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Monday, 13 January 2014

Nigerians need self-examination, not national dialogue

Nigerians need  self-examination, not national dialogue

Professor Chioma Kanu Agomo,  Former Dean of Faculty of Law, UNILAG
By Olakunle Olafioye
Of late many have expressed the view that women in Nigeria have benefitted more in the area of leadership in the current dispensation. But this is an opinion that has failed to excite Professor Chioma Agomo, a professor of Law and first elected female Dean of Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. To her, it is not enough to appoint more women into leadership positions. Such appointments, according to her, must be done on merit. And one way this could be achieved, in her opinion, is to create a level playground for everybody and allow the best candidate to emerge. Agomo, who describes what currently plays out as tokenism, speaks more on problems confronting the Nigerian woman and a host of other issues.
Going through your profile you describe yourself as someone who hates injustice and hypocrisy with passion. Unfortunately, these are two of the vices Nigerians have come to live with. How did we come about this twin-evil?
It is unfortunate that we are grappling with them. We can say it is part of the evolving society. I always say and I still maintain it that I was brought up in the village; I was born and brought up in the village. When I was growing up, injustice and hypocrisy were the exception rather than the norm but now they are the norms rather than the exception.  And why was it like that? It’s because of values, values of honesty, integrity, hard work, being your neighbours’ keeper and people were conscious of whom they were, the name they carried, the family they came from and the impact of their conducts on not just  on themselves, but also on their families. But nowadays all those things have been eroded. It is a question of money; it doesn’t matter how it is come about. People have always blamed the military for breaking down the wall and making people lose sight of what is important. The effect of that is that people’s rights are trampled upon. Honest people are now called fools. It is no longer a question of the end justifying the means but it is a question of the means justifying the end. What is important is that you’ve made it. It’s because, the society now gives you all the accolades, chieftaincy, you name it. So wherever I find it yes I hate it with passion and I consider it my duty to speak out wherever and whenever I’m opportune to do so. I hate hypocrisy; people pretending, you mean one thing you say another thing. I always tell people that when somebody is talking, look at the person’s eyes, mouth, face. This will tell you much more than what the person is saying because often people tell you what you want to hear. And of course unfortunately that is the bane of governance this day. People are sycophants; they are praise singers, they tell you what you want to hear.  Friends tell each other what they should hear, it may not necessarily be palatable but they know that, that is the right thing and if you heed it, it will make you better. That is why I also pray to God to surround me with people who can look at me in the face and tell me the truth. People will see what is bad and they will say it is good, then they will go behind behave like pig but before you they are a different person. So I hate it with passion because it tends to send wrong signals, especially when it is coming from those who are supposed to lead by example. What do you want to happen to those who are coming behind you?
We continue to blame the military for Nigeria’s woes even though the military left the scene almost 15 years ago. Does it mean these ills cannot be corrected?
Part of the problem of our society, the way I see it, is that people will always blame somebody. Do you know why? It’s because we don’t want to take responsibility for actions. People don’t want to change, people are too lazy. I read a book by Richard Wurmbrand. He’s a pastor who was imprisoned in Communist Russia and he talked of him being alone in solitary confinement below the ground.  So since he had no pulpit; no church to preach to, he started preaching to himself, talking as if he was giving sermon. He made a point that struck me. He said as a pastor, for example, he was used to visiting members of his congregation. He just realised that one person he never visited was himself and that struck a chord with me. It is easy for us to always visit other people; it is the fault of the military; our fathers have failed us, our mothers have failed us, this generation has failed us and we point at everybody but you. Have you taken time to visit yourself? Have I taken time to visit myself? It is not palatable. But if we are honest then ask yourself, “am I better than the military?”  When the chips are down what do I stand for?  I tell people that that is what you need to ask yourself.  They believe every Nigerian has a price. What do you really stand for? Is there a place that you reach that you say you can’t go any further? If you don’t ask yourself and you continue to blame somebody else, the society will get worse because we refuse to remove the log from our eyes but we are looking at the speck in other people’s eyes. I keep telling people that you and I are government; you don’t need a crowd to make a change. You as an individual where you are, I where I am should decide to be different. Decide to do the right thing; decide to play by the rule. My policy is, others may, I cannot. Another way I put it is, dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand out; dare to stand alone and stand for what is right. You may be pilloried, you may be maligned, you may be lied against; people will turn the truth on its head but stand on the truth.  I tell people “you will not be there when people will be telling your story”. When you are there they will tell you what you want to hear but as soon as you are out of that place of influence it’s a different story. So we are all writing our stories. The answer is that because we always blame somebody and we continue to say it’s the military. Let’s even go back to 1999, somebody commented recently that the government we have now is even worse than the military.  Well I won’t trade issues or whatever, all I keep saying is that we are the same human beings, whether you are in khaki or  you are in agbada.  And I will say it wasn’t every military man that was corrupt; I wouldn’t like to believe that. Just like it is not everybody in the government now that is corrupt, just like the Bible talks of the days of Ahab, a very wicked king, there was an Obadiah who was able to ask Elijah, “Did they not tell you, my Lord how I hid 100 prophets and I give them bread and water when  Jezebel was after them too”. I believe we still have them in government; we may not hear about them. Wherever they are, they should ride on.  I love my country with a passion. I think Nigeria is a great country and I think Nigeria is the most endowed nation on earth, material resources, human resources, mineral resources, in any way you can think about, Nigeria is endowed. But we squander it and we will continue to squander it and God will be looking at us, shaking His head. But I don’t think all hope is lost.
What would you say is the way out?
It is not all about the military; it’s our refusal to sit down. You don’t need to sit down having a national dialogue. No! It’s you having a dialogue, self-examination; ask yourself, “What do I stand for?  Where do I stand?  People like to sit on the fence. Personal dialogue first and foremost, then look around you, your immediate environment, your family; charity begins from home. Start with yourself, myself, that is what is important.”
Still talking about injustice, it is always said that women are the major victims of injustice. And I still remember vividly that you were one of the leading voices in the case of one Aminat Lawal and Safiat in 2003 or 2004. Between that period and now, has there been improvement?
My honest opinion is that there is no improvement. Some years ago, I gave a lecture to medical students and they asked me to talk on sexual harassment, for example.  During question time people couldn’t come out to ask questions; they wrote it down for anonymity and the fact is that, those taboos you read in the newspapers are still happening to women, they are happening to girls. Sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence are all over the place. You will be amazed but because of the culture of silence, people don’t speak out. What you hear is just fractions of what happened. You know this issue of you can’t come and be washing your dirty linen in public and again hypocrisy; people will know the truth but they won’t speak the truth. This is what I call poverty mentality. I won’t say that there is much difference, it’s is still there because the society we are talking about has still not changed. We use culture to condone what should not be condoned we use culture to support injustice, we use culture to support maltreatment and subjugation of women. It is abnormal to treat a woman as less than human.  You are better off when you see her as your partner. You see your daughter as an asset, not an asset in terms of what fetches money in Igbo land. See her as somebody who can add value to your family. See her as somebody who has potential and should be given equal opportunities.
What is your take on the view that there are more women in government than we used to have in the past?
Is it still not tokenism? Is it on merit? When you give a woman an appointment, you go out to shout that you have appointed more women. What is the big deal? Have you given them equal opportunity to compete? Did you judge them objectively to ensure that the best person wins? My personal opinion, others may differ, is that not much has changed. It is just that sometimes people get tired of talking.
Nigeria remains a male-dominated society despite the impressive performances by women in leadership positions.  What would you identify as factors militating against women’s quest for leadership positions in this country?
That is a million dollar question. And that comes from the issue of culture. The man has always been the super-ordinate and then the woman, subordinate. Culturally, the man has always been in front. Initially women were not educated, not many. When you are in control of something, it will take God’s grace for you to let it go. That is why I said if competition is on equal terms, if they provide a level playground and the best person wins, things will begin to change. But there is no level playground. If you take politics for example, what we have seen here is politics of money, politics of influence; not many women can play that kind of game. Even in corporate governance, it is still the same networking type of thing. They can do millions of naira worth of business playing golf in a club where a woman won’t be.
The issue of child bearing also weighs against the woman. The woman is the one God has given the privilege to bear children and this weighs against her when it comes to taking her rightful position in the market place, in the boardroom, in politics etc. In work-place, for example, it will be used against her. People are reluctant to employ a young woman who is not married because when she gets married she will start having children and that will disrupt her work in the office. So, there are a lot of things that weigh against women. Women themselves are sometimes their own worst enemies.  “What does she have that I don’t have?” So you can say that the woman still has a lot of things stacked against her.
The judiciary, in recent times, has been accused of corruption. As a stakeholder in the academic sector, don’t you think there is a need to re-orientate our up-and-coming lawyers right from school?
The amazing thing is that, for example, as a law student, if you involve yourself in exam misconduct and you are caught, you will be barred for life from going to Law School. The legal profession is a profession that is built on integrity. It still goes back to what I said earlier about the individual. The judiciary is not worse than any other arm of the government. And I think the opinion is that it is changing. And now that the judiciary can speak out themselves; it is one thing denying what is obvious to everybody and then the people at the apex speaking out that shows that there is a change. If the person at the top say, “I recognise this as a problem and if you are caught you will face the music…” That is recognition and it is part of what I call re-orientation. Corruption is a hydra-headed monster. But remember, it takes a giver to have a taker. It is a two-way process. Whether it is in the judiciary or in the other arms of government, there are different forms of corruption, but it takes two to tango. Nobody can be corrupt if you don’t see somebody playing the other half. It is a question of wherever you are, recognise that there is a problem and be ready to find a solution.
You studied abroad and as a member of NUC accreditation panel, what is you assessment of the standard of education in Nigeria?
I was part of the team that accredited law programme in Ghana. My experience during the period showed that the standard in Nigeria is not as bad as we make it appear. It can be a lot better. There are a lot of things that are wrong with the system. But it is not the worst system. And, of course, you can’t compare it with the system in more developed countries like University of London, where I studied.
TheSun

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