Lady Ejiro Umukoro, is the Pioneer General Manager of MEGA 89.1 FM, Warri in Delta State. She is a multi-award-winning broadcaster and investigative journalist with incredible achievements trailing her modest career. She is a cerebral human rights activist, and Pioneer of Civil Intelligence in Nigeria, with unrivalled agility and unmatched capacity in Women, Children and Youth advocacy. She maintains an unwavering flight at global scene as a staunch advocate and campaigner against sexual gender based violence and domestic violence in Nigeria, Africa and the world over. She has made her mark in defense of the rights of women and girls with a harvest of laurels to her kitty. One of her outstanding works: data-driven investigative report into human rights issues bordering on sexual gender based violence and domestic violence, covering Nigeria, Gabon, Cote D’ivoire and South Africa, attracted acknowledgements from Pulitzer Centre which launched her to global recognition and further added to her profile as a guest to BBC London (Have Your Say Africa). Ejiro is the Director of Courses at Lady E Language Clinic (LELC), a media education outfit with strength in Public Speaking, Creative Writing, Journalism, Radio Business, Broadcasting, Mentoring and Content Development.
In this interview, she bares her mind on the faltering Nigerian state, attributing it to a lacuna in good governance. She expressed concern about rising incidents of sexual gender based violence and domestic violence, wondering why the Nigeria police lack capacity to nip the heinous crime in the bud. She also recommends measures to eradicate examination malpractice and improve the educational system of Nigeria. Excerpts:
By Emeka Nwokocha / Emmanuel Enebeli
Ques: Nigeria is bedevilled with myriads of challenges bordering on leadership, unity and a wane in patriotism. What do you think the government should do to move the country forward and take its pride of place in Africa?
Ans: There are three basic issues holding Nigeria down from making meaningful progress in her trumpeted developmental strides over the years. They are systemic, infrastructural and the character of a people which borders on morality, ethical practice and the principles that guide them. In our peculiar situation as a people, we don’t have a national philosophical framework that stimulates every child to have a Nigerian dream while growing up. Worst still, nobody knows what the Nigerian dream is. Do we even have one?
It is worrisome to recall that in most conversations we have had from time to time, nobody would say, oh, this is my Nigerian dream! There is a wane in patriotism which regrettably has become anachronistic, and people don’t even talk about it. Ironically, the people claim nationalism but when you look at it critically, it is more of tribalism which by sincere comparison is not better than racism. Tribalism and racism are in the same category of a negative sense of superiority expressed by somebody over another person, when the reality is about collaborative and interdependency of existence and survival.
In the same token, when you look at our structural issues you see that our educational framework is fashioned after the European model. To be precise, there is nothing fundamentally very Nigerian about it. Even our history further alienates our originality and identity to such an extent that our children are being thought that being a Nigeria is about their knowing that the river Niger was discovered by a European. How do you teach a child that his own identity is the recognition of the fiery tale that his own ancestry – his people long before he was born and those who came after him or before him do not even have an identity as to naming the place they inhabit, until Europeans came to name that place?
This kind of identity crisis we have in Nigeria is part of our problems, which is why there is a lot of disunity. There is no gainsaying the fact that we are into a forced marriage, true! But despite that, people do make bad marriages work, don’t they? So why aren’t we saying, ok, we’ve been married, can we just try and make this work for us to move on?
Come to think of our systemic issues, it is alarming to note that the way the civil service is structured in Nigeria allows for lack of accountability, respect for professionalism, even meritocracy is not the yardstick for advancement and progress in the career ladder in most ministries. On the other hand, man-know-man, catchment areas, tribalism and religion are the criteria people use in determining who will be giving promotion or not. Worst still, how can we have a country where there is no power? It is quite unbelievable. It is such a systemic problem and structural deficit that we have trailed our chequered history as a people.
Suffice to say that no country runs without power and makes meaningful development. No doubts, our structural issues are quite endemic and constantly stall our growth as a nation. Even the road infrastructure is nothing to write home about. Governors come in, governors go, the only mantra they sing is, “I will give you road, light, water,” but you never see this infrastructure year in year out. What an irony!
The case of Delta State calls for concern. The state is over 26 years old and famous for its oil wealth. Yet we still cannot say we have one city or town in the state that can boast of hundred percent coverage of good roads, not one city can boast of clean water provided for the populace, not one city can claim that it has digital transportation network, not one city can claim it has good waste disposal system, not one city can claim it has the best education provided for the citizens, not one city can claim it has good maternal care services, not one city or town in Delta State can say the welfare of the people is a priority, and the pensioners are well catered for.
If you go to the oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta, gas flaring still happens while the health of the people is seriously endangered. However, this gas can be harnessed and channeled to generate energy and power for industries in Nigeria and our homes. If the governors would put their acts together during the governors’ forum, they could sit at a round table and renegotiate our “faulty marriage” and chart a progressive way forward, perhaps through amendment of the Nigerian constitution. This can be done because the constitution is not unchangeable, it is an evolving document. As people experience evolution, life is changing, technology is changing, the environment has become more digitalized, and as the realities on ground are becoming different, the constitution changes with the people. However, if the constitution does not evolve at the speed reality is evolving, it becomes inimical to progress.
Ques: Nigeria is an oil producing nation, still poverty is endemic in the society, infrastructure decay is common place, and even her economy is not making any progress, as unemployment continues to rise unabated. What is your take on this topsy-turvy?
Ans: It is disheartening that currently, over 80 percent of the Nigerian population suffers hunger one way or the other. Some wallow in abject poverty, some are in the 1-0-1 kind of setup, there are those who do 0-0-1 or 1-0-0 systemic formula of managing to feed a day. There are those who never see food for two days or more. Then with the insurgency happening in the north, life has become unbearable. It is a thing of concern that northern part of Nigeria is the worst case scenario. This is largely as a result of the system they run, which makes alms giving a way of existence that further impoverishes the people.
The harsh economic situation in northern Nigeria is quite pathetic. When people don’t go to school, and when people are thought that the only way you can succeed in life is through alms giving, the future becomes bleak. Meanwhile, the elite in the north take their children to the best schools and give them the best education and the best standard of living. That is quite unfair!
On the other hand, when you come to the South, what you see is amassing of ill-gotten wealth by people at the political corridors. That is a flaw, and an abuse on our sensibilities. Truth is, when we allow money induced politics to determine who is elected into public office, then the person goes to pay back all that he owes to those that made it possible for him to come in, then accountability becomes a problem. Over the years, we have replicated the evil circle to a point it has become more dangerous.
There is increasing rate of crime in our society today which may not be unconnected with the obvious fact that the people are hungry. I am not justifying that hunger should be a reason for someone to steal, but we must face the reality that when people are hungry, stupid things do happen. And when you push the people to the wall and there is no way out, that is when you see them bounce back negatively, and become more aggressive like the animals hunting for food.
With regard to the endemic poverty in Nigeria, what the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed to us, especially with regard to the palliatives that had been distributed in Nigeria, is that we are not honest in managing resources. Imagine, you are saying you are feeding people during this palliative era, yet the hunger in many places, even Delta state is unimaginable. We have peculiar cases of monies going down the drain and resulting in insecurity in our states because public issues are not properly addressed holistically.
Without mincing words, hunger is a serious problem in Nigeria that must be addressed headlong. The potent way we can do this is to ensure industries are established to stimulate business activities and create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths roaming the streets. In the same vein, enhancing the capacity of the youths in ICT, and expansion of internet network connectivity for people to go digital, will attract more business opportunities for the teeming youths in this era of world digital revolution. Then people can be in their homes and make good money. We need all this kind of platforms and infrastructure put in place to make the youths productive. We have a chance to make our country better!
Ques: Are you worried that violence against women is on the increase? And what are the measures the government can deploy to eradicate this menace?
Ans: Incidentally this question brings to fore my ongoing investigation into sexual gender based and domestic violence. I am doing a 10 part series and first of the series has come out and the Pulitzer center was impressed by the content of the story I did on that subject. I was featured by Pulitzer Center and earned global recognition for that work. When I began the investigation, I really did not have much depth of the issue. What my investigation revealed to me is that the issue of sexual gender based violence as well as domestic violence is muti-dimentional in the sense that, first, you have the role the government must play, you have the roles the community needs to play, the roles individuals need to play and that of families as well. The schools the children attend; the work place the people go; and the community that people live in also play vital roles too. Most importantly, the roles of the judiciary as well as the police are crucial in ensuring the law is enforced and justice is served.
Sexual gender based violence and domestic violence in Nigeria have become such a tragic story because non enforcement has been at the root of the problem. Silence is also another root of the problem. In the face this social ill, the pathetic story is that interventions are rarely done or not done enough in most part of Nigeria.
Suffice to say that the northern states of Nigeria have refused to domesticate the child right acts, and even some states in the south, east and west that have domesticated the child right act aren’t enforcing it. It is true that we really want to give credence and stop this madness of sexual gender based violence but not much commitment has been made in that direction. The question is, why would a government not have shelters to protect victims and abused persons? In Delta state, there are no government-run shelters. Then you are faced with situations when a large number of police officers are not trained on how to manage sexual gender based issues in Nigeria. You will be surprised to know that there are not many police stations in Nigeria that have gender desk office, even as many of the officers do not have the professional knowledge and training to handle such cases.
For the fact that the police are not trained on how to handle this problem, cases of sexual gender based violence are treated with levity. You often see a situation where an abused child is brought to the police station and a police officer would have the temerity to tell the child, “you were enjoying it, abi, that was why you allowed him do it! Why would a police officer say that to a victim? He can see evidence of abuse, evidence of injury done on the victim, and then he would have the audacity, the insensitivity to say he/she (victim) was enjoying it? How? Why would a victim come to report to the police in the first place if not because they want justice?
So, we have had cases where some police officers have not helped matters, a lot of them to be precise. In the course of my investigations so far, counsellors, health officers and intervention agencies including the civil societies and NGOs, complained bitterly and indicted the police for nonprofessional handling of sexual gender based violence.
We have seen cases also, where mothers will be told by their daughters, “my father raped me” and the mother will say, “shut up” because she wants to keep her marriage at the expense of the safety of her daughter. That act is not proper; it is negative feminism, toxic feminism, and negative form of matriarchy. When matriarchs cannot protect their daughters, who else will protect their daughters for them? We have also seen cases where some complained of being raped by uncles and cousins. Worst still, we have seen a case of a widow who turned her teenage son into a husband that provides her sexual needs. So, ours is a society that lacks serious values even though we are the most religious African nation in the world. Truth is, that we are religious does not make our morality right. We have a skewed morality system in Nigeria. Ours is a situation where some pastors, Imams, and clerics in Nigeria are involved in sodomisation of boys and raping of their members – we have seen so many instances. This shows that being a religious country is not the solution of the problem. When people don’t have proper ethics and principles but claim skewed morality, what would you expect? You have a situation where children grow up in an environment where ethics and principles are consigned to the trash bin. So it is a multi-pronged problem that requires a multi-pronged solution.
My take on this issue is that any parent who enables rape on their children and molestation of their children should be arrested and the children taken away from them as provided for in the child rights act. When parents are not capable of taking care of their children, the children should be taken away from them. We need an organized and refined society where the police will not take money from rapists to cover their crimes, no matter their status in the society. We have seen many high profile persons go Scot free after committing heinous crime on another human being. That narrative must stop. We also need to stop the sexualisation of children. Children are beginning to be exposed to the Internet in the wrong way. Most parents don’t exercise parental control on their phones, and children being curious as they are, parents who give children their phones to use without control, ignorantly aid their children to access sites that are not supposed to.
Suffice to say that a number of children go to the internet to view pornographic materials. We have seen children practice their curiosity of sexual awareness after being exposed to “dirty” things online or even on television.
On the other hand, the judiciary, the court system is too slow. Justice for victims is too slow. We need to hasten it now. There should be special courts dedicated for speedy judicial and effective delivering of judgment against perpetrators of sexual gender based violence, and we should stop demonizing victims. To put it in proper perspective, there is no correlation between the clothes a girl wears and rape. Not at all! Rape happens because somebody with a bad nasty mind decided that he wanted to inflict pain on somebody else. We should stop the narrative that how a girl dresses or where she is at a certain hour determines her chances of being raped. That is not a very good assumption. The fact that you have a bank situated at a very significant location in a city and an armed robber went in there to steal and he was caught, would you say the bank should be held responsible for holding money in that building and tempting the armed robber? If you cannot say the armed robber was tempted because there was money in that building, why would you blame the raping of an innocent girl on the type of clothes she wore? What about the raping of a minor, how do you justify that? Somebody who takes advantage of another person with the sole aim of inflicting pain on the person is a wicked being. A rapist is a criminal. Raping is a criminal offence. And that is the plain truth!
Ques: What is the link between proper education of a child and the development of a country?
Ans: When children are not properly taught, when children are misinformed, society bears the brunt. You should remember that the mind is system sourcing information you give to it. It is garbage in, garbage out; quality in, quality out!
The Nigerian education runs on a flawed educational system. From our curriculum to the quality of teachers we have, to the quality of the administrators of schools, to the kind of ministries that manage and coordinate education in Nigeria, we have a systemic and structural fault. That is not say some schools are not doing well or that other ministries and departments are not doing their best, but collectively, it is not a universal correlation in terms of consistency.
If you go to private and public schools, the quality of teaching has dropped drastically. Many teachers don’t even prepare for their lessons anymore. We now have a system where proprietors and proprietress of schools collect high fees from parents and deliver low quality education. It has become so endemic and people think the more expensive the school, the high quality training it gives. But investigation has proved that perception or notion to be wrong. The vogue thing is that administrators of schools make too much money and pay so little to the teachers who do most of the work.
To grow our education sector, we need to train and retrain teachers regularly. And teachers must be willing to grow, even as many of them are nonchalant about developing their teaching skills and learning new method of teaching. Suffice to say that we don’t need to compulsorily be in the four walls of the school to be able to learn. The Covid-19 lockdown has taught us that you can be schooled from anywhere and everything you need to learn is online. Now that schools are closed, children are beginning to learn at home through internet and social media. That is a clarion call on our government to start a review of our curriculum to catch up with global trend, because archaic lessons and ideas are in our curriculum still. If you go to the university, you will see it very prominent.
In another vein, the process of recruitment at the university, secondary and primary schools is flawed to a large extent, as quality teachers are often not recruited. Teachers need to be well remunerated and their salaries must be consistent. They should be giving opportunity to advance their career, so they can put in their best.
In a situation where schools do not provide facilities where students can go and play and have fun, children become stunted in growth. Our schools must evolve a new system of learning where students are taught adversity quotient, emotional intelligence, civic intelligence, economic intelligence, and financial intelligence. The only thing students should really be reading right now to be universally competent is the language of world communication, English and in more recent times, Chinese, Spanish, and including mathematics. These are the subjects every child must learn. The rest can be learned anywhere as they grow in life. Mathematics helps you deal with so many other calculations in the world. These include financial calculations, spatial measurement and things like that. We need to make our teaching more of experiential. Let children learn how to do things with their hands not cramming. Let them experience these things; let them feel how things are done. Enough of this churning down and cramming of books!
Ques: If you were the Commissioner of Education in Delta State, how would you tackle examination malpractice headlong and instill discipline?
Ans: I will start first with the teachers. The only reason examination malpractice thrives is because we have corrupt teachers. Then I will start with the head of schools, the owners of schools. We have seen principals who work together with corrupt teachers to encourage this bad practice. We have also seen situations where principals do this corrupt practice without involving the administrative team or teachers.
The next group of persons I will be dealing with is the parents. The only reason people indulge in examination malpractice is that we have come to make it feel that education by force is the only way to succeed in life. Many persons have learned certain courses in school but do not practice what they studied. People learn geography and go and become bankers. We should not make examination look as if that is the total definition of ones’ IQ. It is wrong to assume that because you pass this exam this time that means for the rest of your life, that is the measurement of your intelligence. Our measurement of intelligence should not be that criterion alone. Education is a lifelong affair.
For example, in Finland, the way they designed their structure, students do not write exams until much later in life, when they are about 10 years old or so. From their little years in kindergarten to early primary school, they don’t write exams. They just allow the pupils choose a subject and learn about it. Children should learn at their pace. That is what the online learning during this Covid-19 lockdown is teaching us now. Children are learning at their pace at home now and there is this breath of fresh air, no pressure, no tension, and stress is reduced. Learning should not be stressful. We make learning too stressful in Nigeria. Our environment should encourage creativity and freedom to learn and enjoy learning. Children don’t enjoy learning that is why examination malpractice is common. And then we have lazy parents who think they can use money to buy everything in life and later when their children grow up to become nuisance in the society, they start thinking about how to raise money to go and bribe police officers who ought not to be bribed, so that they can free their children from being jailed. So you can see that our education is what is promoting to a very large extent systemic corruption and endemic bad behaviour in our society.
In a nutshell, education is not book alone; it is the totality of the experiences of the things you have gone through as an individual and the quality of the people you have interacted with. A child can be educated by watching his parents and copying what they do. This brings to bear the significance of a lesson they used to teach us back then that if you tell a lie before your child, that child will learn to tell lies. So the education we are talking about is not “bookuru” alone, it is not the four walls of the school alone. Education is the totality of everything. When children grow up to know that bad road is what they get in their communities, year in, year out or the rest of their life, that is another form of education, as government has invariably told the children that they don’t deserve good roads.
Education also means that a child will know that some days he will go hungry, that is another kind of education that poverty is a way of life that you manage. But when children look at the internet and see that the life people live in developed countries is different from the life they live here, they are inspired to say, “I can be better; I can be like that”, and they begin to educate themselves on how to become like that. In a nutshell, education is not just the school we attend; it is the totality of human existence, interactions, and experiences.
Finally, we should make examination malpractice an enforceable criminal offense. Teachers, administrators, invigilators, staff in ministries or departments of education and its affiliates, etcetera, engaged in examination malpractice should be publicly shamed, have their names published in public register, just like the sex offenders register, then have them sacked and jailed for crime of corruption and illegal profiteering.