Five significant yet separate events occurred this week: on Monday, the Federal Government, through the joint failures of its ministers of education and labour, was labelled untrustworthy and, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Employees warned Nigeria of an impending fuel scarcity by threatening to execute a sympathy strike; on Tuesday, the strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities entered its 100th day and the Nobel Committee awarded half of its Physics prize to a man who has been teaching at Edinburgh University since 1960 and, yesterday, the first anniversary of the shooting of the Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, by the Taliban who were fundamentally opposed to girl-education, was celebrated.
Though these epochs all concerned education, only the Nobel prize of Peter Higg had a positive bend. The Taliban’s targeting of Malala is consistent with the ways of the autocratic powers of this world: they are perennially intimidated by the potential of an educated mind. In its assassination attempt on Malala, the Pakistani Taliban — aping the insufferable illiteracy of Afghanistan’s — communicated that it would not be yielding ground on its principles. Theocracies, always, have that messianic rigidity.
So, does the military.
Little wonder then that one of the lasting legacies of our dictatorial military era was the callous deprecation of the education sector. From the primary to the tertiary level, Nigeria’s education system was reconfigured to a failure mode.
The civilian rulers, who took over since 1999 have not done better either; they seem to be more concerned about inanities than developing a coherent education system. The incapability of the academia to develop the mind is compounded by the society’s failure to offer her children moral values. Any way they turn, Nigerian children are confronted with a rot, one that imagines religious and social conformity as meaningful pedagogical engagement.
If one takes a trip to what constitutes “schools” in Nigeria, one would weep for the kids who are being nurtured in such environments. Some of these environments are worse than pigsties, unfit for human habitation. Yet, those are the conditions in which our children, the supposed leaders of tomorrow, are expected to learn.
Our leaders past and present have failed our children and perhaps the most disappointing in this regard is President Goodluck Jonathan, the much-touted “first-president-with-a-PhD” whose attitude to governance, lately education, is no better than presidents with lesser number of acquired certificates. His greatest achievement in the area of education is that he set up “universities” with as little a fund as his Aso Rock feeding allowance.
During his last media chat, Jonathan’s dodgy comments and paranoia about the politics of ASUU signalled that he is not losing sleep over the strike. He went round and round in circles to advocate a gradualist approach to a problem that has built up to a crescendo. I earned two degrees from a Nigerian university and I am more than qualified to point it out to him -and all those who are in authority- that what passes for education in Nigeria, especially at the tertiary level, is nothing but a contraption loosely held by the devotion of teachers who do not want the system to collapse, entirely.
Perhaps, we should cut Jonathan some slack. His children do not attend public schools and they probably never will, in their lives. ASUU strike — or the rot in the education sector — does not detract from his non-existent vision for a better Nigeria, so, why, really, should he bother? He has other things to brag about, such as the “honour” of ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
Conversely, if Jonathan had the least regard for the public education system in Nigeria, would he have chosen Nyesom Wike — whose passions and priorities are everything but the very job he is paid to do — as the supervising minister of education? Wike who should not be running even a poultry business (he will endanger the birds with his negligence) can only be a minister in a country like Nigeria. He is proof that Boko Haram is not the only one against education, the Nigerian state is probably worse. Where Boko Haram uses bombs and arms, the Nigerian state systematically destroys the Nigerian education system through snobbery and outright abandonment.
ASUU strike and its frequency befuddle the mind. By now, we should have outgrown such a mode of agitation but when you deal with the Nigerian leadership — the one that is deafer than a fish and hears nothing except itself; blind, yet narcissist; and, totally crippled by the grandeur of its delusions — there are indeed very few choices.
Rather than address issues with seriousness, the Federal Government has deployed its crude myopia of reducing the issue to ASUU’s asking for more salaries. But, what, I wonder, is wrong with better salaries? Why should a Nigerian lecturer who teaches — mostly without teaching or research assistants — work and not get high salaries? Are the elected-drones masquerading as legislators more important? For no justifiable reason, the Three Arms zone tenants’ allocation rivals that of education.
When is the better time to advocate better conditions in our public education system than now? How can we force the Federal Government (and respective state governments) to a higher sense of responsibility especially since our (mislabelled) “stakeholders” politicians barely patronise public education? This is one area where we all should be concerned for its own multiplier effects because the day will come when it will no longer matter if our children schooled abroad or in private schools. They will be dragged into the Nigerian morass by the deadweight of half-baked, or even non-baked, minds that passed through the public education system.
The Federal Government needs to give up its recalcitrance otherwise we would be set back by another century. Nigeria/Africa missed the 19th century Industrial Revolution and all its liberating powers; we sat out the Space Age of the 20th century and now, defer to others who do not have double brains. Are we going to miss the train of the 21st century’s Information Age? Must we always lose out? Is our collective future guaranteed, with a dysfunctional public education system? It has not worked otherwise for any country in the world and Nigeria cannot be the exception. Education needs loads of money to function. It is time to stop the poli-trickery and tackle the challenge of failing public education. It is the least they can do.