Mrs Edna Aina Owolabi is known for the roles she plays in the lives of the downtrodden around the Mogadishu layout, in the City Metropolis of Kaduna.
As a philanthropist, she opens the doors of her eatery to the poor around her every Thursday to feed freely.
In this Interview, Edna Owolabi speaks on the effect of the government’s policies and more. Excerpts:
As we all know, the educational sector is facing some turbulent challenges and this has seen stakeholders criticizing some policies of government.
As a stakeholder, what do you think the government is doing wrong and how can these wrongs be addressed for the benefit of the youths and the nation in general?
Thank you very much.
The decline did not start today. It has been a gradual but very fast decline.
Like I tell my children and staff when we are doing some calculations; I ask them to add up some sums or figures but funny enough, even before they locate their calculators, I am already up with the amount only for them to come up several minutes later with the same answers. They are sometimes surprised when they discover this and are quick to ask how I managed to get the answers correctly.
I always tell them that during our own time, there were no calculators, we didn’t have the internet. We had what you call mental arithmetic and because of that, we do mental calculation.
You see, the problem, I don’t think the government alone should carry the whole blame, because, who is the government; Nigerians. People like you and I. The problem is a lack of foresight and sincerity. Most of us are not sincere. We see things happening and we say it does not concern me or my children and, they forget that it may not concern you today but it will concern your grandchildren tomorrow, it may even concern your great-grandchildren years to come.
If you are in a position to take your children to Dubai or America tomorrow or even to the moon for them to obtain good and better education, while you contribute in killing our own educational system here, your children tomorrow, may not be in such vantage position to take their own children there. Same applies to your brothers, your nephews; your grandchildren too, will suffer from it too.
The educational system now, is like every other sector; be it the health sector or, as is typical of Nigerians, we like short-cuts. The quickest way to get riches and that is why you have people scamming each other because of the same attitude.
So, if we stop cutting corners and do the right things; whether it is with government institutions or even private organizations, I think things will begin to look better for our children and our grandchildren.
Take for instance, private schools charge exorbitant fees but do they use the best brains to teach the children, the answer is no. Government; do they forget about quota system or federal character and employ the best teachers? Are the teachers well trained? Even the teachers themselves, do they retrain themselves?
This is because, everything in the world is evolving as what used to be in practice last year, has since moved but, are our teachers moving at the same pace? That is why you can go to some of these schools and even see that some of the pupils can even teach their teachers.
So, that is why I say it is not only with the government. It is a very complex and complicated issue and we just pray that very soon, that for the sake of our children, like I have said earlier, we must get it right.
Ma, there has been so much furor about the purported removal, from the educational curriculum, of the subject; Christian Religious Knowledge, CRK which has been there for several decades running.
Many have said such is unjust and uncalled for. This has generated so much controversy.
You are also an educationist and also, a parent. What is your take on this?
In answering or even contributing, I will be talking from like a blind person’s point of view because, I have not seen the policy or the change and just like you rightly stated, I think it has to be rumours, because we can’t be that crazy. We cannot be that crazy because it is not possible. It is just not possible.
You know, it is a very sensitive issue because, no matter how mischievous a Minister may be, I don’t think the “Presidency or the people in power” would allow such a thing to happen. Don’t forget that, the Presidency cannot be building and at the same time, allow persons or people within it to bring it down. So, that is why I said it not possible. Even if you wake me up from sleep and tell me that, I will tell you it is a joke.
That it is a rumour. Let us take it like that; it has to be a rumour. It is not possible and it cannot be done. It cannot be acceptable; honestly, I will chose to say that it is a rumour. Like I said, no matter how; like I said “mischievous” or “crazy” whoever is put in charge of education Ministry may be, even if he or she dreams that, that person will be courting the trouble that he or she will not be able to handle.
Let us look at some of the policies of government as some of these policies are said to impact negatively on virtually all the sectors of the economy. This is particularly so with the hospitality industry.
Ma, you are an active player in the hospitality industry. We would like to know how you have fared when we consider the spiraling increase in the exchange rate of the Nigerian naira against the American dollar. How have you been able to cope?
It is not only the hospitality business. I would say it has affected businesses in general. Even the costs of living in general in Nigeria; it is like a ripple effect. All these policies of government, I really do not know as, there are some people who you think they have good ideas but somewhere along the line, they just miss it.
You cannot satisfy everybody but, at the same time, you cannot say that the cry of the majority is nothing.
The policies; sometimes, the government may have good intentions but, there should be checks and balances by the government because when you see that these policies, you might have good intentions and after rolling them out and you now see that it is counter-productive, I think you should be in position and should have good will of the populace, the citizenry and alleviate their suffering by reversing some of the unprofitable or unworkable policies.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, we don’t want change. It is not the majority of people who do not want the change.
Let’s take corruption for example. Corruption is killing us. Corruption is not only in Nigeria. I feel so sad when I go out of the country and see that you are a Nigerian and think that you are corruption personified.
Corruption which you see; I keep telling people especially my oyibo friends that, don’t look at us. You people taught us the acts of corruption, I tell them. Corruption is not a Yoruba word and neither is it a Hausa word or Igbo. It is not even in my dialect. It is an English word which is in the dictionary. If it does not exist, you would not have a name for it.
So, the only difference for it is that, they have punitive measures which act as checks and balances. While in Nigeria here, if I can say this, people who are most corrupt are even more compensated. Here, policies of government are killing us. If you say this foreign exchange; where were we looking at? I could remember the first time I ever travelled out which was in the early 70’s (71 or 72), that time your BTA was around #500 and most of us could not even afford the #500 to exchange, you know. But if you could afford it, it gives you about $1000. And with that $1000, when you travel and come back, you will be revered as a king or queen.
But now, it is a shame. It is a shame! We say that we are the giant of Africa but Ghana here is getting it right.
Our neighbouring countries are getting it right. We claim to be giant of africa; we are giants of what? The people we claim to be giants over are getting it right and we keep remaining where we are. So, what do we call ourselves? Like the Yorubas will say; Agbaya! (“big for nothing”). Why should we continue to ridicule ourselves? People are suffering and businesses are collapsing.
I know it is all over the world. For example, if you travel overseas to Europe, America, businesses are closing down because the internet is taking over but there are some businesses that are still remaining afloat and those we can understand. But here in Nigeria, even if you are selling sugar cane, it is not easy for you anymore because, if you are selling sugar cane, I hear some people asking how comes dollars (the increase in exchange rate) affect sugar cane. I say, yes it should. If you have common sense, the dollar rate will affect sugar cane.
Because the sugar cane grower or seller is not going to eat, wear that sugar cane. He will grow and sell that sugar cane to buy food which dollar may have affected. That also goes for the food he eats too. You get my point?
That’s why I said, when they make policies, please, they should look at the masses. Masses!! You don’t have light and if you have to run a generator, you look at it. How many of us can afford to buy the generator commonly referred to as “I better pass my neighbour”? Even for those that can afford it, how can you run a generator on diesel that you are buying for #200-#300/litre? For how long can you afford that? What business can you run on that? If you are grinding kunu or any of these items, how much will you charge them? Is it the cost of petrol? Let’s be reasonable, please.
There are other added costs that we must consider; maintenance and all that. These things are killing us as Nigerians. We are asking and begging; let our policy makers go back to the drawing board and look at it and see how they can alleviate our sufferings. And again, we the people also have our own problems but that is for another day.
Ma, let us take a look at the situation in Kogi state. Kogi state has been in the news of late and there is this old saying that, “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”.
Today, there are reports of a clash of personality between the Executive Governor of the state, His Excellency, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello and the Distinguished Senator representing Kogi West senatorial District, Dino Melaye.
Ma, do you think this fight between these two heavyweights will augur well for the development of Kogi state? What is your position on this?
Certainly not! Like you rightly put it, when two elephants fight, it is the grasses that suffer. It is the common people of Kogi that are suffering now; they are the ones suffering it all.
The Governor, His Excellency Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello is there not having sleepless nights while the Senator, Dino Melaye is also in his mansion enjoying his life but you see, earlier on, I had said we have our own part of the problems in this whole imbroglio.
Until we sit down and tell these leaders that look, you cannot pull us by the nose anymore. Enough is enough! Do you get my point?
What are they fighting for? I am not in position to know what they are fighting over. I wasn’t there when they were friends and I don’t what must have separated them. All I know is that when Alhaji Yahaya Bello was to be sworn in during his inauguration as governor, Dino Melaye was the person on the rostrum. He was like the Master of Ceremony.
But, when everything fell apart, I cannot tell you what must have transpired between them. Just as my husband will always say; “you can never know the true character of a man until you have given him, one of three things; Power, women or money”. Since they both have power and money, I don’t know if it is the third one that has caused a split (general laughter).
I don’t know, but I am begging them, through this medium to please, sheathe their swords and do what they were elected to do.
The other one was elected to represent his people in the highest platform at the federal level while Yahaya Bello is there to make sure every citizen of Kogi state, enjoys good and qualitative leadership, including myself who I refer to, as “Kogite in Diaspora”, because I am married to an Ekiti man but that notwithstanding, I can never forget my roots.
Please, Kogi is one of the most backward states in Nigeria and this is not supposed to be so.
Recall our history, from the days of Lord Lugard, the history of Lokoja and the historical significance of Lokoja in the history of Nigeria. But, if you go there, honestly, you will be ashamed. So, instead of fighting and fighting, why don’t we just come up together?
With Dino Melaye teaming up with Yahaya Bello and again, for Yahaya Bello remembering the people who held the ladder for you to climb up because they may be there when you have to climb down. Remember those people who helped you to hold the ladder while you were climbing up and both of them team up together; state and national combining forces to bring development to Kogi instead of fighting. That way, posterity will favour both of them. That way, when they are talking years and decades to come, the people will say it was when Dino Melaye was Senator that this thing was brought to the state.
The same thing applies to Governor Yahaya Bello. If you look at his history, the story of how he got there is a testimony. So, please, instead of him spending the years he has left in office, before you know it, four years will run out. Please, when they leave office and they see themselves and choose to tear themselves into pieces that will be their headache. But for now and for the sake of the Kogi people, who I happen to be one, they should come together, forget their differences. I don’t care how they go about it but should please do what they were elected to do.
In rounding up, ma, who is Mrs. Edna Owolabi? Some would want to say you are a business entrepreneur but, we will like to hear from you personally.
Thank you so much. My names are Edna Aina Owolabi. I am a wife; first, a mother before whatever you may want to add. (general laughter).
People look at me; depending on which angle you are looking at me, some people say I am a business entrepreneur, a Counselor, depending on who you are asking from. But if you ask me, I will say, I am a wife, a mother and a God fearing human being that knows that I have to love my neighbour before I can love my God. If you are following God, you have to love the people that you can see.
You cannot claim to love God when you cannot love the people that He Himself said He created like you and He created them in His own image.
So, please let us begin to love one another as that is what is killing this nation; lack of love and sincerity. If you love, you will be sincere. If you love your wife, won’t you be faithful to your wife? If you love your next door neighbour, you will not care whether he is a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist. You will not care whether he is a Hausa man, a Yoruba or an Igbo man.
You know, we have to love ourselves. I love the Americans. You meet an American and he tells you that “I am an American” before you begin to ask from what state. It does not matter to them. They are so proud of that.