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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #18

A Meeting of the Minds
(Prof. Ade Ajayi in Conversation with Toluwanimi Olujimi)

The Chinua Achebe Foundation

Prof. J.F. Ade Ajayi

Chinua Achebe

Prof. Chinua Achebe


Prof. Ade Ajayi

Prof. Ade Ajayi

is one of Africa’s most distinguished intellectuals and academics. A former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Ajayi is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Ibadan, where he has also served as Acting Vice Chancellor.


Professor Ajayi was born on May 26, 1926. He attended St. Paul’s School, Ikole-Ekiti, from 1934-1939; Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, 1940; and Igbobi College, YabaLagos, from 1941-1946. In 1947, he was admitted to Higher College, Yaba, and later, to University College, presently University of Ibadan, from 1948-1951.


Between 1951 and 1958, he obtained a first class honours Bachelor of Arts degree (History); B.A. (General Studies – History, Latin and English), and PhD (History) from University College, Leicester, and University of London, King’s College. Soon after graduation, he was appointed a Derby Research Scholar of London University, 1955-1957; as well as a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, London, 1957-1958.



Professor Ajayi has served variously as Chairman, Committee of Vice chancellors; Vice President and member, UNESCO National Commission of Nigeria, 1965-84; Chairman, Scientific and Planning Council, CAFRAD, Tangier, 1979-82; and the Dean of Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, 1964-1966. He has been a member of several university councils, including Cape Coast University, 1972-1976; National University of Lesotho, 1977-1983; and University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, 1976. Professor Ajayi has also been a  member, board of the international Association of Universities, 1980-1990; and Pro-chancellor and chairman of council, Ado Ekiti State University, 1984-1988.


His significant scholarship has produced several books, monographs and journals. Among them are the following: “Milestones in Nigerian History,” 1962; “Yoruba Warfare in the Nineteenth century,” 1964; “Evolution of political culture in Nigeria, 1985,” “A Thousand years of West African History”1965;  The Narrative of Samuel Ajayi Crowther,” The continuity of African institutions under colonialism,” The University and the state in Nigeria,”  and “The Development of Secondary Grammar School Education in Nigeria”.


For all these achievements and his humanitarian services, Ajayi has been recognized and honored both at home and abroad. His awards include several honorary degrees from universities such as Leicester, 1975; Birmingham, 1984; and Ondo State University, 1992. He has also been appointed Hon Fellow, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),  London, 1994; Foundation Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria, 1980; Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Britain, 1979, Nigerian National order of Merit, October, 1986;Ondo State Role of Honour, 1989.


In 1987, Professor Ajayi was presented with the  25th Anniversary Gold medal, University of Lagos. He has also received the Distinguished Africanist Award, 1993;UNESCO Avicenna silver medal for outstanding contribution to the General History of Africa (1964-1999); Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR), 2000; and most distinguished Alumnus Awards (MDA), University of Ibadan, 2001.


His traditional titles are Babapitan of Ikole-Ekiti, January 1983 and Onikoyi of Ife, April 1983.




About Toluwanimi Olujimi


Toluwanimi Olujimi is a Lagos based journalist. She has considerable experience in the print media and has written extensively on Nigerian politics, education and women’s issues.





Q: Sir, many believe that the trouble with Nigeria lies squarely at the feet of poor leadership. Some blame the former colonial powers for not preparing Nigeria’s early leaders for power. What is your view?


A. Yes, in many ways, the era of colonialism did not prepare us for democracy, so we cannot really blame the first crop of leaders in the country for our present day woes. The colonial masters were interested in developing the traditional institution, particularly in Northern Nigeria, which complicated leadership problems in the rest of the country. They encouraged a master-servant relationship, and this became deeply rooted into the psyche of the people.


Similarly, the colonial leaders inculcated, in soldiers, the idea that it was the lot of the

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army to rule “the bloody civilians.” That attitude has persisted till date. Unfortunately, the civil hierarchies were not disoriented from this way of thinking, and this in my view, has had even more disastrous consequences. Colonialism, to a great extent, still determines the type of leadership we have in the post-military era.


Q: Do you think it is possible to identify a particular period in Nigeria’s history when the deterioration commenced, or should we assume the downward slide is, perhaps, as old as the nation itself?


A. Well, I would say that our problem began with the country’s founding but became a true pathology in the 1980s -- during the unfortunate period of despotic regimes -- with a deliberate attack on the middle class. Government policies, following the influence of the World Bank, IMF loan, SAP and so on, attacked the middle class, and subsequently, destroyed middle class values. The middle class comprised of people, educated, and otherwise, who were prepared to invest their money in the country and watch it grow through hardwork and integrity; but the regimes of the period willfully prevented that from happening.


Thus, we have continued to witness a re-cycling of people whose contributions to nation building -- to the economy of this country-- cannot be traced. They have continued to take from the country, yet have given nothing at all back to the society. With each administration, these people continue to be recycled; they are given one portfolio after the other that creates even more avenues for them to continue taking. I do not know any where else in the world where one man alone dominates the economy of the nation except here in Nigeria.


Q: You have mentioned SAP and other unpopular government policies as precipitant factors in destroying the once vibrant middle class in Nigeria….


A. For me, the overall effect of the structural Adjustment programme, SAP is twofold. One, it succeeded in destroying the productive sector of the economy, and two -- it saw to the collapse of the middle class. And until we can rebuild the middle class, the country will never progress; we cannot talk of good governance. Presently, we are engaged in talks about debt relief; however, what relief can we actually expect? This is the time when we should be asking the question -- ‘how much did we borrow? And what did we do with the loan? And beyond these questions, is time to ask for reparation and not debt forgiveness. Our so-called creditors know that they owe us; they have taken so much from us. The Paris club actually owes us more than we are asking them to forgive!!!!


Q. Corruption has long been the bane of our nation. What steps, in your opinion, can Nigeria take to tame this scourge?


A. This is a very simple issue to assess. With the collapse of the middle class, the country lost the values that encouraged individuals to create personal wealth and enjoy it. What has happened is that people no longer want to work for their wealth; society no longer frowns on vices. And it begins with governance. Why would a person who never saw the four walls of a university be allowed to give instructions to Vice chancellors or take it upon him or herself to control the university system?

Now, take the present crop of politicians. Politics, for them, is an investment to fill their bank accounts. If any money was spent during election campaigns, the aim becomes to make back such monies multiple-folds. And they do this as if they are sure of the future.  But no one ever is. Neither you nor I can predict even the next moment. So, these politicians grab without thinking… with both hands. And I have to wonder whether politics should be a part time thing or a full time engagement, because the senate and House of Representatives hardly sit through the year; they go on recess quite often.


The fact that we do not operate a true federalism also paves way for several loopholes. What happens is that the federal government takes so much of our national revenue that it has resources in excess, whereas the states do not have enough. And this allows a great deal of wastage in terms of government spending. The government also allocates so much to itself, thus encouraging senators and House members to ask for all kinds of unmerited allowances. This, I think, has allowed for corruption. Government has agreed to the need for a new constitution; however this has not helped matters.


Q.The term ‘resource control’ has come into vogue recently as a mechanism for the survival and sustained development of the Niger Delta. Do you think it will achieve its stated objective, if implemented?


When the issue of resource control came up for discussion at the National Political Conference, it became a controversial issue. Why? This was not always a thorny issue, when each ethnic group managed and controlled its own resources. And I’m one of those who believe that resource control should be total. Nigeria will not develop until you take the heavy hand of the federal government off the oil. You see so much corruption in this whole issue of oil products…


Q: Nigeria seems to be in love with national gatherings and conferences. Do you see any utility in the conferences that have been convened so far?


I think I’m satisfied that the confab has done better than expected in the sense that it did attract some able minds, and at least, started some dialogue between people from different parts of the country. Unfortunately, we ended up with the issue of rotation and resource control -- the two major unresolved issues – and this ultimately led to the sudden termination of the conference.


Q. For the past five years, this administration has propounded its fight against corruption. However, for three consecutive years now, the country has ended up high on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. What do you think is wrong with the crusade against corruption?


In my opinion, these isolated cases of bringing government officials who appropriate public funds to book are not enough. There must be far reaching laws that impress upon us all that nobody is untouchable. There are too many people who ought to be behind bars, who are still walking the streets as free men. There is no seriousness in government’s effort so far…


Q: Nigeria’s educational system is now in crisis. What factors, in your opinion, are responsible for the decline? What steps should Nigeria take to fix this problem?


During the period of nationalist

Book: Yoruba Warfare in the 19th Century

Book by Prof. Ade Ajayi

struggle, we rightly understood that education was the most important thing one could give a child. And we felt this way until the military intervened in our lives. Education is one major avenue through which we may rise and achieve greatness in life. And many people accepted its challenge. There was a pattern of education in many families; people either sent their children to Christian missionary schools or Koran schools. Then there was free education. Every child had the opportunity to go to school. When they completed the elementary level, they went on to acquire a secondary education. If such students were bright, they were admitted into the university.


Education meant so much then. Education has the ability to highly transform lives, and it was rightfully made a prized part of national life. We got to the point where people who lacked a basic education were not relevant in the scheme of things, so with the advent of free education, children were made to line up, and asked to put their hands across their heads. And if their fingers touched their ears, they were enrolled in schools, and went on to complete the elementary level. There is a story of a pastor who said he would not have been what he was, but for the fact of his education.


Thereafter, there was the Lord Asbee report on education, which testified that investment in higher education was necessary.

Sadly, at independence, the incentive to get to the top was the drive to make money, and this became more important than education.

Interference began in 1974 with the Udoji report, when government decided that the National Universities Commission (NUC) should put up a budget on behalf of universities. 

By 1976, NUC’s power was extended to the point that it became a regulatory body; then a man, in the guise of a military leader, who though he never saw the four walls of a university, came to control the affairs of universities. Funding, really, is not the most important cause of decline in education.


Q You have mentioned the militarization of the polity as one reason for the collapse of the educational sector. Could you expand on this…?


A. Our president called a meeting, which he called the Council of Elders, to examine the NEEDS report. And my comment was that education is still the true leading intervention to the development of any nation. And I laid the blame of the obstruction of education in the country, at the feet of the World Bank -- that the World Bank discourages education and financial commitment to higher education. And this was the main reason the military had no special place for education -- the military actively discouraged education for the masses.


With blind obedience to the policies of the World Bank, the former military regimes must have decided, at some point, to control the educational system. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) propounded by the World Bank, discouraged investment in tertiary education, and rather, laid emphasis on elementary education. While it is true that the foundation is laid at the elementary stage, the strength of an educational system depends on the quality of the tertiary training. The teachers, professors, and so on, who contribute to the strength of the educational system, determine the quality of tutoring given to persons at the tertiary level. And it was as if the military decided to undermine higher education, because they wanted to protect themselves from criticism at an intellectual level.


Q. ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) vigorously resisted the military’s imposition of SAP policies on universities


A. There were two major areas where opposition to the military was effective. It took its

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time, and systematically destroyed them both, and brought those activities under control. The first is
labour -- organised labour -- which has the Academic Staff Union of Universities – ASSU -- under its umbrella. Unfortunately, ASUU overused strikes as a weapon for negotiating with government. Government also tried, and succeeded in controlling labour congress. For various reasons, the university system played into the hands of the government, and once the university lost its autonomy, it lost the power to navigate its own course. However, Babangida took autonomy to mean self-funding. You cannot put a gun to the neck of a doctor and say, ‘treat or else I will blow off your neck.’


The military came from nowhere, and imposed itself on academics. Soldiers who understood nothing about the university system took it upon themselves to dictate to academics what to do. There is no way, of course, that sort of thing would work. People who did understand the workings of the university system were prevented from doing the appropriate work along professional lines. And that fostered corruption in its own way.


ASUU has overused its weapon of strikes to the extent that it has lost the confidence of students. The relationship between lecturers and students should be one of trust; once that is hampered, that’s really the end. People who were part of the university system were not allowed to run the system, and this negatively affected quality. It determined how much the government was prepared to give in terms of allocation to tertiary institutions, and in an attempt to control the university in 1974 the government asked the NUC to put up a budget on behalf of the universities. The universities became so dependent on the NUC, that it became a regulatory body. This simply encouraged a minimum standard.


The senate of the universities could not sit by and allow this running down of the system, but it was helpless because of its funding predicament. And this is why I say that the rot in the educational sector is not necessarily as a result of inadequate funding. The government has also been a major part of the problem.


Q. People tend to think that the cause of our national dis-aggregation is because of centrifugal ethnic forces…


A. Well, I would not say ethnic rivalry, on its own, is a major problem, though it is, indeed, a problem. I recall that we debated in the universities, at some point, what nationalism and ethnicism means. We decided that one meant loyalty to one’s ethnic grouping, while nationalism is quite a different issue. The stronger our patriotism, our desire for the general good of our country, as a whole, the better; the nationalist feeling should very much overshadow ethnic sentimentality.


In 1950/51, the Macpherson Constitution was in place, and the government decided that we could no longer depend on traditional rulers who tended to provoke cultural or ethnic sentiments. This was the position of the sociologists. Because Nigeria had been intended by the British as a business concern of sorts – a kind of conglomerate of disparate nations set up for commercial reasons -- a line, after Nigeria’s independence, had yet to be drawn in terms of what “ethnicity,” “nationalism” or “tribalism” really meant within the post-independence context. In a nationalist spirit, the Ziks of this world might refer to Awolowo as an Yoruba nationalist, because Awolowo never minced words about whose interest he was working for.


In the South West, at a point, Zik could have won more votes in any election than Awolowo, because the Action Group depended more on traditional rulers than on successful businessmen. And the NCNC  tended to be more popular in the urban areas -- Ibadan, Ilesha, Lagos.  The NCNC dominated in politics rather than the Action Group, which largely depended on the Alaafin, for instance. Sure, Zik might point out that dependency on traditional rulers constituted tribalism on the part of a political party, since it did not have to present the best mandate, or a better proposal for government; most of the manifestoes centred on ethnic groups.


Q: So what you seem to be suggesting is that it is possible to at once be a patriotic Nigerian and a proud member of one’s ethnic group…


A. Of course, you cannot invoke the spirit of nationalism without history and culture playing into it, and to that extent, one cannot do away with ethnic sentiment. However, one must be careful not to allow ethnic intolerance become a toxic ingredient in government policies and political dialogues. I think this is why with the Macpherson Constitution, the government said we could not continue to depend on traditional rulers.


Q:  Is it not true that historically, ethnic allegiance that is excessive has had a divisive, often profoundly detrimental effect on Nigeria’s political process?


A. Well, let us move from traditional rulers to political elites who form political parties that favour the educated elite. Interestingly, the educated elites believed that elections could not be won without going back to the traditional rulers, and taking care of their interests. That was when the Action Group began to have second thoughts about traditional rulers not being important. The group believed that when it came to politics, the Igbo man would not vote for a Yoruba man if no other Igbo man was in the race. We now concluded that nationalism might depend on what you might call tribalism. There is no way one can come to Ibadan, for instance, and get the votes of Ibadan people, if their culture is not represented. The factors that differentiate an Igbo man from a Yoruba man, one might term ethnic differences. So, nationalism has to provoke cultural factors, historical factors in other to thrive. Even in a different situation, there might be some nationalist feeling; however, you may have to invoke the ethnic sentiments of nationalism.


The effect on the Nigerian system is where the whole issue of federalism comes in. Because the Igbo are mostly migrants -- there happens to be around three quarters of Igbo migrant labour nationwide -- the NCNC was always saying -- let us not change this system, because we are aborigines in our land. There should be no discrimination in politics. And yet, in Igbo land there is no room at all for non-Igbo migrants. Among the Yoruba people in Lagos, you find the Igbo settling there and owning property. But when you go Enugu, Anambra or Abia, you find that there is no Yoruba person allowed there at all. So, the Yoruba man now thought -- ‘look, you’ve been at this for too long. We will no longer allow you a place in our own territory. And this attitude was carried even into the public service.


For this reason, government now came out with the idea of federal character. Whatever one was doing, whatever office one was involved in must reflect the federal nature of the country. And that also included admission into institutions of higher learning. So, for admission into the University of Ibadan, someone from Ibadan must score a minimum of 200 points in JAMB. But when it came to recruiting from Kano, 180 points would be allowed; however someone with 180 points from Ibadan would not be admitted. So we had to debate to what extent federal character could be promoted without lowering standards.


There is a thing called Affirmative Action in the United States, which started as part of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Black people who had been discriminated against all their lives, in terms of education, in terms of opportunities and so on, began to argue that there would be no justice unless special allowances were made to enable them to attend schools -- medical schools, law schools and so on. This meant that there would be need for adjustment in the case of certain admittance/admission criteria.


It makes sense when a disadvantaged area or community asks for affirmative action, but not when a dominant ethnic/political group imposes on or insists on affirmative action as its right. Then it becomes apartheid of a kind. When a teacher is posted to say -- Kano, he is discriminated against by the people in the villages, even Mallams 30 miles away. He is chased away, because the choice is for Islamic education. And then, a few years later, because the choice for Islamic education was made, there are now very few pupils, no teachers, not enough students receiving a formal education. When 50 children are then needed for the Federal Government College, Kano, only two are provided. What happens with the 48 spaces left vacant -- should the privileged communities take up those spaces or not? That is the issue at hand, and the politics of it is chancy. But basically, affirmative action should protect the politically disadvantaged, rather than satisfy the yearnings of the politically strong.


Q: You have alluded to Nigerian style Affirmative Action in the public sector and political process. Many people believe that Women have become a forgotten minority group…


A. When we talk about affirmative action, we can say that because of a long period of discrimination, women might ask for affirmative action in order to ensure their adequate representation in all spheres of government and in all the sectors of the economy.

In reality, there are many prejudices against women. Parents may choose between sending a son to school to carry on the family name, while a woman is considered a temporary member of the family who will leave for, and contribute to another family. So many families would rather invest in a boy child, rather than a girl child. Special effort, therefore, needs to be made in order to overcome these types of prejudices against educating women.


Q. (Interrupting) There are several other forms of discrimination against women in Nigerian other than in education…


A. Yes, in other areas, there are forms of discrimination apart from education. In certain Igbo communities, if a woman’s husband dies, even if she has his children, his brother might come around and say -- in our tradition, you are my wife and property, thus, your husband’s land and all that he owned belongs to me. If the woman rejects this proposition, it becomes difficult for her to survive in that society. And the husband’s brother is going to make life difficult for her. 


There are various forms of discriminations against the woman, and she is supposed to succumb to all these pressures or is brought to her knees, upon the death of her husband. If she is prosperous, she may be the envy of her in-laws, and her husband’s death is an opportunity to pay her back. So these days, I tell people to look carefully into the customs of the people they marry.


Q: What does the future portend for Nigeria’s girls and women? How can women become equal participants in nation building?


A. Now, things have looked up for the woman since the Beijing conference [The Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China; 4-15 September, 1995]. Women always blame men for their oppression. But if you look at it women’s emancipation is really in their own hands. The reorientation of male attitudes towards women should begin in the homes. Women should bring up their sons to respect women and understand that they may want to pursue educational goals as well as positions of authority while maintaining their traditional roles in the family. The challenge to families is balancing the two. One can not succeed without the other.

We see that a certain proportion of the president’s cabinet goes to women, which doesn’t happen normally – in reality, one has to go through a party’s platform. And it is true that looking after a family and a home is a full time occupation – thus women, who find this their lot, find it difficult to compete equally against the men who have other opportunities to make money for political campaigns.

Creating an environment through positive economic and social policies for full development of women to enable them to realize their full potential is therefore crucial.

We must insist on equal access to participation and decision making for women in the social, political and economic life of the nation otherwise it is a sheer waste of more than 50% of the nation’s population. Other areas that need crucial attention include health care, quality education at all levels, career and vocational guidance, employment and equal remuneration.

Q: What role can men play to improve the status of women in Nigeria?


A. One finds that a lot of men do not give their wives the support they need, in terms of building up a career. Traditionally, men might want their wives to excel, but not necessarily over themselves. Yes, I can pray to God for my children to do better than I do, but I don’t think I want to pray that my wife should do better than me. Yes, she should excel, do well in her own endeavours, but when she comes home, the degree of her submission to me will determine how much support she’d get from me. This is not always the case with progressive and younger generations, however. If the woman excels in politics, it needs not affect the relationship in the home. Her ability to marry the two effectively adds to her success story. But the man and the woman both have their place in the family. Some men may delight in having their wives as President, but when she comes back home, she will still have to play her role as a wife and a mother.


It reminds me of the story of a man who woke up one day, and said, ‘God, let me have some of these privileges that my wife enjoys.’ I got out to work, and do all the struggling and she stays at home. Let me just swap roles with her for one day. And God said, ‘Okay, fine.’ The next morning, the wife went to work, and he discovered that housework was not simply about staying idle at home all day. He discovered that his wife began her daily routines by waking the children up, making their bed, preparing breakfast, preparing the children for school, and then taking them to school. Then it was time to iron clothes, clean the house, get lunch ready, and when that was done, bring the children home from school. He found that she was constantly busy right up to bedtime. Even after all that, the man still expected his wife to play her wifely role. The man went to God once again, and prayed: ‘God, let my wife have her role back; I didn’t know she has to contend with so much!


Here, in Ibadan, we’ve had cases of couples where the wife is sharper than the husband, just as some people will say Claire Blair is a probably brighter lawyer than her husband, and Hillary Clinton also is said to be sharper than her husband. We should not encourage lowering standards, but be seen to be thinking in terms of excellence. Where a woman is obviously better than a man, she should be rated so.


Q: How, in your opinion, does Nigeria revive the economy and agricultural sector?


A. I still maintain that, in terms of economic rejuvenation, we should try to revive the middle class and the values associated with it – which life is not about how much one accumulates. When that is done, I have said that we should emphasize resource control. We should not all continue to quarrel over the crude oil revenues. There is the need to insist that those people in whose soil crude oil is situated, own that resource, and should control it. Let the owners of such land control their resources, while others spend their energies in discovering what resources they have in their own territories. If we continue to fight over crude oil, and stop indigenes from controlling it, the foreign oil companies will be the ones in control as they are, today.


Nigerians are not the ones who

Prof Ade Ajayi in group picture

Left to right, Dr. Otegbeye, Professor Ade. Ajayi, Ademola Ajibade, Seni Ajao, Chief C.O. Adebayo, Oladele Adejobi, General Akinrinade

control the oil resources, yet we are fighting over it. But if the people in whose soil the oil is found, under the basis of true federalism, are allowed to control the oil and everyone else discovers what other resources that we have in the country, we should all be the better for it. There would be far greater development, and less reliance on crude oil. And you would be surprised that we’ve got quite a lot of other just as significant resources – precious metals,
caolin, clay, ceramic and so on. People will discover new resources; as unlikely as it might sound, agriculture will become an alternative to crude oil, and cassava will become just as important. Cocoa too will be a major source of revenue generation for those on whose soil it is grown. Just go to China and India, who don’t rely on crude oil, and see the growth of development in those areas.


Now the Chinese are coming into this country in droves, and we must be very careful. Nigerians are not allowed easy access into other countries! In any case, the Chinese are so pressed for land in their own country that if they are allowed to come into Nigeria so freely, and find so much land lying fallow because we don’t seem to know what to do with it, they will take over and one cannot predict how far they will go. Land, in itself, is a major, major resource. Whether we know it or not, there is hardly any need that land does not provide. But more importantly, we should take advantage of this, and fully enjoy the benefits of our numerous resources.








Q: Sir, you have mentioned several times in our conversation, the destruction of the middle class as a fundamental factor in Nigeria’s economic decline. What needs to be done to redevelop this energetic cadre of citizens?


A. Well, I keep harping on the issue of the middle class and middle class values. However, I espouse this with good reason, for this is what generates wealth and employment, in general.


Successful nations have a prosperous, energetic middle class. That is where most of the action takes place economically, socially and politically. Whether you look at Europe, Asia or America, the same story can be unearthed…An educated, skilled middle class that encompasses the majority of the population, leads to economic prosperity. You often hear of swing voters such as “soccer mothers” in America being members of this group. A good eighty percent of the American population is middle class. That is how prosperity is preserved and from whence values that sustain a civilization are harnessed and sustained. America, however, is in decline, in my opinion, because she is beginning to ignore and deviate from her middle class values. Nigeria has a lot to learn from this…


Another factor which we don’t emphasize enough is loyalty to the country -- that is, patriotism. Of course, the Yoruba say that, ‘if you lean on the tree and the tree cannot sustain your weight, if the tree falls on you, it can kill you. So if you can’t rely on your country to provide you with employment, to allow you a decent life and livelihood even when you are willing to work hard, then you cannot generate love for such a country. Right now, we associate the country with armed robbery, insecurity of life, and lack of jobs... So, to encourage Nigerians to appreciate the country that they have, we should begin to appreciate our advantages – an average Nigerian will grumble about this or that, you can then say, ‘okay, which country in Africa will you prefer to come from? And he or she will hesitate to name one.


Q: What role does brain drain play in Nigeria’s economic, political and social predicament?


A. Some…The essential

Book on Ajayi Crowder

Another book by Prof. Ajayi

fact is that there are enough resources in this country
 to sustain us if we will only develop our own resources, inculcate patriotism in ourselves, and say to ourselves -- this country that we have, we can make something out of it, and be proud of our own and ourselves. Instead of killing ourselves over getting the American visa lottery or travel visas, we should begin to emphasize building up a national feeling, and the resources available in the country; how much more we can do with what we have than we are at the moment.


A good number of Nigerians abroad are far more highly rated than the Nigerians at home. I mean, Americans will say that Nigerians are this, Nigerians are that; whenever they see a Nigerian, ‘419’ (Advance Fee Fraud) comes to their mind. But in their Departments of Engineering or Computer Science, hospitals, and so on, one discovers that quite a few Nigerians are training them and doing very well, indeed.


Q: How do we link up with these professionals in the Diaspora to harness their manpower here at home?


A. These are my thoughts exactly…I mean, I’ve got only one of my children here in Nigeria; I’d love to have more of them at home.


For instance, my son is a Pediatric surgeon; he is the one most anxious to come back home, because he studied here in Lagos (Lagos University Teaching Hospital LUTH). However, the others studied abroad, and their inclination is that being abroad is more satisfying. In fact, one of them has married a Welsh man and so, that one is lost forever. But I know that the others want to come back home. In fact, one actually came back, but things were not working well, so he packed his bags and went back. He reclaimed his American citizenship.


Q: A number of foreign based professionals will allude to the lack of infrastructure and means to lead a comparative lifestyle back in Nigeria as reasons to remain abroad…


A. Clearly, we don’t need them all to return. We should target those that are doing exceptional work. The point to emphasize, really, is that there are enough resources to sustain and give us a good standard of living, provided we stop our rather ridiculous scrambling for oil. But the basic thing is that we have to begin by having faith in our home, and our ability to run the country, and be ashamed of the things that are not worthy of us to be doing.


Q: Finally, Sir, what must Nigeria do to position itself in the right direction for sustained economic restructuring and development?


A. The issue of true federalism is paramount to restructuring, in terms of governance

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of the country. People [in the North]are propounding the theory that the groundnut pyramids from the North were used to build up Lagos, and that it is time for them to control the country’s oil resources in order to build Abuja and the rest of the North. So there is that controversy. We are not going to be able to live with one another, as long as one ethnic group sees itself as born to rule, and the rest of us to be ruled over by them!


Provided we operate true federalism so that whatever what one has is large enough to fill his or her plate; create our own resources, and use them to run our own affairs, it is only then that we can begin to think seriously. That way, no group would be interested in ruling over everybody else. And if some people choose to develop along the lines of the agricultural sector, and others to support nomadic education, then they should have a right do so. But don’t say you must have your normadic education, and at the same time impose it on the rest of the country. That’d be too much.


At the moment, however, the federal government has accumulated to itself the right to interfere in every aspect of national life. Look, for instance, at what is happening between local governments in Lagos State and the Federal government. Every executive governor wants the President to endorse him for a second or third term. They submit to the authority of the federal government, seek the endorsement of the federal government, and therefore disrupt true federalism. We must stick to true federalism and resource control where everyone tries to create his own wealth as is done within middle class value systems – the individual creates his or her own wealth and enjoys it.  The entertainment industry is improving in leaps and bounds, and can bring in great wealth to the country; however, the economy, at this point, is unable to sustain it, and until we make appropriate moves towards a viable economy, we have not yet begun.


We must stick to our tried and tested middle class, morally viable values and not desire foreign so-called progressive values. American society, for instance, is a collapsing system. Men are marrying men; couples marry, but don’t want any children. In many cases, weddings are being negotiated as if they are contractual situations -- ‘I love you, till death do us part, and, by the way, on the occasion that you fail to meet up with certain conditions, you can have the bed, I will have the cooker, you have the car, I will keep the apartment, and so on.”


This is contrary to the divine order of the world; to me, as an observer, the American society is collapsing, because I don’t see how you can successfully run a society with the family system in obvious trouble. So, we see that gradually that society is moving towards disintegration. Things that were previously viewed as criminal have come to be accepted as the norm. There must be a limit to progress; progress should not be a stage of classlessness -- a Utopian society of no values, no order.


Q: Thank you, Sir, for your time


A.               You are welcome

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.

Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Prof. Ade Ajayi in Conversation with Toluwanimi Olujimi