In the first part of this interview, Dr. Tivlumun Nyitse argued that Benue State could never hope to break out of a unique underdevelopment unless the leadership recruitment pattern is changed. The thesis which he did not break down throughout the interview will remain open to multiple interpretations. In this concluding part, he shares his assessment of the state of journalism in Nigeria today, closing off with comments on selected leaders of Benue State.
Perhaps we have to return to this question of leadership recruitment and the Benue disaster because you still haven’t broken it down but let us go back to journalism. You are now a journalism teacher. What is your rating of journalism in Nigeria today?
I cannot say the quality has deteriorated or improved but it is certainly not been elevated to where everyone is proud of. I used to read The Nigeria Standard in those days where Dan Agbese, James Ikuve, David Attah and so on had a field day. A few newspapers are trying but can you compare any newspaper today to Sunday Times of those days? In my third year in the university, we had an American lecturer who made us to buy Newswatch compulsorily. If you didn’t buy it, you had to photocopy the portions he was going to use for our practice session on stylistics. I don’t find that now, not the error free, poetic delivery and overall graceful delivery. And that is a bit strange because we have more journalism training schools today. So, something has gone wrong somewhere. With the social media, you do not even know who is a journalist and who is not. Citizen journalism is a problem on its own.
It is debatable if it is in citizen journalism or the type of citizenry that the problem lies but that is a different debate. Are you saying you have not found anything exciting in academia?
Like I said earlier, journalism and academia were my heart’s desire. God has been kind to me I spent eight years in journalism and I am now in academia. I am enjoying it because I am trying to mould younger people. So, it is my duty to make them think and open up to the world. The snag is the standard. The students face too much of distractions. Someone has his small android phone and watching a film on Netflix or checking his or her Whatsapp messages during lecture. But, in addition to the social media problem, there is also cultism, the drug problem and similar other distractions. In spite of all these, you also find extremely challenging students, asking challenging questions or some who go ahead of the lecturer to consult books the teacher himself has not read. So, it is a totally confounding situation. In one moment, the students show a great future. In the next moment, they show a depressing sign, for example, when they have not heard of anything called The Guardian or Vanguard, much less have read their editorials on any subjects. And yet they know everything about the latest fashion details, about Marlian and such topics but not theory. But we should get there.
What would you consider a drastic response to this situation in the light of the argument that the problem is with the curriculum rather than the students?
I am teaching in a faith based, private university. I do not know what the Federal Government’s plans are or if they have thought about this. I would think one way out is for the private universities to insist on standards. This idea of someone coming to the university with 8 ‘A’s but cannot write a simple sentence just doesn’t add up. And we have to see if parents can be stopped from buying results for their children or paying teachers to procure results. That is happening. Many students are products of examination centres that are now called ‘Miracle Centres’ because no matter how poor a student is, he or she can get fantastic results from such centres.
We return to the leadership problem at this point but to look at the leaders we have had. What do you think of Joseph Tarka?
I didn’t meet him. The closest I ever got to him was attending a rally at MarCarthy Field in Makurdi which he addressed. His primary achievement is in inserting minority rights in Nigerian politics and emerging the frontline crusader in that. He did well in that respect because many people give him the credit for creation of states in the Middle Belt. There are no signs that he favoured Benue area when he was a minister under Gowon.
Perhaps, we cannot be too critical when we come to Tarka. His contemporary is Ameh Ebute. What is his profile with you?
Ameh Ebute is an experienced politician in Nigeria, having been a Senator in the Second Republic, then rising to become the Senate President in the failed Third Republic. The problem with Senator Ebute is his not being consistently visible. He has an episodic culture of appearing on the scene and then going off. He was vocal during the anti-Abacha politics. But after that, nobody heard him again for a long time. He stood the chance of being a nationalist front liner otherwise.
I take it that we have already touched on Aku. What of George Akume?
He was a pioneer in terms of the Fourth Republic in Benue State. He was able to bring people together politically with his humane nature and friendly mien. I can also say that he appreciates what people do for him. He never forgets that. The problem with Akume is that he expects you to be beholden to him because he did you a favour. He is guilty of trying to hold people accountable because he did them a favour. So, he ends up having problem with people.
Where do you situate Gabriel Suswam in all these? He was Akume’s successor
That is a difficult question because it will be like asking a student to assess his teacher. He came in with great ideas, did a number of things in the first term only to get stuck in the second term. For the first time, permanent secretaries were driving cars without agitation. He increased their take home from N123, 000 to N320, 000 as monthly basic. He did a lot on capacity building – overseas and local training for various categories of civil servants. He even did a road to your place – Utonko
He did well in the first term but there came a lot of distraction in the second term, with five or six cases that ran up to the Supreme Court. Politicians used it against him and recession set in, there was no money again and salaries began to pile up. In Benue State, once salaries begin to pile up, a governor has entered trouble but under Suswam, Makurdi became a state capital. Things went awry.
Assessing Suswam means assessing Steven Lawani who was the Deputy-Governor. Can we fill that gap?
Lawani is a gentleman. A very seasoned politician. I had worked with him when he was Managing Director of Benue Hotels. I worked there for 10 months before I went to the university. He is well connected to a wide network within Nigeria. There are few in Benue State with the kind of contact that Lawani has. He is humble too and wealthy but he doesn’t display it. Notwithstanding the age disparity between him and the governor, (Suswam), they went along as far as I could see. While the governor deferred to him because of the age difference, he too knew the boundaries of his office. But he is nationally well connected. Many times that we had to carry the Benue case to several quarters, he handled it very well.
The problem is that he doesn’t talk. And he thinks that everyone should earn his rewards. So, he doesn’t throw money about. Although he didn’t become the governor or the Senator for Zone C, he remains a good politician. He is a team player. He doesn’t believe in rocking the boat.
What about Governor Ortom?
I cannot assess him yet because he is still there. He hasn’t finished yet and it is difficult to enter a score for him now. One could say that he has shown that he can stand up for his people in time of adversity. But we will further score him when he finishes.
In Benue Community Concord in those days, we had two ‘friends’. One was Abubakar Audu who is late now. He thought we were being too hard on the government in which he was the Finance Commissioner. The other was Chief Audu Ogbeh who read our stories critically, took note of what he called our heroism, told us many times to do our job but to be careful too. What would you say about him now after all these years?
Audu Ogbeh was our idol in the university. It derives from his performance in the Benue House of Assembly in the Second Republic. f he was contributing to the debate, you didn’t want him to finish. If you didn’t take time, he would sway you. To many, he has under-achieved. The military intervention in politics might have slowed him down. Otherwise, he should have been one of the greatest politicians in Nigeria today because he understands the issues, he is convincing. He gives you the data, he doesn’t talk in a vacuum. The facts he gives are verifiable. He had a future. Somehow, Nigerian politics doesn’t allow people to grow.
With what words do you wish to round off?
I am going to write about myself. I became an editor. A permanent secretary and I could become a professor. It would have been a case of going full circle!