Born on the 5th July 1949, Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe bagged his Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Mathematics (First Class division )from the University of Lagos in 1971, a Masters degree in Applied Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science in 1973 and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Civil Engineering with specialization in Applied Mechanic/Systems in 1976, both from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Professor Ibidapo–Obe, prior to his appointmentVice-Chancellorllor of the University of Lagos, had held various academic and management positions within the University of Lagos. He previously served as Head of the Engineering Analysis Unit (1991-1995). He was the pioneer Managing Director of Unilag Consult, the University of Lagos Consultancy outfit, and later served as the Chairman of the National committee on Brain Drain.
As a Professor of Systems Engineering, Ibidapo-Obe held several international teaching/research positions across the globe and his major academic contributions are in the areas of Control and International Systems, including specialized interest in Stochastic/Optimization Problems in Engineering, Reliability Studies, Simulation and Expert Systems. He was the Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities. He was twice awarded the Best Vice Chancellor’s Prize (2004, 2005) for the Nigerian University System (NUS). Ibidapo-Obe was conferred with the prestigious Fellowships of the Academy of Science and Academy of Engineering, Nigerian Computer Society and Mathematical Association of Nigeria and a recipient of the ICOBA Merit Award. He was President of the Nigerian Academy of Science. Professor Obe has also organized and participated in several other specialised workshops and conferences. The erudite scholar is well published and has served on the editorial board of several international journals and special publications. He also enjoys membership of socio-cultural organisations such as the Nigerian Britain Association, the Metropolitan Club and the Ikoyi Club. He’s a recipient of the distinguished National Honour of Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR). In this chat with The New Diplomat’s Associate Editor, Laolu Adeyemi, the former vice chancellor speaks on sundry national issues ranging from getting the nation out of recession through the trouble in the Niger-delta and culture and modernisation.
Nigeria is going through a recession at this moment, in your own view, how do we get out of this?
We all understand why we are in recession. We are in a recession because there is no cash inflow from our regular sources and the demand for spending is so high. This simply means that the country is currently running a deficit account. If a company runs into this, it is called bankruptcy. And when the company runs into bankruptcy, the way out is to look for money.
This may explain why the federal government has been toying with the idea of selling some government property with a view to raising funds for the nation. Another effort is to reduce the cost doing business in the country so as to attract investors.
I think we all saw this coming. But initially, the body language of the president suggested that he was less perturbed by the recession. His mind seemed fixed on fighting corruption to a halt as a long-term antidote to the nation’s problem. Buhari was saddled with a long-term vision of solving this nation’s problem but he paid less attention to short-term plans which were necessary too.
With the increase in the price of crude oil, I believe things will get better if government addresses the issue of Niger-Delta amicably.
We have also seen that certain things are being done on our infrastructure too and I think we are getting there gradually.
Though the foreign exchange is still very bad, I believe it will get better in the next six months. Though the naira is still chasing the dollar, we all need to try and patronise our locally made products in order to boost the nation’s economy. I think, we should be out of recession by the first quarter of next year. That is, if the present administration sustains its motion in solving the myriad of problems bedevilling the economy.
In what specific ways do you think the government should tackle the economic crunch?
One of the greatest problems in this country is unemployment, especially among the productive youths who are loaded with energy. It is dangerous to watch all our youths waste away their energy and talents because of unemployment. This is why I was not comfortable with the way Lagos State government chased youths who hawk things on the streets of Lagos without providing any palliative measures for them. What do we want them to do if there are no jobs out there?
As President Buhari looks at corruption holistically, he should also look at how to create employment for the teeming population of unemployed graduates in Nigeria. Some unemployed youths are forced to be beggars, while some callous ones resorted to robbery.
The war against corruption is a long-term project, but the short-term own must also be looked into.
If we are able to get money as the Minster of Housing promised, the construction industry is an area the government needs to consider in creating massive employment for the people. Other sectors that provide massive employment for people are textile and agriculture. Though agriculture cannot work on its own, putting a new policy in place would foster the kind of development the masses need.
Talking about policies, how stable are our policies in Nigeria?
The consistency of policy in Nigeria is a major problem. When the school of Agriculture was started, its primary purpose was for research and agricultural development. It was supposed to be funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, but the position was later changed; they insisting on funding it through the Ministry of Education. Basically, the institutions were set up to address agricultural problems. But the schools have since changed their direction to other non-agricultural courses. Some of them have delved into accountancy, economics, law and many other courses that are not related to agriculture.
It is painful that every new regime in power changes things according to the caprices of those that form their party.
There can never be policy consistency as long appointments into political offices are based on party affiliation. Until we go back to the days that the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Minister for Health are selected based on merit and professionalism, there can never be policy consistency. Until we stop appointing politicians without merit into executive positions, there cannot be policy consistency.
What happened to Nigerian universities and polytechnics that they can no longer produce employable graduates?
Naturally, graduates must undergo training so as to know the ethos of any profession they are going into. Nothing is wrong with graduates going through training before employment, what is wrong is we are not having graduates with good entrepreneurial skills. In our own days, there were graduates who left multinational companies to set up their own businesses. I could remember one of my colleagues who left shell Nigeria to set up a security outfit.
The only challenge now is the fact that the figure of graduates with good entrepreneurial skills has dropped drastically and the trend is worrisome. Even before you determine the number of students you want to admit, there must be a report from the National Manpower Board (NMB) which I think is no longer in existence. This board is the body that researches and determines the number of professionals needed in each sector for each year. They project into the future and determine the number of doctors, engineers, lawyers the nation needs.
Unfortunately, that has not been happening because we have opened the doors of the university to both qualified and unqualified students because of our population.
Don’t you think the university management should be blamed for this?
I don’t think so. I think it is the failure on the part of the society. I think it is their parents who found them a place in the university just as they did in their secondary schools.
I am just worried that our national psyche has changed slowly to this concept of somebody must help you. People now believe that you must know someone before you can get admission. Even when their child scored high and you told them he or she will come in on merit, they still insist on getting help.
I think, there is nothing wrong with Nigerian education but the environment makes the difference. How can you explain how a graduate who didn’t perform well in this country came out in flying colours in one of the universities outside the shores of this country. I think, it is the environment.
I do agree that we need to have a society that is corruption-free. Rebuilding Nigeria may come with pains but President Buhari should just ensure he takes Nigeria through it with rays of hope. As much as he wants to rebuild the nation’s economy, he must also give rays of optimism for the common man. This is why I cherish his Independence Day speech that says anyone found guilty of corruption will certainly pay for it. But the nation must move forward.
You witnessed the independence celebrations in 1960, how would you assess this nation at 56?
Yes. We flew the flag during the independence in 1960 because we were in primary school. I am still not happy that we have to take Monday as public holiday despite the fact that we have lost so much to corrupt practices in Nigeria. I think we need to go back to where we started. When I was very young, my father worked on Saturday. If we have good money from oil and gas and every other sector, we can afford to enjoy any holiday but certainly not with the state of the country at the moment.
We don’t need a holiday when the nation needs to work hard on her agriculture and solid minerals pursuit. When the holiday falls on Saturday or Sunday, we don’t need to create another day for it.
Nigeria at 56, we can only celebrate being alive; but in terms of achievement, we have done very badly compared to other African countries. We are like the prodigal son and we must go back to the starting point. In those days, Nigeria was duly respected for having people with intellect, hard work and innovation in the whole of Africa, But today, Nigeria is nowhere to be found in the leagues of all nations. When I was growing up, the global perception about Nigeria was very high, but now the reverse is the case. It is so bad that when some Nigerians go out of the shores of this country they are perceived as fraudsters. The image is very bad.
However, if the tempo against corruption is sustained by the current administration; it will clean up the image of the nation. If they clean up from this stigma, we would be fine.
You were a returning officer during the last elections in Imo State and now the two leading parties seem to be in disarray, what do you think is wrong?
I am very sorry to say that the two parties are the same and I have very little respect for the politicians. The idea of politicians changing from one party to the others without minding the mission of each party is not a good one. It’s only here that a vibrant member of one strong political party changes from his party to the other one within a week. I have seen it before. The former governor of Osun suddenly joined APC.
Why can’t they remain in their original party? I was very happy because of the problem they are having here and there. I think, it is the beginning of the real change we desire. Honestly, they have the same objectives and plans to benefit from the system. They want to cheat the common man.
APC members came from every other party and the majority of them are the aggrieved members of PDP. Now, there is hardly a party member in APC without the mixed attitude. For instance, former governor of Osun State was a PDP member but now he is an APC party. Who made up the executives of APC today? What is the makeup of APC? Apart from few of them like, Bola Tinubu, Fashola, Fayemi who have been consistent with their party…, where are the others coming from? They came from the PDP and they have remained in their old ways. They left PDP because of sharing. They cannot change because they have the mission to benefit themselves and cheat the common man.
PDP has moved away from its original direction of being conservative to be capitalist. APC that is supposed to be progressive seems to be foot-dragging.
I think the current crises is good for the Nigerian political system.
Perhaps, it can lead to the birth of one neutral party which is truly for the masses.
Unfortunately, the system is so wired that you can’t even move up unless you belong to one of the parties. And the parties depend on the government largesse. When they say power will change; the changes are just from the centre because it has larger resources.
When we are talking about power, people often assume that power changes from the centre because the major resources come in from the centre. If we can re-arrange this in such a way that the centre gets just 10 percent, that power equilibrium will shift back to the state and the number of people going into politics will be reduced drastically. It is money they are all looking for.
What do you make of the recent revelations by Hon. Jibrin?
This just confirmed that some Nigerian politicians are just brigands. And they seem to get away with it because they also have the money to get the votes of the common man.
Why is it that we have to spend so much money on the people in the National Assembly? Why is it that the National Assembly cannot be on part-time basis? Why can’t they sponsor themselves? If any candidate is good, let he or she sponsors himself. If you are so good, let your people sponsor your election .With this, politicians would know they are on their own.
Unfortunately, party members invest heavily in sponsorship with the expectation of recouping much on their investment.
It is a simple thing; if the National Assembly thinks it is serious about this change, let it change the rule. Let the sittings be on part time basis and let candidates sponsor themselves or get sponsorship from supporters.
If a House member thinks he is generally acceptable by the masses, why does he needs police to move around? Why should a House of Assemblyman attach a police escort to himself when we don’t even have enough police to fight the issue of armed robbery and kidnapping in the country? This means he is not for the people.
It is unfortunate that this menace is fast getting into the Nigerian institutions. Some VC’s now have police escorts to themselves which was not the situation before. VC should be able to walk freely on campus because he or she is for the students because it is the people that want him.
Yet, I still see the university having the responsibility to correct this menace. But this will only happen if everything is done on merit from the top to the bottom. If a minister of education is appointed based on party affiliation or from a particular part of the country, how does he want to show leadership that he doesn’t have? We knew ministers who really showed that they are the minister in this county. Babs Fafunwa and Prof Adeniran were ministers and we all knew the changes they brought to their ministries and the reforms they brought to the country at large. But when we fail to do things on merit, we suffer for it.
Honestly, the appointment of ministers and special advisers should be on merit. The federal character and issue of state of origin should be abolished. We should rather look at where people live and where they pay their taxes. Everybody should be free to stay in any region. Doing this would bring Nigerians together.
Nigeria’s problem is caused by the politicians and we really need to find a way of curtailing their activities.
What is the way forward on the Niger Delta issue?
The way forward is to negotiate. We have neglected that place for too long and quite a few of them that have the good education are now getting back at us. We cannot just take their oil and look elsewhere. Though the cleaning up of their environment is ongoing, what happened before was different. It was a situation where the multi-nationals were busy extracting the crude and the federal government neglected them. The havoc, the neglect this has caused is where we find them now. Their situation has gotten to a stage where they are willing to put their lives on the line to fight for their right.
I think we need to take Niger-Delta issue seriously and negotiate with them.
As the Apeluwa of Ile-Ife, in Osun State, are you not perturbed that our culture is being eroded daily?
The truth of the matter is that our culture is being eroded because of modernisation. Some of the things we did before cannot stand the test of time. For instance, technology has changed the way we do things.
Secondly, some of the custodians of our culture are aspiring to be the richest and the best in the world. That is inconsistency. We need to separate culture from our modernisation. We can use culture to edify our development. Our culture teaches us courtesy. It enriches the way we relate with our elders. It is a good thing and we can strengthen that.
Our native medicine got from our herbs could be refined. The knowledge of our forefathers on how to use herbs could be preserved.
In terms of worship, we need to clearly define what we are saying. I want to see how we can relate Sango, the god of thunder to generating electricity. When he is annoyed, Yoruba claimed fire came from his mouth but how can we relate that to the invention of electricity.
We should be able to relate witchcraft with space travel. I understand the South Africans have started a study on witchcraft. This will enhance our culture.
What technology and modernisation is looking out for is totally not in tandem with some of our cultural practices and beliefs. We need to find a meeting point. I thought the Ministry of Culture should be able to work on how to articulate our cultural norms. GF Ade Ajayi, Biobaku, Henry Njoku and others have been working on this anyway.
You are a former president of Nigerian Academy of Science, what has happened to the body lately?
Nothing is wrong with the Nigerian Academy of science. It has several projects to encourage even the young academics. They encourage young academics to publish and they even have patents all over the world. Quite a few of them have published and we have patents all over the world. We are very proud of them. On several occasions, the body has intervened in many issues. Even in the last fight against Ebola, NAS did a lot. Aside from this, the body has produced a lot of vaccines but they are not being projected as their work.
What is wrong is that our people have not done much on people’s perception.
When I was a president, we had some external challenges that threatened to kill the association and we had to be very aggressive about perception. They seem to be a little bit relaxed because they are comfortable, but they need to work on people’s perception. We have done some mobilization before with the Ministry of Science and Technology and recommended that there must be a strategy to encourage people in universities and polytechnics to do patents because it has a lot to do with ranking. And this ranking depends also on the number of patents associated with the country. It is just a question of organisation and all we need to do is to organise whatever we are doing.
The academy is there. In fact, we went ahead to create All Nigeria Academy which includes the academy of letters, business administration or social studies.
It is unfortunate that government claims they are interested in it but they are not doing anything.
Advice to the government?
Scrap the issue of federal character, place less emphasis on the state of origin. I have travelled to many countries of the world and there was no time I was asked about my origin. We seem to enjoy working on things that divide us rather than those that unite us.
The government should also provide infrastructure for the masses.