our president sad anything about them. What about Otedola scandal talked about years ago, is anybody talking about that? NO. I’m not sure we know how many barrels of oil leaving the Nigeria shore. What about the oil blocks that is being sold. This oil money comes so easily and they are being stolen so easily as well. We didn’t manage the oil money when it was pumping in, and this disaster has cut us again with our hands tied behind our back. Nigeria has fewer industries now than we had five to ten years ago. Agriculture has collapsed. So this is a disaster for Nigeria and I don’t think the foreign countries will pity Nigeria because when the money was there we wasted it. How much is our senator and representatives collecting, what about the security votes for the presidency and the state governors? This is where all the money is going. The poor people are getting poorer. So the time is now, let us call the people who have been wasting this money to tighten their own belt, this is how to do it. But I’m not sure that is the way it’s going to be. How much is each senator taking home? How much is he taking for the so called constituency allowance? And how is this constituency allowance spent? When they travel what about their extacodes, money spent on first class and business class flights. This is where Nigerians money goes. The money you have been wasting now we are in crisis. It is our rulers that have brought us to this disaster.
Realnews: You are talking about corruption and I wanted to know if you noticed that the Transparency International recently upgraded our status?
Osundare: Well, I don’t know the factors the Transparency International used in the global watch. I cannot fault their standard, but I’m still looking at ministries in Nigeria that cannot relate with one another without bribing one another. I know it is still happening and I also know that if you go to the secretariat, everybody is looking at your hand. What you will put down and I mean from the receptionist right to the permanent secretary. Whatever Transparency International thinks, well I see it from my left hand and in my right hand I see it from what is happening on ground here. So many factors responsible for corruption are still very much here. One of them is poverty. The poverty in Nigeria is much universal. What Nigeria has done is to create a few extremely rich people, Nigeria has some of the richest people in the world and Nigeria also has many of the abject poverty cases in the world. That is the ground for corruption and violence. There is no way you can avoid violence in this kind of situation. The people who have money buy power and privilege. If you have money in this country there is practically nothing you cannot do. I don’t know what they have done but what I know is that corruption is still here with us. Looking at the 2015 elections, our electoral system is so bad, in other parts of the world if you win through corrupt means, you get disqualified. But in Nigeria you line people up and before the press you give money to them. Corruption works in this country because it works for certain people, so Transparency International may give their verdict but the facts on the ground don’t give any room for that.
Realnews: Do you think that education in the Ivory Tower has improved?
Osundare: Well, I don’t see anything Ivory about the tower anymore. Some of the most brightest and persevered in this country are in our esteemed profession. They are in the universities. I don’t see any change in our library, laboratory and books. It is not a matter of giving people salary and arrears so as to make it possible for them to buy SUVs. Right now the number of SUVs on campus has increased but I don’t know whether the number of books produced have increased correspondingly. The problem with Nigeria educational system is not the intellectual and structural decay but psychological side. It is the side that would not change at all and that is our value system. The order of merit in our institutions are no longer there, today many people are trying to beat the system. Ok for me to become a professor, I have to publish a number of articles internationally and the person will make arrangement with people abroad in one way or the other put a something in your article and it is international.
Realnews: Who is to be blamed?
Osundare: The blame goes round. How can you absolve the government from the blame? The educational system in Nigeria is under government. When we had missionary schools Nigerian educational system was very standard, that was before the military took over. Our educational system started collapsing in the time of General Babangida, by the time it got to Abacha the corpse was already in the morgue and that is where we are right now. It takes time and generation and that is why other countries take care of their educational system. Once something goes wrong it will take so many generations to remedy it. Can Nigeria reproduce a Soyinka now? Can Nigeria even reproduce a Chinua Achebe? Chinua Achebe never had a second degree and Wole Soyinka never had a second degree. Can anybody with second degree really stand before these people? I am talking about the time when Nigeria works. Today, things are scattered. our government has a lot of blame in this.
Realnews: Is there a way out?
Osundare: Yes there is a way out. It is we people that are going to fight the way out. Education is too precious to be left in the hands of politicians.
Realnews: Do you think that the present crop of politicians we have in different political parties especially the PDP and the APC can change things for better in the country?
Osundare: Well the answer to that question will be deduced from what I have been saying for the last two hours. It is a mix bag and I’m not the one to condemn politicians. Some of the brightest minds are in the public affairs in Nigeria.There are so many of them that can be a governor and professor as well. There are many of them that are moved by patriotism but unfortunately, such people are in the minority. Most of the public office holders are ignorance and don’t know what they want for the country but they know what they want for their pocket. Our politicians today are thieves and they rob us. We need to do something to our Constitution. The current politicians we have in Nigeria today cannot produce the kind of Nigeria of our dreams. It is too corrupt.
— Jan. 26, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT