Ahaoma Kanu and Okey Ndibe
Prof. Okey Ndibe, thank you very much for this opportunity to have this interview with you, I have looking forward to talking to you and for this short while that we have met, I have discovered some part of you that I never knew was. For the benefit of many of your readers and fans who may not know so much about you, I will like you to give us a little brief on your background and childhood.
I am Okey Ndibe and I was born in Yola which is in the present Adamawa State on
How did you get hired?
Actually my first piece with a newspaper came out a year I finished from secondary school. I sat down one day and wrote a piece for the Daily Star which was then the biggest newspaper east of the Niger. One day my father called me and asked if I sent a piece to the Daily Star, my heart began to beat as I imagined that the Daily Star must have contacted my father and said tell your son never to send anything to us. But what happened was that a man who knew my father read the piece that I sent and went to my father to enquire if the writer was related to him. My father said yes, I have a son called Tony Okey Ndibe but he wasn't sure if I was a writer; I was using my full names at that time. He asked me and I said yes before he informed me that my piece got published. That was how I started and it gave me a confidence that I could write so I started writing and sending to other Nigerian newspapers at that time; so my articles appeared in the Daily Times, in the New Nigerian, appeared a lot in the Daily Star and the West African Magazine. When Jim Nwobodo's newspaper was about to come out, one of the editors, Chris Ejimofor and he was actually the MD of the paper, happened to read one of the piece that I wrote which appeared in the Sunday New Nigerian. He came to the office and was raving about this piece and somebody who knew me told him that he knew Okey Ndibe and he was a student. Chris Ejimofor said go find him for me and I will give him a job. They called me and offered me a job in the Satellite.
How old were you at that time?
This was in 1980 so I was 20. I was offered a job to be writing editorials and I quickly accepted it because the pay was flattery but my mother said she wanted me to go and finish my HND. I told them that I would prefer to be writing for them part time. So I was writing a column for the Satellite Newspaper even though I was still a student and it gave me a certain kind of prestige with both lecturers and students you know, I would come to school and my lecturers will tell me we just read what you wrote today. It gave me some respectability with the female students you know, it was very impressive. Before I finished, I had been sending some of my piece to The Concord and Ray Ekpu was publishing them so when I finished my programme, I was posted to Port-Harcourt for my Youth Service. I happened to come to Lagos on a visit and stopped over at the Concord to say Hello to Ray Ekpu for publishing my articles for some time even though I had never met him.
On getting to his office I informed the secretary that I wanted to meet him but I don't think I made an impression on the secretary because she gave me a piece of paper to fill so immediately Ray saw my name he rushed out and was asking where is Okey Ndibe? I said I am the one. He brought me immediately into his office and asked what are you doing now I want to give you a job? I told him that I just finished and I was posted to Port Harcourt. The Guardian requested that I work for them in Port-Harcourt and that was how I started writing for a mainstream newspaper. Before I finished serving, the Concord started this magazine called African Concord; it was initially Concord Weekly but later became African Concord. Louis Obi who was my colleague was asked to be the founding editor of the paper and he hired me to join him as a staff.
I worked for the magazine from 1984 to 1986. Then the Guardian was coming up with it's own magazine called the African Guardian and I just went to visit some of my colleagues at the Guardian and they told me that they have been sending messages to you because we want you to come work for us but I said nobody has sent any messages to me and it happened that we negotiated right there and then I joined the Guardian Newspapers.
I worked for the Guardian for two years before Prof. Chinua Achebe, who was then a distinguished visiting professor in the U.S, phoned me one day from the U.S to inform me that he and some friends of his were setting p a magazine and they wanted me to come and become the founding editor of the magazine which was based in Massachusetts. So on
You studied Business Management even at a time you started writing articles that were appearing on national dailies, why didn't you go for a course in communications as that was evidently the discipline you were cut out for?
To study Mass Communication was out of the way; it wasn't part of the equation for me at all. I felt that what ever I was going to gain from studying Mass Communication I already have. I had developed a skill as a writer and an editor by just reading; from consumption. So I knew how to report stories, how to do features, how to do analysis and how to write editorials.
Now for me to have done for formal training would have been for me a waste of time really. Outside of Nigeria, especially in Europe and America, people recognise that journalists come from a diversity of backgrounds so you have people who studied Law, who do Sociology, who do Science, Arts and Medicine for that matter who do Journalism because it covers every possible field of human experience. So the fact that I studied Business Management was not a detriment to my professional growth. If anything it was an asset because it equipped me with other experiences and dimensions of skills that Mass Communication or even a course in English might not have given me.
I will like to know the books and some of the authors that you grew up reading that really impacted in to your chosen career while growing up?
I was lucky to have developed quite early a deep interest in African Literature; I happen to believe that Africans have written and have continued to write some of the most exciting contemporary literature that we read. But I had a fairly balanced education in the sense that when I was in secondary school I discovered Victorian Literature and began to read Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and so on.
Also I read Shakespeare but it was really when I discovered Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart that that I appreciated African Literature and through Chinua Achebe I discovered Ferdinand Nyono, Ngugi Nwachongo and also read Wole Soyinka; I got to Wole Soyinka primarily through his poem, The Telephone Conversation which just enchanted me. Then his next work that I read was The Man Died which confounded me, in fact, it was many years later that I felt intellectually equipped to return to The Man Died and found the fascinating thing Soyinka does there. By discovering Achebe I also discovered a whole library of African writers.
Let's have a look at the educational standard then and you coming from the perspective of someone who has been there as a student, a writer and a teacher both in Nigeria and abroad, can you give us a comparison how the educational standard was then and what we have now so that you can highlight some of the factors responsible for the deterioration in our educational sector right now?
More than 20 years ago, when I was still at the Concord, Mike Awoyinfa interviewed Chinua Achebe and he said that the quality of education in Nigeria has fallen calamitously. Achebe's statement then provoked a gale of reactions from some lecturers from the University of Lagos (UNILAG) who questioned the criteria he used in arriving at the conclusion that the quality of education in Nigeria has fallen. Some of them said that because Achebe had only a first degree, he was not positioned to judge the quality of education in the country. Well 20 years after that statement was made there is no question at all that the standard of education has fallen in a very terrible dimension. The Nigerian story in a lot of ways has been a drama of degradation and of devaluation and this devaluation, this fall in standards has been perhaps more deeply felt in the educational sector than in a lot of other sectors. Why is it so? If you look at it there has been what we call the Brain Drain.
There was a time and we must remember that scholars like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Emmanuel Obiechine. Abiola Irele, Biodun Jayifo, Ikennna Nzimiro, Ernest Emeyuonu. There was a time that these scholars who are giants in their fields by any standards were teaching in Nigerian universities. I like to suggest that that was the Golden Age of the education system. And then we had the years that military regime under Buhari, Babangida, Idiagbon and even in the civilian regime of Shagari, made the environment inhospitable to intellectual pursuit. So what we found was an exodus of many of Nigerian experts.
In what ways did they make the environment unfriendly?
In so many ways. One was that they undermined the autonomy of the university; a lot of lecturers and professors were fired in the universities in the name of weeding out what they called unduly radical elements or disgruntled elements. You found an era when VCs and heads of other tertiary institutions became servants to a most imperious and a most negative force in the country which led to some lecturers reporting on other lecturers; where vice chancellors and rectors of polytechnics will frequently report to the military ruler or even the civilian governors on those lecturers who were not toeing the line, who were dissidents and these lecturers were losing their jobs or were denied their promotions or were being told that they could not teach the courses they wanted to teach. Anytime you put such reins on intellectual pursuits, the real intellectuals who take the vocation of teaching seriously will leave and seek out other arenas in the world where they will have the freedom to pursue their intellectual endeavours that is one.
Again the way the politician leaders began to meddle in the appointments of the leaders in the university of those who were heading the institutions in a way that the political structure became invested in what was taught in the university and what wasn't taught, in the way the teachers were reduced , were dehumanized in terms of what they were paid, in the way funds were withdrawn from researchers and from such pursuit; people who wanted to do research found out that they didn't have the resources to do it and also in the evolution slowly but in a sense precipitously within our society in a culture that demeaned the intellectuals.
There was a time in Nigeria and still is a time were if you are a lecturer at the university and return to your village gathering where funds are being raised and you get up and want to speak and the MC introduces you as ÔÇśour professor wants to speak,' people will laugh; to be a professor became an object of a cruel joke so you they look at you as somebody who spoke grammar and had no money. There was a time when lecturers had to drive Kabukabu (private taxis) to supplement their income because they didn't have enough. So what happened was that a lot of those lecturers, who had mobility left in search of other places. Lectures in my experience, lecturers found that they could not sustain themselves based on their income they began to look for other sources of income; some of them began to drive cabs on a part time basis, some of them went into business while some of them lost interest in teaching and began to sell handouts to the students. And so you will fail a course if you refused to buy handouts from some lecturers. So it happened that if you read someone else's handout and you understood the course very will and you could write an excellent paper, a lot of lecturers will fail you because they want you to buy their handouts because that was where they made their money.
Then corruption sipped in; one of the things I found out while at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) was that the students, female students, came up to offer their bodies in exchange for grades. Some of people came up to me and offered money in exchange for grades. I told them that in my class the only way you do well is through hard work and I said to them that it's going to start with me, I will prepare well for your classes and I want you to prepare well, I want you to come and ask questions. But some students went around and said, ÔÇśwe are sure he will take money and some female students said if he does not sleep with just anybody that means that he does not just sleep with anybody, he definitely will sleep with us because we are beautiful.'
On one occasion three students walked up to me and said they wanted to ask me a question and I was all ears, they asked, ÔÇśSir do you mean what you said that don't give people grades based on money or sex?' And I told them that I find it contemptible, reprehensible for any scholar, any teacher to do that so I mean it. When they told me that some of the students were saying that I didn't mean it, that if they approach me I would take because they were very sexy, I said let's wait and see if they were going to force me to take the money or rape me as it were.
So I went through very interesting exchange including a student who persistently called me up every week to tell me she was in love with me, when I told her that I was married she said she was not asking me to leave my wife but I said well I am not going to let you borrow me from my wife for even a minute. So after a while they began to call me Americana meaning that I was no longer Nigerian. And so you found a situation where to do the right thing was now being perceived to be foreign but I said no that Nigerians could do the right thing and I happened to be one of them. So it took a while for it to dawn on my students that I wasn't going to abuse my position as a lecturer to enrich myself or to have sex nor was I going to exploit them, I made them know that I was going to be fair.
On one occasion, just when I was about to give them the final exams, the class monitor told me that there was a woman from your town who is an evening student and she says she is going to come and see me. I said that I don't think that I had met any student from my town. He said that she was not in any class but she just found out that she was from my town and I told him to tell her not to come and see me because if she comes to see me I will give her a piece of my mind but he said, ÔÇśSir she couldn't come to class because she was a custom's officer so didn't have time,' so I said in that case she doesn't have to have a degree. If you are in the customs and you don't have time to go to classes then you shouldn't register as a student; if you register as a student then you must make out the time to attend classes. I said to that woman that I can't give a grade to you because you are from my home town. I can't even give a grade to my own blood brother; if you are my blood brother and you make a D that's what I am going to give you. I will love you exceedingly but to give someone a grade you did not earn is not love in fact it is virulent form of hate because I am empowering you to go around the world to present yourself as something you are not. That's that.
You were just calling some of the names of scholars and authors that left and if you remember that at that time they were churning out literatures that were very thrilling, educating and otherwise; I remember the era of Pacesetters, African Writers Series and all that and we had some of the national dailies circulating half a million copies daily but suddenly there was this rapid decline in the reading culture in the country. So people are of the opinion that such decline came to being as a result of some of these wonderful writers leaving the country in that the quality of literatures went down and people, students and youths became no longer interested in reading, do you agree with that?
Not at all; clearly this might have contributed but then there has always been cult on campuses that we came to a point in some campuses as the defining phenomena. And my test theory is that students arrived in a university or polytechnic seeking intellectual stimulation, if they don't get it or if there is a culture on campus that they watch gratification that is given to their lecturers, students are going to manufacture own form of stimulation and what do they do?
They join cults and so on that beat other people that maim, that rape women and so on. Now there was a communiqu├ę of scholars on campus who offered intellectual excitements, who gave cause, who had intellectual debates, students will troop to those and will like to read some of the books their professors read and quote in their course. If on the other hand you find an intellectual aridity then students will invent excitement for themselves hence their participation in cults that's one.
But I will not put down the sharp decline in the reading culture to the departure alone of major Nigerian intellectuals and scholars, no; that might be part of the equation but there is a lot more. I think that one factor to look at is the power situation; look at how hostile the day to day living of majority of Nigerians is. Most Nigerians today don't have running water and the problem of running water is being compounded by the near total collapse of power in the country.
Now if somebody works in Lagos for example; you leave your office at , you spend two to three hours getting home. You get home and you are feeling hot and sweaty and you need to take a shower but you don't have water, maybe your wife is telling you that the water we bought is finished so we need more money to buy water and you don't have that money so you forego taking a bath and then there is no power; that person can't read. You cannot take a candle or lantern to do so because you are already worked up. The first thing in the morning you have to run out again to go to work. At the weekend you go to your town union has an event or there is a wedding somewhere and you go to this wedding and it's an all day event so you come back very tired, you can't read. So there are so many factors that contribute the environment in Nigeria where reading is impossible. In fact to be able to read in Nigeria is a minor miracle given all the impediments.
Let's go back to the educational sector, when the present government came into office, there were high hopes that the educational sector will experience a resurrection taking into consideration that both the president and the vice-president were from the education profession but with the present development now much still needs to be desired as can be seen from what transpired during the teachers strike, the government did not show that interest in the matter that concerns colleagues as it were. Now you are a lecturer and you have pointed out some of the problems in the sector which of course every teacher should be aware of, what then happened to your colleagues in the profession who now have the mantle of leadership in this country that they are not delivering in that particular sector?
Let me quickly say that unlike most Nigerians, I am not surprised at all at the disaster that the so called Yar Adua-Goodluck government has exposed itself to be. If you read my column I have never called Mr. Yar Adua President Yar Adua, as far as I am concerned he is an occupant of a stolen office, he is the inheritor of an illegitimate mandate and in a lot of ways one doesn't want to get there. And I say to Nigerians it serves us right!
When somebody blatantly rigs an election, when somebody accepts a stolen mandate and yet Nigerians, the Nigerian media spread the falsehood that this person is honest and has integrity, I said that that definition of honesty and integrity I will not use it. My parents raised me to understand that any form of stealing is unacceptable. I would have believed Yar Adua to be honest if, having been rigged into the office by Obasanjo, he came out and announce ÔÇśI have realized that this whole thing was a hoax, I did not win an election but I want to lead Nigeria so I am going to present myself to Nigerians in a credible election. Deny yourself; a lot of people think that I am so na├»ve by making this prescription but if you don't prove to me that you are honest by acting in an honest way, I can't award honesty to you.
But Nigerians ascribe honesty to criminals. What we have is a criminal enterprise that masquerades as a government and so there are people that put Yar Adua there so he is primarily answerable to those elements. Yar Adua is not in government as a lecturer; the intellectual constituency did not put him there, you understand. He did not even speak to the intellectual community when he was running. Yar Adua would have said to students and to lecturers in this country, ÔÇśI am going to change this country. I am one of you and I want you to put me there.' Yar Adua ran as a candidate of Mr. Obasanjo, of the Iboris of our world and of other corrupt elements who otherwise put him there. He is serving the interest of those who put him there. I am not disappointed but instead I will say that Yar Adua is doing exactly what I expected him to be doing.
Now you have being a lecturer in so many institutions around the world and you have seen what the governments of some of those countries you happened to have lectured at are doing to put their educational sector in the right track, what is this that they are doing that our government isn't doing and again, you are always criticizing some of these government officials, I will like to know if you have at any time offered proposals on some of the people in government on the right steps to take to making our educational institutions work?
Okay, there are actually two questions so let's take the first one: what is it that other countries do? What they do is that they recognize fundamentals; that education is the heart of any countries prospects for development. They recognise that a country that gets its education wrong gets everything wrong. They also recognize that the ethical and moral capital of a country is of fundamental value when you talk about growth. What Nigeria needs more than good roads is a well formed citizenry.
You form citizens with good values and everything will fall in place because if somebody is a civil engineer and works in the ministry of works and has been formed to understand to what it means to be part of a community then if a contractor does a wishy washy work on a road contract and says to this ministry official, ÔÇśsign that I did this job to specifications,' the man will say no, you betrayed the public trust, I will not sign that because I will use this road, my children will use this road, my relatives will use this road, my friends will use this road.'
But we have a culture where we operate by the dictates of the rat race so everybody is looking at the main chance of what can I steal for myself. If I build a house in Ikoyi then I will be fine, if I buy two or three properties in major cities then I am set; if I can have a good car then I am fine; if I can have a contact with the commissioner of police and he gives me two or three policemen to escort me the I am fine. And we don't look for cooperate well being.
What we need and what other countries apply is what is called delayed gratification; we want it all today, Nigerians want to drive the best cars today so they steal the last penny in the government coffers and they buy Rolls Royce to this country, they have Bentleys to this country but have one of the worst roads in the world. If you look other cultures that have tried and are trying, it is because people make sacrifices; I save money to make sure that my children go to very good schools and be given a chance.
One thing I could do is to spend all the money on myself so that when they grow up and they have to go to school, I will tell them to manage with any school and then there will be no growth and my children will go to sub-standard schools. But because I am making a sacrifice with my wife, my children will hopefully be better than us. That is how a society moves. So when a president comes to power he says to himself, ÔÇśI have the opportunity to steal billions and also I have a chance to better the lives of my people, I am going to do the latter.' Being in that office as a governor, you are already too well paid; they don't buy food, they don't buy clothes, they don't pay for flight tickets or pay for hospital bills or rent because all of these is paid for and so they have an excellent salary and allowances; when he travels abroad he has all the money he wants to spend plus estacode yet they steal and Nigerians are not outraged enough.
Because if we are outraged when Obasanjo came, the fact that we are talking in this country that $16billion was spent on power and we less power supply in this country and the House of Representatives which carried out a probe in this country are trying to cover it up and Nigerians editors, reporters and everybody is just looking like Yeah Imoke is spreading money so I will try and get mine so I will go and buy myself a generator, then we should be talking. We should have a long time rethink, with generators we have environmental degradation, we have climate changes that causes higher hazards to ourselves so we should have a long time rethink.
We should reject the bribe that we are being offered and want to do the right thing. That's one. Now the other thing is that you asked have I considered the option of giving the government officials advice on the way to go, well two things I will say because I am sure you follow the internet, this is a familiar refrain amongst my critics who say that Okey Ndibe doesn't proffer solutions.
When you condemn evil in the society in the prime stand of the condemnation implicit in this country is the solution; when I say that elections that was rigged what is the solution? Do not rig the elections; when I say that the press should not ascribe honesty to a man who is not honest, what am I trying to pass across? Call dishonest people dishonest; when I say that contracts are inflated in this country or are poorly executed, what is the solution? We should insist on proper execution of the contracts. Obasanjo did not rig the election of 2003 and 2007; he did not rig because he didn't know the right thing to do, he knows that the right thing to do is not to rig the election.
But Obasanjo did not do what he ought to as a presidency which is to give his all for this country and so he knew that his chosen candidate will lose in a free and fair election so he decides not to have a free and fair election and announced figures. And some of our cowardly Judges are authenticating and validating this robbery; a lot of our journalists and columnists are taking money and are authenticating this hoax, this absurdity. So I will look foolish if I wrote a memo to Obasanjo and say, ÔÇśOh you will become a great man if you let Nigerians vote freely and fairly.
He will tear the thing and throw it away. A governor who steals money with all the money they get legitimately along with all the money they get as Security Votes, which shouldn't be given to them that they get and pocket, goes ahead and award a contract for a road contract and tells the contractor, ÔÇśWe are not going to build the road, we are just going to announce it and we will split the money.' Do you think that if Okey Ndibe writes a memo to the governor and say build the road that the governor will say, ÔÇśOhh I didn't know that building the road was an option so I am going to build the road because Okey told me to.' No. We have allowed criminal elements in our country to hijack all the levels of governance and we are reaping the results. I have continued to tell people that Nigeria is akin to a country that goes to a jail and ask where are the worst criminals in this jail; people who have killed people, those who have even killed their own brothers and stolen from their fathers and this people come out and we say, ÔÇśOkay you are the worst criminals please come and become our president, the other criminal should become our vice-president.
The other strong criminals should go and become governors while the other less strong criminals should occupy the state assemblies and legislatures. So if you expect me to start writing memos to criminals to say let's build roads, lets fund education, they will ignore you and continue doing what they are doing.
What ways can the reading culture in Nigeria be restored especially in the younger generation?
So many different ways, we have to create space for kids to read. Nigeria is becoming part of a global culture without really mediating the way we entered that global culture so we are getting the items of global culture without understanding in-depth the meaning of this culture; everybody has a cell phone these days and some others have ipods and other gadgets around the world but we are not curious about the forces that are producing those things. It's not been studied in the universities.
There is a very constricted sense of what is the legitimate area of study. You have to teach young people and meet them where they are, we must write literature that describes their experience and speaks to their experience; that animates that experience. And we have to in our curriculum begin the subjects they are interested in; they need to understand the cell phone culture and where it is coming from and the kind of communities it is going to foster in the future and the communities that are being created in the present. So when you speak to children in a term that illuminates their experience they get interested. It is difficult for them to get interested when you take an approach that is remote from their experience.
Some of your commentaries you make it clear that you don't believe there was an election and some of the election tribunal judgements have confirmed to an extent what you predicted in your write-ups, now we have a situation where some of the contestants that were relieved of their offices are winning in the re-run elections in which we are hearing of scandals rocking some of the tribunals, will you say that the judiciary has done well enough in this tribunals and Court of Appeal judgements?
I will say that we are in too much of a haste to give credit before it is earned and I will say I am guilty of this as well. In the last waning years of the Obasanjo regime, the Nigerian judiciary came out strongly and gave some rulings that were promising, that showed their reluctance allow Obasanjo to be transformed into the kind of vicious dictator that he fanaticized on becoming. And so Nigerians began to say that the judiciary is our salvation. Some of the tribunal then gave rulings that again inspired hope but very soon, other tribunals like the one in Oyo State gave an absolutely cowardly, dishonest and corrupt ruling in the case of Alao Akala upholding him as the governor. I think at that point a lot of people especially after the Court of Appeal gave its very disastrous ruling upholding the integrity of an election that even Yar Adua himself had admitted was deeply floored, became aware that the judiciary has offered Nigerians nothing but disappointments.
They wanted the Judiciary to stand up and be a voice of the rule of not only of law but the triumph of judgement so that when the tribunal in Edo State ruled that Adams Oshimole ruled that he was the winner of the election, there was celebration not only in the streets of Edo State but throughout the country. The same situation was witnessed in Ondo State when Agagu, the usurper and pretender, was ordered removed with Dr. Segun Mimiko declared the rightful winner of the elections, it was an instantaneous reaction not rehearsed, not a packet crowd that was rented but a genuine outpouring of elation on the people.
My suspicion and prediction is that the Court of Appeal has shown itself to be one of the least spineless and perhaps the most corrupt arm of the judiciary. We look at the Edo State situation perhaps accept money and say lets's have re-run election that have Adams Oshiomole proclaimed the rightful winner and will also look at the Ondo State situation and say lets have a re-run knowing that Iwu is more or less a PDP chief rigger. So Iwu's entire agenda in every re-run election is to prove that he got it right the first time and so gives it back to PDP. Everybody knows that it is the same rigging process but executed with perhaps greater finesse and done in a way that the people will throw up their hands in the air and say we can't help it, how many times can we go to court?
We don't have the finance while the governor that they have been fighting legally can deep his hands into government coffers and pay lawyers, can deep his hands inside government coffers and bribe judges and can as well bribe electoral officials. Meanwhile you are the candidate who has been jeopardized of your mandate and you can't tell your lawyer go and represent me, you are doing the right thing; lawyers have to be paid and so after a while the opposition candidate does not have the resources to fight on. So this country is descending into a depth of sinicism and opportunism that is dangerous and if you ask me that is why I fought Andy Uba with such passion quite apart from the fact that I am allergic to fraud, the kind of fraud that Andy Uba represents.
But if Andy Uba had been allowed to succeed with all the lies he told and all the fraud he perpetuated in his person and through the instrument of government, if he had been allowed to thrive, a lot of young people watching him will say ÔÇśwhoa I can get away with worse, all I need to do is to get into government, get money through any illicit means and proclaim myself even with a secondary school education I can say I am a Doctor. I'll bribe the Nigerian press and everybody will start calling me a Doctor and I can go and steal power from a place that I am greatly despised and say that the people have spoken and God actually spoke to me more loudly.' I was frightened about that prospect and I said I have to give it my all.
Hearing you write and talk about some of this issues so passionately you seem very very sure of what you are saying and I have a , I will like to ask you how sure you are of your facts and allegations since you are based in the United States and these things happen here? And from all your commentaries you usually refer to newspaper reports, I will like to know if you go a step further to verify these reports as evidences?
Let me put it this way, there are things about which one cannot be sure Okay, I can't sit down here and tell you that I am sure that Alao Akala did not win the governorship elections in Oyo State; I can't tell you that but I have a hunch that he didn't win and in such cases I resolve to my intuitions. Part of my intuition is that when Alao Akala was proclaimed finally as the winner there was very little celebration in Oyo State; there was a mum moment, you could feel the pulse of the people. I have sources from the country and the Nigerian papers also reported it.
On the other hand when Oshiomole was proclaimed the winner, you live in this country and can you tell me any Edo person that did not rejoice at that development. I have friends in Oyo State and I have friends who live in Ibadan who spoke with me and expressed their shock and described the mood in Oyo State. When the Supreme Court of Nigeria removed Andy Uba as governor, I got calls from all over the country and calls from Nigerians in Kenya, in Namibia and a Nigerian businessman who was visiting China on a trip, he called somebody in Nigeria and collected my number before he now called me and said thank you so much for the fight you put up on the matter. I got calls from Kaduna, from an Hausa Fulani and he said to me,
ÔÇśOkey I want you to know that there is as much celebration in Sokoto and Kaduna over Andy Uba's removal.' You were in Nigeria at that time and I am sure that if you wanted to have a drink there was somebody, a lot of people were ready to buy you a drink. Two callers called me from the US and told me that I should go and take any drink that I wanted and they would pay for it. Now I don't think that if Andy Uba was proclaimed the winner by the Supreme Court people would have called their friends in celebration, maybe a few people who would get money from Andy Uba would have called.
I have details in my columns how I was offered bribes by Andy Uba and I will go into details about all of that when I write my memoirs. Now you ask how do I get my facts, Sowere Omalua of Sahara Reporters investigated Iwus's degrees and contacted Bradford University in England where Iwu claimed he had his Masters and PhD, the university said that Iwu presented a certificate that represented an equivalence of a first degree from Cameroon on the basis on which they admitted him to do his Masters and PhD. When Sowore published that in one of the online publications, Sonny Ofili's Times of Nigeria and denied Sawore's report. Sawore then wrote to the university because Iwu then claimed that he had all his three degrees, Bachelors, Masters and PhD from Brandford, Sowere wrote to Bradford and they wrote him officially saying that that's not true so I said to Iwu to reconcile these discrepancies. Because Iwu was unable to reconcile the discrepancies and also because the university insists that he didn't have a first degree there, I regard Iwu as a fraud. In the case of Andy Uba, anybody could have found out. Andy Uba put on his website that he had his first degree from Concordia University in Canada, his second degree from California State University in California and his third degree from Buxton University, again very resourceful Nigerians investigators called those universities and presented the case in a certain way and the report that was given to them officially from the universities stated that Andy Uba started his undergraduate degree at Concordia as he alleged, said and claimed but left after one or two semesters.
Apart from getting his Masters from California State University he began his undergraduate studies there and left after a semester or two. If you check online Buxton University is described as certificate merchant online; it doesn't exist. Andy Uba cannot tell you today what who his supervisor for his PhD was or who his graduating classmates were.
He is a fraud pure and simple. So how do I get this information? Some of these are available to us, some of them are there for everybody and some Nigerian commentators have that information and they refuse to use it; sometimes perhaps out of cowardice, sometimes because they want to be invited to the circle of those in power, sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes out of comfort; you know they get money put in the bank sometimes by the buffoons who run the country or who ruin the country. I have absolutely no desire to be in the company of thieves; I feel myself polluted when I am close to these criminals. I keep saying that Nigeria is run mostly by criminals and I don't to fraternize with those criminals and I call them by their proper names.
Now coming to Andy Uba that you just mentioned and the way you tackled him through your column, one would be at lost to know if you have anything personal towards him. I will like to ask you if you have known him before now since both of you are from the same state, have you met him before and is their any personal grudge at any point?
What I did with the Andy Uba issue is not a grievous exaggeration. You asked if I have met Andy Uba before and if I have a personal grudge, does it seem like it to you? Tell me; to you does it seem like it?
I am the journalist here right now and I am asking the question?
Okay, let me take the question my brother. My constitution and I know that not everybody has that constitution; I am talking about my moral constitution is that when something is so patently evil and wrong, I speak about it and write about it passionately, consistently and relentlessly. When Obasanjo wanted to change the Nigerian Constitution to give himself a third term, I wrote about it and wrote about it and wrote about it week after week that people said that you are boring; they insulted me and said that I was boring while some people said that whether I liked it Obasanjo was going to get it while others said that he was going to give money to the members of the National Assembly and the State Assemblies and they will pass it. When you fight something that is wrong, don't calculate the cost; I may lose but I want you to be found to have spoken clearly that that thing is wrong. This is why I have become a one-man band for refusing to accept the legitimacy of the Yar Adua administration; everybody calls him President Yar Adua but I have never for once called him that in my column unless I am quoting somebody.
I have never called him that and I don't regret it because almost after 50 years after my country gained independence I don't think that it is too much to ask that Nigeria should be able to go to the polls and vote and their votes should count. And any man which benefits from a fraudulent travesty which denies Nigerians, you and I and my mom and my brothers and sisters the right to vote and be voted for credibly, I say I can't regard you.
So a lot of Nigerians say, ÔÇśIt will lead to degeneration, you know this country will not move forward, no. What we only need to do in Nigeria is to move a car that is in reverse gear forward but it can't happen. You were asking me a moment ago about Yar Adua's indifference towards teachers who are on strike and I said I wasn't surprised. Yar Adua will not be indifferent to the people who put him in office, to the forces who put him there. If Ibori wants something he gets it from Yar Adua doesn't it; have you heard that Ibori will go on strike to get what he wants from Yar Adua? No, it can't happen, he will go in and meet Yar Adua and tell him that he wants this man removed and this man appointed, I want this oil bloc and he gets it because Ibori worked to put Yar Adua in office.
Yar Adua never appealed to us to put him in office. He knew that Obasanjo was going to through Iwu announce him as the winner of an election. So what I am saying is that Andy Uba had an illicit ambition to be the governor of my home state. If Andy Uba had come and told our people, ÔÇśmy name is Andy Uba and I have a school certificate, I have worked for Obasanjo as domestic aide and I want to be your governor and the people ask him what have you done, what is your antecedents and he said so and if there has been a free and fair election in Anambra State and Andy Uba won and Ngige stole it, I will start fighting Ngige much as I don't respect Andy Uba. I will say, ÔÇśour people chose Andy Uba to be their governor.'
Everything I do is actuated by principles and I believe in the principle of free and fair elections so anybody who rigs I cannot embrace. Even if Yar Adua were doing well, even if Yar Adua were building all the roads in this country and Nigeria has 24 hour power, I will still say to you that I insist on the right of Nigerians to choose freely. Let him go and present to Nigerians and if they choose him let him govern them, if they choose a buffoon then let Nigeria be governed by a buffoon. It is a choice that Nigerians make. So Obasanjo says to us I have reforms and this is the man that will carry on my reforms. Who told you that Nigerians recognize your reforms and will choose the person you impose on them. If he says that he is going to throw the reforms away so that Nigerians should choose then have the right to choose. Obasanjo does not to impose anybody on us ditto Andy Uba. My quarrel with Andy Uba is my quarrel with Obasanjo is that they, in 2004, arranged using Chris Uba to destroy public properties in Anambra State worth an estimated N30billion damage. I am from Anambra State and even I was not from there, even if I was from Bayelsa State and it happened there, I will be outraged because this is part of Nigeria. And how did I know that Obasanjo was part of it when there was an agenda, Arthur Nzeribe spoke about it asking to declare a State of
Let me round up by saying that I have never met Andy Uba not consciously but I was outraged at the destruction of public properties in Anambra State and I hold him, Obasanjo and Chris Uba responsible for that. I am not a snub; I am not insisting that somebody have a PhD to be my governor but I insist that somebody be honest with what he has. If you have a school certificate, the constitution says that you can be governor with that. When you have a school certificate and you lie to me and to others that you have a PhD then its my duty to expose that kind of fraud because if you lie about that, then you are going to lie about every other thing else.
You have written so many articles exposing people like Andy Uba, Obasanjo, Maurice Iwu, David Mark, the late Adedibu and so on and these are people that hold high offices in the country and here you are with your family in Nigeria. If we go retrospect some few years ago something brutal happened to somebody that was alleged to be doing what you are doing, are you not afraid of your life?
The simple answer is fear is a choice and I have made the choice not to fear.
Now reading the way you write about politicians one will have this opinion that you don't like politicians, I will like to know if you have ever been involved in politics at any level in your life?
I have been involved in politics all my life; when you write about politics there is a level of involvement. When you are an observer of politics, it's an involvement; when you clarify political issues you are involved in politics; when you perhaps try to shape political opinion you are a politician so to that extent I am a politician. Now if that counts for anything, years ago when I was a student at the Yaba College of Technology, I was elected the president of my town's student union.
Is that the only elective office you have held as a politician?
That's the only office I have held I am afraid and I didn't run for it; I was drafted into it, you know by inclination, some people call me and ask if you are made a commissioner, minister, political adviser, will you accept and I say hell no. My calling, the calling that God has given me is to be a teacher and a writer and I derive the greatest satisfaction from doing those two things.
Now I saw the spoke about the educational system, I saw the passion with which you analyzed what went wrong. Now if you are called upon to become the minister of education in order to put things right in our educational sector, will you still say hell no?
Not in this government?
Certainly there is nothing I will do with this government. Not in this government, I will not even be in the same room with this man called the president. Well, I might be in the same room to interview him and to ask him how you can be honest and be in possession of a stolen good. Maybe in that sense but I cannot be in the same room with Yar Adua and his crowd.
You have seen the decay in the system; the dead refineries, the power sector, Niger Delta, all these are happening in Nigeria and we have witnessed probes by the legislature and I am referring to the Power probe, Police Equipment Fund, FCT probe and we are waiting for the NNPC probe. Are you in any way encouraged by these development or do you see them as mere entertainment for the masses?
I have written that a lot of the probes lack rigour and a lot of the probes are diversions so that we wouldn't do the real thing. When people stood up there before the House of Reps. and revealed that companies were mobilized to the tune of 70-90 per cent of contract sums and they haven't even moved a grain of sand that is already a crime that has been committed.
When a country have invested between $10 and $15billion in the power sector and there is a deterioration in the power supply that tells you immediately that a crime has happened because whenever you invest a dime in something, it should ameliorate the problem to that extent. When you put in an amount that is not insignificant like $10 -16billion, Nigerians should have seen a 10 or 20 or 40 per cent improvement in power supply and not a deterioration in power supply and what I see is a clear worsening of power supply in this country. Obasanjo told us in 1999 that by
Now Yar Adua is telling Nigerians that in 2011, when he will be running for election, that there will be 10 000mw. By the way what Obasanjo did in 2001 was that when he saw there was no improvement in regular power supply he said, ÔÇśoh we broke the world record in generating 4000mw and Nigerians swallowed that; there was nothing like that, did anybody see it? But he issued a statement that he broke the world record. Guess what will happen in 2011? Yar Adua will announce that he has generated 10 000mw and we should give him another four years and then we would enjoy regular power supply. He will most likely rig himself into office again, spend four years and the next man will say, ÔÇśYar Adua has laid the infrastructure, give me till 2020 and you will start having regular power supply and it goes on and on meanwhile countries like Uganda, Ghana, Senegal, Burkina Faso have solved to some extent their power crisis.
Are you satisfied with the performance of Senate and the House of Representatives in this dispensation?
No! How can one be?
Even with the new leadership in the lower house?
Mr. Dimeji Bankole has proven himself to as craft, as irresponsible, as visionless, as wasteful as the woman he replaced who is Patricia Etteh. The man is a monumental disappointment and should be ashamed of himself. And looking at the role he is playing now to undermine the release of the Power Probe report and looking at his gallivanting around the world at Nigeria's expense and looking at the way he is manipulating the process so that the Freedom of Information Bill will not be passed, he is a huge disappointment.
But then, I am not really disappointed in the National Assembly because I happen to know, I happen to believe that most of its members were not elected. So I am not disappointed at all. They are serving their own interest and they were put in there by some forces and they are loyal to those forces. I didn't expect better.
With the new helmsman of the anti-corruption agency, the EFCC, do you have any hope of seeing something greater than what Nuhu Ribadu did?
My suspicion is that you have been reading me. I think that Mrs. Farida Waziri has been appointed to be the undertaker to bury the EFCC. I think that her position is a sinecure and she is not going to do much at all. Occasionally for the entertainment and the jubilation of Nigerian public, she is going to hound a politician, take him to court, he will be granted bail and that will be the extent of it. I think that if there was ever a war against corruption that war has been lost and since faded out.
A place people like Bukola Saraki, Ibori, George Akume and other allegedly corrupt governors are happy with the person who is running the EFCC that should tell you all you need to know.
Having been following some of your articles, it seems you tend to concentrate on exposing more of the South-South governors; doesn't your lens reach the Northern governors as well?
I have to confess that there is a gap there but I have written about the former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Yerima and I have also written about Samini Turaki. Yes it's true; I haven't brought the same focus to northern governors. For me I will say that it has to do with the information that is available out there.
When you were a journalist in Nigeria there was a great level of integrity then, today what do you make of the Nigerian media?
Nigeria has always had a robust media. We have had some very good reporters, editors and columnists and I still believe we still have them today. Some of the people who work in Nigeria newspapers are very very good but you can't have a devaluation of other sectors in Nigeria and not have it evident in the media. I detest the collapse of standard in the Nigeria media. Even if you want to look at the quality of writing, I learnt to write and speak from reading Nigeria papers. You had people who understand the rubrics of English Language and the rules of grammar.
Today you have reporters who are all over the place who write as if they never went to school at all and including some commentators and columnists whose level of writing are tortuous; I am putting it mildly. Having said that I will say that the Nigeria media are doing fairly well. One hears stories of politicians who put editors and reporters on retainership, reporters who demean themselves in the way they ask for handouts when they interview people, that doesn't hold well for the profession and the professional light people will hold journalists.
The Niger Delta issue is one problem that has been raising so much dust lately; just some few weeks ago the President went abroad to seek solutions to this problem. What do you suggest is the way forward in the Niger Delta problem?
The solution is a word called justice. When you take an important resource from somebody's immediate land and in the process of taking it you cause environmental degradation and you devastate the people mode of existence and means of livelihood. It only makes sense that you must invest substantially in the same areas so that the people can feel a sense of recompense, a kind of remediation for the damage you cause. And also, an acknowledgement that the country's wealth comes from there, the Niger Delta should be and has every right to be the showcase of Nigeria.
People ought to go the region and se the best facilities there. Instead the Niger Delta has become a Basket case; it has become one of the most depressed and depressing addresses in this country, it has become an unconscionable ghetto and what Soyinka might call an open sore in the country for politics. You can not sustain that level of exploitable, of subjugation of a people and that's why I say that the war that we have ordered has arrived and is arriving. When Yar Adua goes abroad goes to Britain to seek military support and when Bankole says that we need foreign intervention to solve the problem of Niger Delta, it demonstrates the depth of irresponsibility and cluelessness that berserks the Nigerian leadership.
Everybody including a kindergarten child should know that if you escalate the military option in the Niger Delta, nobody wins. The oil production has fallen precipitously in the Niger Delta and it will come to zero if Britain comes in. It will be foolish in the part of Britain to think that there is anything they can do except to stay away and insist that the Nigerian government do what is just to the people of the Niger Delta and unless that is done, till that is done Nigeria is going no way on this matter.
You comment on so many issues concerning Nigeria and Nigerians but you have not commented on the recurring issues of Nigerian citizens being killed and ill treated by foreign nationals, why are you not so visible in this area?
I feel hurt and affected any time that a Nigerian is brutalized or killed or otherwise treated abominably; every Nigerian should feel outraged. The truth, my brother, is unfortunately that I write once a week and anytime I write someone could say that there are a thousand other things that I could have written and my answer is that what they are saying is true. But I have only that once and I feel a certain urgency in the things that I write about, that's one.
The other thing is that I see the passion with which Nigerians take on some of those assaults on Nigerians and I say whaoo, this is good, people are addressing this but I don't see one other person who is actually in Nigeria who continues to remind Nigerians that what happened in April last year is a travesty and would remain so. That is one way of answering it. The other thing is that I don't see Americans treated shamefully around the world because Americans take it seriously, gravely; take a deem view when you hurt one of their own and it is not when you hurt one of their own abroad, it begins with America; that when a police officer beats up an American citizen, sometimes the officer gets away with it and sometimes they pay for it. Now let me put it this way, I could turn around and ask a question among my colleagues which is when Obasanjo, Andy Uba, Chris Uba and the Commissioner of Police in Anambra State turned sent thugs with 40armoured trucks to Anambra State for two days destroying public properties in a Nigerian State, how come more people didn't shout about it?
How come we have forgiven and forgotten? I could turn around and say that when Iwu supervises the worst election in Nigerian history, something that should be called an election, how come we don't mobilize and organize the same way we organize and insist with the power that we have that Iwu should be shamed out of office. I would want to condemn any foreign government that treats Nigerians with contempt or brutally but I believe that when the Nigerian government begin to treat their own citizens as humans then their citizens will go elsewhere in the world with less desperation and their citizens elsewhere in the world will be treated better.
You wrote one piece last year, My Biafran Eyes and it really raised emotions and commentaries amongst Nigerians, I am aware that you are writing your memoir on your civil war experience, now talking about the Biafran still remains an issue Nigeria and Nigerians don't want to talk about, the first time it was touched was during the Human Rights Violation Investigative Panel otherwise known as the Oputa Panel, do you feel it the issue was well addressed there?
No I don't. Biafra today is the most dramatic and the most important historical rupture in the Nigeria's history. The way that Nigeria has behaved since the war shows that Nigeria did not learn the right lessons from Biafra. Again, Biafra was fundamentally a question of justice; Biafra was fundamentally a question of if we were to remain one country, if we have to remain one country, what will be the terms of our engagement? That central question was not resolved by 1970 and has not been resolved up till now. In a sense the kind of blunder that the country has gotten itself in the Niger Delta is a consequence of the failure on both sides, on the sides of the militants and the side of the oppressive government to learn the right lessons of Biafra. You can't have a nation by compulsion; force is not an adequate ingredient for having a nation. The people must choose to be part of a nation because it serves them to be part of that nation and if a nation cannot guarantee minimum human dignity to its constituent elements that nation does not deserve to continue to exist and the citizens, to the extent that the experience the nation as a predominantly oppressive nature, reserves the right to say we don't want to be part of this. That is what happens to Biafra.
Now Prof. Ndibe, you contribute to the Nigeria Village Square and many Villagers will like to know your NVS story, how did you join the Nigeria Village square?
I got a call out of the blues from Phillip Adekunle known as Big-K and he invited me to allow him post my column there. I had never heard about the site so I went and checked it out and say sure you can and I was obviously taken aback when my piece was posted there about the responses the piece generated. I remember it was How Does Obasanjo work for? Some critics came after me and said who does Okey Ndibe work for and all that and claimed there were some things they could expose about me that people will be so surprised about and that got me so upset. I let them know that I am an open book and the thing that I pride most is my integrity.
You know Nigerians have this way of coming out and claiming that we have this thing that we will release on this guy and people will be surprised. I went back and replied to whomever the anonymous attacker and said if you have anything you have please release it because I know you have nothing. And I guess a number of people now said he is a critic but he can't take criticism, no, it's different. I take it from people who criticize with certain specific aspect of fact in my writing; some people don't like it and I listen to them to them but I say that I believe in what I write on my piece.
Do you read some of the commentaries they make on your articles?
In the beginning I did almost religiously especially with the reception the first one got made me go back and start reading. But when I saw people say how does Okey Ndibe work for and that they will expose me in some way I got upset because I hate lies, you know everybody has a past, you could say something about me maybe that I treated a girlfriend in the past terribly and you will be there but nobody can come out and say that I took money from anybody in any way. So I got upset and everybody has a right to be. When I said that Obasanjo is corrupt, I present proof; I said he had N19 000 when he came out of jail and now he is building a huge hilltop mansion. He got money from people who were his beneficiaries to build a five-star hotel in the name of a library and he is going to charge people for the hotel, he doesn't have to do that. So there is a difference with saying that somebody is corrupt and the corruption is hidden like when I say that Andy didn't go to school.
At what point did you stop dwelling on their responses?
After a while some of my friends who have been there long before called me and say ÔÇśOkey you are taking on bigger issues and bigger people, you don't get bugged down by faceless people who are hiding under pseudo names to say what they don't know. That's why I have refused to use that approach, some of my friends advise me to use pen names in some of my posts but I said no; everything I say in the world I want to stand by it, I want my name to be behind it. If I want to say something about somebody I use my name.
Since you joined the forum in 2005 you are a JJC, don't you post comments?
I post comments; I think I have posted about 11 or 13 comments but I think you have to get up to 16 to lose your JJC status right and the thing is that since I post major articles I don't want to be bugged down in responding to people's comments, I have a lot to do; I teach, am working on a novel, I am a father and a husband. I have a lot of things to do so I can't spend a whole lot of time to be writing so that I can lose my position of a JJC and I am enjoying it.
Looking at the Villagers that always respond to your posts, one finds out that two people constantly attack you; I don't know if you know them, Udoakamah and Tonsoyo?
No I don't know them.
Anytime you send a post do you look out for what their comments?
No I don't because when somebody or some characters have become predictable you don't look out for them. And for some people I am predictable; if I write about Obasanjo you can be sure I will be very critical of Obasanjo so to that extent I am predictable as well. When I see I Tonsoyo post or Udokamah post I assume that they attack me. But I understand that from time to time I think that Tonsoyo especially agrees with me sometimes but I don't follow it. I think that the first time he agreed with me, some friends called me and said it was a miracle that Tonsoyo agrees with me; I think he said that what I wrote was good and my friends said that the war don spoil. Occasionally when I post an article and it gets a lot of comments I know that a debate is going on and I may follow it but when it gets into mutual savaging I move on.
Let's get a little bit personal now; I will like to know how you met your wife?
I met my wife by gate crashing at a birthday party in
You appear a very busy person, you write and teach and I will like to know how your normal day looks like; how do you relax and also you don't tend to write anything about sports or music and Shakespeare said, ÔÇśFear him that likes not music,' how do you relax?
On a good summer day I like soccer and kick around the ball, I jog around and I like watching sports; I watch basketball, I watch a little bit of baseball during the post season, I like watching American football occasionally and I like reading, I read a lot. Another thing that relaxes me is speaking on the phone; I have a tonne of friends around the world including Nigeria, you raised the question how I get my information. We have a huge phone bill and when I call it's not for five minutes; when I call I spend an hour and half on the phone and I get to know what is happening in Nigeria politically. I watch some television.
What do you have to say about the Nigeria motion picture industry otherwise called Nollywood, are you a fan?
It's one of the gaps in my cultural education really; I haven't actually watched many. I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the Nigerian home videos that I have watched. I really wanted to watch more but I simply haven't found the time and every year there are more that are produced and I keep asking my friends which one to watch. When I come to Nigeria I don't get a particular guidance on which to watch so I end up unfortunately not seeing a lot of them. So when they are on screen, even my children who have been here less than a month know some of the stars and they have been enthralled by some of them and also bemused by some of them.
Can you introduce your family?
My wife is Sherry Fafunwa Ndibe and my three kids are Chibuike (16), my daughter is Chiamaka (13) and my younger son is Chidebe, he is the last.
Are you thinking of coming back to Nigeria soon?
Yes, in the fullness of time.
If you had not been a writer what else what is the likely profession you would have loved to be in?
A teacher which I am, if I hadn't been a teacher I would have loved to be a lawyer; I like Law while growing up and my parents used will say that you are a Logician; you know in those days we reduced law to logic and if you have superior logic you win. I was thinking of becoming a lawyer and then I wanted to be a painter but I can draw decently but I can't paint.
When is your next book coming?
My next book is something of an Ogbanje; it started as a short story but muffed into a novel that exceeded a thousand pages and I am in the process of pairing it down to maybe 400-450 pages and return it to my agent. So it will be fit to say probably next year.