PROF. FESTUS IYAYI, Head of Department, Business Administration at the University of Benin and former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in this interview attributed the rot in the Nigerian Universities to the Babangida regime which he accused of systematically killing university education and his verdict: no Nigerian university will attain a world raking in the midst of squalor, lack of facilities and poor funding. He also welcomes the merger of opposition parties, but added that the emerging party must have an ideology and vision on how to develop the country, just as he derides the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB as anti-Nigerian. Excerpts
Next year, Nigeria will be celebrating 100 years of amalgamation of the North and South by Lord Lugard . Is this worth celebrating?
I believe that the bringing together of the Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria and the Colony of Lagos into one Nigeria is a blessing. America is a country of hundreds of millions of people, China is over one billion, so, the diversity is like creating a rainbow and for a rainbow to occur, there has to been unity, there has to been cohesion, there has to be a feeling of oneness.
What has happened in Nigeria is that in 1914 Lugard said, let us amalgamate and create one Nigeria, but from 1914 till now, we have not created a nation; we have a country, we don’t have a nation. A nation has the psychology of oneness; a country is just a territory that is inhabited by different people who do not share a sense of common destiny.
That is what Nigeria currently is. So, in terms of facilities and concrete achievements, there is nothing to celebrate after almost a hundred years. But in terms of being one country with one name, it is something we should learn to protect All this talk about break up Nigeria will not work; even if it works, once you break up the country, the constituent parts that have been broken will also wants to break away.
Go the South- West and see the relationship between Oyo and Osun states, how they are fighting over the University at Ogbomosho. It is not important whether you are from the same race or not, it is the economic interest of the members of the ruling class through their behavior.
In Nigeria, the Hausa/Fulani ruling elite, the Yoruba ruling elite, the Edo ruling elite, the Igbo ruling elite all want to kill each other for the share of what they get from the national cake. And that is why, we have not made progress, there is no visionary leadership, we don’t have a ruling class in the true sense of the world; a ruling class creates wealth; want to make the country powerful. A ruling class anchors itself in production.
What is your position on the Petroleum Industry Bill which is already pitching the North against the South?
The PIB is anti-Nigerian, not just anti-North or anti-South. I saw the original PIB that was drawn up. It had many nationalist elements: – it will be controlled by Nigerians; it will have local sourcing of materials and involvement of communities. All that has gone because Shell and the multinational oil companies made sure that the provisions that benefit Nigerians were removed. What you have now is nothing but a shell, the content is no longer there. And off-course, people will then read ethnic sentiments into it: the North there is no benefits to us, the South will say there is no benefit to us.
But how to make the PIB work and be of benefit to Nigerians; how do you have a country that refines outside? Communities are not involved; they are aliens to what is happening. The original bill took care of the environment, the remediation, provided the process where the remediation process can take place with the involvement of the communities.
All those things have been removed. The bill is meant to benefit all the major oil companies in Nigeria, which is why the fight between the North and the South. It is not about Nigeria, it is the ruling class quarrel that we see all the time. It is not about the progress of the country at all.
On the merger of opposition political parties
I hope it works, I hope it works. I think that they have taken a major step that will indicate for once that a merger will.
If you have a strong opposition, then, the governments of the day will behave, if you have a very weak opposition, then the government in power will do what they like. There are no negotiations, no debates because the government in power just dictates.
That is not healthy for any country especially a capitalist country like ours and so, if the opposition parties can come together as then they are doing and establish a party of their own with a clear ideology that is different from that of the ruling party, then, it is something very welcome for Nigeria.
And I hope that people will not be going to succumb later because what the PDP will do is to sponsor people into the merger party who will then come later and say we are no longer part of it. They have a right to do that because it is a war; a war about how to share the national resources, that is all they are about.
What do you think is responsible for Nigerian universities missing out among the top ranked universities in the world?
If you don’t fund a system, you don’t provide for the facilities, nothing can happen. We have laboratories where people are using kerosene stoves, all kinds of devices for experiments and in many places, no experiments but skeletal chemistry, skeletal physics, yet they award them degrees in chemistry and physics.
They also indicate that they have practical because they now have what they call, the Theory of Practical, you do practical in theory and not in practice. This is very strange. That study is there and it is before the Jonathan administration, Jonathan himself has sat down with his ministers on the report and expressed surprise at the findings.
Then, the qualities of teachers and students have also declined over the years. In those days, in this department (Business Administration), we had not less than three expatriates, foreign students but all we do now is in-breeding; people cannot come because the remunerations and conditions of service are not attractive.
If you want to create conditions in your country by saying look, we are Nigerians and have a Nigerian university, it will not work because the University is an open book and its results are available to every other person across the world.
So, if you don’t have resources, you don’t have journals, you don’t have good students and teachers, you don’t have good laboratories, you cannot have good results that you will publish in top journals in the world which then will attract a high level of ranking.
The destruction of the University in Nigeria began with Babangida who when they first came, stopped the feeding of students, then that teachers were not teaching what they were paid and did all kinds of things.
Then, lecturers fled the country and then, they systematically killed the university system so as to make Nigeria amenable to exploitation, to be controlled by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. This is because the ruling elites in Nigeria are servants of imperialism.
Buhari resisted it, he told the Americans that they should do counter trade rather than take your loan, but Babangida came and said what counter trade? Americans came in up to the point now that the World Bank is (now) in Aso Rock. It had never happened before in history that the World Bank officials now occupy Aso Rock.