Nigeria, dear native land!

Education: the missing rib of our macho-change

There is certainly some tweaking that is still missing in the current atmosphere of change in the country. There is also certainly a complete spectrum of differences in the responses that this change is generating among different groups and individuals in the country. But what is left beyond doubt, as far as sincerity of purpose is concerned and as all men and women of goodwill in the country will testify, is that for the first time in the history of Nigeria we are attempting to look straight at our ugliness without flinching. “Without flinching”, not because the ugliness is not enough to make even the blind cringe at the hideous and appalling appearance that we have tried to cover up in this country for such a long time, but because we are now at least attempting to summon courage to do the needful if Nigeria is not to remain a contraption.

As the drive for change gathers its momentum, and as it is being subjected to the necessary tweaking of perfection by the government, civil groups and individuals, education has once more shown itself as the single element that is most necessary if all these efforts are not to be naught at the end of the day.

Speaking on Channels Television recently, a contributor touched on the heart of the matter at hand. In his view, corruption is actually not our biggest problem. It is monstrous enough, yes; it has caused destruction of untold proportion, yes. But it is not our biggest problem. Our biggest problem which now commands urgent and burning attention (for lack of more serious adjectives) is our comatose education. This view is not novel. It has been repeated by several brilliant minds for a long time.

Perhaps it is difficult to imagine the extent of the rot in our education system which our meagre flesh still attempts to cover up. But for a quick self-help, simply take a survey of schools around you. Except for the few, and very few indeed, private schools that are operating according to standards, most of our schools are just barely struggling to keep their doors open and answer the name school.

If you engaged a secondary student in an average Nigerian school today for some 10 minutes, you will certainly have a feel of the consequence of this “barely struggling to keep their doors open.” The truth is that from the very foundation of primary, through secondary and tertiary education, both the formation of mind and character has taken a drastic downturn to say the least.

It is clear to a discerning mind that any meaningful change as it is now being canvassed now must start with true formation of the human person. It is he or she, the human person, who is the change we are looking for. Indeed, all our weariness in the face of the outrageous situation which Nigeria now finds itself cannot be wanded away by the change mantra of a potent Buhari or a savvy Osinbajo alone without a corresponding and adequate attention to the education sector where men and women are seasoned in the formative cuisine of intellectual capability and moral probity. As Bishop Emmanuel Badejo puts it recently, we must “recover the man”. It is the man, the human person, who has been denigrated for a long time in our society by the ill of mis-education that has now reached his/her blown-up state, resulting in the present distasteful, quasi-failed Nigeria.

The job is already initiated. The percentage earmarked for education in the budget of the Nigerian government in recent years is encouraging: 2011-N306bn; 2012-400bn; 2013-N427bn; 2014-N493bn; 2015-N492bn. Even though this year gets a relatively low cut compared to the previous years, perhaps the government’s seriousness about plugging wastages should also be factored in. It is not so much about the budget sometimes. It is more about how much of the budget gets properly and truly expended.

But even at that it is not yet uhuru as our brothers and sisters in East Africa would say. We are not there yet, it is not time for celebration yet. Compare the figures above to the 26% which the UNESCO sets as the ideal for developing countries. We are therefore still a long way from home actually.

Given the monumental shambles that we have in our hands to deal with in the education sector, one practical way forward but which has sadly been perpetually sacrificed on the altar of religious nepotism and political wickedness is the return of schools back to their original owners. A serious and complete overhaul of the carcass of education in our country as it is critically needed now cannot be undertaken by the government alone. It is clear that serious hands are now needed on deck and we must leap over this sad religious divide which has kept the return of schools back to missionary groups and other private hands.

The unfortunate thing is that most of the stakeholders in government or otherwise who have refused to return these schools back to their original owners were themselves trained in these institutions. Till today they continue to speak of the glory of “those days” when they were in such schools. Yet when the time to do the needful comes around, the idol of religiosity which has now come to define us as a people in Nigeria rears its ugly head – a religiosity without the necessary fruit of godliness.

We have lived the lie for such a long time. The journey into the depth of this lie took off smoothly and pleasantly with the discovery of that liquid and much accursed black gold: petroleum. There was a mass drift, both from the point of view of general government policies and the vocations of individual Nigerians, from commitment to agriculture, trade and commerce which are ordinarily the mainstay of even the best economies. “Oye” as it is locally called in pidgin became the sole and acceptable language of our economy. The shift, in itself, is not the main trouble but the consequent life of indolence, quick fixes, corruption and ultimately a life-style of mediocrity which has now marked our existence as a people.

The worrying dimension is that this mediocrity has found its way even into our education system. That is worrisome. For once the water of education of a people is poisoned with the ivy of mediocrity, very little is remaining. Such a people only exists and merely survives in nomenclature, it does not truly live. It is now time to begin to live again. It is time to get back to proper education of mind and of character.

If there is any period where this is possible, it is in this period of our supposed change. It has been said severally that we are living at an opportune time. The crusade for change led by our popularly-acclaimed moral-macho-President cannot be successful if the whole process is built on this sole individual. True change in a society becomes effective and lasting if it is instituted through processes and not merely by a singular fiat of a leader, no matter how morally robust such a leader is. For such a leader is just one, and he passes away with his administration someday.

Thus, a lasting, effective and much-desired legacy that the Buhari administration can give as a precious gift to Nigerians is to institutionalize this change mantra, beginning with the field of education where the Nigerian boy, girl, man and woman will be trained to appreciate the big grammar of change that the government is presently blowing. From the field of education where the boy becomes the man, such institutionalization of change process should also be done in our judiciary, in our constitution, in the civil service, in the MDAs, and generally in our lives in Nigeria.

As a ready help to kick-start the formation of mind and character, it is now time, and urgently so, to return schools to mission groups and bury this hideous and cruel toying-around with religious nepotism that has turned our people to certificated illiterates. It is time to begin to redo the ills in our educational system and prepare a people for a change that is being demanded of them. After all, nemo dat quod non habet. Nobody can give what he does not have.

You cannot expect a people to follow any process of change if they do not understand clearly why such is necessary in the first place and why it is in their interest to change holistically. Whereas if the mind of a people were properly formed, a whole army of change is, by so doing, already raised.

The okada rider will continue to flout traffic light; the civil service staff will continue to seek gratification; the student will continue to look for avenues to cheat if all that these people get is no more than a clarion call for change. The people need more than a mere command in order to form bricks! The human person needs a solid educational formation which turns him to a being of conscience and right choices without which the paraphernalia of change is meaningless.

The best programme of change in any society will suffer woeful failure if the mind is not trained and character neglected while we labour with figures of misappropriated government monies and courts alone. That must be done without jettisoning the engendering of a new springtime in human formation.

It is now time to let go of religio-political rhetoric and return schools back to the missions and other private groups.

Published on Punch Newspapers,





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