By Akintunde E. Akinade
We regard the education of every citizen, to the limit of his ability, as a fundamental right. To deny it or to treat it as a privilege is deprivation, and an assault on human dignity. In addition, the country suffers serious handicaps in its march to economic plenitude, to political freedom and stability, and to social justice.
– Obafemi Awolowo
Education should be revolutionized as to answer the wants of the poorest villager, instead of answering those of an imperial exploiter. – Mahatma Gandhi
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
– An African proverb
The only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.
– Mark Zuckerberg
In September 2016, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook held the Nigerian nation spellbound for about three days. This young man has been described by Okey Ndibe as “one of the central deities in the global revolution called social media.” He not only jogged on Fashola’s bridge connecting Victoria Island and Ikoyi, he also walked freely on the streets of Yaba and enjoyed what looked like a sumptuous meal of pounded yam and fresh fish.
At the end of his short adventure to Nigeria, he concluded that the technological and entrepreneurship spirit of young Nigerians is simply stupendous. This observation captures a non-negotiable fact about the Nigerian terrain. It is a nation blessed with abundant natural and human resources. The perplexing paradox, however, is that in spite of these resources, Nigeria is still groping in the dark about creative ways to harness these God-given resources. My simple thesis in this article is that education holds the perennial lynchpin for unlocking human potentials and aspirations. I am not making this assertion in a vacuum; rather, it is connection with the recent official commissioning of Osogbo Government High School by President Muhammadu Buhari on September 1, 2016. I will use this development as a credible and empirical litmus test for making my case for a new appropriation of education in Nigeria.
This article seeks to contextualize and problematize the issue at stake within the Nigerian polity. It also proffers some insights on how to move the country forward. This article underscores the paradox of the Nigerian state. It is a nation that is confronted with many challenges on several fronts, but yet, it is a nation with so much promise. I submit that quality education is an essential key to sustainable long term socio-economic transformation.
It seems to be that Governor Rauf Aregbesola understands the importance of education in the overall development of the Nigerian nation, hence his unalloyed commitment to his initiatives in education. Recently in his contribution to the Private Sector Summit at the United Nations Global Assembly, with the theme: ‘Securing the Way Forward,’ Wale Tinubu, the Chief Executive of Oando Plc., asserted that education, innovation, and good governance remain key facets to socio-economic growth.
I affirm without any equivocation that education is the most powerful empowerment tool within any society. It simply provides people with choices. The proverbial saying of teaching people how to fish rather than giving them fish remains universally true. Education provides an auspicious opportunity to embark on a new narrative in the State of Osun and in the entire nation. It is the best ingredient for reinventing the “Nigerian project.” Education is more than textbooks and knowledge by rote; rather, it provides a worldview and a new orientation. I recently visited Edgewood College, in Lekki, Lagos. The founder and Executive Director of the school, Mrs. Kehinde Phillips, beamed when she talked about the achievements of the graduates from the school. Students at the school come from different socio-economic backgrounds, but they graduate with a new sense of empowerment. They know that they can change the world through the power of education. Education provides the most credible resources for preparing young people for the future. The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” It is not rocket science to proffer that a solid educational background prepares young people for a future replete with more possibilities and positions.
Right from an early stage, Yoruba people memorize a nursery rhyme that simply states that: Bata re a dun ko ko ka, to be ka iwe e, meaning you will walk with commanding and resounding steps if you take your academic work seriously. This is an effective way of affirming that through education, people can achieve upward socio-economic mobility. This is a powerful process of “conscientization” to borrow a word from the Brazilian educator Paulo Fierre or building what Niyi Akinnaso has described as “literacy and individual consciousness.”
From an early age, young people begin to gain a profound insight into the values of hard work and diligence. No doubt, education prepares people for a better future. Yoruba people also value holistic education. The motto of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife is “Learning and Culture.” Education is not about abstract knowledge but it should contribute to the development of the virtues of an omoluabi. The lessons garnered throughout such an educational odyssey become part of what the ancient Latin scholars dubbed vade mecum (carry me wherever you go) for life. In light of this perspective, education becomes imole aye, the light of the world to borrow a phrase from the singer Oladotun Aremu. This is a worldview that shines in the midst of darkness. In the Yoruba context, education is deeply rooted in indigenous sagacity that valorized the virtues of an omoluabi. On the logo of Obafemi Awolowo University, a book, which represents knowledge, illuminates and radiates brightness. This is a powerful symbol for empowerment and enlightenment. Authentic education transcends myopic sensibilities. Nigeria must valorize the building of truly creative, bold, and invigorated educational programs.
All over the globe, Nigerian students are raising the educational bar. Recently, a 21-year old Nigerian emerged as University of Kent’s most outstanding graduating student. In 2012, the US Bureau of Statistics affirmed that Nigerians are the most educated immigrant community in the United States. Nigerians have overtaken Indians and Pakistanis who had previously basked in the glory of the most educated immigrant community in the United States. As I was writing this article, Hillary Clinton sent a message on twitter: “I want to give a big Thank You to my Doctor who travels everywhere with me, Dr. Oladotun Okunola. I wouldn’t be here without him. Literally.” One can conveniently write a compelling monograph on the educational and professional achievements of Nigerians all over the globe.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola must be commended for his audacious initiatives and vision. It is a robust testimony to his commitment to educational transformation in the State of Living Spring. However, the government cannot allow these educational structures to become white elephants. They must undergo periodic renovation, the teaching staff must be properly equipped for their job, the schools must meet international standards in terms of technology and teaching aids, and the schools must undergo periodic instructional and curricular assessment.
Akinade is a Professor of Theology at Georgetown University’s Edmund E. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Qatar.