•Says FG’s plan on National Conference will boomerang
Professor Awwal Yadudu was legal adviser to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. In this interview, he forecloses President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election in 2015 on political and legal grounds. Yadudu believes the proposed National Conference is a ploy by the Federal Government to divert attention from the problems besetting it, saying the plan will fail. Excerpts of interview:
You are a member of ASUU. What is your perspective on the strike action which just ended?
Indeed I am a member of ASUU who is no longer active. It is an association that tries to mobilise and keep everybody informed about what is happening. The problem we had that prolonged the strike for close to six months was because a union entered into an agreement with accredited agents of government, an agreement that has many expectations, but which from the point of view of government are unattainable in view of the competing demands of government, but an agreement nevertheless.
The tendency has been not only with this government but also with previous governments. They would enter into an agreement with ASUU, they would treat the agreement with disdain; when ASUU orders its members to return to class, they completely forget such that nobody goes back to the agreement. And therefore it has a landmine because ASUU would not forget those terms.
I am not now talking on the terms of the agreement but there is an agreement in principle which you signed and which you must show good faith in implementing. These problems, in my view, would persist so long as government would behave like previous governments. That part of the agreement which you must have read is that in the next six years, among other things, government has committed itself to making available certain amount of money for the improvement of infrastructure in campuses.
I can assure you if government reneges on the agreement, there may not be any problem this year but, down the line, ASUU leadership would be pressed to call government to account and, if government does not account by living up to expectation, I do not see us not falling into this kind of prolonged strike. Of course why it was prolonged was partly due to government’s total unconcerned attitude.
They completely ignored what was happening but ASUU is not a union you can ignore because they have their facts and education is not an issue you can ignore and pay attention to politics and think intimidation would work. My view on the ASUU issue is that it is a perennial problem but one that can be handled if we act as gentlemen. Of course there might be public concern that ASUU does not tend to be creative and it often results to this drastic way of calling attention to its problems and as a result we all suffer, the educational systems suffers, it is devalued. There is a point in that.
The other point most people don’t realise is that ASUU doesn’t just wake up one morning to start a strike action and it will last forever, there is always a reason and it is always the last resort.
And seemingly the only language government tends to understand and public opinion listens to is when ASUU goes on strike. I would hope that this last strike has taught ASUU some lessons. And part of the lessons is that the leadership and members must be more creative in holding government to account but not resort to this very drastic and costly way.
So I expect that the leadership of ASUU and its followership should be more creative in the light of what has happened but that does not mean they will just abandon their duty. One thing also I hope government should have learnt is that if you commit yourself to an undertaking, live up to it. And if other associations or trade unions don’t stand up to government, they can now see that ASUU can stand up to government, not necessarily because government has been clever. If you went to university in the good days of Nigeria, I went to University of Nigeria, we knew the kind of facilities we had, we knew the quality of education we received including the kind of services rendered.
The quality of education these days is very low which explains why we have graduates that can barely write simple sentences.
Looking at the generational composition profile of the academic staff on Nigerian campuses, I would say that 40% to 60% will be those who have received the kind of relatively better quality education that we received in the 60s, 70s, 80s in Nigeria or abroad.
So I don’t think you can argue persuasively blaming the fall in the standard of education on the academic profile. Yes, there is a chunk of the academic staff that may have graduated in the last 10 years who are therefore victims of deteriorating education. But you must blame the quality of education from the start. If you do not have quality primary school pupils going to good secondary schools and earning good grades in school leaving certificate at primary and secondary levels, automatically what goes in will definitely go out.
Therefore the quality will tell on the students profile itself. It is not only the lecturers but also the quality that has deteriorated. Why we don’t hear about the deterioration at the lower tiers of education is because there is a great proliferation of private schools which relatively offer better education than government schools. You and I would not seek to wedge the future of our children by taking them to the very kind of schools we went to in the 60s. I went to a public primary school.
It was the best that was available but you can’t speak of the same today. Or of the secondary school or even the Unity Schools people used to compete for. They are all the shadow of their past now. The fall in quality of education can be attributable to a lot of factors. There has been explosion of the population of students. When I went to the law faculty, there were just 70 of us in the class, and there were only four faculties of such in Nigeria. There was ABU where I went to, there were OAU, University of Lagos and University of Nigeria; Benin had even not started offering law at that time.
But now there are as many as 40 law faculties, each churning out about 200 in a class, some are even more than that. But when you go to the libraries, you will see that they have not improved commensurably with the increased number of students. When you go the lecture theatres, they have not improved. The law school itself, there has been expansion of the campuses but the combined population of its intake is not one that would receive quality attention.
There is another factor to this. Government politicises tertiary education; there is no point when the existing 24 federal universities are not taken care of properly, you are creating 20 more over a period of two years. There may be political sense but it impacts negatively on the quality of education on the long run.
National Conference holds soon even as many people are opposed to it. What is your take?
My take is that it is never futile to engage in discussions over problems that afflict the society with a view to coming to terms with them. In principle this is my stand. But the particular undefined National Dialogue, National Conference, whatever the present government wants to embark upon is one that I think is a waste of time. It is not the kind of conversation that in principle I support.
The idea is that government thinks it can get the people preoccupied discussing other things and forget about their problems. That is the view I have. This government is beset by many problems and it has no idea on how to deal with them, suddenly it thinks that by springing a surprise on this so-called National Conference, it can get people to be busy, fighting each other.
If the administration is honest and it is not this crass motive which has impelled them to suddenly wake up and come up with this idea of conference, if they truly want to address the structural problems in the polity, there are many other ways they themselves have attempted and have not come up with any idea. When President Jonathan came into office, he was totally opposed to any idea of conference.
His answer then was that we have had conferences, constitutional amendment and they are going to put together all the reports of all past constitutional conferences, make sense out of them and move forward; which was why they established the Belgore Commission and the Belgore Commission itself has reported to them. What is it that they have reported that they don’t find implementable that they suddenly want to bring everybody together again? That is the sincerity of purpose that I question.
Even if they have made such recommendations, the president himself has suddenly realised that what he wants done at this venue is not different from what the National Assembly is doing and whatever recommendations the conference makes would go to the National Assembly. How different is that from the Obasanjo National Political Conference? How different is it from the constitutional amendment exercise the present National Assembly conducted.
How different is it from the Uwais Commission on electoral reform? You have so many other committees, commissions that you have established that nobody knows what has happened to their reports. And suddenly you now come up with a jamboree to waste resources. They will be surprised that the problem they think they have will go away with the preoccupation of the public in the National Conference will not happen the way they think.
In my view it is ill -conceived, ill- advised and not thought through. A consultant may have told them this is how you divert attention from your problems. But you are not diverting attention from your problems but creating more. It is a wasteful exercise. Can you imagine the kind of embarrassment he would find himself if governors refuse to send delegates to the conference?
You can imagine if he convene the conference and the people call its bluff? You are only compounding your problems. In principle you cannot fault an argument which says discuss your problems, come to terms with them, take action. I think our problem is that we have been conversing too much, we have been dialoguing too much and we have done nothing about the outcome of the dialogues we have had.
Agitation on the return of power to the North
I will like to make some corrections. First of all, there isn’t a northern position as such. It is not the North as a collective entity; it is that component of the North represented in the PDP that is agitating. If you look at this problem, you will see that it is essentially a PDP problem in the North and I guess across the country. In a democratic setting, it is not election mandate to determine who becomes the president or the governor. I have no problem holding that position should be for the most suitable, eligible candidate that the democratic process throws up.
He could be a southerner, a northerner, Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, he could come from anywhere. But I have some sympathy on the position some of these governors have taken. The reasons are simple. They say that by logic of the PDP, this is the agreement they have reached, and it is not only an agreement they have reached with the present government; it is an agreement they have reached from the formation of their party in 1998 and that they, as gentlemen, when agreements are reached, when understandings are reached, it augurs well for their electoral fortunes to live to implement that. You can’t fault that. Till date we have not had any incontrovertible denial or dismissal of the claim of those who say there is such an undertaking.
But President Jonathan denied there was any such agreement.
Of course it can be self-serving now to say ‘I didn’t sign such an undertaking’ but the statement he has made, not once, not twice and even now with the Obasanjo letter, it Is not something you can deny because it serves your interest; it is crass politics you are engaging in. That is why I said I am sympathetic to those who take that stand. The problems of leaders not living up to their agreement is not a local one, it has international dimension.
I can assure that all these diplomats that are watching, that is the view they will have of your president that he can be slippery, that he can make an undertaking and renege on it with a straight face. The agreement was not something that was made secret. So that argument that he didn’t sign any agreement will not fly. The other argument borders on principle. Arguably I am a lawyer and a constitutional one for that matter. This is the second tenure of Jonathan not his first tenure.
Oh yes. If you read the 1999 Constitution carefully, it speaks about disqualification. It says a person shall be disqualified to hold office of governor of president if the person is elected twice to that office. A lot of people don’t quite know that that section says you cannot be eligible for the office of the president if you have contested twice. The same provision applies to the vice president meaning that a candidate is ineligible to contest if he has contested twice. The same qualification applies to the vice president. That means that Jonathan was elected with Yar’ Adua in 2007.
But Jonathan was just a running mate
Yes he was, but it was joint ticket. You never elect the vice president. You elect the president. The vice president is part of the office of the president. By my understanding of that provision, President Jonathan is disqualified because when he stepped into the shoes of Yar’ Adua upon his death, he was not only completing a term, he was also part of the office of the president. The second aspect of the argument is the Constitution which says if you have taken oath of office twice. Jonathan has taken oath of office twice.
He took it when President Yar’ Adua died as a successor and took it when he was elected as president. There is no argument about the fact that he has taken oath of office twice, he can’t take it thrice. By the way, a lower court has ruled in the president’s favour and it has gone to the Court of Appeal and I can assure you the matter will end up at the Supreme Court and it will not be helpful to his situation.
I am not talking about the agreement which is a political matter. I am concerned about the legal aspect of the case which is about the oath of office and been elected twice. Why it looks strange or probably a bit far-fetched is that all novel legal issues appear so, they appear far-fetched. I don’t mind if President Jonathan had not made that undertaking and he insists he wants to contest, I would still have argued on this principle because he has been president elected twice and who has taken oath of office twice. This issue affects governors too.
Agitation for power and poverty in the North
I think that is totally misunderstanding the principle involved. The principle involved regarding those who say there should be power shift is not based on when it comes to your turn you should ignore everybody else and therefore you should concentrate only on your people. It will be misunderstanding the principle. And to argue that those who agitate for power shift have no case because when they were in power they did nothing for the North, all that is contrary to the principle.
When you are elected president, you are elected for everybody and your decision should not be inequitable as to empower or encourage you to develop a section of the country. It will be wrong to say because Babangida was in power for nine years, mind you, he was not an elected president, Abacha was in power for four years, all these leaders were not elected. If we are talking about electoral matter, you cannot use that argument. The fairness in it worries me more. When you are president, you are president not for the Ijaw or Yoruba or Hausa, you are president for everybody in the country because you have sworn to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. So that argument does not fly.
*NEXT WEEK, YADUDU SPEAKS ON THE DIFFICULT SITUATION IN WHICH HIS PRINCIPAL, THE LATE GEN. SANI ABACHA, FOUND HIMSELF OVER THE LATE CHIEF MKO ABIOLA AND THE ANNULED JUNE 12, 1993 ELECTION.