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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #30

A Meeting of the Minds
(Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe in Conversation with Toluwanimi Olujimi)

The Chinua Achebe Foundation

Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe,

Chinua Achebe

Prof. Chinua Achebe


Prof. Oladipo Akinkugbe

Prof. Oladipo Akinkugbe

  CON, Officier de l’Ordre National de La Republique de Cote d’Ivoire, is one of the world’s most distinguished and respected physicians and intellectuals. Professor Akinkugbe  is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin; former Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University; former visiting professor of Medicine at Harvard University; former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of council of  the University of Port Harcourt as well as Emeritus professor of Medicine, University of Ibadan.


He was born on 17 July, 1933 to the family of late Chief D.A. Akinkugbe, the Odofin of Ondo and Chief (Mrs.) G.A. Akinkugbe. Professor Akinkugbe was educated at Government College, Ibadan and the University College, Ibadan. Later he attended London University -the Royal London Hospital- where he received his medical degree, MBBS, in 1958. Professor Akinkugbe obtained a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1960 from Liverpool University, and received a Doctor of Philosophy from Balliol College, Oxford University, in 1964.


Professor Akinkugbe has served as World Health Organisation Expert on Health Manpower and WHO Council Member on Health Research. He was the President of the Nigerian Association of Nephrology(1987-90); Member of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees; Obafemi Awolowo Foundation (1992); International Society of Hypertension (1982-90); and Board of Trustees of the African Association of Nephrology(1986). Professor Akinkugbe has been on the editorial boards of many distinguished publications, including the Journal of Hypertension (1984-90), Human Hypertension (1988), Kidney International (1990), Blood Pressure (1991) and News of Physiological Sciences (1992). 


He has published, edited and authored numerous theses, books, journals and reports, which include: Angiotensin and the kidney: Observations on High Blood Pressure in the West African: East African Medical Journal (special supplement, 1969) – Symposium on Blood Pressure and Hypertension in Africa; Hypertension and stroke control in the community: Principles of Medicine in Africa, 1976; The Health of Nations - Medicine, Disease, and Development in the third World (1995); High Blood Pressure in the Africa 1972; Cardiovascular Disease in Africa, 1976, and Nigeria and Education – the challenges Ahead, 1994


Professor Akinkugbe is the Atobase of Ife and Babalofin of Ijebu-igbo, the Adengbuwa of Ondo, Ikolaba Balogun Basegun of Ibadan, and physician to the Royal Household, Ile Ife 1969-1980.


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: Nigeria’s history of political ineptitude is typically blamed on poor leadership. What is your assertion?


My idea of leadership

Oladipo Akinkugbe

Prof. Oladipo Akinkugbe

is not simply about an individual, but the corporate whole. I see leadership as a concept, and every Nigerian, as part of the Nigerian project. Unfortunately, people seem to look at leadership in terms of the particular man at the helm of affairs, the president or Head of State who is the number one man. We do this without considering the people surrounding him, and who may not always serve his interest, which is assumed to be the interest of the people. Leadership is not in stringent pursuit of views; it is accommodating. It should be flexible enough to take advice/opinions that are in the overall interest of all. Good leadership involves active participation of the people in the administration of the state.


Q. There is the suspicion that Nigeria was probably poisoned in the womb; that it may have been born with inherent contradictions perennially hindering its capacity for success. 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?


That is a convoluted, complex question… Now the major architects of Nigerian independence are three people, and I don’t mention them in any particular order. The Sarduana of Sokoto, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Chief Obafemi Awolowo; those are the three major architects of Nigerian independence. Of course, the first Prime Minister was Tafawa Balewa should also be mentioned; however Balewa was a product of the three thinkers and planners who led delegations for the country to achieve self -government of the regions, and later on, the independence of this country. And they were, in their own ways, highly principled, selfless, and possessing a great sense of integrity.


They were motivated by a concern for the masses, and a deep ambition to put in their best. They were not what I will describe as people on horses that throw their heads back and believe they are the masters, and the rest of the people, servants. These three men worked with the masses, and understood the politics of the time; they were more concerned with taking care of infrastructures and providing social services. They wrote manifestoes and pursued their ideals with zeal; making money was not a major consideration. And when such criteria are measured against those of contemporary leaders, you find that the appropriate leadership qualities needed for nation building is lacking.


Q. Blame for Nigeria’s endless woes has tended to be heaped on its leadership. What blame might be ‘apportioned’ to the electorate?


We must examine why it is that the electorate – the followers-- make poor leadership choices. I have always regarded education as a potent and powerful instrument of social reform that requires serious and immediate attention. Unless the masses are well educated, they will continue to tolerate poor leadership. They are the ones to decide whether a leader is performing well or not, after all, and whether to remove him as a result! That is the power of the masses, you see... the people must be educated to understand the power they possess…You will find that if you sat some members of the leadership down, and took them through major issues of the day, many would be found wanting in the real understanding of issues.


Q: That problem, many will argue, is wide spread…


Precisely! I once went to the library of the National Assembly to study the constitution. I then asked the librarian how many senators actually used the library. She replied: ‘very, very few. Sadly, very few...’ So, I doubt if many really have had a thorough read-through of the constitution, and these are the ones supposedly practising the constitution, the act of governance...


Now, in the US, the library of congress is the largest in the world, and senators there are well informed of the issues affecting their country. Their essays are very well researched, and highly regarded, indeed; so, there is a lamentable gap when you compare the situation in our country. Of course, as it is said that a country gets the leader it deserves, so it is with the states and local government councils! If you come into the national or state houses without a real understanding of the pertinent issues, how then can you do your best for your constituency?



                                                OF MEDIOCRITY


Q: Sir, how would you respond to the phenomenon of "godfatherism" in Nigerian politics?


The politician who keeps his nose in the air, and believes he can lecture the electorate is likely to lose at a just and fair

election. But one who relates to the grassroots, who examines the problems of his constituency, and demonstrates genuine empathy for people’s problems; that is the type of person the populace really wants. That sort of person must show concern about food, healthy living, shelter, education and so on – the basics. Such a person should not need a godfather, then, because his intention is to really accomplish what he pledged to the electorate. Unfortunately, politics is not like that in
Nigeria; often, it is money-driven. And because much of the populace is grievously poor, they dance to the tune of anyone who has access to fairly sizeable resources.


In a recent paper, The Cost of Talent, I argued that in a free enterprise economy, talent is given full rein, and the appetite grows with nourishment. In the stampede for wealth, the truly gifted person who is further endowed with a sense of honour and values often gets trampled upon, and may even get crushed in the race. After all, the end justifies the means, as the saying goes…


Interrupting…Mammon worship…Can Nigerians ever free themselves from the albatross of mammon worship?

 The gospel of wealth has completely distorted our value system to the extent that corruption has become Nigeria’s greatest albatross. Talent has been rubbished, and excellence devalued. Wages and salaries are but a tip of the iceberg of “take-home remuneration” in virtually all the classes. The elite always seek ways and means to beef up its legitimate entitlements. In many instances, income from questionable sources far exceeds legitimate earnings, and this is often the reason for the vicious competition for public appointments or to become voted into high office. Patronage is a form of human frailty, but in Nigerian society it is often carried to ridiculous extents. In the United Kingdom, referees for academic appointments might make every effort to ensure that their candidates succeed; the difference is that virtually all the short listed candidates would possess first-class honours from their various universities. So, it does not matter who, in the end, gets the job – whoever it is can be sure to deliver. But in a society like ours that privileges mediocrity, the highly talented lose out if they have no godfather.


Tens of millions of Nigerians live below the poverty line, and so cannot cater for their families. Many earn very little; many others are unemployed. The implementation of forms of social security, a social contract has to be articulated and prosecuted by the entire system, if we are going anywhere near turning around the fortunes of the generality of our citizenry, regardless of their political affiliation.


Q: How can we develop a strong focused civil society?


By educating the polity and encouraging energetic, enthusiastic and passionate involvement in the democratic process…


 As I have stated earlier, the problem we face in Nigeria is multifaceted, not just corruption…there is clearly a problem of the attitude of our people... The followers... The populace has not been given the tools (through education) as yet, to understand and monitor the performance of those who represent them. In fact, if you ask people to identify the Chairman of their local government or the senator of their senatorial district, you will discover that not too many can. As soon as people have finished voting, the elected officials disappear from the scene, not to be seen until the next campaign for a new election. In other countries, public officials have to regularly give feedback to the people they represent, because that’s what sells them for the next time. We can make our elected officials give us intermittent account of their performance!


I can tell you that I haven’t seen the man who represents me since the last election. If he comes again to solicit for my vote, I will ask him what he achieved while in office. But he won’t bother with people like me; he will go into the streets and markets to cajole people. So you see--it’s a huge problem that cannot be tackled simply in a year. If democracy is allowed to run its full course -- for example, suppose we had continued with democratic rule since the first republic, by now, 40 years after, we would have moved closer to transparency.




Q: What measures should Nigeria put in place to deter those bent on “short circuiting the democratic process?”


Sanctions are very important. If sanctions are not imposed on those who err, the wrong signals are sent. People will then say, ‘if I steal and am caught, I will not have to repay anything; in two or three years, I shall be out of prison, and can then enjoy my loot.


If people are allowed to go on with that mentality the country is in great trouble. There is no deterrent to bad, corrupt behaviour, you see. In other countries, those who are found to be corrupt are punished. So, if one is caught-- in the US for example -- there are many sanctions to be imposed on such a person. The country operates the 11th commandment -- ‘thou shall not be caught being corrupt.’ Once caught, you face the music! But in Nigeria, we also tend to trivialize the sanctions that are imposed. A thief will claim that he is being victimized, even though he knows very well that he committed the crime he is accused of.


In the past, if anybody was caught and tagged a thief or imprisoned, that was his end; his family, as well. Unless, and until we begin to hold in disdain proven criminals, things will not improve. People will not learn their lesson until a big man goes to jail; so really, the followership has to become more assertive, and hold our leaders accountable. I think that the more education people have the more judgmental they will be about issues of the state. For instance, no man is going to offer me N10, 000 as bribe, and I believe the same goes for the general run of professionals in the country. But it is a different thing for the market woman; even N1, 000 will make a lot of difference to her day.


Q: What are some of the subterranean factors that nurture corruption in Nigeria?


As a medical man, I view corruption as cancerous, a kind of societal cancer. But as you know, as I also said at a time, the things that fuel corruption are the two extremes of poverty and greed. Now, if a system is such that people don’t earn enough to keep and maintain the basic necessities of life, they will look elsewhere to make up for it…


Several years ago, I had as my patient, a policeman. After the usual clinical attention, I sat down to chat with him, and asked him how much his salary was. He gave me a figure, and then I asked him how much he made in a day at any of the hastily improvised road blocks policemen set up along our roads and expressways. He smiled and said, ‘Professor; how do you know all this—are you an SSS man?’ I’m just interested, I replied, and then he gave me a figure that was about twice the amount he claimed was his salary.


How much of this amount do you give to your boss? I then asked him. ‘Prof,” he asked, again, much surprised: how do you know these things? So, I told him that even very young Nigerians know what goes on in the country, and he gave me another figure. I said to him: if you don’t give anything to your Oga, he will probably post you to a remote area; where you are now is quite lucrative. He laughed, and I added up all the figures, and then asked him how many children he had. Six, he said. Again, I asked: “how do you clothe and feed these children and your wife?”  He said to me, and I will never forget this -- ‘I’m not ashamed to be corrupt; the other alternative is to become an armed robber, and I’m not prepared for that. Now this is a man with six children that he feeds and clothes. Even with these basic necessities, he is not able to cope, but for the bribe he collects from motorists…


Q: The pathology of corruption infests, infects, and permeates every cadre of our society…


Yes…you can see how many people are involved in corrupt activities, and are not even ashamed of it. Their frame of thought is that if they cannot get adequate remuneration from their legitimate employments, rather than embarking on actual armed robbery sprees, they might as well extort money from innocent passersby – which to you and me amounts to theft. But what this means to people such as the policeman is that the system in the country does not adequately provide for them. Someone in a similar position in Europe would probably work at two or more jobs rather than resort to corrupt activities, or if he or she was without a job, would receive certain allowances through social schemes; personal health insurance and subsidized or free education for the children. All these things are guaranteed in industrialized countries. Even if one doesn’t have a lot of money, the family, at least, would be taken care of.


Q: You alluded to the role of social oppression - particularly poverty, as well as greed - in perpetuating this problem…


Let’s first zero in on poverty. If you go to Ibadan’s Dugbe Market, you’ll find women selling, for example, a tray

Advertise here

of Trebor confections, chewing gum, as well as cigarettes, and so on; everything on that tray costs less than N1000, and at the end of the day, only N50 is the profit. Now, that may not amount up to the lowest denomination of most countries, and it is not, in fact, enough to do anything. On occasion, these women may even spend all the money before they get home at the end of the day. Now, if a politician says to these women -- take N500, and vote for me, they are likely to do so. So, the system encourages corruption. But greed is a disease of the human individual, in general, not just of Nigerians. In the case of
Nigeria, unfortunately, it is extremely rampant among people that have suffered incredible deprivation and poverty. Involvement in embezzlement and other corrupt practices are usually signs that people have suffered extreme poverty in their lives or come from extremely deprived backgrounds, though, of course, this is not to be excused. The more money or material possessions they can acquire through corrupt practices, therefore, the more they want; it’s a sign often of deep inadequacy and a sad lack of control.


So, people with a tendency for corrupt behaviour, and who come from very poor backgrounds, are often quite greedy, because they want to more than make up for what they feel they have been denied. So they stash away more than they will ever use, and deprive the ordinary man from access to it, thinking that now they can never go back to being the poor one in the crowd. That type of greed is so widespread now that even the young ones don’t want to work, seeing that certain members of the older generation have become financially successful through dubious means. So they are prepared to cut corners, as well. Moreover, they see that society appreciates this class of people all the same – splashing their ill gotten wealth all over magazines, contributing to a culture of vulgarity. It is sad to see individuals who have stolen huge sums contribute to churches, and their donations are accepted. Nobody queries anybody as to how the money in question has been made; that fracture of morality has seriously degraded Nigerian society.


Q: What is your prescription for treating corruption?


Let me reiterate… the antidote to corruption has to be some kind of sanction to be administered with a great sense of urgency. This is not a question of adjourning the case, and allowing it to drag on for 10 years. We must deal with the situation in this country—many other countries have a similar matter on their hands, and are tackling it fervently. And once we address the situation by introducing sanctioning measures that should serve as a detriment. Sanctions should be imposed immediately, and the higher placed the culprit, the more impact his or her punishment will have on our people.


But involvement in corrupt practice must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt; otherwise it only leads to unfortunate and senseless witch hunting. So how seriously we are taken depends on the speed with which such cases are dispensed with. The judiciary appears to be part of the problem, unfortunately, because cases take so long to be dealt with. If a person is found guilty, and it takes six long years for him to be penalised, the lesson relating to that situation is ultimately lost. So sanctions are very important to tackling corruption; but we have not had enough convictions to show the world that we are serious about dealing with it.


Q: The government has launched an elaborate anti-corruption campaign. Despite the rhetoric, many Nigerians feel that little has changed. Compounding this perception is the fact that for three straight years now, Nigeria has ended up high on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. What is your opinion?


I'm a strong believer in any effort to end corruption in Nigeria; therefore, I support the steps being taken by the present administration to address the problem of corruption. But the mechanism of implementation is what I am not comfortable with; enough people have not yet been brought to the table of justice. The present leadership could do more rather than a few isolated cases here and there. Proven cases of corruption should be made known to everybody, and punished, so that people begin to understand that corruption does not pay.


Q:  You have mentioned that bringing to book individuals well known for social, political, and human rights abuses and corruption should ultimately be the responsibility of the government. What other measures can Nigeria take to make the crusade against corruption a success?


As I mentioned earlier, we can wage a systematic war against corruption that targets every individual that has stolen from this country, and/or has engaged in corrupt practices. There should be no sacred cows! Some have been involved in corrupt practices for 20, 30 years now, and are still walking the streets as though they are more important than other people when their place is actually behind bars. As far as I'm concerned, those people should still be brought to book. It’s never too late, provided their cases can be proven beyond all doubt. And unless this is done, there will be no justice for the innocent. In waging this war against graft, we have to be careful not to malign those who are innocent, or use the anti-corruption crusade for vendettas.





Q. The educational sector is in a steady state of decline, many would argue, in a state of crisis; what your opinion?


Education is a very large umbrella,

Oladipo Akinkugbe

Professor Akinkugbe, in a warm handshake with Mrs. Birkman, while her husband, His Excellency Mr. Karel Birkman looks on

and when I mentioned education earlier on as the right of the common man, I meant that we must have a situation in which every Nigerian should be literate and lumirate. The Nigerian individual should be able to pick up a newspaper, read, and understand basic issues. I’m not suggesting that we should all know about the balancing of payments and the showing of indices; but we should all have a simple idea of what is going on in the finance world, for instance, because our lives are affected by it. Take, for another example, the on-going issue of debt relief. Every Nigerian should understand the implication of this to the country or risk being misled. With misinformation and miseducation, the devious can always fuel violence and bad blood in the society.


Q: Professor Fafunwa [guest of the Achebe Foundation], believes that the introduction of the Universal Basic Education, UBE can make an indelible mark in the history of Nigeria. What is your assertion?


 Now, I’m a strong believer in the need to ascertain what a country owes an individual, and in the area of education, I am firmly of the opinion that primary education should be free for every individual. That goes for junior secondary education as well. But beyond junior secondary, I have my own reservations whether at that stage —when people begin to think of going into tertiary institutions —universities and all that, should also be free.  This is because we are now talking in terms of millions and tens of millions of people.


Depending on aptitude then--the capacity of the student to learn and to diversify into different areas--we should become a little more selective in what the average citizen should be doing; I don’t advocate that everyone does whatever s/he likes. There ought to be a means of identifying individuals of high aptitude, then prioritizing the various academic and professional fields in terms of the country’s man power development. We can’t have universities with 50 percent, 30 percent psychologists, political scientists, and sociologists, while 20 per cent are engineers, lawyers, and medical doctors or those in related fields. Other under subscribed disciplines are mixed up and thrown in together, but should really be treated as specific, separate, fields. So, it is important at some stage for the machinery to choose those qualified for higher education.


Q: A more selective admission process…


Precisely! Those students who are admitted to tertiary institutions should have the aptitude to complete their chosen programmes--at that stage, many are called, though few are chosen. There will be tens of millions of people who desire to go farther than the secondary level, however, the system cannot absorb everybody. There has to be a mechanism for choosing the best brains. But ability to pay one’s way through should not be a major constraint. People often ask: university education--should it be a right or a privilege? I’m afraid it still has to be a privilege, though qualified. Higher education should never just be for the rich and powerful, but for those who are brilliant. There has to be a scheme of scholarship award for the best, whether poor or rich, because they are the ones to sustain the country’s economy. Such should never be denied this right and opportunity.


Q: You have alluded to a lopsided admission process that favours the social sciences and humanities…


These days, you find that many universities have exceeded their admission capacity. Where they should be admitting 12,000 students, they accommodate closer to 22,000. Many of those admitted are students of Political Science, Sociology, and such disciplines. Now these are useful subjects; however, I am not of the opinion that they should be the dominant courses in the university. I know these seem almost dogmatic views; but I believe they are worth considering… 




Q: How do you view the standard of medical training in Nigeria today? Surely, it has taken a dangerous dive for the worse…


Well again, I think medical education has gone through a great many ups and downs. There were the four first generation universities; 12 to 14 years later, other medical schools were established – those universities in the group referred to as third generation universities began their own medical schools. Right now, I believe there are others that are state-owned, and I suspect that sooner than later, private universities will establish their own medical schools. All this is good for education. There was a time when graduates from the University of Ibadan were compared with graduates from anywhere else in the world. At that time, in terms of facilities, the quality of medical staff and students were as good as the best of them. This was true for the University of Nigeria, Nsukka…quality was at its prime.


But over the years, partly because of the decline in the economic fortunes of the country, things have turned otherwise. As for financial allocation, what was available to only one medical school is now spread among the multitude; the resources are spread very thin, at this stage. Because of this, staff retention became an issue. There was scarcity of human capital, a brain drain in the country; some of our best students fled abroad. However, not all the best, necessarily, have left. There are still quite a few top brains that are doing wonderfully well, given the right facilities to work with...


Q: What measures can be taken to correct the downward spiral?


Things are being gradually corrected, I would like to think. One example I can give is that government, right now, is embarking on the rehabilitation of eight teaching hospitals, and I happen to be the chairman of that project. So, we are looking at giving Ibadan, Lagos, Jos, Maiduguri, Zaria, Enugu, Port Harcourt, and Ilorin a new look. I believe that, in the next month or two, the commissioning will begin; several containers of equipment have already arrived. And to give you an idea -- each of these hospitals is being revitalized with about N1.8 billion worth of medical equipment. So, it’s a new look entirely. By doing this, we hope to keep some of our top brains here, and, perhaps, lure others back. We are working towards a new era, one of our goals being that no Nigerian should have to travel out of this country at government expense for medical treatment. All along, we’ve had good doctors; it’s just that we have not provided the tools with which they can comfortably work. So, I really believe we are on the resuscitation trolley, and that things will soon begin to improve. I think there is a lot to commend this present government for; it is trying to reset the trend to enable us recapture our lost glory.




Q: A number of private universities have come on stream in the last few years. Some education experts are concerned about this proliferation. How does this affect the status of state-funded universities? What suggestions do you have for strengthening state and federal universities?


Well, I'm not sure proliferation is

Oladipo Akinkugbe

Professor Akinkugbe (third from right) at a conference in Lagos

the right word. There was a time, about 20 years ago, where the approval of private universities was based on the whims and caprices of various people - people in business and politics. There were, then, a flourishing of universities of doubtful quality, and the Buhari government rightfully swept them away. A law barring the establishment of unaccredited educational institutions of higher learning was put in place for several years before this present government came up with the idea of approving private universities. But this time around, it’s being regulated so that the NUC, the National Universities Commission is fully involved in the evolution of this.


Certain criteria must be fulfilled, in terms of funding, in terms of campus-size; not just an acquisition of a few buildings downtown. Certain minimum standards must be guaranteed before one is licensed to run a private university. And the institution will be monitored; this is not just a once and for all affair. If the university, at any time, falls short of the acknowledged standard or criteria to be abided by, disrobing methods will have to be enforced. A private university does have certain advantages over public ones, at the moment, though. The fact that universities are privately owned means that they are less subject to problems of trade unionism; only the necessary faculty will be employed, and when their services are no longer required, they are not retained. Also, the problem of cultism can be readily addressed. Even if the culprits are not rusticated, the private universities will find it easier than federal universities to instill discipline as thoroughly as is appropriate.


Private universities, as well, are operating with small numbers; well under 20,000, and not 40,000 or more, as in the case of federal and other public universities. So, students are more easily monitored.  Rather than being a curse therefore, private universities stand to be a blessing under most considerations. For the federal and state universities, government is doing its best, as far as I know. It's like the story of the tortoise - the tortoise breathes, but its shell prevents us from appreciating that fact. Right underneath there, I think the government is trying hard. But I must say-- the university system, itself, seems often to be its own, greatest enemy.


(Interrupting) In earlier interviews, Professors Alele-Williams and Wole Soyinka [guests of the Achebe foundation] commented on this as well. Professor Alele-Williams described the problem this way Most academics have lost the vision. We are too busy lobbying for positions to lead the universities; we are too busy fighting to be vice-chancellors, to be deans, that we’ve lost sight of what the battle really is about “ to educate our children, and serve as engines of development for the nation.”


I agree… Some times, university people don’t know what they actually want… what their role in society should be…


Q: One major problem that has haunted Nigerian universities has been intermittent student unrest that altogether paralyzes the university …


I will tell you a short story… many years ago, I was part of the Longe Commission on higher education, and we undertook a tour of various universities outside the country. At Oxford University, we met with the vice chancellor. I was leader of the delegation; at the end of the deliberation--an expose on how Oxford is run-- I asked: ‘Mr. Vice Chancellor, when was the last students’ riot you had in this university?’ He looked round in surprise, and replied, ‘Not within living memory!’ And he turned round to his registrar, who concurred: ‘I believe the last time this happened was centuries ago.’


What this means is that higher education can only progress effectively in an atmosphere of peace and serenity. Not a situation whereby, you know, a student enters medical or any other school, but it’s not certain when he will be graduating, because there are frequent rampages that lead to the closure of institutions of higher learning, and hence, a disruption of the academic calendar. This is not the case in most parts of the world where, as they enter an institution of higher learning, people know within a reasonable limit, when they would be graduating.



Q: What role can prosperous alumni from our universities play? Many universities in developed countries have large endowments because they have developed a Culture of Institutional and Intellectual Philanthropy…



Many of the very important universities in the world are really not public universities -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton; all these are private universities, and not strictly supported by government funds. These institutions raise funds through the alumni, through donations, endowment, donations from different organizations, and that probably is what should be done here, rather than the tendency to go 'cap in hand' all the time to government for recurring expenditure. If you go to the University of Ibadan, and ask how much the government has allotted for salaries and emoluments, the amount would be around N165m which is too low a figure.


So, our campuses have become dilapidated. By the time the staff is paid, little is left. In that sort of debilitating environment, a vigorous attempt at generating funds internally must be discovered. And I dare say that Ibadan is doing quite well at this; it is well positioned to do this with its endowment fund, and through attempts with corporate organizations, as well as buying into projects that are on-going. This is a kind of wake-up call that should have happened several decades ago, but it’s never too late, even as it is also not negotiable. And although I speak of Ibadan, I imagine all other universities can do the same. Some are better placed than others. Lagos is, perhaps, in the best placed position to generate income; perhaps Port Harcourt…but every university should  really look into what it can do for itself in terms of generating funds internally rather than running to Abuja every time.




Allow me to steer the conversation in the direction of the plight of women in Nigeria: Nigeria is witnessing an upsurge in the visibility of women in public life. Some applaud this development as a long overdue empowerment of women. Others point out that women still face many economic, political and especially educational obstacles. Do you share this opinion?


 I believe that there is a

Oladipo Akinkugbe

Prof. Akinkugbe,

wind of change in the way we value our women in this country. Clearly, it’s been proved that women are great managers. If you examine the various ways of assessing skill, you find that quite a number of women are attaining their rightful position in Nigeria. I don’t need to mention the names in cabinets at the federal, state, and local government’ level, and in various professions; without any doubt, women are holding their own. Several years ago, it would have been unthinkable to find women being educated in some fields; but now, people are promoting excellence, whether in males or females. Many women in positions of leadership are performing very successfully and showing that they can deliver, and very well, too; that's all that matters.


Talk about having a woman president in the nearest future, why not! They've had it in Sri Lanka, Great Britain, Israel, Pakistan, and recently we see this phenomenon in Liberia, Germany and many other countries. I believe leadership is all about how to manage people, and it has been proven over and over again, that women possess a greater capacity to manage people than men. Whatever constraints they may be suffering now is due to the old conservatism; but all that will be modified as the younger generation of women come up, because these days, there are more working women in the system than there were say, two, three decades ago. In fact, in some parts of the country, it used to be unthinkable for a woman to go out to work, but all that has changed. In most cities now, Lagos, Enugu, Kano and Abuja, you have women professional groups working very hard.




Q: One of Nigeria’s stumbling blocks in the journey to development has been the problem of Ethnicism. What is your perspective on this old pathology…?


I agree. That’s another cankerworm…apart from corruption, tribalism or ethnic considerations. I don’t really know when it began to gain ground in the country, but I believe that the politicians fueled this problem, and they did this through regional polarization; at independence, it wasn’t fractional interests that were under consideration. But let’s take Britain, for example, which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and all the rest; I don’t imagine that in the choice of Prime Minister, the question that arises is -- 'is s/he English, Welsh or Scottish? They put all that behind them decades ago!


Now, I believe that tribalism in Nigeria has taken on a kind of professionalism. People no longer care about the country as a rule; they want to have their own share, and with that mentality, dilute the system. Every part of this country has very bright people, and this is a question of opportunity. At the University of Ibadan, students with first class honours in medicine, all disciplines, come from different parts of the country. One of the brightest doctors we’ve produced in this country, and who has majored in postgraduate work, is an Igbo man. So speaking personally, the question of ethnicity has never featured in my assessment of students. When I was dean of medicine in the early 70s, if a student was bright, I’d encourage them. I still do today. I don’t care where people come from; it’s the quality of their mind that I’m interested in and want to tap into. And that is the way for us all to go.


But of course, if you find that out of 10 positions, nine are from a particular part of the country, common sense dictates that those nine should not fill all the positions while only one space is left for the other sections to jostle for, because we are operating as a federation unit. So, some of these issues are discretionary, and the rights of other sections of the society must be taken into consideration.


It’s a vicious cycle, indeed; ethnic bigotry or tribalism; selfishness, greed, these are vices that we must always try to correct as they will always exist in some form or the other. There are people, always in key positions, who will try to influence things in their own favour. But progress in life cannot be achieved in this way. It would thrive on other fundamental approaches to the kind of governance we want.




Nigeria imports most of her food. What suggestions do you have to rejuvenate the agricultural sector?


I’m not an agriculturist; however, in simple terms, I would like to observe that a mono product economy as we have in oil is akin to walking on a tight rope. The reason is this; in terms of a boom as we have with the price of oil now, everybody is grinning from ear to ear. But supposing the price of oil drops suddenly and drastically, we will then be in trouble, because we depend so much on the proceeds of oil to run our economy. We must, for that reason, try hard to diversify.


There are various ways to encourage small and medium enterprises so as to get everyone involved in building the economy. It is not something that is solely public-driven. There must be private input, and I think the name of the game in many countries, is PDP – Private, Public, Participation, and it is very important, because when people begin to write numerous grant applications, very few actually sit down to ask themselves what it is they can do on their own. Perhaps, all one needs is a small amount of capital; a good proposal, and the project is readily approved by the bank. People must take more interest in what they can do by themselves, and not only what they can get working for somebody else.




Q: Sir, in a historic vote, the National Assembly recently rejected a move to amend the constitution and extend the tenure of the President and State governors. What is your reaction to this development?


I really don’t care to comment on this, because it is a politically charged issue, and people have their motives; the enthusiasm

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with which different groups closed ranks was quite interesting. One wishes this had been the case with other issues; even so, these groups appear to be strange bed-fellows, and now that their objectives have been achieved, I can’t say where they are heading in terms of solidarity. I find the motives of the various parties too complicated; many, it seems, joined the bandwagon with ulterior motives. But, I believe that time will show how things go, and hopefully, everyone will appreciate the democratic process.





Professor, thank you for your thought provoking responses. Do you have any parting thoughts on restructuring the Nigerian State?


Restructuring can be political, economic and social. I’ve talked about the need for corporate governance and leadership not to be seen as one large tree in the forest. All that has to do with restructuring… Now is the time to rethink the process of our ways, and so, we begin to think of the man on the street as part of governance. He should ask what his own role is, his own function in the scheme of things. That is important. Everybody must attune his mind to the words of the late John Kennedy (Jnr) -- 'think what you can do for your country, and not what your country can do for you…’ which is a very profound idea, indeed. Even the promotion of integrity in one’s place of work, perhaps, in the local government; is a major contribution. So, restructuring has many facets, and everybody becomes part of the movement.


At various conferences, there have been many people of integrity and intelligence discussing issues extensively. A great deal of song and dance appears to have been made on the issue of resource control, but we mustn’t forget that we live in a country where so much demands rehabilitation. Again it may, of course, be that the politicians will eventually resolve that issue instead of the insistence on 36 states. It is better to have six regions, geo-political zones that, perhaps, will be more viable than some states are now. And there will be enough within the individual regions, in terms of resources such as oil minerals and agricultural produce to move us all on!


Q: Thank you Professor Akinkugbe for sitting down for this conversation


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 Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe in Conversation with Toluwanimi Olujimi