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Dr. Phillips Nto
Dr. Philip Nto is one thorough-bred academic cum politician who hardly sings loud. The former Finance Commissioner in Abia state, World Bank consultant and presently, the Provost, Abia State College of Education, Technical, Arochukwu, (ASCETA) visited Lagos recently and interacted some select journalists. The erudite academic and social critic bared his mind on a lot of critical issues about Nigeria and her 60th Independence anniversary, the essence of a national dialogue, as well as Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s fforts to reposition Abia state among others.
What is your assessment of Nigeria’s journey at 60?
Let me start by thanking God for making it possible for the country to still be together after 60 years of independence. We are aware that a few years after independence, just six years after, the first coup took place and after the country was bedeviled by a civil war which again took 3 years, then from one military regime to the other. Now we are facing also different social vices ranging from kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, armed robbery, massive unemployment, social infrastructural decay name them and many other problems. So that is why I think we still need to thank God as we are still together as a corporate entity. I may not say so far so good. Of course, you can see that this particular 60th anniversary seem to be the most agitated since my growing up years. I have never seen this level of agitation from the different strata of the society, from different ethnic groups, it means all is not well and something needs to be done. You can see the Yoruba frantically looking for their Oduduwa republic, some looking for disintegration, some clamoring for restructuring, all these do not tell good of our corporate existence as a nation but I believe that even the way we are now, it is still better for us to be united than being disintegrated because each of our regions need something from the other. I do not think there is any region that can make it comfortably without the other if want to tell ourselves the truth. But it is important the unity is based on equality because a situation where the other regions feel that they are not carried along, definitely, there will be problem, and you will expect agitation. Our founding fathers based its motto on unity, peace, and progress but I don’t think the current foundation of the country is still aligned to that because a situation where a particular region is denied its own right will not guarantee peace, so for us to live together and experience the peace which our founding father had as a motto, it means there must be social justice, social rights human rights, there must be equality, fairness to all so as to feel belonged.
In recent time, more than any other period, there has been this general notion that Nigeria has been deeply divided. What is your view on this?
Well, if we are more united we give credit to leadership, if we are disunited we should also blame the leadership because the bulk ends on the leadership of this nation. So if there is a problem I wouldn’t blame the ordinary citizens, I will blame my leaders in the country because leaders are expected to see a problem before it becomes an emergency. So I will not blame any other person than the leadership of the country. it is them that have the capacity to change the probability of action for the good of all. What it means is that there is a problem somewhere and the problem cannot be far from injustice, inequitable distribution of resources, inequitable distribution of political positions, and other things. Once there is equitable distribution of resources, equitable distribution of political power, equitable distribution of social amenities you find out that there will be peace and the people will not care where the president is from . For instance, look at a country like the United States of America, who is interested in where the president is from? The family of Bush produced two presidents; they may also be preparing to produce the third one. The family of Clinton produced a president and almost produced the second one; nobody is interested where the president is from so far there is justice and fairness.
I will only be interested in where the President is from when I am denied my right as a citizen of this country, once I am not denied of my privileges’ and rights, I will not be too keen or concerned about who my President, Governor or Chairman of my local government is or where he is from once I get my right and no discrimination. The important thing is having a country that is based on social justice, that is based on equitable distribution of resources, based on equitable distribution of political positions as I have said before, anything short of that you are inviting anarchy, conflict, violence, disunity, large scale disagreement name them and for us to have unity in this country it means everybody must be carried along. We have over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria, of course, it’s not an easy thing to articulate all the interest but it is necessary to do so to ensure that there is this sense of belonging among the groups.
Do you also see the constitution as being part of the challenge because some critics say there is an urgent need to review this present constitution?
Of course, we know that this constitution was drafted and approved by the military regime and there are many problems that are coming up now which was not anticipated before now. This is a civilian regime and the constitution that we should be using must be one midwife by civilians not the one by the military. It is one that should be consensus-based. It is important that the constitution is amended to reflect all the interests into consideration.
Currently, the National Assembly is on it to review the constitution….?
(cuts in) No, the National Assembly cannot handle all the fundamental issues that are thrown up by the constitution. It is important to have a national dialogue for us to have total peace, for us to have the needed unity and for all groups, everybody to be carried along there must be a national dialogue. It will involve all the interest groups, all different groups in our society, ethnic, religious, cultural, etc will come together and discourse and agree on terms for unity. How many are they in the National Assembly? How were they elected? This is far beyond political interest which members of the National Assembly represent. They are elected based on party platform but when you are representing people for national dialogue it won’t be based on political party interest, it covers all interests. Both the old, the young, the unemployed, religious bodies etc, all the interest will be taken into consideration. If you do the review just with the National Assembly, it means you are only taken the major political parties interest, APC, and PDP. I believe it is important we have a National dialogue urgently because as comprehensive as the 2014 Jonathan conference was a lot of other things have happened between then and now which were not well covered. During the 2014 conference for instance there was no banditry as we have it today; even the Fulani/farmers clash was not as pronounced as it were today and other issues, so there is a need for the conference so as to include all the new developments. There is a need for the coming together of all Nigerian groups to talk about our corporate existence and unity. It is important we have another national dialogue without further delay which will give rise to a new workable constitution.
As an economic expert, how do you think we can best fix the economy as it is now in doldrums’?
You can’t be talking about the economy when there is political instability. The economy will only work well when politics is stable. From what is going on the politics of the country is not stable, there is a lot of instability so that even when you apply workable economic theories it will fail. you cannot be talking about a stable economy in a place where there is intense agitation, in a place where universities are closed down, in a situation where strike is the order of the day, where people or groups are threatening going their separate ways, the Yoruba talking about having their Oduduwa republic, the Igbo talking about having their Biafra republic, the Middle belt threatening to pull out etc, so for now what is important is political stability, once we achieve that other things including the economy will fall in place. Through peace and peaceful coexistence those living in IDP camps because of insecurity will go back to their homes and farms to be meaningful and economically engaged.
How do you see the education sector as we have it today?
Personally, I am worried that the University of Nigeria that was opened in 1st October 1960 is closed down on 1st October 2020. What are we celebrating when our universities are closed down? What are we celebrating when our students are at home? What kind of graduates are we producing? Is it the graduate that can cope with the reality of the moment? What kind of curriculum do we have in the various tertiary institutions? That is where I am worried because a situation where we keep mass-producing graduates how are they absorbed in society? That is why I preach technical and vocational education, that is the only way out of this massive unemployment which we are experiencing now. Every parent aspires to send their child/children to the university but how will the child be absorbed in society? What kind of education is the child given or has received because a situation that the child graduates and starts to carry files up and down looking for job is not a good thing for the society. That is what is leading in this increase in social vices. When a child is frustrated there is nothing much the child can do than going into one crime to the other because the child cannot use what was learned in the university in a useful manner. But if the child is well skilled in technical and vocational studies you will find out that when the child graduates he will no longer be talking about paid jobs rather the person begins to practice what was thought in the university and even create jobs for others. That is why personally, I preach that our curriculum in the university should take into consideration technical and vocational studies so that no matter what you have studied you will have an idea of what to do when you graduate. Can you imagine that now in the country you feel happy or even more confident when somebody doing your painting or POP job is from Ghana or Togo. This is because it is incorporated in their curriculum that is what is lacking in our case.
How would you assess your governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu’s performance so far?
I can tell you that Abians are happy with his performance, we are happy. Definitely, everybody will not be happy for instance those that think that the governor is there to share the resources of the state with them and he is not doing so cannot be happy. Some even wanted him dead when he was infected with COVID 19 but God saved him because he is doing what God has sent him to do, which is service to Abians. You are aware that he did not aspire to be governor but the system threw him up due to his good works and competence where he was. Look at his economic policy, look at his education policy they are all in line with the reality of the moment, especially the education for employment. As you are finishing your education you start your own business. Look at his policy on the Enyimba economic city, once that is fully implemented you will find out it will create millions of jobs. Giving the resources available to him, I can tell you confidently that he is doing great things in the state. For quite sometimes now Abian students that have been sitting for WAEC have been coming tops and that is due to his education policy. So he is doing well.
There is this rumour that you are gearing up for governorship position in Abia State?
Well, my ambition and interest, for now, is to finish the work which the governor appointed me to do in Abia state college of education, technical as provost. In 2015 he appointed me to go and transform the institution in line with his vision and I believe we have done a lot on that line. In 2023, it is only those that are alife can aspire and know whether they will contest or not but for me the ambition is to finish my tenure and go back to the university to hit the peak of my career. The law of the university says ones you are on leave of absence you cannot be promoted by implication my promotion in stunted so I want to finish my appointment and then go back to the university and then get to the peak of my career, that is my interest.
What if the situation throws you up?
(Cuts in) Well, I believe so much in the Bible, I believe in what God can do because He sees the end from the beginning. He oversees the affairs of men. Personally, my ambition is to do the desire of my late father by going back to the university after the end of my second term in 2024, so as to hit the top of my university career.