Archbishop (Prof) David Irefin teaches at the Federal University Lokoja. He was once a teacher at the University of Maiduguri. In this interview with, ANIEKAN ANIEKAN, the Professor of Economics dwelt on a number of national issues, including the ASUU strike that lingered for eight months. Excerpts:
As a member of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), what is your view on the recent registration of two parallel trade unions by the Federal Government to exist alongside ASUU in the nation’s universities?
I don’t think multiplicity helps. When you bring in more unions, you bring more crises. I don’t know where the members of the new trade unions are. It’s not that they already have members. That is being ignorant. Why not do the right thing? When I was a student here in Nigeria, there were Indians teaching in the universities. People came from all over the world to lecture here. Today, do you see foreigners in Nigerian universities? Let Buhari tell the whole world how many countries have students in Nigerian universities. Do we still run universities in Nigeria or mere local institutions? A university makes sense when it is universal, but Nigerian universities have the least universality!
You cannot even see any foreign teachers, it is time for Nigerians to know that the Government is misleading them. They should ask Chris Ngige how many foreign students are in Nigeria. Even the Niger Republic isn’t sending anybody to Nigeria for education. Concerning the newly registered trade unions in question, where are their members? So teachers must become slaves? If somebody is not well fed, how can the person teach?
The Federal Government insists on no-work, no-pay. What’s your take on this?
That policy is out of ignorance. These people don’t even understand what is happening in the universities. Before we went on strike, most departments were at the verge of writing exams, some had almost rounded up their course outlines. If you refuse to pay the lecturers, how would that knowledge gap be breached? Some of us have not had our annual leave for six years now because of these challenges. But the President goes on leave. Teachers cannot go on leave as a result of the attitude of this government. We talk of negotiation, something that can be done in one day. They tell us there is no money to fund the universities but they have money to send their children abroad for their university education?
Many are wondering if strike is the only way to resolve trade union problems in our universities. What do you say?
I am not a proponent of strike. The Holy Spirit is against strike. The Gospel is against strike. But, when you oppress people to a certain level, what do you expect them to do? Look at the salaries we have been receiving since 2010, Buhari’s IPPIS (Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System) reduced it by a hundred thousand naira. Even if you don’t want to promote me, why should my salary be less than what I was earning in 2010?
If Nigerians know what this government is doing to education, the government will lose credibility. God is against strike and I do not support strike since I believe in God. However, I am not for oppression either. This government is oppressive. It is not people’s government. Stolen money is making people look proud. As a minister of the Federal Republic, you are a servant, not a boss. Go to Britain or Ghana; ministers know they are servants and behave as such. But look at the way Chris Ngige is behaving. In a sane society, Dr Ngige should have resigned; or asked to resign at least. The teachers have been over oppressed. Let the government recognise a million trade unions if it so desire. That is their business. Let us see how a hungry teacher will teach.
You have been a professor of economics for over 35 years, in what way do you think we are missing it in terms of economic management?
If you look at economic theories, there is no Macro-economist that will advise you to be borrowing and borrowing. No way! We have a model of saving for the rainy day. So in this context, you choose between balanced, deficit and surplus budgets. It is left for the individual presidents to choose which angle to operate from. Unfortunately, some have little or no idea in this selection process. You should not consume beyond what you can afford. There is no free lunch anywhere. In economics, before you would advise anyone to borrow, it means that the money is going to the productive sector. You can’t say you are borrowing to pay salaries. If you do, how will you generate taxes, to pay off the indebtedness? It makes no sense.
Not long ago, the Chairman of the economic advisory team said we have not borrowed enough. As you can see, it is wrong to even appoint governors, lawyers into the economic team? Is that done in Ghana, UK, America … ? From the outset, Buhari has not laid a solid foundation for any economic recovery and we are not surprised. No one is surprised about what is happening; the worst is yet to happen because what is being borrowed is being stolen. You cannot say you are borrowing for infrastructure because we cannot see it. They have borrowed in trillions but the investments are nothing to write home about. Even on the railway, how many passengers are using it and at what cost? All these make no professional sense.
How do we sort ourselves out of this quagmire?
You cannot separate these things from spiritualism. During Gowon’s era, money was everywhere. Even when Murtala Mohammed came on board, there was money. There was money during Sharagi’s era. I did my NYSC during Obasanjo’s time; my NYSC allowance was N180 per month. I was spending N30 per month and saving N150.
Our problems started when Obasanjo invited people and brought all kinds of demons and changed our national anthem to ‘Patriots’ and we began to have people of questionable characters everywhere. I have never seen a patriot who is a good person. These are those that have stolen our money. You want to be like that? Since that is what we wanted, criminals took over the government. Some spiritual leaders warned that Satan was coming to Nigeria, that criminals would take over the nation’s leadership and that people would suffer. They predicted that our currency would be worthless and that we will have a government but no governance.
We need people with humility and the fear of God. As soon as we can get people with humility such qualities, our problem is solved. When you disobey God, He allows the angels to punish you. When you see people saying they want to be President, it is not to come and help, but to steal. Those saying it is their turn or the turn of their tribe, it is all to take their own share of the national cake, not that they want to come and develop the place.
Can’t we have effective economic policies rather than relying on mere religious principles?
There is no county on earth without a crisis. That you are in a storey building and another person is in a bungalow doesn’t mean you are not suffering. So the world is all suffering. If classroom teachings and theories are the solution, people should not be suffering. It is all about the economy everywhere. We must get it right because it is a spiritual thing. Economics teaches you to be greedy and selfish, but look at the Holy books, is greed a good thing, of course no. So until we are all elevated by God to the Everlasting Gospel, we will continue to have these problems. We talk about common resources, everything we have belong to us, so if it belongs to us, I know it must satisfy you and me. Even if conflict comes, we can deal with it. The Everlasting Gospel is needed to help our country.