Nigeria needs to focus on human capital development – Okpanachi

Barr. Isaac Okpanachi

Barrister Isaac Okpanachi is no doubt someone who has been involved in human capital development in Nigeria, having invested greatly in the legal profession and education. In this interview with IDACHABA SUNNY ELEOJO, he speaks on where Nigeria got it wrong over the years.

As someone who has been involved in human capital development over the years, what is your response to the level of moral decadence especially among youths lately?
As someone who has practised Law in Nigeria for more than 30 years, I can say that not less than 25 lawyers have passed through my chamber since I started. You know that in Law, it’s not possible to use robots, but human beings go to courts and carry out other litigation matters; so, I’m eminently qualified to talk about human capital development. Let me begin by saying that no nation can develop beyond the quality of its human capital being developed. To that extent, knowledge is key to development. For instance, if you look at Japan with its level of advancement today, you would be amazed, but that is a nation without known natural resources. The same applies to France except for coal which is not even in commercial quantities. The greatest asset of any nation is human resources and this is what these nations I mentioned have done to a large extent. This is what distinguishes Britain, for instance, from Nigeria. There, quality delivery in buildings, roads and other services is their hallmark unlike Nigeria. This is because of investment in human resources which is lacking in Nigeria. If we can redirect our mindsets to quality delivery in everything, life would be meaningful; unfortunately, we are not redirecting our knowledge positively in the area of functional education. That is where the problem lies.

In what way do you think Nigerians could redirect our knowledge towards positive gains?
This can only be possible through practical education. For instance, just recently, there was a news about a young man in Maiduguri that turned ordinary buses into electricity-propelled one. From the report about his background, he never went beyond the minimum level in a polytechnic before he dropped out, but he decided to put the little education he got to work, but I’m told he has a fleet of those buses now. And because he doesn’t use fuel to propel them, his charges are lower compared to other buses propelled by fuel. This is practically how to put knowledge to work. In Nigeria, we imported dichotomy into our educational system. For instance, there is this insinuation that if anyone attends a university, such would be at the upper class while those with polytechnic background are to be at the lower rudder. This is why we have professors of Mechanical Engineering in the country who cannot change the plugs of a car. In correlation, they have also raised thousands who are on the fields equally of no practical benefits to the country. We need to emulate the American models where functional education is their hallmark. It is this lopsidedness that assumes when one graduates from a university, such can attain the level of  permanent secretary directing other people from polytechnics who must be supposedly below the radar. That arrangement does not give room for progress, but results in limited progress and that is why we are stunted.

In a way, do you think government has any blame in this?
In the first place, how did it start? It’s because past governments adopted it from Britain where it is working, but copied it wrongly, the reason it is not working in the country. This is why it has been difficult to sustain indigenous technology because in trying to model after other countries where such models work, we copy wrongly and within a short while, it fails. It is good to copy, but better to copy correctly. In other words, any university degree holder, no matter the position such occupies, but cannot practise what he or she learnt, but prefers to play the boss over others is useless to the country. Our education should be on the practical approach on the spot, even right from the school.

For months now, youths who are supposed to be in schools are roaming the streets because of strikes. Many of them are deploying their knowledge negatively as against what you just said. What is the way out?
If you have a system that appears seemingly unconcerned, that is the outcome. ASUU, for instance is asking for something lower than 40 billion naira, but here is a society where a public servant in custody of public sector finance records carted away almost 88 billion. Now, putting these two figures side by side and the amount the two political parties generated recently from the sale of forms, how can one convince ASUU that government is sincere with education? And to make it worse, the youths are watching. This is how we have used public policy to destroy our system. If Nigeria must move forward, the secret is in our educational system. Let us develop a sound educational system that people, especially our youths can use their hands positively; that way, the positive vibes in the youths would be geared towards productivity. Take a look at Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. Once a drop out from school, but lived in a society that encourages the deployment of ingenuity. Today, everyone uses his products, that is what leaders and policymakers should focus on. These youths on the streets have in them what Nigeria needs to attain greatness. If the enabling environment is created for them, they would deploy their energy positively. Allowing them to roam the street is akin to time-bomb and we can see from what is happening now. The little knowledge of the computer they have are being used wrongly because of what they can see in the society.

Agriculture is an area that was abandoned despite the inherent benefits. What are we missing here?
If Nigeria has any advantage over any other country in the world, it is in agriculture. We were doing well until the ‘oil curse’ came upon the country suddenly. With agriculture, the first TV station in Africa was built by then old Western Nigeria. There was free education in almost all the region. With agriculture, the development of Nigeria was at par with some developed countries in the early 60s. Suddenly, oil came and people, government abandoned farms. There used to be farm settlements in those days which would have been much better with technology now, unfortunately when the reality is dawning on us, insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and farmer/herders clashes won’t allow both small and large holder farmers return to farms. This is the reality. Where we have relative advantage over others is agriculture. There are lands everywhere in Nigeria, but there are arable lands not utilised at all unlike what you have in countries like US, for instance. In Kogi state for example, Chinese and Indians troop to the eastern part of the state to buy cashew nuts. If agriculture is not lucrative, why are these and other nationals trooping in there? During Obasanjo’s administration up to Good luck Jonathan, there was cassava initiative, but only God knows what has happened to that noble objective. Let the government create the enabling environment for people to return to the land. Funds meant for young people to till the ground should not disappear between the CBN and disbursing bodies. That would be disincentive to grow the sector.

Finally sir, looking at the way politics is being played in the country, are we on the right track?
We are shooting ourselves in the leg. I think from the way politics is practised in the country, the best, honest and competent ones cannot join the bandwagon because it is too expensive. It is for this reason good people stay away from it. And by the way, if you look at the background of people in politics who pay all the price to get nominated, how did they come by the money? It’s still public fund purloined into prosecuting their campaign. This is a country where politicians are richer than the country. Such country collapses easily. Politics and public service should be a call for service and sacrifice, not personal profit. You would have succeeded in other areas before running for public office. Until we get to that level, we are not there yet.

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