‘We should help the country save her foreign exchange’
Professor Munzali Jibril is the 20th President and Chairman of Council of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM). The Professor of English and Linguistic is an emeritus Professor of Bayero University, Kano and a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission. He spoke with LAOLU ADEYEMI on his plans for NIM in the next two years and the state of the nation, among other issues.
Records have it that you applied for a waiver for English Language at a time and today you are a professor of English Language and Linguistics. Can you shed light on that?
I went to a Grade Two Teachers’ College where you have to take English and Mathematics Education as standard papers that would be marked by WAEC while State Examination Boards marked others. I had A’s in English and Mathematics. In fact, I had four A’s and four B’s out of the eight subjects.
Then, I did GCE Advance Level of the University of London privately. In Hausa and Arabic, I got grade A. I also did two O’Levels: English Language and Literatures at the University of London, (Private Entry Examination) and I passed.
With my qualifications put together, I finished secondary school in December 1970 and proceeded to Part One in October 1971 because I had two A’Levels, two O’Levels, coupled with the Grade Two Teachers Certificate. The fact that I had not done advance level English and I wanted to study English as one of my subjects made me ask for special exemption. And so, my Professor of English at that time who was from Indian gave me a simple test for that. He asked me to go and write an essay on any subject of my choice and I did. Considering the rigorous preparation for my GCE Advanced Examination into the University of London, I was still very fresh and I had no single mistake in the essay.
So, when the he read it, he was impressed and admitted that they would give me an exceptional exemption.
That was how I went into the English Part-one class without an A Level. But in justification of the Professor’s judgment, I also came out as the best student in English, with a record of 2.1 GP, which had not been obtained in five years then.
Being one of the scholars from the Northern part of Nigeria, did you at any point in time make an effort to create the needed consciousness about the danger of Boko Haram sect or how to address it?
No. Then, the Boko Haram issue was so sensitive and dangerous. Now we are lucky that it’s almost dead. There was a time that if you speak badly about the group, the next thing is that you get killed. They were so effective in gathering information. Two-three people would be holding private discussion and somehow they would get to know. By the next day, they would knock at your door, ask for your name and if you confirm it, they would tell you they heard what you said yesterday. The next thing is for them to shoot you and that would be the end.
This made people refrain from speaking about them. If you live in the north, and you are a stakeholder or an intellectual person, you have to take interest in what is going on down there. This is what some of us have been doing.
However, there is a lot of ignorance from the south. Initially, many people from the south thought that Boko Haram was a protest against the election of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. They assumed that it takes only the northern leaders to stop the dastardly act in the country and normalcy would return. But it’s not so. It got to a point that, even the Sultan could not speak out against them. If he does, they would write him letter, threatening him. And they had the capacity to carry out their threats. All these happened because the nation’s security system was porous.
Interestingly too, the truth is coming out now as to why the fight against Boko Haram was unsuccessful. The reason was that the fight was never a sincere one and there was no transparency from the beginning. The revelation we are getting from the Dazuki Gate shows that we have not heard much about the scandal. Their commanders were also diverting soldiers’ allowances. If you have demoralised soldiers, you have already defeated yourself because they won’t have the motivation to fight. And it’s not the guns that fight; it’s the men who carry the guns.
As a Professor of English and Linguistics, what is your take on the non-usage of the lingua franca to teach and learn in Nigeria as elsewhere?
I have written several papers, arguing for a return for mother tongue medium for education to teach our children, at least for the first nine years, through primary and junior secondary school. It may not be practicable for everybody to be taught through his or her mother’s tongue. Some of the languages have 10,000 or 20,000 speakers. But we have about 12 languages that have at least about a million speakers or more.
Those ones are very viable and we should develop them for education.
There was an experiment in the 1960s at the University of Ife. The late Prof. Babs Fafunwa led the team that undertook the experiment to find out if pupils in primary schools taught through their mothers tongue learn better than those taught in English Language. After six months of the experiment, the students were better in English than those taught in English. And of course, they were better in their mother tongue too.
And their knowledge of the content of the subject was better.
I have argued that the 35 per cent success rate our students get in WAEC or NECO reflects that the nation is running an inefficient and wasteful educational system. If you look at other African countries and even Arab countries, their overall performances are nothing less down 90, 95 and 97 per cent. This is because of the opportunity of starting with their mother tongue.
Meanwhile, our children are very intelligent. If you were to switch to their mother tongue, you would have improved their learning efficiency and language proficiency rate by several percentages.
However, I believe English language has entrenched itself so much as the language of the world. So, there are some advantages in using it for education at higher levels. Yet, we ought to go back to our languages for the sake of preserving our languages and improving our education.
Talking about preserving our languages, what do you advocate?
We need to create dedicated radio stations and other medium of communication where indigenous languages are used as major language communication. I understand that Lagos State House of Assembly has set aside a day that members of the House will speak in their own language.
Another way to encourage people is by ensuring the usage of those languages on the Internet and even social media. If we can find a medium on the Internet where these major languages could be promoted; we would be helping to elongate the lifespan of the languages. But if we stay like this, both the big, the small languages will go into extinction.
What are your plans for NIM in the next two years?
In the next two years I intend to move NIM to the next level from where my predecessor left it. I intend to improve on transparency of the management of the institute. I want to improve the prudence and frugality in which we manage the resources of the institute. Actually, the fortune of the institute has improved tremendously in the last 10 years and we have become a little bit flamboyant. NIM will raise revenue and cut down on expenses under me. Our revenue generation will be principally based on membership strength. We are looking at how to encourage members to pay their dues regularly.
I want to be remembered as the president who insisted on due process and adopted international best practices for our members during his term. The fact is that we are the standard Nigerians look at; we can’t afford to do things the way others will do it. NIM will be a reference point for other professional bodies.
How does the institute help the country in the management of resources?
We are trying our best. We have what we call Academy of Corporate Management, which is a group of intellectuals that take topical issues like insecurity, insurgency, economy and research into them. At the end, the group takes the topical issue, dialogue on it and later research on it and come up with position papers. The final position papers from this research are now circulated within the institute for ratification, before the copies of the final paper will be sent to government as input into the government’s policy. We have been doing this quietly and we have copies of these treated issues on our website. We would continue to do that until we have other opportunities to dialogue with government.
What can the nation do at a time like this?
Firstly, everybody has agreed that we have to diversify into other sectors of the economy.
Secondly, statistics show that 40 per cent of our foreign exchange goes into crude refining and importation. This simply means that if we make all our refineries work, we would be saving our foreign exchange on crude for something better. Since we produce the crude, we don’t need to export and later import after refining it. We can do all by our self and save the nation a whole lot of waste. If we improve on some of our own products for exportation, we would have helped the country save her foreign reserve.
We have to address the issue of importation. The fact that we still import toothpick shows how frivolous the country deplete its foreign reserve. We should minimise frivolous import and boost our local capacity to produce what we consume. If we import what we consume, we are creating jobs outside the country but if we produce them locally, we are creating jobs for our citizens.