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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #34

A Meeting of the Minds
(Professor V.C. Ike in Conversation with Professor Osmond Enekwe, Uduma Kalu and Alvan Ewuzie)

The Chinua Achebe Foundation

About Professor V.C. Ike


Professor Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike

Chinua Achebe

Prof. Chinua Achebe


Prof. Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike

Prof. Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike

is one of
Africa’s leading writers and intellectuals. He was born in eastern Nigeria and educated at the University of Ibadan, and at Stanford University in the USA. As an educator, Ike has contributed to the intellectual and cultural development of Africa in important administrative positions at Nigerian universities and at UNESCO, and as a professor at the University of Jos. His novels include Toads for Supper (1965), which is set in a university and deals with love and the inherent problems that married couples from different ethnic backgrounds encounter; The Naked Gods (1970), also set in a university, which highlights the corrupt practices in the appointment of a new vice-chancellor at Songhai University; and Expo '77 (1980), in which secondary school students trying to gain admission to the university cheat in examinations. More recently, Our Children Are Coming (1990) deals with the problem of youth unrest and student revolt in colleges and universities in Nigeria. Reacting to commissions of inquiry that exclude them, the students set up a counter investigation of their own. The Search (1991) is the story of the feverish patriotism of a detribalized intellectual, Ola, and his search for Nigerian unity.

Ike's prose style encompasses dialogue, wit, and satire, which he employs to castigate corruption and the quest for inordinate power. The novels transcend historical, sociological, and political documentation and achieve comedy, tragedy, irony, and metaphor. He has also written How to Become a Published Writer (1991) and several other novels, short stories and articles.”

A versatile intellect, Professor V.C. Ike’s name at a point was also synonymous with West African Examination [WAEC] where he was Registrar for many years. But he also made history as the youngest indigenous Registrar of University of Nigeria Nsukka, a position he occupied at the age of 31. Ike currently runs the Nigerian Book Foundation, a non-governmental organization that promotes book availability and reading culture.


Professor V.C. Ike is married to Professor Bimpe Ike with whom he has a son Prince Osita Ike, a marketing executive, and two grand children.


Professor OSMond Enekwe


Professor (Ossie) Enekwe is a Nigerian poet, fiction writer, and playwright, and a graduate of the University of Nigeria and Columbia University, where he was a fellow in the Writing Division (1972-4). He is currently a professor of theatre at the University of Nigeria where he was also a Director of the Institute of African Studies. For over a decade, he has served as Editor of Okike - An African Journal of New Writing. His published work includes Broken Pots (1977), poems, Come Thunder (1984), a novel, Igbo Masks (1987), non-fiction, The Betrayal (1989), a one-act play, and The Last Battle and Other Stories (1996).



Uduma Kalu


Uduma Kalu holds a BA in English from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as well as an MA, also in English, from the University of Ibadan. Winner of the University of Nigeria First Prize for Poetry, amongst others, Kalu's poems and stories have appeared in anthologies like 25 New Nigerian Poets (Ed. Toyin Adewale-Gabriel), Trembling Leaves (Ed. Bunmi Oyinsan), A Volcano of Voices (Ed. Steve Shaba) and the ANA Review. He currently works at The Guardian Newspapers, Lagos, Nigeria.


Alvan Ewuzie


Alvan Ewuzie is a media consultant, who began his journalism career nearly 20 years ago as a freelance writer with the Nigerian Statesman. He subsequently became an editor in the Champion Newspapers organization where he made his mark as a literary critic and writer. He edited the weekend title and is now its deputy General manager.




There has been a series of political assassinations in Nigeria’s recent history. Putting on your prognosticator spectacles, what do you envision for Nigeria in 2007?


I shudder for Nigeria…Consider the wide ranging problem areas expected to impact on the 2007 elections:

-     insecurity of life and property, with assassinations and attempted assassinations of potential candidates for the 2007 elections already spreading in 2006;

-     the controversies around some Nigerians who have already proclaimed their presidential ambitions, e.g. former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida;

-     the unpredictability of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC);

-     the use of unconstitutional back – door methods (e.g. third term bid, and interim national government) to assume control of the Federal Government;

-     the selective use of Federal Government agencies (e.g. the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, and the Nigerian Armed Forces) to settle political scores and predetermine the results of the polls;

-     the ever present divisive issues of religion and ethnicity, ready to be exploited as and when necessary;

-     low level of public enlightenment and public morality.

-     the issue of rotational presidency: which of the six geopolitical zones (or simply whether the North or the South) should be allowed the privilege of fielding candidates for the presidential election;


I shudder to take a look at Nigeria in 2007, but I am confident, as a Christian, that our Almighty Father who saved us from Sanni Abacha will pilot us through 2007.



What do you think about the perennial chaos in Anambra State and the recent crisis in Onitsha involving MASSOB, NARTO, and the State?


The crisis in Onitsha involving MASSOB, NARTO,

Prof. V. C. Ike and his wife Prof. Bimpe Ike

Professor Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike and Professor (Mrs) Bimpe Ike

and the State is one

manifestation of the deteriorating situation in the Nigerian society in general.

The leadership of MASSOB has issued public statements dissociating MASSOB from the breakdown of law and order in Onitsha.  The statements made it clear that the violence unleashed at Onitsha was contrary to the philosophy of  non- violence which informed the actions of MASSOB, and considered attempts to describe perpetrators of violence at Onitsha with MASSOB as an attempt by MASSOB detractors, especially Federal Government agencies, to give the dog a bad name so as to hang it.  These statements further acknowledge the possibility of miscreants parading as members of MASSOB.


The leadership of NARTO has also dissociated NARTO from the violence at Onitsha. In the light of the denunciations of the violence by MASSOB and NARTO leadership, how come the crisis?

The crisis in Onitsha is one manifestation of the deteriorating situation in the

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Nigerian situation. Ironically, in the face of the unprecedented windfall from the international crude oil market, most Nigerians (apart from holders of top political office, their cronies, and leaders of the private sector) are wallowing in abject poverty.
  Much more concerned with sprouting beautiful external feathers than with the internal wholesomeness of its citizens, the Federal Government has placed the liquidation OVERNIGHT of longstanding FOREIGN debts and accumulation of record FOREIGN reserves above lifting Nigerians out of the debilitating poverty precipitated by its economic reform agenda.  The prevalence of gripping poverty waters the ground for politicians and power brokers with access to “limitless” financial resources intent on calling the shots in Anambra State.


There is also the escalating unemployment situation.  Nigeria is experiencing an unprecedented explosion in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions.  Unfortunately, the curricula of these institutions are irrelevant to the key problems facing both the individual and the society – the problem of survival in the 21st Century.  Products of the educational system consequently roam the streets unemployed and lacking the skills and the orientation for self – employment.


The growing army of unemployed and disgruntled products of the educational system provides cannon fodder for people with excess wealth and dishonourable intentions.  Pay the hungry, angry, and idle youth a sum of money, and they will burn down private, commercial or police buildings and vehicles, and even kill, as directed by their financiers.  The boy-child school drop out syndrome which has caused considerable alarm among Ndigbo is traceable to the irrelevance of the educational experience to the problem of survival of the individual and the society.


The third underlying factor in the Onitsha crisis is the struggle for the control of the Anambra State machinery of government.  From 2003 to 2006, it was a tussle between Governor Ngige and his so-called political god-father, Chris Uba who had the full backing of the Presidency and the People’s Democratic Party to which both of them belonged.  The victory of Peter Obi (of the United Progressive Grand Alliance), after nearly three years at the election tribunal, swept BOTH combatants off the arena.  The shameful attempt by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to discredit the entire electoral process (which it had earlier extolled) and call for fresh elections did not succeed.  The Onitsha crisis is seen as an attempt to use jobless, cash strapped young people (posing as members of MASSOB and NARTO) to unleash violence and provide justification for the Presidency to declare a state of emergency throughout Anambra State – a move which would restore the stranglehold of one of the ousted combatants on Anambra State.


It is also seen as an attempt to make Anambra State ungovernable, thereby discrediting Governor Obi and stopping him from governing beyond May 2007.  This would set the scene for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the ousted godfather to recapture Anambra State thereafter.

A further underlying factor is the decision of the Anambra State Government to assume full control of the markets and motor parks and plug all avenues for leakage of state revenue.  The persons and groups which had hitherto misappropriated funds accruing from these revenue sources have stiffly resisted the decision.


Reference was made earlier to the denunciation of the violence at Onitsha by MASSOB leadership.  What I have not yet heard is a denunciation of the accusation that MASSOB is attempting to set up a parallel administration in Onitsha – attempting to enforce a rent regime on landlords, enforcing their own sanitation days, choosing what buildings to occupy, and establishing secret cultist bases.  Such actions, if established, constitute a threat to the State Government. 


Some observers believe that the entire affair could have been handled differently. What is your opinion?


Considering the reprehensible, one-sided role of both the Presidency and the Nigeria Police in the Anambra State crisis between 2003 and 2006, the controversial high – handed role of the Armed Forces in quelling similar violence in Odi and Zakbion, and the widely held view among Ndigbo that Chief Obasanjo continues to have a grouse against Ndigbo decades after the end of the Nigeria/Biafra War, I questioned the advisability of inviting the same forces into Anambra State.  Was it not tantamount to openly inviting the enemies of Anambra State to destroy what remained of the State? There is also the fact that MASSOB enjoys substantial grassroots support among Ndigbo.


On second thought, I asked myself what alternatives Governor Obi had, with no State Police of his own, if he did not want to open the door for the declaration of a state of emergency throughout Anambra State, with even more disastrous consequences.  The spread of the violence to Nnewi and Ekwulobia, and the recent growth in the incidence of armed robbery in different parts of the State confirm the urgent need to restore enduring peace to Anambra State.


Assuming that the use of the armed forces is inevitable, it is imperative for Governor Obi to check their excesses. The recent announcement by the Nigeria Police to transfer over 3,000 Police personnel from Anambra State and replace them with Police drawn from other Police formations gives a ray of hope for the success of the operation.  The transfer, if transparently effected, provides an opportunity to rid the State of Police officers whose actions over the years had been clearly anti – Anambra State.

A recent decision by the State Government to pay compensation to innocent persons whose property is destroyed by the armed forces while carrying out their mission should help to win public confidence.  So is the offer to investigate allegations of improper conduct on the part of the troops.


How do you react to the phenomenon of god-fatherism in Nigerian politics, particularly given the experience of Anambra and Oyo State?


Nigeria is a country in which political office, particularly at the level of President of the Republic or State Governor, is seen as a gold mine. The escalation in the world price of crude oil – Nigeria’s main foreign exchange earner – as well as the emergence of liquefied natural gas as another major foreign exchange earner reinforces this view point.  To become a President or Governor places the winner in the enviable position in which both the yam and the knife for apportioning it to beneficiaries are in his hand.

With the dividends that high, the competition becomes cut – throat and the cost of “winning” an election in a society arid in intellectual sophistication and individual material resources soar to a level affordable only by persons who became rich as military rulers or through government patronage (including allocation of oil blocks).  The man of ideas but with modest means has no chance of “winning” such elections.  Conversely, a rich man transparently bereft of basic education and ideas stands little chance winning election as President or Governor.


God-fatherism emerged as an

VC Ike: The Porter's Wheel

The Porter's Wheel

ungodly alliance between the man of ideas, but without the resources to “win” an election, and the man with the resources to “win” an election, but without the personal qualities to stand as a candidate.
  Under the alliance, the god-father calls the shots, not the man of ideas who “won” the elections.  Through the use of instruments drawn up before hand, the god-father is assured of a regular princely chunk of the national or state resources to more than recover his investment. The organogram allegedly fashioned by Chris Uba for Anambra State, as recounted in one television programme, placed the god – father at the apex of the organogram.  In effect, the Executive Governor of the State was not the de facto Governor of the State.  Rather he was a member of a triumvirate reporting direct to the god-father.  Key positions in the Governor’s cabinet could be filled only on the authority of the god – father, who also had to approve major contract awards.  Considering the scanty educational and other credentials of the god – father, it was difficult to imagine what would have become of Anambra State if the Governor had not jettisoned the agreement, resulting in the attempt to abduct and overthrow him, and replace him with a more dependable puppet – the Deputy Governor.


God – fatherism hampered the effective take-off of the Mbadinuju Administration in Anambra State, and subjected the state to unimaginable trauma in the Ngige Administration.  A recent newspaper report of a court judgment requiring the 100 – day old god - fatherless Obi Administration to pay some =N=210 million to an erstwhile god-father for an irrevocable letter of credit for the construction of the Governor’s Lodge shows that the State has not seen the end of the evil effects of god – fatherism.


Many Nigerians, particularly Ndi-Anambra, have experienced the evil implications of crude god –fatherism in Nigerian politics.  A combination of forces is necessary to save Anambra State and the country from continued traumatization in the hands of ruthless god – fathers, particularly sustained public education and enlightenment, and drastic revision of the electoral act to eliminate massive rigging.  Unfortunately, from all indications, the evil bird is still in evidence and may remain so unless the Presidency withdraws the arm of the monkey from the soup pot.


The most disturbing fact of god – fatherism, especially in Anambra State, is the involvement of the Presidency in it to the hilt.  When the god-father informed the President that he rigged the Anambra State 2003 governorship election, instead of handing him over to law enforcement agencies, the President merely asked him and his “godson” to get out of his sight!  He was subsequently offered a seat on the BOARD OF TRUSTEES of the President’s political party!!!!



In the aftermath of the “Constitutional Amendment Vote” what’s your view about Obasanjo’s attempt to force a constitutional amendment that would have extended his tenure?


When Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obsanjo, voluntarily

handed over power to the Shehu Shagari elected government in 1979, he was

internationally eulogized as the first African military dictator who refused to

transform himself into a president – for – life.  Cynics assessed General

Obasanjo’s action differently.  They recalled that the photograph of the

assassinated Hausa Head of State – his erstwhile boss whom he succeeded as Head of State – continued to be displayed in Government offices long after Obasanjo became Head of State.  They saw Obasanjo’s concessions to the North, and the power he allowed Shehu Yar’Adua, his second – in – command, to wield as manifestations of his sense of insecurity, his constant nightmare of a Northern – led counter coup.  They saw his readiness to hand over power to Shehu Shagari in 1979 as a shrewd move to save his neck rather than the altruistic action of a military ruler who believed in democracy and the rule of law. The 1979 cynics see Civilian President Chief Obasanjo’s subtle attempt to elongate his tenure through a questionable constitutional amendment as a vindication of their assessment.


With the background of incarceration under the late Military Head of State General Sanni Abacha, during which period he claimed he became a born-again Christian, Chief Obsanjo came to power in 1999 as an elected civilian President with widespread national support.  To his credit, he transformed Nigeria’s international image as a pariah nation.  His chairmanship at one time or the other of the African Union and the Commonwealth of Nations greatly bolstered his personal stature as well as Nigeria’s stature, internationally.  The unprecedented earnings from crude oil placed tremendous resources at his disposal. His establishment of two anti-corruption agencies portrayed him as an anti-corruption crusader and at the same time, struck fear into political leaders with skeletons in their cupboards.


With the country firmly in the control of the People’s Democratic Party, his party, and the party machinery in his grip, Obasanjo began to see himself as Nigeria’s indispensable saviour who must remain in office indefinitely if Nigeria is not to revert to the status of a pariah, debtor nation. It came as a great relief to me that what appeared fool proof suddenly collapsed, notwithstanding the trillions of public funds lavished on it.  Recent speculations about the imposition of an Interim National Government raise fears that the hat of tricks may not have been exhausted.


Do you think there has been enough citizens’ defense of their civic duties to participate and protect the democratic process?


Certainly not.


The recent arrest of journalists on sedition charges has outraged many

observers. Do you think this is a ploy to intimidate the press and limit         press freedom and freedom of speech?


A.  Yes.      


Many thinkers believe that Nigeria appears to be in a state of political confusion, in part, because we don’t even understand the democratic system borrowed from America that we are supposed to be practicing…


Well, look, I listen

The Naked Gods

The Naked Gods

to the radio and hear that this person is special assistant; the other person is senior special assistant to the president and so on. All kinds of names are given to people. We copied an elegant, but convoluted system without even understanding the spirit of
America, the nation it belongs to. What we are doing in Nigeria is simply finding ways to give jobs to people hanging around. And there are still ministers, permanent secretaries and directors; but they no longer work. So much money is spent paying all these people, and at the end of the day, no money is left for essential services.


I think it is normal for my generation to think that things were better during their time but frankly, when I was a public servant there were challenges for me. We emerged from the civil war with the university of Nigeria shattered, even electric wires were ripped off. The late Ukpabi Asika set up a committee, of which I was appointed chairman, on how to reopen the university. And this was time when there was no money for anything. When I addressed students at its resumption, I sat on a cement block and they sat on the floor; but we felt challenged and motivated. In no time at all, the news was all over the place and the number of people seeking to come and study at Nsukka from other parts of country increased even though we had no facilities at the time. They knew, though, that these were people who had made things during the war that the black man had previously not been thought of as capable of making. They wanted to come and study under such people. Again these challenges were there, the vision was there, the commitment was there, the passion was there, the mission was clear. I don’t see the same clarity of purpose today.


Your close friend, Professor Chinua Achebe, believes that Nigeria’s problem can be squarely placed at the feet of poor leadership. What is you take on the issue?


I do not think that Nigeria has good leadership. I need not call names, but there are people in very prominent positions who did not win the elections. Everybody knows how it happened. Even so, they are sitting over all of us, today, telling us what to do. I come from a state, Anambra, that has been in

perpetual trouble since the present governor came into power. You see things going on which one cannot explain because of money and quest for money. There are people who, through government patronage, have handled our money and it has gotten into the wrong hands. And it is only because they know how to manipulate people, through that they have become millionaires.


One thing that I ought to say about leadership is this; somehow I think our government does not want to know the truth. I will use book development which I have been involved in for some time as an example. We have made proposals to the government about methods needed to be adopted to ease the book strategy in Nigeria. I told one minister that there is a system that would require just one quarter of what we are investing and with that we can produce a system that will be more efficient and have books readily available. No one pays attention. The only reply we got on one occasion was “the matter is under consideration”. That was the end of it. This country had a cultural policy in 1988, and there was fanfare, one of the best documents written anywhere; but it was never implemented.


One of the contentious issues is “which system of government is best suited for Nigeria?  Is it the presidential, the parliamentary, that practiced in France. What do you recommend?”


Somehow, the designation is not the issue. It is really that people want to exploit any

system to their advantage. But to answer the question; I would say that I prefer the parliamentary system over the presidential system. Thought, I am not very much into that kind of issue, I would rather not have the presidential system, because it gives the presidency almost limitless scope to do all kinds of things. That’s where those in government get the idea of specialized systems. Parliamentarians have their own assistants, stations doing research, collecting data, for their member of the parliament to use for the benefit of the country. But the people employed nowadays don’t do anything. They just seize the chance to offer employment to relations and friends and, of course pay only a portion of what gets to them. But generally speaking, I think the president has excessive powers which he and others are exploiting.


If we had a fantastic leader, there would be no problem; but the president has so much power and works in a system with so much money which he can use to corrupt the system. It is a terrible thing. I do not know why, but the parliamentary system is working in England and the presidential system is working in the United States, but all we seem to have gained from our system is to waste huge amounts of money. We borrowed the issue of a security vote from the military, and we are using it now as cover for huge sums of money which the head of government can use as he likes without accounting to anybody.


Is it possible to say that the main problem is that there has been a non-evolution of the political culture? In other words, we copy the presidential system, then the parliamentary system or whatever system exists. But none of these have evolved from any part of the tradition.


I agree entirely with you. In fact, in the alumni lecture that I gave in 1991, though the late Bola Ige who was there disagreed with me, I said that if I had

the power, I would banish political parties for twenty or thirty years. The reason for this is the idea of things not evolving. The culture of political parties has not evolved properly in this country. What we are doing is getting an aggregation of people without any true ideology, but who plot together to wrest power and use it to their own benefit. I thought that if we worked out a no party system that could be developed to allow us to go on for twenty or thirty years, over that period, political parties can begin to emerge; ideologies may aggregate and so on. When we eventually talk about political parties; it will be with substance and seriousness.


I keep saying that in our culture, in our own tradition we have not helped political parties. We have had some kingdoms that have systems of leadership without elections. These were systems that grew over the years whereby, in each home town one knew how to choose the traditional rulers. We should allow a space of time where there will be no political parties, because while politicians are around, it will be impossible for us to effect change. They will adversely influence any attempts at change with the money they have. In the specter of time when there are no political parties, young people will discover new alliances and ways in which political parties may work with our culture that will be more enduring. I think this will be a more positive way of doing things, than just going on with what we are doing now.


It goes without saying that this country is very rich and our money is going into the hands of a few people. How many Nigerians can buy new cars, how many Nigerians can even buy new bicycles if they live honest lives? No honest public servant can buy a new car or even live well. These are the reasons why I agree with you that we really have not had a chance to develop a proper culture in this country. We just travel abroad and copy what we see over there. For example, we copied the design of the National Theatre from abroad, but where is it today? We don’t even just borrow ideas; we borrow what will help people satisfy their selfish ends and not what is best for the country.


I read a book by John Rider called ‘Africa the travesty of a continent’ and some other articles published in Time magazine in the 90s.  Both of them discussed the fact that most African countries will collapse because they are forced contraptions by colonial masters. What do you think?


Certain issues

Sunset at Dawn

Sunset at Dawn

came to my mind while you talked. Structure is very important, because whatever we put up in this country ought to recognize the fact of our ethnic nationality of diverse groups of people. The issue of weak centres and strong centres and how the revenue is shared are very important, because they determine whether one gets total support from the entire

country. There has been a tendency for us to split into states and we are finally in a situation where while some states can stand on their own, others flatly cannot. The same thing is happening with local governments. When Babangida created the last batch, Professor Aboyade, who was chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee, at the time, was in class when he heard the announcement about the creation of states, and was shattered. He thought it was crazy to create so many states. Now, the local governments which should in fact be accomplishing a great deal are now incapable of doing much.


Now all the people in the local government do is wait for money and then share it amongst councilors and the chairman and nothing is accomplished When the Igbo were carved into more states, someone told me he was surprised I was not jumping for joy. I said ‘do you really now feel that we have our own share of the national cake just because we have more states; I mean, what do you really gain?’ With the creation of states, all that happens is that the country is exploited even more; there will be increasing overheads and, at the end of the day, next to nothing remains for real development.


The same thing happens in the church. I am an Anglican. I once went to the general synod -- the highest level of the Anglican Communion representing my diocese -- and the issue of the creation of dioceses came up. If you know the number of bishops that we now have, it is staggering. Whenever they hold the conference in England, Nigerian bishops fill up the entire place. They say the Anglican Communion is the fastest growing in the world, and I asked them -- what kind of growth. Is it growth by the number of dioceses or growth by the number of converts you are winning? In a statement, I said: ‘I do not need to see a bishop every day to become a good Christian, but in the creation of new dioceses, the overhead costs will only go up, and the common member of the church in rural areas will be under constant pressure to keep paying money as the church no becomes a fund raising organization. Of course, there are a few people who gain from this by becoming bishops and Arch bishops and so on. That is why having a viable structure for doing things in the country is very important.


What structure do you want for Nigeria?


I took that up in my novel, The Search where one of the characters is really against the creation of states. We ought to have something that is more meaningful. Someone came up with a debate in the senate sometime ago, questioning the basis for the creation of states and referring to reports by various commissions set up by the colonial government. But because he challenged the present basis for the creation of states, he was not allowed to present a motion in the senate, which many members were opposed to it. He

published it later on. To me, zones would be the answer and creating states without talking about zones is a problem.

The basis for allocation of revenue will have to be looked into also, so that it can be shared in a more equitable way. If I had my way, I would go for the zoning system which is more manageable. If individual zones want states, then that should be their business. The presidency should also be rotated among the smaller groupings.


I don’t agree with this North-south issue, because it doesn’t mean anything. What do you mean by north or south? It arises mostly from the persons in the North who believe they have a divine right to rule. They cannot wait to go round six times that is why you keep hearing ‘North-south]. I don’t support it.  If we are going to rotate, one term would be the best thing but we could work out how many years that term would be. I think that is the fairest thing. In the initial years, we should try it; if in a century they want to change it, fine. But, we should start out with one term for the presidency.


What do you think about the role of the masses in the development of the Nigerian political system?


Well, this is one area with which I am not happy. During the Abacha regime there was a half-hearted attempt to pull together civil society. Although this did not involve the masses as such -- it was the elites more or less -- at least, it was a beginning. Many of us over the years have been subjugated to the extent that we do not even ask questions about what is happening to us. Take the issue of petrol, for instance. If the masses were well organized, we would not be cheated so easily by all these bodies. In Anambra state, what we pay for petrol is not what is paid in Lagos, or any other state. Once, when I was living in the north, I came home to the village and bought fuel. I saw that the fellow had doctored the meter, and asked him to stop. I calculated what I knew to be the normal price of petrol, and then paid him that. He was very angry and said that I should keep the money, that he was not taking it from me. He added that if I didn’t have the money to buy petrol, I should get out of the way.


The masses have not been galvanized. In Biafra, there was a massive movement to galvanise people; they were fighting a people’s war and they had something at stake. Maybe that had to do with the war time situation, but it is really necessary for people to know their rights and have the courage to defend their rights. In my novel, I talk about the people’s court. Things are so bad, nowadays, but when people go to court, the verdict does not help the situation. But if we could have a peoples’ court, I feel we could move this country forward. I once talked about the tragedies in the Nigerian judicial system, comparing it with what happens in the village.


When a case comes up before my traditional ruler, the accuser states his case and so does the other person. Apart from the traditional ruler being the judge, everybody could come in when a case is going on there. At the end of this, a judgment is delivered. When cases come up, people are free to fire questions whoever is stating their case, then a kind of consensus emerges. In western countries, the jury system works differently from ours that involve everyone in the community in what was going on. Our politicians get the masses involved when it is time for voting and when it suits them. We should get more from them; get them to pay back to the community that elected them. Elected officials should be shown what projects have been left undone so that they can provide the community with the money to execute the projects and only then will the community say ‘yes we will vote for you.’


One of the problems we have in the country these days is the issue of ethnicity. Yet, you mentioned names that were not from your ethnic group and yet you interacted with them at that time. At what point did ethnicity become a problem in Nigeria?


Well it has always been there. Persons who feel that they cannot achieve their own goals in life, through their own effort, look for something to cling on to as a basis for reaching heights they might not have reached under normal circumstances. Once again it depends on the circumstances, if religion suits them, they use religion, if ethnicity suits them they use ethnicity; anything they can cling on to help them. But it is their own selfish interest motivating them. At the University College Ibadan, the different ethnic groups intermingled, but it does not mean there were no problems. At the university, the student groups were either one group or the other -- the Igbo, the Yoruba, and the Hausa/Fulani, because these were the dominant groups at the time. There was this battle about who would inherit the government from the colonial masters. The Igbo got into education later than the Yoruba and this battle was always there.


In the alumni lecture I gave at the University College Ibadan in 1991, I raised the issue by saying: “The Igbo and the Yoruba are at each other’s throat over what the Hausa/Fulani have taken away from them a long time ago.” The problem of ethnicity exists, and it has survived a long time. In fact I am currently working on a follow up to my first novel, ‘Toads for supper’, which will give greater chance now to look at the issue of ethnicity. My wife is Yoruba, so at least that shows you my own attitude, because as a Christian, I did not see why I should not interact with other Christians, no matter the ethnic origin of that person.


Clearly, professor, you have lived your life as a true Nigeria. However, there are those claiming to be ‘detribalized,’ but who are in actual fact, ethnic bigots. What is your perspective on this phenomenon?


Let me tell you a story…I was

Professor V.C. Ike's Son Prince Osita Ike and Grandson Prince Chuck Ike

Professor V.C. Ike's Son Prince Osita Ike and Grandson Prince Chuck Ike

involved in an interview process recently of persons we were considering for vice chancellorship of a university. A man applying for the position wrote us claiming to be completely detribalized. I asked him -- what do you mean by that; do you mean you are no longer Igbo? And he replied, ‘No, I am detrabalised.’ I said to him -- what you mean is that you are objective, not that you are detribalized. I pray that God never makes me detrabalised. I am an Igbo man. I am proud to be an Igbo man, and I do not have to shed my
Igbo identity because I want to be a good Nigerian.


This is something extremely unfortunate. In fact he went on to say that he does not allow his Christian beliefs to influence his decisions, and I said: You claim to be Christian yet don’t allow your Christian beliefs to influence your decisions? But he replied he doesn’t want his beliefs as a Roman Catholic to be used against someone who is not one. I told him that what he said he said earlier is different from what he explained to me. So actually I believe that this country is made up of people from different ethnic groups, different nationalities, and I believe that it is important that each of these groups should retain their identity.


My son’s wife is from Benin, and they live in Lagos. My grandson cannot speak Igbo which upsets me a great deal, and I have been trying to see gradually how we can change this. I think it is a terrible thing for a young person to grow up without having roots in a culture and language of his own.

But one can see that we have at least tried to practice what we preach!


So you do not see anything wrong with ethnic loyalty as long as it does not produce “an obscuration of national ideals and goals?”


I am not sure what that means, but it sounds good… (General Laughter)


Seriously, as I said previously, it is people’s selfish ambition that allow for their ethnic origin to cloud their vision and their judgment, which need not happen. Of course, this idea of -- “it’s our turn…” honestly, I don’t see anything wrong about that, because I have seen that people misuse ethnicity. In my novel, The Search, which I released in 1991, one of the characters advocates the system of rotation, not only of the presidency, but at the state level. And it is my belief that, at the local government level, the same thing should apply there. If it is the turn of a particular group to produce a candidate, they should be allowed to produce that candidate.


You have alluded to this in our discussion, so let’s tackle this next…The concept of rotational presidency is now quite controversial. Many believe that its time may not have arrived….


I disagree…We waste millions and billions on elections which don’t mean anything. We all know that elections in this country are fraudulent. Those whom INEC clears through screening are not the same ones who emerge at the end of a voting session. And we are told we are in a democracy. These are things which we should face in this country. Political party systems should not be rooted in corruption, and much of what they are doing now cannot be done in a system of rotation. Let me again say that I believe various nationalities should be maintained, but not in a way that is detrimental to the interest of the country. There should be a system which makes it clear that no group should think that they have the divine right to rule others perpetually, because that would not be acceptable to me. There should be a system of rotation.


Aren’t there many bottleneck issues…difficulties…that need to be ironed out before embarking on any rotational system?


Of course! Clearly, if I am from a zone that may not have a shot in my lifetime, I will oppose such a system, because the position may never get to me. But such a person is thinking about himself. He is not thinking about the entire country. Were you born to be president of this country? Ethnicity based politics is not a good idea. It is not good for Nigeria!


Nigeria has developed its own system of affirmative action – National Character - to combat some of these problems, at least, in the work place and in our schools. Some celebrate this as a way to “even the playing field.” Others believe that it cements mediocrity. Surely, this is a difficult issue…


I am involved in university matters and I once advocated for the bulk of students for admission to be taken on open merit. The reply was: ‘no this is a state university.’


There are too many things to be said about Nigeria, but as a professor we would like you to mention the factors that work against democracy and development in Nigeria


Well, let me say that there is the issue of uneven development in Nigeria. There are parts of the country that are not really well developed as others and let’s not have it develop into a problem, because this that leads to things like a quota system being demanded.


A quota system has the problem of preventing a bright Nigerian from getting into the university simply because he happens to come from a developed area. We are thinking only of the disadvantaged. That is one problem, and I think that is where government should try to see development more evenly spread throughout the country. The political party system is also creating too many problems for us. You have seen what has happened, as a result.


Corruption has been a perennial pathology in Nigeria. The former World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, once said “Corruption is a cancer in Nigeria. You can pretend to live with cancer and not treat it, but eventually it kills you” What is your perspective?


I was invited to

Osita and Princess Adaeze Idara Adebimpe Ike

Osita and Princess Adaeze Idara Adebimpe Ike

a conference on corruption, accountability and transparency in Abuja some years ago. Of course nothing came out of it. But I was trying to make a point; government cannot say that they are fighting corruption when they are financing and funding corruption in many ways. At the time Pius Anyim was president of the senate, the head of his party said he should produce N120m [one hundred and twenty million naira] for a party workshop. And I asked myself; where is he to get it from -- public funds? When it comes to a stage when one has to take N120m to fund a political party function, then it is obvious that all kinds of things are going on within the political framework.


We are deluding ourselves by saying we are conducting elections. We are not conducting elections. Some years back I was preparing to go out to vote during one of the elections when somebody called me and said: ‘don’t

waste your time, the result has already been declared. It’s been written, but it has not been announced, so don’t go and waste your time.’ I still went ahead, and cast my vote, but at the end of the day what the man said was true. So that’s another thing which I feel is very important and must be addressed. Secondly, there is this issue of allocation of power where some people feel that  they have the divine right to rule and any arrangement you work out which prevents them from ruling is subverted. In fact, in my novel, The Search, the idea of musical chairs was employed as a metaphor. Any ruler who does anything to prevent such people from remaining in power, something happens and he is toppled, and then someone else is on the throne.


The educational system is in shambles. What do you think went wrong? Clearly the quality of education that your generation received, the environment and the teachers were all different….superior…


The environment, of course, is not the same. It’s a pity that school authorities and students quarrel so much these days. There was a sharp drop in interest in education in Anambra state, especially among boys, and it was alarming. They were withdrawn from school. What was the purpose? They spend so many years in school, and what do they get at the end of it?  This was when 419[Advance Fee Fraud] was in vogue, as well as drug peddling. The young boys who went into cocaine became rich; they built houses and moved around with convoys of cars, and many people knew this was not as a result of school, but from peddling cocaine. So many of them said: ‘to hell with school...’ I know of a man who came to see me during the admission of his son in the university. When he later came to visit the boy, he couldn’t find him; he had gone to peddle cocaine.


There is the feeling that education was no longer the way to go in life. It is affecting tailors and carpenters and many others. The man who sews my Igbo dress for me in Jos told me that he has to pack up, because it is difficult to find apprentices. Nobody wants to spend time learning a trade when he can make quick money elsewhere. Even in the village here, palm wine is now beyond the reach of the poor person, because whose son would like to go into palm wine tapping? The ones who are doing it are the grey haired people with no one to leave it to when they die. And, of course, the educational system has shown no interest in that aspect of things. If there is any interest, a way would have been evolved of making palm wine tapping easier by improving on the old tools.


Professors Alele-Williams and Akinkugbe in earlier Chinua Achebe Foundation interviews called for a refocus of our educational priorities…that we should endeavour to make the educational experience relevant to society and meaningful to students…


I agree. Education as we have formulated it in Nigeria today no longer has a positive impact on the society. There are polytechnics that have done nothing to influence the socio-economic life of its host community, but which are turning out so many people roaming around looking for jobs. These people now go and operate GSM call booths. I think the environment is very much a problem. When this country started investing in education, I had hopes about it and was invited to the national stakeholder’s conference on education in Abuja. But when I talked about some of the areas the educational system should look into, a woman educationist from one of the universities took me to task, and asked whether I want my son to train to be a palm wine tapper. She absolutely missed the point. Every community has a method for generating income; however, the educational system makes no contribution towards these things. We are not really helping our people to develop.


Politics often offsets any genuine attempts at positive reforms…


Yes, but I also think that it’s really an issue of leadership, because the UBE raised our hopes at the time when Professor Abayo who had been

UNESCO regional director, and who was committed to this thing was suddenly taken off the job. Nomadic Education was brought into Nigeria by Dr Uzoma of the University of Jos. He was an Igbo man, but he had the support of a Fulani professor who was in power at the time. When it became a formidable thing to be reckoned with he was removed from the place and someone from another part of the country was put in charge of it. So Universal Basic Education [UBE] has not achieved what I thought it should. Education is something that can help develop the rural community into a place that is vibrant so that people stay and make money and then move ahead. That is how education achieves its purpose. When we were children, the white man’s idea was that we could only become teachers or clerks. The white man told us to forget about yam, cocoyam, and go to school. And yet, yam and cocoyam represented the culture of the Igbo man. Our educational system was in fact meant to move one away from his or her culture. This is what is still going on today, and I think it is terrible.


As a former chief executive of WAEC, what are your suggestions for convincing Nigerians that the experience of cheating on examinations achieves nothing but the entrenchment of mediocrity, which in turn consolidates the nation’s descent in abject poverty and lawlessness? 


How many Nigerians desire to be convinced regarding the disastrous consequences of cheating to national development?  How many Nigerians spare a thought for the national interest in matters affecting their own individual interest?  I recall the alleged response of a British politician asked what he thought posterity would think of his action and he promptly snapped:  “posterity has no vote.” Nigerians who cheat in examinations are concerned about their individual progress, not with the future of the nation. Cheating in examinations has assumed more alarming dimensions since I retired from WAEC on 1 July 1979.  So – called “special examination centres” have sprung up, in which candidates (who are charged phenomenal fees) are free to cheat at will.  


Lecturers in tertiary institutions offer students the opportunity to obtain grades of their choice for stipulated fees.  Some lecturers demand payment in kind from female students.  A female student wishing to earn good grades for little work organizes a hotel room, sends the particulars to the lecturer, and turns herself over to the lecturer for the night, all expenses pre-paid by her!  Little surprise many banks and other private sector employers now require 1st class honours or no lower than 2nd class (upper division) from prospective employees.

As a character observed in my detective novel, EXPO 77, how realistic is to expect young people not to cheat in examinations when cheating is the order of the day within the larger society?


This draws us to the fact that the educational system in the country appears to sap the zeal to create industry. If you look around, you see that most of the people who are working hard to create industry in Nigeria are not university graduates. How does one explain this?


Well I think this is part of the system we have adopted so far-- the concept of what the university should or should not be doing, which I think needs revising. Years ago, when I was doing work on higher education, I came out with the practice, in the former soviet union at the time, for their engineering and some other subjects. Each student in his graduating class must come out with an invention; an original idea to help the society, in general.

What we are doing here is learning what others have done. We at the Anambra state university of science and technology would like to see the university constantly looking at the private sector, the industry, the rural environment to discover how the persons there can earn a decent living.


We will bring such information back to the university, and also get those groups interested in the university, because there are things they can do for the university in return. I think that we should develop a kind of symbiotic relationship between the university and the community. There are many professors in the university who develop prototypes and what remains is for those who have the funds to pick the prototypes and develop

them. But nothing happens. I was hoping our wealthy traders and businessmen would back some of these inventions – maybe have them named after them – and make a lasting contribution, not only to Nigerian society, but the world, in general.


Years ago, the University of Ife claimed they invented a prototype for yam pounding. Nobody developed it, then some years later, Japan produced a yam pounding machine, and they do not even eat yam. I went to a synod and at the end of it they gave some of us gifts and one was a lantern. I took it home and found out that it increases my output, because I cannot generate electricity 24 hours of the day. I like to start working at 5 a.m. and I like to go to bed at a certain hour. Now, I have a tool that all I need to do is recharge it for a few hours. I cannot even find the name of the manufacturer. These are the kind of things that Nigerians should be working on, things that will help us exist in the society, but all we are doing is importing them from other places. Stanford University which I attended in the United States has properties and all kinds of facilities where they do research with funding. There was even a Stanford shopping centre.


We would like to end by taking you down memory lane… Please tell us about your self and your early childhood.


I was born at Ndikelionwu, which is a great town. This is my hometown and where I was born to my late parents and brought up until part of my primary school where my ideas of life were initially shaped. We lived in a society which had good values, a society which had moral goals. There were things you were allowed to do and things that you could not do. As a child, if a heap of cocoyam was left on a farm, you could be sure that no one would steal it. There were no security guards. You swept your house and your compound, and washed yourself before doing anything. These were the times that formed my early years. In those days my father was a retired school master and church teacher who believed in Christianity very strongly and had strong principles.


He feared that I might be spoilt if I continued to live with him and my mother, and he believed that the best thing to do was send me away to school to live under the guardianship of others. This was the pattern in those days. Children were sent out to go and live with others who would talk common sense into their heads. It was not so much that your parents couldn’t train you; but it was widely held by many in my parent’s generation that a child benefited from living away from the family. Even my elder sisters were sent off to go and live with others; no matter how much you resisted it, your parents would insist that you go there. I believe this helped knock certain principles into my brain. So I left home and began my education away from home.


You attended Government College Umuahia…


Yes…I went to Government College Umuahia,

Expo 77

Expo 77

which was a very fortunate experience, the school was run on rigid principles -- things you must do or must not do. It was not the kind of place where one trained to be a bookworm. In fact there were hours when you must not touch a text book or you would be punished for it. So that was an excellent background for me, and that is where my literary interest began.


It was there that I first met Chinua Achebe and a number of others like Elechi Amadi who became writers. Our Principal at the time taught you about honesty and not to get yourself into hopeless things or be pompous. These were the times that formed a background for me and I am very grateful for that background. I have come back home to the village here in Ndikelionwu and have lived at home for eleven years. People have thought that my wife and I are crazy, because we could have been living in Jos or Enugu. People, as you know, try to run away from the problems associated with being at home.


So people have concluded that I must be enjoying living at home, and in a sense, I am; but in another sense one is faced with abject poverty. There is so much poverty in our society today that many people die, not because it was their time to die, but because they cannot afford basic drugs for their survival. Children drop out from school because there is nobody to pay their school fees. So you find out that you are constantly being called to give money to this person or to help that person. Not many people want to do that kind of thing. They want to go out and build big houses where they will have their traditional weddings for their daughters and where they will hold burial ceremonies for when they die. But I reasoned that I could not run away from my culture. This is the culture I have projected in my novels, why should I now run away from it? So I said that I will come and stay here, and it is very helpful because you can offer wisdom to your people, your family, and your town. They can benefit from your experiences instead of them seeing you only once in a while.


It appears to the younger generation that from the quality of men and women of your generation, conditions clearly had to have been better…different from what we have today. Sir, What was the Nigeria of your youth like?


Let me agree that Nigeria as of then is not the Nigeria of today. I think of the challenges I went through in this country. We were the young people emerging from the university at the time Nigeria was readying for independence, and you felt then that the country needed you. The colonial masters were not really sure whether they wanted to go or not. They were very happy that we believed we could govern ourselves.


We had some challenges then…you would travel out to the U.S or the U.K. to attend conferences and find out that the range of people attending these conferences was much older than you. But you were given so much and even more depended on your ability to perform well, and this brought out the best in you. I am not better than other people, but I became Registrar of the University of Nigeria Nsukka at the age of 31. The council was trying to delay it for some time, but I was eventually appointed the Registrar of the university and this was a tremendous challenge.


But today, I find there are no longer any challenges, and I sympathise with the young people. The civil service was a place that challenged many people of my generation…people like Philip Asiodu worked in the civil service. There were clear ideas of what people were to do. The permanent secretary was the permanent secretary, but today the permanent secretary is just a name. The politicians are the people calling the shots, not because they know what to do, but because that is the nature of the government that we have. So many people earn their salaries, but are busy doing other things because there is no challenge for them. I met my friend the other day at the Airport, and asked him to show me his backside because I heard that he had been booted out of the civil service. And there seems some kind of joy in retiring people at a relatively young age. The military claimed the civil service was overloaded, but it would end up taking even more people than it had removed. It removed people in order to put in those they wanted. They did that till the service collapsed. The universities, when I was Registrar, sent transcripts to students’ guardians to follow their progress. Today I don’t know how many universities regularly send transcripts to guardians...


Interrupting…. Let me suggest that all of this is a lack of commitment to excellence, to a job well done…the distinct collapse of national values and the African work ethic…


My sentiments exactly! It used to be at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, that in the third year of a course, a document was produced to show where a student stood academically before the final year. Now people in the final year face arguments that they did not finish this course or that course. I am pro-chancellor of a university now so I see that this is going on and I am unhappy about it. So much money is being spent wastefully, and it breaks my heart….


Biafra and the Civil War is one of the greatest watersheds in this country. I always ask members of your generation whether this country learnt anything from that war, because despite several national conferences I have heard it said that the Aburi accord will sort out everything. Have we learnt anything?


One should always endeavour to learn something from every experience, but it

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appears that, in this country, we have not learnt much. It really pains me to see what we are suffering because of petroleum refining. Biafra showed that the black man has an excellent brain; it showed the potentialities of the black man. Quite a majority of our people, when they see the white man they say Ndi ocha [white man] in awe as if the man has better brains than we do. Many of our brothers who traveled to their country have beaten them in every sphere. It is just that the system they have encourages people with brains to give output which will empower the, while here progress seems to be actively discouraged.


Shell and the colonial masters gave us the impression that petroleum refining was highly technological and over our heads. Then during the civil war, we were faced with a difficult situation after the loss of the Port Harcourt refinery. We could either employ our brains or surrender, and Biafra did not want to surrender on that basis, so our scientists asked: ‘what is in refining? It’s a matter of when you heat crude oil to a certain temperature and it gives you one result, and if you heat further to a certain temperature, it will give you a different result. Before long, the Biafra government was controlling the refining process.


We did these things with limited facilities. There were no refineries then, but we were able to scratch with our fingers until we found petrol. In this kind of situation, we can do more than that and Nigeria will be able to sell the idea of small scale refineries to many other developing countries in the world. I know the white powers will stand very much in our way; still it all depends on our desire to emancipate ourselves from stagnation. In the country, refineries are now being sold to the private sector; that is one area I feel very bad about. There are many other areas in which we don’t seem to have learnt anything. As you said, the Aburi accord worked out many ways in which things could move. But you know, the accord, when Gowon went back to Lagos, was torn into pieces by people in Lagos, because they thought he had played into our hands by enabling Biafra or the easterners get away with so many things. The basic principle is that if you use your brain, you can achieve a lot.


At the end of the civil war, when we assembled at Nsukka, my committee was asked to look at whatever facilities available, and we discovered that all the bore holes in Nsukka were dead. There was nothing we could do to get those boreholes to function and they were using tankers to go to the river to fetch water. We had no tankers but we wanted to reopen the university. I called Professor Gordian Ezekwe who was on the committee and said, well you have handled similar cases; your assignment is to get water out of those boreholes. He asked for pay loaders from Danjuma who was then the provost and they got us loaders and some men knew where they had hidden generators in the bush. They got them out and within two weeks, water was flowing from those bore holes and the soldiers

could not believe it.


That attitude of mind is gone and it is a pity. Unfortunately, nobody, even Obasanjo, because he was the war hero from the federal side, wanted to show that any good came out of Biafra. The federal government is unlikely to support that kind of thing, but what about our own state government; what stops them from doing so? The whole thing about Biafra was because people felt they were being prevented from expressing an opinion. They took to violence and the violence finally ended up in war, because at the time we were ruled by the military, and the military is used to violence. What they don’t like they shoot. If they had not responded the way they did, I don’t think we would have had a civil war.


Thank you, Professor Ike.


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: Professor V.C. Ike in Conversation with Professor Osmond Enekwe, Uduma Kalu and Alvan Ewuzie