A mind is a terrible thing to waste
-United Negro College Fund
A few weeks ago, I drove through a part of Lagos Island and it struck me that though it was as crowded as always, there was no one there. There was no leadership. There was nothing that nothing that showed that someone was thinking and acting on their behalf. There were young men and ladies of a wide range of ages all over, their dressing clearly indicating that they were going nowhere. It seemed like a neighborhood waiting for something but nothing is happening. No purpose, no direction, a waiting people whose leaders have abandoned them. It was an abandoned village of descendants of people who used to be the best, the most knowledgeable, the most socially aware, the most visible but now, they hide away in that forgotten part that no one ever visits.
We must be sober about the mind of the country, the mindset of the young, the passion or lack of it, to know. Nora Roberts wrote: “If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘no’, If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”
These words poignantly describe our attitude to education as a country. We must remember that apart from the freedom struggles of southern Africa that brought a number of their young people to Nigeria, not only for refuge but also to be educated, there were students from many parts of the world as well-Cameroun, Ghana, Egypt, even lecturers from the UK, USA, Canada and several other places, all in our universities and polytechnics. There were even some in our secondary schools back then. My music teacher as well as my vice principal in Ibadan Grammar School readily come to mind. They were from Kenya and South Africa respectively and there were many of them in the educational system then, even up to the 1990s.
We state the obvious if we note that there must have been an ingredient in the system back then that attracted these foreigners to learn and share their knowledge, a quality that made Nigeria a choice country to get education.
We must pause to ponder the point at which and why we lost that prime position as an ‘educational tourism country’. This was a reputation we quickly developed after independence with the purposeful leadership of the time establishing and constantly improving educational standard, structure and access to meet the immediate and future needs of the young country for educated and competent manpower that would run not just the new civil service but the anticipated economic growth of the country.
There were also deliberate actions by the different regions and the federal government that sent many of their indigenes abroad for higher, quality and rapid education; as well as knowledge acquisition which clearly paid off. Till date, that generation remains one of the best educated in our country’s history as the country at a point became awash with celebrated lawyers, diplomats, engineers, architects, educators, doctors and nurses, all key personnel much needed by the young country.
Oscar Wilde wrote ‘You cannot be overdressed or over-educated’ but I say, today, you cannot be uneducated and as W. Edwards Deming said, ‘Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival’. Our entire survival as a country depends on education, learning, reorientation, pure highest quality education that elevates the people out of mental and pecuniary poverty into leadership, responsible citizenship, globally active and relevant population.
The UNICEF recommends that developing countries like Nigeria devote between 15 and 20 percent of annual budgets to education. The rationale is clear. In the last 10 years, 2009 to 2019, the highest budget for education in Nigeria has been about 9 percent, dropping, in some years, to just above 6 percent. This year, it is just above 7 percent in spite of President Buhari’s promise to give more to that critical sector. To put that in perspective, we have budgeted only an average of about 7.5 percent of our total spending, representing about 4.5 trillion naira of about 61 trillion, in the last 10 years to education. This is the amount that we have voted for the education and development of the largest chunk of our population, young people, totaling about 70 percent of our country. It is a disaster we should be ashamed of and alarmed at.
As part of a much vaunted declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector, I hope to see a full ministry or at the minimum, a Directorate of The Future, responsible only to the president. The Ministry or Directorate shall, among others, have responsibility to quickly establish our level of educational development in comparison to what obtains in other parts of the world; rapidly design a fully-domesticated educational concept that reduces emphasis on certificates and elevates competence; exposes our children to concepts rather than rhetoric; and connects them to the realities of the modern world as early in life as possible.
The objective should be to raise a new generation of competent Nigerians, imbued with high moral value and integrity, that is a prime job consideration anywhere in the world, can by proven competence attract foreign investment and provide transitional visionary leadership.
We need to move away with deliberateness from an educational alchemy that constantly experiments with ideas founded on whims and tentative outcomes. We need to clinically reassess and re-engineer our curriculum from kindergarten to the highest levels in ways that resonate the aspirations of the clearly defined vision of the country.
WE must focus on an educational nationalist ideology of a positive genre which ensures that education, at any level or location, is tunnel-visioned on creating a new Nigerian and is not being weaponized in any way against those who do not agree with our personal ideological, ethnic or political positions. We must ensure even, fair and unrestrained access to education to all that criminalizes, where necessary, any such denial. We must install a system that constantly, in a manner that does not self-celebrate, assess adherence to best global practices, concept effectiveness and success. It must be responsive to the ever evolving world with constantly evolving stress tests to improve its efforts.
The National Assembly should, as a matter of principle of governance, hold the president responsible for progress in the education sector and openly reward excellence in education managers at all levels and pupils/students at every level. The Directorate must find ways to incentivise education in ways that it relieves parents, no matter where they are, encourages students and teachers. When we return pride to education, reward excellence with the promise of a good life and act in manners that heightens good social values and not wealth, even in wealth and power, our society is likely to react with raising itself into global reckoning with greatness.
In this regard, members of the National Assembly, state assemblies, ministers, commissioners, directors, vice president and president must first submit themselves to behaving with decorum. A key part of that will be to accept a downward review of their salaries and perks, drop ostentation and understand that more than 99 percent of the rest of the nation cannot afford the material comfort their positions confer on them.
They must understand that it is not possible to win an election in Langtang, live in Jos and be in tune with the realities Langtang people face. You cannot have your campaign office for House of Assembly Member in Surulere Local Government and live in Ajah. You will never understand that your people have not had power for three weeks in a row and you will give them tabs they do not know how to operate when all they really want is a policy review that enables them to get a small stall inside Tejuosho Market for trade! They have no interest in free school buses. It is not what they need. We should try to take their minds to school, make it a place they look forward to and not a chore.
Ultimately, education is the primary key for us as a country to leap into that future where the rest of the world is headed. An uneducated mass cannot survive the enslavement of others for long. In a matter of time, she will surrender her culture, traditions, economy, social structures, her sovereignty, defense and all, to those who see her weakness and exploit her without mercy.
We are on the edge of that if we are not giving thought to educating our largest age and social mass. We are on the edge of the precipice, a little shove and we will have no choice but to serve our new masters in that coming empire quest of the new global powers.
- Bimbo Manuel, Feb., 2019.