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By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Great Nation, Poor People: Educational Mishaps

We continue to probe the suspicion that our paucity of responsible and service-oriented leadership is presumably a reflection of the poverty ingrained in the consciousness and attitude of the vast majority of Nigerians.

We are a people violated and dehumanised for a long time, by the circumstances of our reality.

Apparently, in a circle of mutual self-destruction, both blocs of the population play see-saw with the posterity of a delicately balanced country.

The last time in this column, we explored one of the nine elements we suspected had a traumatic effect on Nigeria of the 21st century: a nation scared of its own shadows, diversity, old sins and delayed punishments. It all started from a broken micro-structure of the human society, the family.
The second element that has led us to this sorry state is the way we have handled our educational system and policies over the past six decades. In the 50s, before we became independent, we read about the great exploits of our sons and daughters who travelled abroad; or stayed at home, with the few institutions available: same results mostly – excellent grades, inspiring stories of out-witting grinding poverty to grab some certificates. Scholarships were fairly common, and they were judiciously and indiscriminately deployed – irrespective of time and zone. When you merited it, you got served. Progress was easy and predictable.
Then the politicians went overboard, clutching at inanities, and creating dogfights over territories and captive constituencies. Of course, the military, restless and unoccupied, rolled in to “sanitize the corrupt system”. And coups and counter-coups later, the “corrupt system” became more intractable, laughably monstrous, to the point when the military had to hightail out of power; relinquishing it to the sons and daughters of the older bands of civilian marauders.
While we were being stream-rolled into all sorts of knee-jerked governance, our educational system suffered all sorts of devastations and dumping down, to accommodate and compensate political exigencies, and conceited agendas. Suddenly, idiotic appendages like quota system, catchment areas, deregulated cut-off marks in government-owned secondary schools and universities became a lingo. Thus began the unconscionable socio-cultural marginalisations, where brilliant students from the south of Nigeria could score excess of 250 in so-called common entrance examinations into federal “unity” colleges; and yet would have to queue behind abysmally low scores from their mates from the North of the same country. Don’t laugh when you hear that marks could be as ridiculously low as five (5)! Yes, even less in some blighted states.
The vastly ridiculous excuse is that those educationally poor states would be completely left behind if they were subjected to the same stringent cut-off, somewhere between 120 and 150! And lumping students who score consistently above 200 with those struggling to get 10 would somehow make the laggards become smart, and mould them into effective and efficient manpower for the development of their beloved states? The answer is staring at us all over the northern states now.
A bemused observer would no longer wonder why similar obnoxious premise is used in governance and resource sharing…when states that contribute next to nothing take equitable chunk of the federal allocation of resources largely mined in the South South, plus the principal portion of VAT coming from the blissfully manacled residents of Lagos State. What sort of leadership expect an informed and driven followership to give their best heartily, with such soul-wrenching inequalities?
Same is sadly true about qualification limit for admissions into higher institutions in Nigeria. Though several tertiary institutions claimed four or five credits in one sitting as the least for admission, who would bet his life that more than few have not strolled in with fewer than that number of credit limit? Institutions that are created in pursuit of excellence have allowed a system of deferred corruption to dilute their mainframe by accepting applicants who have fewer credits, and lower marks in JAMB and post-JAMB exams, to come through the cracks, when more excellent students have had to be turned back because they were not born in the correct states, away from a particular university. It’s shamelessly called “catchment areas”. So, some, by sheer force of their all-round brilliance, have forced their way in, while few others would simply adopt the “catchment” states as their homesteads, with their active and wily parents providing the financial and logistical endowments to make the miracle happen. And you expect that child, threatened by a stupid long-held policy, to project love and patriotism in the face of colossal indifference and red-tapeism?
Yet, we have not mentioned the seeming uncoordinated wilful demonisation of public schools by both the state and federal governments. Perhaps it is not deliberate, but the reality is that there have been periodic and relentless policies of denial, demolition, dislocation and de-marketing of the power and presence of public schools, on the altar of the economic and pivotal benefits of private schools. Mostly ill-equipped and overwhelmed by the huge number of private kindergarten, nursery, primary, junior and senior secondary schools in many states, the regulators have simply abandoned any pretensions of curriculum reviews, teaching capacity verification, structural adjudication, and moral monitoring.
You can gauge the barometer of resentments and underlining tensions amongst our ‘leaders of tomorrow’ when social events organised by government or corporate bodies bring them together. The situations, if not creatively and carefully moderated and chaperoned, would flare and fester in shockingly worrisome dimensions. We have seen lots of evidence on midday TV news flashes.
It is lost on our rulers, the true spine of the wise counsel in the aphorism that when you give fish to one person, you merely feed him only, or at most, his family; but when you teach him how to fish, you invariably feed the entire village or city. Simply put, quality education presents the receiver with the immense opportunity, if he is wise and progressive, to expand his knowledge, influence and capacity; to replicate and deploy his acquired resources for the benefit of his family, contemporaries, community, and ultimately, his nation.
Conversely, the student challenged by the inadequacy of his surroundings, but shoed-in by a broken, unfair and ridiculous system, into receiving quality, or qualified, education that mostly flies above his head, will most likely come out to express his deepened shortcomings in only ways he can survive this cruel, demanding, unquota-ed world. He will likely cheat and game the systems to climb the ladder. He will supplant his superiors by the use of primordial tactics to get to the tip of the ladder, in supersonic speed. He will inevitably pillage the treasury, while at the height of the ladder, and slump at the probe panel when comeuppance calls.
Such a man, or woman, currently sits atop one critical government agency or department, in one corner of Nigeria, as you read…he may be a short-time ‘visitor’ in one of our seedy prisons, writing ‘memoirs’ of how and where to spend the billions he had stolen, and starched on one of those tiny island covens of roguery and laundered loot, from nations wiped clean by poorly educated and lavishly tolerated scallywags, who call themselves leaders. A sob.