Daily Trust: How did you achieve this academic feat of becoming a professor at 40?
Professor Nasiru Idris: In life, one needs to have a target. Actually, when I was younger, I remember saying that I wanted to become a lecturer but people were not taking me serious. I wanted to earn respect in the society and there is popular saying that the ‘reward of a teacher is in heaven.’ So, I always go by it. It was based on this that I took my time and shunned unionism in the university and immediately after my graduation, I proceeded straight for my Masters as well as PhD and Post-doctorate degrees. I obtained my PhD in Urban and Regional Planning with Environmental Planning as area of specialization in 2010 from the University of Technology Malaysia and immediately got employed at Nasarawa State University, Keffi. I was appointed a senior lecturer; from there my papers were sent for external assessment and I was found worthy of the chair of Professor of Environmental Management and Planning. I became a professor in October 2016.
At Keffi, I was Geography postgraduate coordinator, director of the Centre for Environmental Studies and was appointed Dean of the new Faculty of Environmental Sciences.
I have over 80 publications in national and international journals as well as conference proceedings. I graduated five PhDs, 25 Masters and over 50 undergraduates. In addition, in an academic environment, you need to be humble. If you don’t respect your professors, when you become a professor, nobody respects you.
DT: So you mean you didn’t socialize?
Idris: I didn’t because you ‘can’t eat your cake and have it.’ The social aspects of life take you backwards and take most of your time. Most researches are in the night and social functions are in the night too, so you have to choose one. In research, you have a particular time to hit your target and I have hit mine.
DT: Does that mean you don’t have time for your family?
Idris: I have time for my children but for a short period at night.
DT: What has changed since you became a professor?
Idris: I miss my younger friends because most of my friends now are older professors. They are people from academic research and consultancy while in the past I used to play football with my peers. Now, it is difficult to attend a friend’s wedding. One is too occupied with the responsibilities in the university. To have time for your family is very difficult. You are going for conferences, workshops and so many international seminars. So I miss that aspect of life.
DT: You are concerned about the railway system in the country.
Idris: I have been. Transportation is key to every economy. All the developed countries have efficient transportation network. Britain, Germany, the United States, the Asian tigers have good rail systems, but in Nigeria we still talk about locomotive. Nigeria is lucky in terms of size and it is expected that rail transportation, which is very cheap is efficient and reliable, can be pursued. I suggest that the Federal Ministry of Transportation and all the connecting states to the Federal Capital Territory collaborate with the Chinese Government and have a rail transport that will link with Abuja. If we have that kind of transportation, it will solve the problem of accommodation, overcrowding, slum and crime because you can stay in Kaduna, Lokoja, Lafia and come to work in Abuja. We can do that. We have the capacity. That is the practice all over the world. In Nigeria, people tend to commute for so many hours to work. Most Nigerians cannot afford the exorbitant housing cost in private estates in Abuja.
DT: Don’t you think inadequate electricity can be a handicap to the rail system?
Idris: Well, when that is done, the Chinese can come up with alternative source of power to make it efficient. Of course, the issue of power can be keyed into the project.
DT: What do you suggest can be done to address the myriads of problems affecting the country?
Idris: From independence, Nigeria has been having different governments including civilian and military administrations. However, anytime there’s a national broadcast or a change in governance, there have been high expectations and hopes but it turns out to be in vain because of instability in governance and lack of proper National Development Plan, which by expectation will take the country to the promised land.
It will require consultative meetings with various stakeholders in both public and private sectors for stock taking and for understanding what the real issues are.
Besides, there should be a Think-Tank of resource persons made up of academicians and non-partisan members of the public to provide a feedback to Mr. President from time-to-time on what is happening in the country.
DT: How do you see the state of the nation?
Idris: In fact, the government of today should know that Nigerians are expecting real positive change in all sectors of the economy. A comprehensive stocktaking and understanding of the issues and challenges in the various sectors of the economy is important for the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to re-engineer and reposition the country.
DT: What specific areas are you thinking of?
Idris: There is need for a national carrier to help with national and international flights. For instance, Nigerians travelling to South America have to go to Middle East countries, a grueling 15 hours off the course, before connecting. A national carrier will connect straight from Nigeria to many countries.
Also, the government needs to be meeting with relevant stakeholders in the educational sector from time-to-time for concrete suggestions on how to improve facilities and quality of education. There is also the need to establish cottage or small and medium-scale industries for value addition to our cocoa, rubber, groundnut and numerous cash crops that are wasted after harvests.
There is need for a comprehensive and affordable rural and urban housing scheme especially for Nigerian workers. This could be through a public-private partnership as is the practice in Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
DT: Who do you look up to in the academic environment?
Idris: I look up to people that are Noble Prize laureates all over the world. Maybe one day I will be one.
DT: It is believed that ASUU is on strike more for personal benefits. Do you agree?
Idris: I don’t think so. The Federal Government agreed on some terms and did not fulfill them, so it is not ASUU’s fault. Besides, education infrastructure is dilapidated. Not up to the 25 per cent of budget is spent on education. The teacher-student ration is high and that ought not to be. So the lecturers are not to be blamed.
DT: As an environmentalist, what are your suggestions for a better community?
Idris: The government should focus on the 3Rs. That is, reduce, reuse and recycle of waste management through the establishment of recycling plants and sanitary landfills in major towns and cities as well as provision of incinerators in most institutions.
There is also a need to lay more emphasis on green and ‘liveable’ cities as against the slums and shanty towns. Climate change, which constitutes a major global environmental issue, needs to be addressed in the area of reducing gas flaring from oil production and pollution, and land degradation in the country. (Daily Trust, September 16, 2017)