Professor Joseph E. Alika, is an indigene of Emuhu community in Ika South LGA of Delta state a seasoned educationalist, a politician and a community leader.
Through dint of hardwork and academic excellence, he actualized his dream of becoming a professor at the age of 46. The academic don strongly believes that the University as a citadel of learning is a place for knowledge, for wealth creation and sustainable development.
The former Assistant Chief Research Officer with the Rubber Research Institute Benin city, is a strong advocate of human capital development and a goal getter, who delights in building people for a better future.
In this personality of the week interview he granted Ika Weekly Newspaper reporter at his Agbor residence recently, he spoke extensively on the false rumor about Emuhu community seceding from Agbor Kingdom and other salient issues affecting education, Nigeria economy and youth migration to foreign countries.
Good day sir, May we meet you?
I am Professor Joseph E. Alika
Can you please tell us about your childhood?
I was born on April 15, 1946, into the family of late Mr. Alexander Alika, of Idumu-Waya quarters, and late Mrs. Catherine Alika, of Idumu-Ishan quarters, both in Emuhu community, Ika South LGA of Delta State. They were both farmers, they had five surviving children while two died. I am the first child of the family. Emuhu, is a small community in Agbor kingdom, I grew up in the village completely, where I attended St. Luke’s Primary School, Emuhu, between 1952 and 1959. However, I still want to recall that every day- when we woke up in the morning, as young boys, we had assigned duties like, cleaning and sweeping the compound. Every day we sweep the compound before we go to the Primary school to sweep the school compound. If it is during dry season like we are now when there is no rain, as there were no wells not to talk of boreholes at that time; we used to go to the stream, which is about 4 kilometers towards Ottah area in present Edo State to fetch water. There is also another stream towards Mbiri area. We would have to trek from Emuhu to those areas to get water. Sometimes our mothers usually woke us up about 2am to 3am; whether you like it or not you must wake up. We also served our teachers then; we would go to the stream to fetch water for the headmaster and the teachers. We would do all sorts of domestic jobs after which we would go and sweep the school compound; that was how we had our primary school. There was no electricity then, we used oil lamps, and if you were rich then, you would use kerosene lamp. Upon completion of my primary school education, I gained admission to St. Patrick College (SPC) Asaba in 1961. Actually I was very excited when I got to the school because that was my first time of seeing electricity. At that time, it looked like I was entering into heaven. It was fascinating in the secondary school and I got a very good education that I can never forget, I finished secondary school in 1965 at St. Patrick’s College where I sat and passed my school certificate examination with flying colours. I later proceeded for two years Higher School certificate (HSC) in 1965, also at the same St. Patrick College Asaba. And this was during the Nigeria Civil War; the Nigerian Soldiers took over all the areas, so we didn’t go to school until when things became normal again. Based on this development, we (students) were moved from Asaba to Ubulu-Uku by the government, because Asaba was not safe. While at Ubulu-Uku, I finished my H.S.C in 1967.
When I finished HSC, I taught briefly at St. Georges College Obinomba, from 1967 to 1969. I gained admission to the University of Ibadan, in 1969, where I studied Agriculture and read Crop Science. When I got to the University of Ibadan it wasn’t funny in terms of finance because my parents were farmers and we were paying real school fees then; not now that you can enter the university and spend almost two years without paying your fees. Then we didn’t have this off-campus thing, you must be in the hostel as a student. As you arrive, you must pay your school fees before being allowed into your hall of residence. My parents assisted me in school fees that year, they tried to get some assistance from my uncle and few relations and we managed to get through that first year, by the second year things were getting tougher, luckily, there was this Mid-West state bursary for students and that took care of my cost.
While in my final year, I got a Federal Government Scholarship, with that, things became much easier. The experience in the University was great, there was learning and teaching, and that is the kind of thing I frown at today where some lecturers will lecture for only two or three times in a whole semester. Then, the teaching was fantastic, facilities were available, we did all the exams in one year, unlike the semester system now. All the things you need for laboratory work were there, unlike nowadays when you talk about Alternative to chemistry which to me is most ridiculous; that has never happened, you will do all the chemistry, the entire practical and at the end of the day you are trained.
At the University, social life was also beautiful because I was getting more exposed unlike what I was at the village level. But I must say that in all these periods, anytime I was at home, I still worked with my father in the farm and when I wanted to go back to school, what he managed to keep together, he would give to me, this was how I went through and I finally graduated in 1972, where I had Second Class Upper Division Honours (2.1), I was quite happy.
Upon my graduation, I came back briefly and taught at Ika Grammar School, Boji-Boji Owa, in the same year 1972. Luckily, I got a job with a Rubber Research Institute, in October 1972, and that changed my life further more. In 1977, I was sent to the United State of America (USA), on United States Scholarship by the Rubber Research Institute, which was also a government institution; I was sent on a United State Agency for International Development (USAID) Scholarship to do my Masters Degree in plant breeding, and that was another experience, wider world was opened, I saw knowledge differently, I saw society differently and I saw an environment of hardwork. I had a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge which helped me a lot because we were sent specifically for Masters Degree programme, which we did precisely for two years in the real knowledge environment. When I finally came back to Nigeria, I registered for my Doctorate degree in the University of Ibadan. During that period, I was going from Benin to Ibadan once in a while.
Actually I came back from the United State of America in 1978, and continued my job at the Rubber Research Institute, where I spent all my youthful years from 1972 to 1982. I left the Institute as an Assistant Chief Research Officer, and got a job with Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, as a Senior Lecturer that same year 1982. By September 1984, I left Ambrose Ali University Ekpoma for the University of Benin, Benin City also as a senior Lecturer. I moved from Senior Lecturer to a professor in 1994, at the age of 46. I have been Head of Department of Crop Science, Dean of Faculty of Agriculture twice and have also held so many positions in the University, and these have broadened me much more not only in academics, but both in academics and administration.
On the political side, I have had the privilege of being the Board Chairman of the Nigerian Metrological Centre Jos in 2001. Presently, I am a member of the Governing Council of Delta State University, Abraka since 2015.
I am a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), and very much involved in active partisan politics in Ika South LGA of Delta state. Again, with the privilege of working at the University, I have been able to assist many people in gaining admission into the universities, and I think that is the greatest joy that I have today, because each time I run into people, they will say, Prof, I will never forget how you assisted my son, you were the one that gave him admission, and now he is a medical doctor, an engineer or currently working in a reputable bank. Sometimes I look blank, because I cannot quite remember them.
I am also a farmer in Emuhu, I have on the average, about ten hectares of oil palm, which has just started fruiting, I just started harvesting; with that I have been able to build a palm oil mill, along the New Benin/Asaba Express way, Emuhu. For me, it is more of service to humanity than economic. I am sure that if many people have such outfits here and there, issues of unemployment will cease, and all these issues of our boys running to Libya, Malaysia and dying in the high sea will also dwindle a little.
As a seasoned educationist, how will you rate our current level of education compared to the seventies, during your days, and what do you think is behind the drastic fall in the standard of education in the country?
Well, I think they are very many, there are a lot of disparities between now and in the past. Firstly, I think the society is part of the problem, society does not feel that knowledge any more important. What the society looks at now is all about money; if a man has money, even if he didn’t go to school, you want to imitate the man because he is rich even without going to school. With this, the person already has the notion that majority of those that have graduated ends up not achieving anything while somebody else who probably finished with school certificate level got into politics became a councilor or a chairman and he has seen all the wealth such person has got, so, why will he waste the time going to school or studying? That is one issue, or most of them who travel to South Africa, go to do shop lifting and drug pushing, you don’t know what he did, he comes back, puts up some mansions, acquires some sophisticated cars, then why will he go and read? So, they all want to be there.
Again, when you go to the Universities and some tertiary institutions, most of the lecturers are not ready to teach, some of them demand gratifications from the students to pass an exam. In fact, that’s a disaster that has helped to destroy the system. The Proliferation of the Universities is another crisis, the Federal government cannot fund the Universities, yet every year they are creating new ones and when you get to some of these universities, they don’t have facilities to function effectively, so, where do we go from here?
I believe that even if we have only Five Universities in the country, let them be classic with world standards. We don’t need one thousand economists to tell us what to do to make this country grow.
You can hear the Minister of Education saying recently, that they have reduced the cut-off marks of students gaining admission into the University to 120 points. Imagine that. How can you admit a person with 120 marks over 400? No, that means the guy is not sound for the University. As far as I am concerned, the university is not meant for people less than average, university is a place for intelligent people and not for dull people. If you are a dullard, there is a place for you; go to a technical school, learn some skills, you can achieve your relevance; you don’t need to go to the university to be wealthy, it is for knowledge.
Financing of Universities in our country is poor, the states are now making matters worse, some of them like Edo state have more than one university, yet they can’t even run Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma.
We are not looking at the products, we are looking at the entries, agreed we want our children to be in the university, but they must go to school to learn to acquire knowledge, because society is knowledge driven.
Nigeria is about 180 million people, if you go to Netherland, Norway and all those places, they are not up to some states in Nigeria, but their Gross Domestic Products (GDP) are one million times ahead of ours. So, it is not by population, it is knowledge; the society must be knowledge driven and if you don’t invest in human capital development, which we are not doing, then there is a problem. Even the way we are now employing people to teach in the university is becoming chaotic; you look for people from your area and employ them into the universities. The university is not meant to be nepotistic; it is a special place, the more you throw in nepotism, the more you reduce what university is meant for, because as a man, you don’t give what you don’t have.
Sir, don’t you think there are remedies to correcting some of these anomalies in rejuvenating our universities back to standard, like in your own days?
Well, there is nothing that is impossible, the only thing it requires is the Will, you must have a will, you must have the right people in the right positions. We had a lady who was a Commissioner for Education in Delta State, Dr. (Mrs.) Veronica Ogbuagwu, we saw the passion she had on that job, the venom in her for poor performance and what she did to make sure that examination malpractice didn’t exist, she might have had some wrong approaches but at least she showed that enough was enough and it would have worked, if we had followed it up. I remember when Barrister Chiedu Ebie came on board as the Commissioner for Basic Education here in Delta State, I wrote to him that he should resuscitate what that woman did, but in areas where there were excesses he should correct. So, that is why I am saying that we can do it depending on the will, but we must invent the will, we must have a vision of what we want. However, the worry I have is that in Nigeria, there is too much politics than governance. We are in 2018, we are behaving as if tomorrow is election, and some people are now clamoring for Mr. President to come back for a second tenure. We must study also, what is causing all these, we must look at it; but you see, when you simply put a revenue where you don’t study the cost, it becomes a problem, because at the end of the day, it will not work. So what is it that is our problem? Like our youths are jostling to Libya, why are our boys going to Libya? We must study it, so, when you now have all those facts, you will now say, what do we do with the facts? How do we now remedy these factors? If we reason like that and act, then we will get there.
With the current economic situation in the country, there are some schools of thought advocating for government to diversify into industrialization, what is your take on that?
To the average Nigerian, they like easy life, the average Nigerian does not want to work, and that is why we got into the madness of Oil. Oil came and people said why do we have to bother ourselves, sell oil, make so much money and we are all gallivanting. We were even paying the salaries of other countries, not knowing what to do with our money and yet we were drinking pond water. Malaysia came to Nigeria in the early fifties and collected our palms, today they produce over 18 million tons of palm oil in a year, and Indonesia produces 33 Million tons of palm oil in a year while Nigeria produces below 1 million tons in a year.
For diversification, we must as a country plan properly for it. It is not just to talk, we must support it. There are many aspects where we can make money, we need to look round our environment and exploit it, and the resources are much in Nigeria, that if we exploit them, Nigeria will be great. I always say that Nigerians have no reason to be poor; it is lack of knowledge and will power that has made us poor. If you go to the North around Nassarawa State, you will see several mineral deposits and you just marvel. The people are not allowed to extract it except the federal government. Yet, the federal government is not doing anything, then you come to the Niger Delta area, they said it is illegal refining, but it is clean petrol that they produce, they will load this products into the trailers and get them burnt, yet we are importing fuel. So, if you put all these together, like I said, if Delta is in charge of this oil, license all these people, collect taxes from them and define the quality of what they have to produce, you will be shocked of the revenues that will be coming from that direction for us to develop.
So, do you think that Agriculture holds proper key to this diversification?
The beauty of Agriculture is that we are lucky that we are in an environment where the weather is so clement and we can produce all kinds of crops in the different regions of the country and the value chain is very high in most of these crops. Look at rice for instance, it is now doing well. The level of importation has declined because of the high production of the product in the country.
Through the palm kernel, we can produce different kinds of Chemical products and most of these things have high market values, most of which can be exported and we earn dollars from foreign exchange transactions across the borders
You are a seasoned politician in Ika South LGA of Delta State, how will you assess the administration of His Excellency, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa?
I have heard so many criticisms on His Excellency and I always tell them that he is really working very hard; indeed the young man has been able to manage the resources of the state very well in spite of the heavy short falls in the revenue profile. He has also embarked on a lot of projects. Take Ika South LGA for example, I have seen so much of infrastructural development, at the Central Hospital, there has been so much improvement, look at the Agbor Technical College, the state government has done very well in the infrastructure and facilities at the college in order to give our children the best in skill acquisition. And this same thing is happening in other parts of the state within the Delta Central and Delta South. However, we do hope that if finance keeps improving, we are going to see more of such infrastructural developments, but one thing I must observe which I think is very important is that he runs a government that has very little publicity machinery. At least, what the government is doing across the state should be given adequate publicity so that the masses will know about it.
Are you married?
Yes. I am married to Mrs. Henrietta Alika, an indigene of Issele-Uku. She is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education in the University of Benin. The marriage is blessed with seven children.
What is your perception about life?
Sometimes, it is difficult to answer this type of question because of generational differences. My generation is different while the present generation is different but one thing that is common is that we all want to live, we have to sustain our lives. So what I see now is that, there is rat race to get to the zenith of our lives even before the age of twenty-five – that is rat race. They tell you that they can’t wait; they tell you that your generation is old school but I ask those of them that are now in the digital age to show me what they did better than I did.
Life is a ladder, a double ladder that goes up and comes down. I believe you must have enough education to fly, then you must have a vision and that vision must take you to where you are going. You must also think of the society you live in. look at what you think you can accomplish, look at what you think you have, that will give you that accomplishment. There must be processes of life that will enable you actualize your dreams and by the time you age and get to the climax, then of course, you start to climb down. For me, life is exciting. As a person, you know what you think is good for you, live a life that is yours, don’t live another person’s life. I think this is part of what many people are suffering today. Oh! I must buy that car tomorrow or he is a professor, I must be a professor, even when you don’t have secondary school certificate; that is a mirage. Look at what you think you have the capacity for and build your life around it; if you are a Christian, pray to God to direct you and make you to actualize your dreams.
Sir, how do you assess the way politics is played here in Ika South LGA?
I want to say we are trying, we are doing our best. However, politics, the way I see it, for many people, it’s all about self and that is the greatest tragedy of politics. What they want is: I want to do something so that the governor will see that I am the one working for him. I am the only person that is relevant in Ika South LGA. No, that will not take us anywhere, what we want is collective leadership and collective followership. Well, if you are in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or whatever party you are registered with, you must also look at what will be good for our people. For me, being in the PDP, I think we are trying our best and if we continue to maintain what we are doing presently as one united family, I am sure we will arrive there and better.
There was a rumour that was making the round sometime ago about Emuhu Community seceding from Agbor Kingdom. As a stakeholder and a politician from the community, what is your position on the issue?
Thank you very much for this question; this is something that has been on for so many years. What I see in it; let me talk about the cultural aspect first before we talk on the political. There are too many people in the kingdom that delight in creating a division between Emuhu and Agbor. They think there is something for them to benefit by creating these animosity. Emuhu people have never said that they are not part of Agbor Kingdom, the only thing you can hear is that Emuhu people are not being carried along, that they are being abandoned by those whom they believe to be their brothers. Whenever you have this kind of situation, there is the tendency that you are going to hear all kinds of things, all kinds of reactions.
In terms of politics, as far as I am concerned, Emuhu community is fully part of Agbor Kingdom. When you talk about secession, I always smile because there is a process; if Emuhu says today that they want to be on their own, there are laid down rules and regulations that say the Obi-in-Council of that clan must endorse any group that wants to be on its own. So, if that exists, like I always ask them, how will Dein be in support that Emuhu Community should leave Agbor Kingdom? We know that it’s not possible. Some people want to play politics with it. Oh, he is an Emuhu person, don’t give him power, if you give him power, he will take Emuhu out of Agbor Kingdom; you think that is the way the thing goes? There is no state governor that will say today Emuhu, you are on your own without passing through Agbor Kingdom dynasty because the salary is coming from the local government and there are two people in Ika South LGA that benefit from it; the Dein of Agbor Kingdom and the Obi of Abavo Kingdom. So, this one that is coming, where does he get his own salary from? It is the wicked and unprogressive minds that are peddling such rumours. I am happy that Dein does not think the way they think. I don’t want to mention names. Some few years ago, they wanted to put a council park, but somebody, a political figure said, ‘No, don’t put it at Emuhu,’ they should take it to somewhere else but Dein told them to put it at Emuhu that Emuhu community is part of his Kingdom. If he saw that we were trying to pull out from Agbor Kingdom, would he say so? No, there is harmony between us; it’s just some sycophants that keep trumping up this kind of talk. We have all lived together in Ika South LGA.
From the political angle, Emuhu community is a small place with not more than six thousand population, so when you create it as an autonomous community for yourself what then becomes of it?. Politics is a game of numbers. So, if we are looking for number of delegates, how many will come from there? May be about 3 or 4 to run an election with Agbor that has about 15 or 20; it is a political suicide for Emuhu to say that we are out from this union because they need it to get political achievements. Personally, I am not in support of any secession and I strongly believe that we can live happily with ourselves if all these sycophants will stop peddling unnecessary rumours and irresponsible comments.
Throughout your sojourn in the academic world and politics, do you have awards?
I do have several awards right from when I was doing my Masters degree in the United States of America (USA).
Do you have best and worst moments?
One of the best moments I have is when I celebrate with those who work with me during Christmas and everybody feels very joyful. But in terms of memorable moments, I always like to recall the day I received my admission letter to the University of Ibadan for my Bachelor’s degree, which is the moment I think I can’t forget.
In terms of challenging moment, the worst I had was when I was attacked in my compound by two assassins in November 2016 and how God delivered me was a miracle, they shot severally at my car and I was inside the car; one had a gun while the other had a cutlass, then I was driving a Murano Jeep.
Do you have role models?
I like admiring Professor Sam Oyovbaire, the Chairman of the Governing Council, Delta State University, Abraka, a very meticulous person. He has displayed a lot of justice and fairness. A brilliant scholar, a man I like admiring and I like thinking about always. In the political cycle, they like calling him the father of politics in Delta State.
How do you relax?
I spend a lot of time with my phone reading all kinds of things on the internet, not social media per se, and that takes quite a lot of my time. Once in a while, I take one bottle of beer.
What is your best Ika delicacy?
Egusi soup with pounded yam.
What legacies would you want to be remembered for?
I like to always think that you must have the simplicity of life, we must be honest to ourselves, be yourselves, and live a life with vision and achievements. Stop living people’s lives. Stop greed; inordinate quest for power, even while eating outside with your mates, don’t be a glutton, that is greed. We should all live cycle life, not greedy, show some level of intelligence, read, because we need knowledge; without knowledge, you are Mr. Nobody and you can’t go beyond where you are. New knowledge and new exposures will add value to your life. When we have all these put together, life would be better for all of us.
Sir, your words for the Nigerian youths
First, they must go to school; there is no alternative to going to school, they must be knowledgeable; they must be hardworking and stop the idea of going to Libya, Malaysia or Ghana to eat excreta. There are prospects here, there are things you can do gradually and build on them to make money. It’s not all about making money in one day; that is why they are crashing. Let us learn to start a foundation and build on it, let us stop being in a hurry. I am not saying they should go on a snail pace, but there must be a direction, there must be things you must do to add value to your vision. You need to read the story of Cable News Network (CNN); they were not where they are today when they started. At a time, they almost packed up because the owner couldn’t pay salaries any more but he survived it and today they are everywhere in the world.
Who says Ika Weekly Newspaper cannot be all over the world? It’s all about asking ourselves questions like, what do we do next? How do we expand? What will make our paper sell more? Like sometimes, I criticize the paper mostly because of so many pictures on the front page. Whenever I pick the paper, I am not too excited to read it until I start reading through the stories of the paper. So, is there any way that we can make it better than what we have? So, all these are some of the things that might be going through their minds, there should be new innovations. It is not just a question of doing one thing every day. According to the saying, “you don’t expect a better result if you keep doing the same thing in the same way every day, it is going to be the same. Hence, we must learn to think of what will add value to whatever we are doing, wherever we find ourselves.
The Calabar boy that works in my oil mill told me one day, “Oga, I know how to raise pigs” and suggested that if we could have a small place where we could put the piglets, we could be using the oil palm waste to feed the pigs. I said, wow! That is a great idea you have, and may be if we do that and the thing works, that would increase our revenue. So, that is all I try to preach. Again, the government must also assist mostly in the area of finance.
The government is not helping us. When they come with assistance, we will get there. Imagine the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Programme on rice, it has made rice production to improve because government intervened and brought money and the intervention has yielded huge production. Invariably, without proper government intervention, things will continue to remain the way they are without any improvement.
Sir, do you have any Chieftaincy title from Emuhu Community?
But have you greatly contributed to the development of the community?
Well, they are the ones that can answer that question. I have tried within my capacity to improve on the quality of life of the people through Agriculture. I have done all kinds of thing in Agriculture. Many people have adopted my own technology into their own farming structure. I always like to remember one of my late friends, who one day came to my house and said I should come and see his maize farm, and then I used to grow maize. The planting distance was the same and I asked him who did it for him. He said, “Prof., I went to your farm and measured the distance of how you planted your maize.
I have done a lot of advocacy programmes and we have been able to do well in that area, at least, through some financial assistance to a number of people that we put on the farm. These are some of the contributions to my people and many of them are appreciating it.
Sir, with all that you have passed through in life, will you say that you are a fulfilled man?
I will answer it by saying that God has been wonderful and I appreciate God for everything, whether there were some challenges or not, we give God all the glory because he has been very wonderful.