Prof Lai Oso is the president, Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN), a Mass Communication teacher at the Lagos State University Ojo.
He spoke to Sunday Sun on some national issues and called on the government to fix the country, as well as ensure that the ordinary Nigerian is adequately covered especially in the light of government hash economic policies.
He revealed what the government should do to better the lives of ordinary Nigerians. Excerpts:
Can you react to the general situation of the economy presently, do you think this economy is heading for improvement or is there anything government could do to put the economy in its proper stead?
When you talk about the economy, the economy is not abstract, you have to look at the general welfare of the people, and if you look at the indices coming, the indices are not favourable, if those running the economy cannot run it to benefit the majority of Nigerians, then you have a problem. The unemployment rate is still very high. From what we are seeing so far, especially as it concerns the closure of the borders, which I am in support, but the only thing is that what is to be done before the closure was not done and that has shot up the prices of food stuff. So, what could have been done before that policy was initiated were not done. So, the process has introduced hardship and it has come to make people lament and ask why close the borders. The closure of borders are what we should applaud because it will enable us consume what we produce in order to boost our income generating capacity. For instance, we could have boosted the production of local rice and its distribution, so that people could easily have an alternative. The so-called local rice are not available in the market and this has made people to react negatively to some of these policies. So, the economy must be run to benefit the people. That is my take on this.
The policies of government so far in the last one month seem to be anti-masses, what will you say to this?
Some of these policies are not bad in themselves, for instance, the issue of tollgates, if you have travelled to other parts of the world, you will discover there are tollgates and the money generated are used to maintain these roads and provide other facilities, but that is not the case in Nigeria and that is the reason the decision is receiving negative reaction. For instance, in Britain, I am familiar with the system there, when you travel on the road, you are not afraid of travelling, the streetlights are working, there are no potholes on the road. We do not have that in Nigeria so people are bound to react negatively and ask the question about how government have been using the money it had generated from the roads. What I am a little bit uncomfortable with is this Central Bank policy on deposit and withdrawal. You see bank sell their cheque books to you and even when you withdraw there are some charges the withdrawer has to pay and now they are raising the bar, trying to force everybody to do Internet banking. I do not think that policy will fly. I think government needs to be very careful, especially in consideration of the fact that they have also raised Value Added Tax by seven per cent and all these are coming at the same time and they are also targeting the same people. And because all these are coming at the same time, with their excruciating effects on the people, there are bound to be negative reactions. What I see is that those who run the economy are busy making unrealizable promises to the government that they can generate income for the government, without considering the pains of such policies on the people.
The security situation around the country had kept many citizens in deep worry, what is you comment on the government inability to secure its people?
I do not think anybody will dispute the level of insecurity in the country, the situation is so precarious because you are not sure of what awaits you on your way as you travel. If you want to travel now, you can be confronted by bandits, kidnappers and so on. So, I think there is need for reorientation, an average Nigerian is not a friend of the police, we are also very reluctant to give information to the police, and again as you are driving when you see some policemen on check point you are always afraid because you are not sure whether they are policemen or armed robbers in police uniform. Especially the way our policemen dress these days, it’s like the armed robbers are taking advantage of the lapses in the police force to perpetuate their act. There is need for the government to redesign it security architecture and there is the need for community policing and get the locals involved in fashioning out a strategy for the betterment of the entire country. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Army or the Nigeria Police cannot do it alone and the issue of security is far beyond using guns and vehicles to run around, intelligence gathering is very vital in policing, especially in consideration that the whole of these people committing these crimes live within the people, a strong intelligence within the community can easily fish them out and like I mentioned earlier, many Nigerians are reluctant about volunteering information to the security agencies, there is need for government to address this.
Do you think that true federalism is the solution to this security situation and other problems?
Well yes, but we should look at our attitude that is the point I am making. If we go by true federalism, for instance, is it not the same policemen that will be deployed to the various components of the federal system, will they have changed because of the change in the geo-political structure. These are the things we need to consider, we cannot change to true federalism whose manpower is the same. For instance, the power that the states have now, are they using such powers well, see the way the states destroyed the local government system. These are issues we should look at, how do we make the local government effective and live up to it constitutional responsibility. The inner roads within the cities, for instance, should be the responsibility of the local government, but how do you explain the situation where a governor will now begin to show interest in such roads, this is because the local governments have been so impoverished by the state that they cannot function any more. In those days we used to have the Public Works Departments (PWD), within the local government system, they are the ones that fix the potholes and drainages within the cities, where are day today? So, it’s not just about giving more powers to states, how are the states using such powers to benefit the masses and the entire country.
Recently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) split into two with the formation of a new body called Congress of University Academics (CONUA). What is your reaction to this?
Hope you also know that the Nigeria Labour Congress is broken into two now, so it is a Nigeria phenomenon, everyone trying to be a master. If you look at some of the accusations they made against ASUU, they are saying that ASUU is not speaking for the welfare of the academic staff of the Nigerian universities, I do not think that is right, because ASUU has been speaking for our welfare. They also said that they want the general university system to be improved. So, when I read that I said these people are coming from a predictable point and should not be taken seriously. Not that ASUU is perfect, but ASUU has done well to ensure that the entire university system works well.
Looking at the present government, how will you score them in terms of performance?
I think the government has done fairly well in some areas, especially looking at the challenges and the complexity of the Nigerian situation. I think the government has done well and there are some areas we believe that they should have done better. There are some areas we expect that they be encouraged and not just keep quiet and allow things to deteriorate. I cannot just pin them to a mark, but I think they have done well in some areas and in some other areas they need to be encouraged to do better.