Prof. Duro Oni is former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services of the University of Lagos. The theatre technician and administrator spoke with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on arts these past 59 years and what are the issues that matter to the arts and culture sector.
On October 1, 2019 Nigeria was 59 years old. How would you rate the country’s performance, especially in the area of human capital development?
We certainly should have done better, but we cannot deny that we have highly skilled manpower in Nigeria. This is why we have an unprecedented number of professionals who are in different parts of the world who are highly skilled. Recently, Professor Nelson Oyesiku was appointed the President of World Association of Neuro-Surgeons. In almost all aspects of human capital development, there are Nigerians occupying positions; in academia, medical, legal etc. The number of Nigerians in universities in various fields in the Western world, Africa and the Diaspora, Australia is very impressive.
As the immediate past Deputy Vice chancellor, Management Services, what would you has been the reason for continuous strikes in our higher institutions and why government is unable to reach a long lasting agreement with the different unions?
The lasting solution has to be holistic. Call all the unions to a meeting and resolve issues on a global scale. If there are those who do not want to have issues resolved but only call for parity, the system must call off their bluff. While negotiations are important, employees cannot on their own decide wholly the conditions of their employment. It is not a master/slave relationship either, but lines have to be drawn for the sake of the education system.
Have the politicians been able to convince the general polity that they are far better than the military, which they replaced? Has democracy really worked for the people?
There is no substitute in my view to democracy. The worst democratic dispensation is better than any military dictatorship. We just witnessed the UK Supreme Court dismiss the prorogation of Parliament by the Government. Even a benevolent dictatorship, if such exist, does not have an assembly to provide guidance.
Democratic institutions must be strong to check the excesses of the government with the Judiciary playing their own role of making laws. What we should strive for is creating strong democratic institutions, not making comparisons with military dictatorship.
What does the insecurity all over, especially in the Southwest states suggest. Is it not leading to a return to the first Republic?
There is certainly cause for concern, but the breakdown that led to the collapse of the First Republic was unprecedented. The days of wetie (douse in petrol and burn) should never be equated. The issue of security is a national problem, hardly any part is spared. There is a need for all hands to be on deck, while it is important that there are no secret cows.
Having come thus far on the rocky road to 59, in what direction should Nigeria move to get it smooth?
Rapid expansion in infrastructural development; power, roads, transportation etc. The education sector must continue to attract attention along with health. We have a rapidly growing population and cannot afford for the world to leave us behind. The government should engage the Academies (Letters, Science, Engineering, Education etc) in fashioning solutions to problems. These are very viable think thank resources available.
Talk of economic resurgence or fragmentation, a situation whereby each geo-political zone wants to maximise its opportunities, like the development of the ports and so on. Do you think this augurs well for a united Nigeria for the future?
You can have united Nigeria and geo-political development. I’m an advocate of devolution of powers … for the geo-political entities to develop and contribute their quota to the Centre. At the moment, there is too much push to getting into government to the detriment of developing entrepreneurial skills. The richest people in the world are no longer the oil sheiks, but the tech gurus! We need to redirect our thinking to align with the rest of the world. We should take more time to look at the debt profile at the centre and the states for the future of the present and coming generations.
Can you assess the arts and culture sector in Nigeria these past 59 years considering that you were chief executive when a committee for the National Endowment for the arts was inaugurated and till now, the bill is still waiting to be passed?
Part of our saving grace in Nigeria is the arts, culture and creative sector. Their achievements are in spite of minimal government support. There’s so much that has happened and yet so much more that can be done. Something should be done about the National Theatre mainbowl, which has not been used in some twenty years or so.
There is really a need for the government to establish the National Endowment Fund for the Arts. It not envisaged as another parastatal, but a body to who tax deductible contributions can be made to support the creative and cultural industries.
Predict a future for arts in the country
The future is very bright. The arts are an inexhaustible resource and our gateway to the world. From Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to Soyinka’s Nobel Prize, works of JP Clark, Imam, Osofisan to Chimamanda, Lola Shoneyin and a host of contemporary writers; Olu Obafemi, Ahmed Yerima, Kaine Agary, Lola Akande, the Nollywood phenomenon, the art galleries and Bolanle Austen-Peters’ Terra Kulture in Lagos and Moses Ayom’s Heritage Africa in Abuja. The future of the arts is bright and the future of Nigeria is bright. We are a blessed country.