Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, 52, lawyer, criminologist, businessman and former minister of state (Education) is a chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In a chat in Lagos, he, spoke among others on the protracted strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the proposed national conference and why President Goodluck Jonathan must seek re-election in 2015.
Without mincing words, he said the people of South-South will not allow President Jonathan return to the region if he does not seek re-election. He also advised government to privatise the universities and hand them over to the professors to manage . Excerpts:
Do you think the President Jonathan’s proposed conference will reshape Nigeria, if well organised?
You used the word if ‘’well-organised.’ I am talking as a lawyer now; what is the legal plank on which the national conference is seated? We have a presidential system of government with a constitution that structured all strata of the administration of governance.
We have not amended the constitution to give relevance and legal backing to the constitutional conference. Is the conference sovereign? If it is sovereign, what makes it sovereign? You must carve out something to give out something. In my opinion, I don’t know the plank on which the national conference is based.
I am at a loss because the same duty the National Conference is now supposedly doing, both houses of the National Assembly- the Senate and House of Representatives are invested with powers to look at them under the constitution.
Nigerians don’t have confidence in the National Assembly because of the way they were elected…
What is the difference between the manner in which the members of the National Assembly are appointed, handpicked or selected by government or persons and the manner members of the committee were appointed?
So does that mean you don’t agree with the opinion that there is need for Nigerians to dialogue?
I agree absolutely that, as a people, we must have a conference. I only disagree with the way it is being put together. For instance, who is representing my interest as an Urhobo man, as a Deltan? What input do I have in the conference? Who is representing you from Ohafia? What interest do you have?
Take for instance, the police. We must go back to state and local government police at the appropriate time. How can a policeman from Adamawa come to Okpe, in Urhobo land, to say he wants to do proper policing? He needs four years to study the language, to know the place, etc. But you and I from the local government know ourselves from childhood, we know who is a thief or criminal from primary school. We can simply do what needs to be done.
So, on national conference, we must thank President Jonathan for thinking about national conference and initiating the process. Whatever the shape or form of the conference, Nigerians must now use that platform to demand the proper way forward, a sovereign national conference, to bring about change.
Some critics see the conference as a diversionary tactics to boost President Jonathan’s 2015 re-election agenda. How do you see that?
I disagree with you. We have structures. I don’t see Jonathan – I worked for him, I am a criminologist and as a professional I can read people, I don’t see how President Jonathan can imagine that he can swindle Nigerians with the national conference. We have courts, we have laws and legislation. If Nigerians truncate the conference, it is a different matter. Nigerians have been agitating for national conference and now the president has started the process, whether we as a people can use it to achieve a positive or negative purpose is not Jonathan’s making.
No president in Nigeria, military or civilian had said there should be no no-go areas. Before, it was like an evil forest, nobody dared go there for 53 years. But Jonathan has said, open the forest. So it is a stepping stone in the right direction. If President Jonathan does not conclude the conference the way it would satisfy the yearnings of Nigeria, it will no longer be a taboo for the president coming after him to say, he has done to it to this stage, I want to take it to the next level.
I commend President Jonathan for touching and daring what previous presidents in Nigeria could not touch.
As former education minister, what do you make of the ASUU four-month strike?
The ASUU problem is that of pure deceit. As a minister in the Education Ministry I had information. You will recall that at a good cost, we created 12 universities. Before then, I had a conviction and proposal that we have no business, as a country, to run all these universities. America and other developed countries do not run universities. Why are we still running universities like University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, University of Benin, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, AhmaduBelloUniversity, etc?
These new ones we are creating, let’s nurture them, structure them as a business and hand them over to the professors to manage. These professors can manage the universities. We will almost not invest in these universities again. All we need to do is to transfer ownership and structure them in an arrangement of a corporate business.
If we can sell NITEL and NEPA, it is the responsibility of government to sell these FirstRepublic universities to the professors, let them structure it themselves and run it but let the Ministry of Education regulate them. That is how it is done everywhere in the world.
There is no way we can resolve the ASUU problem without privatising the universities. We are not being realistic. We cannot continue like this as a country. If this oil that we depend on today dries up, how are we going to pay the trillions? If we did it yesterday as a Father Christmas nation it is about time we get things right.
Private universities in Nigeria now are working better than these universities we have been carrying for decades. You cannot fund them adequately. If you hand the university to the professors, they will not allow anything to stop them from developing it because they will see it as their own.
Won’t privatisation take university education out of the reach of the poor?
We can address this by giving scholarship to all poor and disadvantaged students. Poor students can be given discounted fees and we structure them in all the universities. With that, Government will pay less than five percent of what we spend in running the universities today.
With the newly created 12 universities, the existing universities and private universities, in my memo to council, we still have 674,000 Nigerians qualified to go into universities, but have no access because the universities have filled up. So we will still need more universities. We need education system where we produce technicians, carpenters, welders, bricklayers. We have drifted away.
You are the first recipient of Arch-Klum Society (AKS) medal of Rotary International in the Black world. What does that portend for Nigeria?
The AKS is an exclusive cadre of Rotary where you must have donated to the cause of humanity the sum of at least $250,000. Once I made the mark of becoming the first Nigerian, African and Black person in the world to attain AKS, the President of Rotary, Sakuji Tanaka, flew all the way from America and came to my private house in Abuja to give me the pin. In spite of the security challenges, if the president of Rotary can come to Nigeria to recognise me, it has a leverage arrangement where relevant departments of government, if properly used, can make a lot of impact.
Having started the AKS euphoria, a few Nigerians have joined me. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar paid up and became the second AKS in the Black world and then my friend, Sir Emeka Offor became the third. We have four other Nigerians, who have made some contributions but have not fully paid up but because of a provision of the Rotary constitution they have been elevated to AKS because they gave a promisory note to pay up over time.
You asked about the gains AKS has for us, our various departments and agencies of our ministries are not living up to expectation. On October 30, 2013 at the investiture in the United States of America, there were two flags: the Nigerian flag and the American flag. Just before I was inducted, the Nigerian national anthem engulfed the air.
Rotary started in 1961 in Nigeria, the year I was born. It pleased God that through me as a contact, we now have a Nigerian Day in Rotary. Talking about the budget of Rotary, it is more than the budget of countries. There is no president in the world that does not identify and partner with Rotary. By my efforts and those coming behind me, we now have seven AKS in Rotary and established the Nigerian Day in Rotary. I believe it is great step in the right direction that sooner than later we will be able to influence more advantages to Nigeria and Africa in the affairs of Rotary. There is no way I will make a statement to Rotary the world over today and Rotary will ignore it. It is a only a matter of time these advantages will begin to come.
How do you view comments from a section of the North that President Jonathan should not seek re-election?
President Jonathan has a constitutional right as a Nigerian to seek re-election. I do not know what qualifies, Tafawa Balewa, Shehu Shagari and Olusegun Obasanjo to seek office for second term that Jonathan does not have. Obasanjo from the South-West ran for two terms and nobody challenged his right to go for second term. Shagari from North-West contested election, completed his first term and ran for second term and was sworn-in but the military truncated his second term. But nobody challenged his constitutional right to go for re-election. Nobody also challenged Tafawa Balewa.
If late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was alive, nobody would have challenged him if he wanted to go for second term. Nobody has stopped a serving president in Nigeria, Africa, America, from seeking re-election unless he was defeated at the election. I do not agree that the proponents of asking Jonathan not to re-contest make any legal, political and historical sense.
However, should they feel that Jonathan has not done well, which is a matter of mathematics; what did Jonathan as president get overall, what has he been able to achieve? What did Jonathan get overall and how much has he used to prosecute Boko Haram war with the army and what is left for executing projects? What did he get with regard to a level playing ground of a peaceful existence as a nation as opposed to what other presidents got? We must have a benchmark to assess all the presidents to know how they have performed.
Having said so, it is not to say Jonathan should not contest. Jonathan should contest, Jonathan must contest. If those who don’t want him to re-contest know what they are doing, they should mobilise and stop him at the election.
If because of this predominantly northern opposition Jonathan did not contest, he cannot come back to the South-south, we will chase him away. It is not Jonathan’s mandate, it is South-South’s mandate. We cannot be made second class citizens in our country. He cannot dare to say he will not re-contest. He will be shocked with the answers he will get. His mandate is a collective mandate of the South-South led by our hero, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who paid with his blood.