Professor Eddy Erhagbe is the Dean of Student, Faculty of Arts, University of Benin, Edo State Nigeria, who have seen it all, having navigated the academic community both local and international. He is a professor of history, who has taught the subject for over three decades and the university orator for several years.
Not given to much talk, his talk and revelations can be shocking in this interview with our correspondent, EMMANUEL IKHENEBOME. Emmanuel Ikhenebome X-ray the sojourn of Prof Erhagbe into the teaching profession, his experience at the 2014 National Conference, the clamour for restructuring, Anti corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government, his administration’s performance in the last 3 years, the sex for marks favour trending in some private and public universities across the country and range of other issues.
Can you tell me little about yourself?
I am Professor Eddy Erhagbe, a Professor of History and International Studies in the University of Benin, currently the dean of student, faculty of Arts and also the orator of the university. I studied in the University of Benin and Boston University in the United State of America. I lecture here in the University (UNIBEN) for more than three decades. I was one of Edo State representative at the 2014 National Conference. I am also socially active, currently president, Afemai Forum, President America Studies Association of Nigeria and a Grand-Knight at Knight of St. Mulumba, Ugbowo Sub-council. I am happily married to Dr Mrs. (Barr) Eunice Erhagbe and blessed with two children.
What motivated you to go into teaching?
This I might say flows in the family, my dad was a foremost educationist and with all humility, i came out best in my set when we were graduating which put me on the part of my post graduate studies and naturally puts me in a position to pursue a lecturing job, and that I have done and by the time I went into lecturing before my masters programme, I had jobs option but felt I needed to concentrate on academics that had become a remarkable experience for me and I will say without mincing words, no regrets at all because since 1982 when I started lecturing, I have come across so many young ones in terms of character formation, reaching out to mentor so many, and the progress they have made, the lots of recognition I have been able to achieve, I’m not sure I would have been able to make enough money, if I were to be in the business world to receive such recognition and satisfaction.
You were a member of the 2014 National Conference, 4years after, do you still believe in restructuring?
Yes I do believe in restructuring because majority of Nigerians believe in restructuring. I was among three persons nominated from Edo State, specifically I represented Edo North while others were nominated to represent Edo South, Edo Central senatorial district respectively. And why I said most Nigerians believe in it (restructuring) is that some of the issues raised at the National Confab on which clear resolutions were taken had to do with restructuring. Some of the Bills that the President recently assented to are already addressing some of the issues that had to do with restructuring which came out from the 2014 Confab. For example the question of the autonomy for the legislature, the Judiciary, the independent candidature was part of the confab recommendations and it has been taken. The confab as part of restructuring felt that there were some form of in balance in the geo-political zones, the confab looked at the issues of revenue allocation and how people from whose areas wealth is been taken are feeling that they are not getting the best, and looking at the constitutional provision, the confab recommended that as a way of alleviating the pains and listening to the agitations of the people where this wealth is coming from was to review the 13 percent revenue derivation principle, that any revenue that comes into the national purse will first of all be used wherever it is coming from anywhere in the country and the people in that region should be entitled to a percentage before you start sharing among others. But because oil is the main source of revenue, it is believed that it is only the people of the South-South that are supposed to benefit from the derivation. And there was a question as to what should happen to state police which is one of the key areas of discussion concerning restructuring. The argument that came up at the confab which is still been pondered today as to why there should be no state police, that if state police is created, governors might abuse the position but the confab said no, that if states can make laws as provided for in the constitution they should have a force that can help to implement some of those laws and to that extent the confab came up with the recommendation that states that are willing and capable should be allowed to have a force and the experience before now shows that most states had what is called vigilante groups which are in the form of police. That was a recommendation which has remained one area of major resistance but with recent development in the country, some states went ahead to enact anti open grazing law that are now legal documents. The reality on ground is that those states in quote are almost unable to implement the laws because for them to apprehend violators or ensure compliance, they have to depend on the police, and in certain extreme cases, even the military. All over the world where true federalism is operational, there are different levels of this officers and of course this was one of the major recommendations.
What is your take on the post humours award conferred on late Chief MKO Abiola and others and the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day from May 29?
Well, I will say like many others that what happened in June 12 1993 was wrong and there was need to correct the situation. The actions taken by Mr. President are in agreement with the expectations of majority of Nigerians and that is what leadership is all about, and that makes the action worthwhile and commendable. Awards of those natures are good, they are more symbolic, though not in any way physically changing things. And there is need for proper legislature to back up the action and i am sure that it is when they do all of that, they will now say this is it. But for Abiola, for the civil right activist and Senior Advocate of the masses Gani Fawehimi it is a good thing. Why do I say it is good? Is that gradually they were beginning to fade into the memory of our country. One of the great things this action of President Buhari has helped to do, is that for this generation it has created the avenue for which so many has been brought on board. Many Nigerians are asking, who was this Abiola because it was with this pronouncement that on television many started seeing the videos, photographs of his campaign and his pronouncements which many people may never have seen before, to that extent, it is part of rehabilitating them in history and of course for us historians it has giving us new jobs, especially as the government has decided to bring history fully back to the Nigeria curriculum.
Anti corruption war, are we winning?
Yes, that is an area, where I have done a number of papers and done public presentation for a long time. We thought that the government was not sincere in terms of confronting the scourge and the pains that corruption has been inflicting on the people of our country, especially because we have to be careful in looking at what we call this word CORRUPTION. The one that has to do with public funds, with management and things such as votes that came, projects that are supposed to be executed and how funds are managed, i will say that this government has made appreciable progress compared to previous government. The reason is that it took this government to come out to ask, what did you do with this or that money that was meant for security? What did you do with this or that? And those questions eventually resulted in billions of naira been exposed and are being recovered till date. Before now the whole processes of EFCC and the attempts to corruptions, especially as it has to do with public officers was like mockery of the intelligence of the people of Nigeria. The EFCC at a point will come up with one hundred plus charges against an accused, and then the person will be granted bail, that is the last we will hear of the matter, but what is happening now seems to have given new vigour to the war. Apart from recovering funds, what has been happening is that to the extent judicial processes have been followed, two former chief executives what we used to call his Excellency for example now have been nailed. The new reality and reports from the media are indicating that more are now planning how to exit from the country because they know that the cases against them might end up in the same way if found culpable. Unfortunately it is a war of the mind, it is a war of mobilization and its not a war that can be won by court issue alone, it has to do with the levels of conduct. Corruption really in its essence is deviating from the given and been allowed by on influence, either you are exerting it, or demanding that something should be done, that is to misapply what is supposed to be applied. So this is not just the president’s war, it is war that all of us are supposed to be involved in. The perception we tend to create here is that corruption is only when you embezzle billions or millions, no. We can say now that there is moderation in conduct because the audacity and impunity that was been displayed in the way our funds were been managed have been reduced and this matter also has to go to the states.
3 Years of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, what is your assessment?
Incidentally, he was the one that set his own questions and now we the people are drawing up the marking scheme to access what he has done. He told us that we have to take him up on three major items; corruption’s matter, the question of the economy and security. Security being number one, when we look at that, at a point he was like he was almost getting 80% in terms of security, that was when in the northeast, which was the main area where the insecurity was manifesting. He almost succeeded there to the extent that local government headquarters, states that were under the Boko Haram insurgent, were reclaimed and the persons that were taken away, like the chibok girls were brought back and then the incidents suicide bombings were all reducing. But now, unfortunately, like I mentioned again concerning the herdsmen farmers crisis, I think the percentage of performance is dropping rapidly especially the new dimension of the killer herdsmen and It is almost like a situation where the government was in capable of arresting the situation as Nigerians were now beginning to ask if there is a government when such killings occur. Deaths and inability to protect lives of people are indications of failure of the country’s security architecture which is why I said that in terms of the marking scheme, there is need for him to reverse what seem to be the downward trend in terms of the security of the nations. The issue of corruption, pass mark can be given in that direction. When it comes to the economy, there are different positions as to who caused recession, there are those that believe that it was the mismanagement of the time before that caused it, but there are those that point out that all indicators were showing how the economy was performing well before the president (Buhari) came in and so the recession that now want to undermine whatever progress was been made in the economy was more like ten step backwards and there was now the attempt to start rebuilding and I doubt if any Nigerian will give pass mark to the president on the matters of the economy. It will be more of a matter of perception.
How does this economy affect you? Where have you been since the coming in of president Buhari?
In Edo state, are we consolidating on the achievement of past administration or we are charting a new course?
I think that the two are happening. I looked at the immediate past administration in the light of what has been going on in the state and in almost all the public forum where I had to comment about administration, I scored him very high in terms of the innovation he brought, the doggedness in which he pursued development which was visible to all and the changes that he brought into the state. There was need to consolidate, that is where the concept of continuity came up which was not in the concept of personal; it was more in terms of what has been achieved. We have a governor who was part and parcel and a major player, although behind the scene, but the ambulation in formulations, in crystallizing policies of the former government, especially on the economic front, he was a key player, so one did not expect less. But what is becoming obvious is that he is refusing to remain just a man that is carrying out what others have done, without bringing innovation and new ideas. What we have seen is a situation were infrastructural development is still on course. But then, there is a major paradigm shift in this approach, and that is, ‘i can not rely on government alone’, there must be investments and the state must be made conducive with investors friendly policies put in place to convince the people to hands off some things so that more investors can come so that jobs can be created and the economy of the state can blossom. This is where I have sometimes advised some government official that are close to me, that in a government that is working with plans that have period of gestation before they can blossom, and there is need to keep the people’s faith by interacting and engaging them, otherwise the people might feel that nothing is happening.
Former governor of Edo state, Adams Oshiomole, now chairman of All Progressive Congress (APC), what new thing is he bringing into the ruling party?
I will think it is the choice that the party would have made, because any person knows Oshiomole’s antecedents and I am sure those are the things that Mr. President saw, because for most Nigerians, sometimes they see actions without looking deeply into what is behind them. What we need to do is to play back and know that there was already an endorsement that made it. Adams Oshiomole mobilization capacity as exhibited as a Union leader, as a governor here in the state, it follows that it is not going to be a child’s play with him having to lead the party. What I think the party is going to benefit is the organizational ability which he has exhibited at the state level. The point is that there is hardly any perfect human being or hardly any perfect administration, that is why even any subject that we take as historians, we talk of the successes and the failures, the merits and demerits, what you expect is that ultimately your balance sheet should be one where the merit outweighs the demerit.
As a senior lecturer who have spend more than 3 decades in the teaching profession, what do you make of lecturers who demand favour for marks?
When this whole matter of Obafemi Awolowo University came up, I was surprise that out of thousands of lecturers in universities across the country, that one case is now leading to deduction and conclusions that lecturers cannot resist sex, cannot resist money. Temptation is there for all men, priests have been known to fall, president have been known to fall is it now right to say that all presidents are chasing after skirts? So why would it be that just because a lecturer saw a situation and fell for the temptation, it is now that lecturers do not resist temptation. And I believe that there are majority like that, and are few that may fall, that means like in any human environment or society like in the case of apostles picked by Jesus, where Judas still. Put 12 lecturers here, there could be one or two or three, but you cannot conclude on that basis to say lecturers are doing bad. There are mechanisms that have been put in place to try to check this but unfortunately when you tell students to report and that they will be protected, some because of the false believe that once you report one lecturer, all of them will kill you together, many do not speak out. The one that is disturbing to me having been a dean of student of this university is sometimes the atrocity that students commit among themselves not necessary from lecturers. It is in the same environment that you find some students from morning, afternoon, night, they are praying, they are into fellowshipping, they travel across the country for fellowship, they have nothing to do with others. But we sometimes find people saying university students are prostitutes because of the few that they see, and what they do not know is that a person who is not even a student, to raise her worth, will tell you ‘I am a university student’, and the man there who is looking for an undergraduate thinks he had found a queen. But that does not mean that there is no challenges in the system.
You seems to be very busy, how do you relax when you are not working?
I relax mentally and when I say mentally I mean i do not push myself because certain times i resist the temptation of putting myself into a period of stress or worries. By God’s grace I am empowered to be a multi-task solving person that at a sitting, I could be attending to 1, 2, or 3 things, and within a period of time. I do more of my relaxation at the staff club and so i am a very near constant patron because after the days job i visit the club, there i try to unwind, take a drink, chat with friends, crack jokes, and analyze issues. When it is time to watch soccer, I do watch, and I listen to music and surprisingly, I like watching drama. The new thing that has happened to movies is that they have present relaxation to us, which we used to do when we were reading novels in those times. Now, I can watch different programmes with which you laugh and relax, so in all of these I also try not to be too religious. I thank God for his strength in what I do and he has been very faithful because sometimes I marvel at the number of things I do, the stress I put on myself, but every night I go to bed and very early I am up again, feeling refreshed.
Thank you for your time Sir.
You are welcome.