Then, there was the war against Western education.
“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.” – George Washington
Up until the early 1980s, tertiary education was a glorious institution of learning at par with the rest of the world. If there were any warning signs of the deterioration that was to come, it started with the Federal Government Colleges, termed Unity Schools. But these early warning signs were either ignored or misunderstood. Some parts of the country, for ever feeling disadvantaged in the scheme of things, needed to catch up with the rest of the country, educationally. To those in government power, the best way to achieve this parity was a lowered standard for students in these parts, a warped thinking, if ever there was one. This lowered standards and different standards for different folks permeated into the admission systems of the tertiary institutions. In addition, the introduction of Federal Character to the faculties of government universities and colleges meant that the best were not sought after.
A particularly devastating strategy employed by the military was the stifling of the voices of opposition to military rule, like those of the trade unions, the Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigerian Medical Association, and others. Of interest to the rulers was the need to muzzle student unionism by infiltrating their ranks with spies that destabilised the students’ bodies. Students’ protests were always sentimental and were popularly received, being the voices of the informed leaders of tomorrow. The SAP of the 1980s, introduced by the military government of the days, on the surface, dealt telling blows to the funding of the universities and polytechnics. But, in reality, it was quite easy for the authorities to cut the budgets at the citadels of Ivory Towers, for the dons and their students were becoming too loud in their criticisms. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) could read the writings on the wall and started crying wolf, but the sheep had already died in the barns. Funds meant for research, infrastructure, teaching aids and curriculum development were cut drastically. Disengaged and ill-occupied students and faculty, victims of incessant ASUU strikes, descended into cultism. University calendars were trampled on with these numerous disruptions unending. And the standards fell further.
Were the authorities bothered? No, not at all. The elite and government officials shipped their wards to overseas institutions in response to the falling standards in education, while the children of the masses remained largely at home waiting for ASUU strikes to end year in, year out. But the biggest war was yet to come.
Historically, the notion of a ‘Western education’ is a misnomer because knowledge abounds in all corners of the globe. Civilisations from the Arab world, Egypt, Greece, and the Romans gave us our number systems and mathematics. The people of Sumer, the earliest known civilisation in the world, in historical southern Mesopotamia (now southern Iraq) gave the world the concept of writing, together with the Chinese, Hindu, Egyptians, etc. The pictorial system of writing they developed later gave way to alphabets developed by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. The Europeans gave the world much of modern literature. Africa has also contributed to civilisations as seen in the works and artefacts of Egypt, Mali Empire, Songhai Empire, Benin Empire and Oyo Empire.
In spite of these, Nigeria arrived in the 21st Century to confront a murderous gang of insurgents whose main grouse is a war against Western education. Which West, and which education? The very tools of their trade are products of ‘Western education.’ Is that not defeatist? It is clear that this Boko Haram and their sponsors have a different agenda, namely, to accomplish what their politicians had failed to achieve.
Battle for resource control
This is essentially a battle for states’ autonomy. This battle was developed in the 2000 decade, the very first decade of the 21st Century. The failure to convene a Sovereign National Conference requested by progressive groups in the country, and the failures of the hastily embarked Constitutional Conference spurred the oil-producing states to clamour for total control of their mineral deposits. It must be put to contest that, pre-1914, North and South protectorates of British rule in the entity called Nigeria today each had absolute control of their resources. This independent control of resources continued after the amalgamation of the two sides. It could not have been any other way. With the creation of regional governments, and post-Independence, the practice was extended to and maintained in the regions, until 1966.
Although the emphasis was placed on mineral rights, the battle actually encompasses the control of human, financial, and material resources available and domiciled in any state. Hence, the call for revision of the sharing formula for VAT, creation of state police and state security services. These calls for changes are rooted in solid arguments. The various states where mining and drilling are carried out suffer untold hardships through land degradation, loss of arable lands, pollution, and infrastructural decay. These were so bad that, prior to the year 2000, the attitude of the Federal Government was that of a conqueror reaping the spoils of war. There was abject neglect of these regions, especially in the Niger Delta. This agitation gave rise to militant groups such as MEND, NDLF, NDPVF, and NDV who engaged in economic sabotage of the oil and gas industries for years. The campaign yielded a 13 per cent derivation addition to the revenue shares of each mineral-producing state, the creation of Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC), the Ministry of Niger Delta, and rehabilitation with general amnesty granted to the militant fighters in the region.
The battle is far from over because people of the Niger Delta see the components of the truce as mere palliatives and window dressing to their wounds. The essential clamour is that, if state structure of the republic is going to remain, the states must have complete autonomy, otherwise they would want a return to true federalism. But the latest iteration of militant groups, the Niger Delta Avengers wants to secede from Nigeria to form an independent nation in the Niger Delta. To date, their sabotage action has crippled oil production to the extent that Nigeria, before the COVID-19 lockdowns, had fallen behind Angola in oil production.
In the last part of this treatise, I will examine the war against federalism. I shall then draw my conclusions on the consequences of our failure to bring these wars to conclusions.