Nigeria is an educationally-wobbling and failed nation with her array of near dysfunctional and ill-equipped educational institutions operating under a helplessly contaminated, corrupt, and seemingly convulsing system. This is the unvarnished, unveiled, unbended, and unmatched truth. This complex nation boasts of about 170 universities comprised of 43 federal universities, 48 state universities, and about 79 private universities, according to the National Universities Commission (NUC), in addition to scores of polytechnics, colleges of education, and other professional institutions. She disappointingly services and administers these institutions with a disproportional army of academics, educators, educational leaders, and educationists, with the NUC declaring in July 2018 that even with the ugly practice of duplication of names, there existed only about 9,000 professors in the Nigerian university system, compared with an estimated population of 190 million, 60 per cent of which is made up of the youth.
And with a cream of certificated and certified, celebrated, and cerebral political leaders and policymakers, Nigeria has yet to foster a culture of civilisation, peace and transformational leadership supposedly derivable from her educational programmes and system (borrowed or adopted from the rugged British system), which has been cultivated and nurtured for many decades. She has only one thing to brandish to the world: failed education, with unfulfilled promises to the child/youth and the citizenry in Nigeria and Africa. Consider the fact of about 13 million children who are out of school in Nigeria. A country rich in oil but stupendous in corruption and ethnocentrism. I weep for my land.
Education is designed, purposed and perceived to be an all-time and boundless problem-solving, enlightening, integrating, and intellectually emancipating tool. It is supposed to be an unassailable socio-political galvanising instrument for social cohesion, political socialisation, civilisation, orientation, and participation. Education is also meant to be a tool for socio-economic progress and mobility, all-round empowerment, tolerance, peaceful co-existence, mutual respect, equity, justice, re-integration, and promotion of global citizenship ideals and globalisation. Without equivocation, and as captured in all my advocacy projects, education is meant to be the extricating instrument that shatters the fetters that both clip the feathers and weaken the wings and consequently truncate the flight to the height.
Some of these crippling and enslaving fetters, which education is meant to address and deal with, usually assume the monstrous postures of undemocratic power culture and intractable ethno-religious politics, insensitive nepotistic tendencies and practices, corruption, violence of all forms and terrorism, and lack of development, to mention just a few.
Regrettably though, a retrospective and evaluative view of the multi-faceted intriguing realities in our world in Africa and Nigeria in particular reveals a dismal outlook and an abysmal failure of education in the hands of educators, and educational and political leaders to deal with the situations mentioned above. My experiences, informed by my interactions and observations in the past few years and months at the religious, cultural, educational, economic and socio-political levels of our national transactions in Nigeria have been extremely disappointing and dispiriting, as one has come to the inescapable conclusion that education has not only failed but will continue to fail, if nothing drastic, radical, transformative and revolutionary is done to address the problem of not just falling standard of education, but total failure of education in terms of goals realisation and national culture, and in the face of dearth of qualitative functional education. Characterised by unfulfilled promises and negative realities of our ever-volatile and fragile, frighteningly uncertain and unpredictable, discouragingly complex and seemingly unsustainable, ‘unsimplifiable’ ambiguous Nigerian ethno-religious, political and educational world.
Education has failed in Nigeria. When and if we cannot live and lead by example in Nigeria, our education has failed. When our education cannot help us to co-exist peacefully, when our education cannot help us overcome ethnic biases that militate against national growth and development, when our education cannot help us see the humanity in the other man or woman from the other region and religion, when our education does not recognise the rights, privileges, and equality of the one outside us, when our education cannot help us to understand that our seemingly flawless and wonderful point of view could also mean a seemingly wonderful point of blindness, then our education has failed.
Again, when our education cannot help us to live by and maintain the rule of law and obey the letters of our Constitution, then that education has failed. When our education can no longer boast of the utilitarian ingredients of policy, personnel, pedagogy, and purpose to be the guiding light to the child unto positive personal perception and self-esteem, patriotism, purity of love beyond ethno-religious boundaries, and collective preservation of posterity as global citizens, then that education has failed.
It goes beyond mere changes in the curricula; it is rebuilding of character and conscience. It affects attitude, which affects our altitude. It is beyond the vocabulary and language of the policy. It is about the vision, virtue and life of all agents at all levels. It transcends pedagogy. It touches personnel and patriotism. It is about fulfilling the promises education holds for us. For the child. For the youth in Africa. In Nigeria in particular.
Let me state without mincing words that almost all the changes in the curriculum of education in Nigeria have achieved little or no creative and measurable desirable behavioural changes in our national life in this country. Those changes and additions to the curricula have always been nothing but mere political signatures and egoistic imprints of the people and party in government or in power. Meaningless changes for a system where no single child or ward of senior civil servants, union leaders, politicians, political leaders and the rich attend any of the public schools run and managed by government. They are far removed from addressing the realities. The present government should take note of this.
I respectfully and passionately call the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the fact that, with about 20 industrial actions by university teachers in Nigeria between 1979 and 2018, about 15 of which took place between 1999 and 2018 alone (all for the purpose of drawing the attention of government to the deplorable condition of the university system), and other disgusting issues in the leadership and educational sectors, it will take Nigeria about 20 years of uninterrupted academic calendar in the tertiary system, and spiritedly sustained re-orientation and transformative leadership for the country to start catching up and covering lost ground. To achieve this requires a lot of hard work.
I have come to view realities in our nation, Nigeria, in particular, and Africa in general vis-à-vis the (unfulfilled) promises (of what education will accomplish in man, and help man to accomplish; unfulfilled promises of how education can and will help to build a better nation.
Promises of how ducation can and will promote true neighbourliness and peaceful co-existence; unfulfilled promises of how education can and will eradicate poverty, create jobs, and economically empower the youth; unfulfilled promises of how education can and will help to instill discipline in the citizenry; and unfulfilled promises of how education can and will produce exemplary leaders, patriotic leaders, selfless leaders, leaders with global citizenship ideals, and leaders, who, by virtue of the ideals and values education has inculcated in them, do not, cannot, will not arrogate governance to their ethnic tribe, and wholly or partially alienate others from politics and leadership), on the one hand; and the bogus curricula, on the other hand, with microscopic lenses that reveal no hope but a discouraging, dispiriting, and disquieting national and African landscape in the dying domain of Nigeria’s failed education.
In Nigeria, to be particular, the political and educational landscapes, over the years, are replete with unfulfilled promises, some of which are as outlined above. The average Nigerian youth/child is endlessly presented with mouth-watering and mind-blowing promises of a functional type of education that gives hope of fulfilment and pride of citizenship, and gainful employment, by successive governments and politicians. But the curricula are such that render the school products unsuitable for job in the labour market. The leadership is such that treats issues affecting the education, orientation, citizenship, empowerment, and the future of the youth in a manner that shows that from the highest level of the leadership to the lowest, no one truly believes that education is an antidote to lack of empowerment and fulfilment, racial discrimination, and ethno-religious biases. No one truly believes in the nation Nigeria and the future of Nigeria. And yet we wonder why there are agitations here and there.
While our schools, colleges, and universities have tripled in size and number, with unsustainable hypocritical theories on hard work, patriotism, social integration, religious tolerance, peace and unity, the products of these institutions and citadels of intellectualism wake up from lecture halls of these wonderful theories and sermons to the ‘daylight’ realities and practices of dare-devil deception, embezzlement, corruption, nepotism, discrimination and ethno-religious profiling, unprecedented rigging and electoral malpractice, plagiarism, shameless brandishing of unverified and unverifiable credentials and certificates, and unwholesome perpetuation of the power culture syndrome, unfortunately perpetrated by some Professors and other academics (who are supposed to be the faithful custodians and assessors of learning and character), in connivance with other ‘respected’ members of the leadership, in the political, loud mouthing these theories and promises but delivering failure. Yet we wonder why products of such system fail to believe in the system.
As an educationist, and an education rights advocacy promoter, I was counselling a group of students somewhere in one of the states in Nigeria, recently, on the importance of hard work, discipline and quality education for nation-building, when one of them looked me straight in the eye and told me that as far as Nigeria was concerned, they wouldn’t need education and genuine certificate to reach to the highest position in the land. Others supported him. What! I felt deflated and defeated within me momentarily. They mentioned names and gave me instances to support their claim. When young people, sent to acquire education and discipline in a developing nation, could feel so strongly about such misguided position, because of bad leadership examples, then education has failed and the future is bleak. We need to wake up.
The major threats to true global citizenship ideals, true democracy and inclusiveness, and the realisation of the major functional goals of education: the custodial, the intellectual, and the communal functions, are a very strong culture of corruption and selfishness, an unexamined and unrepentant total disconnect with our comparatively better educational past, our inability to genuinely catch up with transformative globalisation precepts and ideals, and a hydra-headed monster of ethno-religious politics.
If we must get it right, we need to go back to the drawing board and address these cancerous issues. Education, no doubt, holds the answer and the key to the solution of our individual and national problem and challenges. However, it is more than policy making and ever-changing curricular. It is more than building physical structures and granting licenses to operate. It is about the leadership. It is about attitude and national culture and values. It is about the architects and personnel of delivery and implementation.
Notwithstanding the militating forces against Nigeria, her politics, and the education and future of her youth, one still believes that transformative education and leadership remain the solution to the problem of unfulfilled promises, and the unmistakable panacea to a just, and egalitarian society where a secure future for the youth, progress and development are the goals; and inclusiveness, attitudinal change, global citizenship ideals and institutional restructuring are the instruments and methods.
Transformative Leadership in Nigeria should start at the educational level to help rebuild and refocus our failed education system. This type of leadership should first of all assess the level of decay in the system and determine practical realistic measures and approaches to take to achieve a holistic and result-driven restructuring towards achieving the goals and fulfilling the promises that education holds, devoid of destructive merchandising and politicking, and where no child is made to feel inferior or marginalised on account of family, religious, economic, or ethnic background. And, where no child is compelled, pressured or even ‘encouraged’ to embrace and go through any curricula that negate or run counter to their family and religious rights. Every learner, male or female, privileged or not, religious or otherwise should be accepted the way they are, and be made to feel important and worthy of equal opportunity and consideration. This is the first step towards building and producing young people who would grow up to be proud citizens who believe in themselves and in their nation. This sounds very sweet and easy in theory. But Nigeria is drifting to a point where it is becoming extremely difficult, if not impossible, to raise educators and leaders who can implement it.
Education should edify the African child, the Nigerian child to love beyond boundaries, value human lives, and tolerate opposing views. Let us join hands together to give Nigeria, in particular, and Africa in general the child, the youth, the citizen that will cherish their people and root, and suffer for them like Nelson Mandela, fight for their freedom like Nnamdi Azikiwe, stand bold and proud like Kwameh Nkruma, and if need be, die for their people with pride like Patrice Lumumba. Heroes who evoke nostalgia in us about mother Africa. Above all, let us educate and train our children in the way of the Lord for the glory of God, for the sake of their never-dying souls.
At this juncture, as we celebrate the Day of The African Child, this year, it is imperative to state without fear of any contradiction, and without the slightest dint of equivocation, that no government, educator, and educational leader can provide transformative leadership towards reviving education and political leadership if there is no disposition to selfless vision, understanding, appreciating and embracing global citizenship ideals, with clarity and responsive agility, for the good and future of the African child, the Nigerian child.
•Onyedi is founder/president, Diamond-Crest for Youth Education Foundation