Nigeria’s got talent
As Muhammadu Buhari moves lithely towards the first anniversary of his reign, in the shadows of Change still hoped for, it is only human for the other party (its name difficult to remember now) to be gleeful about the seeming disappointment of Nigerians with the new order.
Truth be told, while the Buhari/Osinbajo broom, according to its protagonists, only look inadequate because of the magnitude of the heap of rubbish left behind by the ousted Goodluck Jonathan administration, memories of the ticket’s promises and how gung-ho it was while making them, have not been good grounds for much understanding by a people who invested their lives and a certain fiery passion in the prospect of a magic.
However, if that demand of the Nigerian people for a more immediate return on their investment is the ground upon which some persons like Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose is standing to bust their blood vessels, blow so much money and air miles in an effort to ridicule the Buhari presidency, the good people of Ekiti should demand a refund from their chief executive. What Fayose achieved with his sniping visit to China on the heels of Buhari’s last week, for instance, has been nothing more than an embarrassment to the citizens of the fountain of knowledge, a waste of their resources and a mockery of their collective heritage of decency, circumspection or thoughtfulness.
Though he has received the trophy of the fabled attention seeker who insists on a seat in the crib at a new-born child’s dedication, wants to be the groom at a wedding and the coffin at a funeral, Fayose in China has been nothing except a reminder of the wide gulf between political diadem and the character of persons who wear them in Nigeria.
In spite of the Ekiti governor’s theatrics and diarrheal vituperations, however, Buhari needs to be constantly reminded not only of his urgent duty to Nigeria but also of the historical mandate he has been given, challenges not of his own making notwithstanding. And I commend to him Lyndon Baines Johnson’s vision of ‘The Great Society’, as explained to the students of the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964.
LBJ, of course, was the 36th president of the United States of America, who succeeded John Fitzgerald Kennedy upon the young man’s assassination in 1963.
Johnson is in history as initiator of the social service programmes commonly known as the “Great Society” plan which sought to make every American a beneficiary of government’s actions as well as the nation’s resources.
In 1965, Johnson pushed the wide-ranging legislative agenda known as the “Great Society,” which historically celebrated as the most ambitious and far-reaching domestic policy initiative in America. Many bills were passed championing urban renewal, education, the arts, environmental beautification and conservation, and the development of depressed regions in the United States. The Great Society legislations also included the passage of the Medicare and Medicaid Acts, the Voting Rights Act, and, in 1968, the Civil Rights Act, a law with which the inclusion of all in the American system was institutionalised.
This is exactly the kind of path Buhari should beat today.
But before the laws, in a commencement address to the University of Michigan’s graduating class of 1964, LBJ, as he was fondly known, laid out his vision of moving the United States of America from the optimistic era of his assassinated predecessor not only ‘toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society,’ a nation built on abundance, liberty and end of poverty for all.
President Buhari could do, not only with Johnson’s kind of vision, but also with those words at Ann Arbor.
He spoke of three places where he wanted America to begin the work of building the Great Society: “In our cities. In our countryside. And in our classrooms.”
After laying out his vision of building the urban centres as focal points of innovation, technology, commerce and development and the local communities as idyllic advertisements of nature’s endowments as well as raw materials production centres, his dream of the ‘classrooms’ as the foundry where America’s future would be moulded was spot-on! As he said, the classroom is where children’s lives, indeed the future of the nation, will be shaped!
“Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents.”
Against this background and with lessons from his trip to China weighing on his mind, Nigeria’s depressing educational system should attract the immediate attention of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to some records, 39% of Nigeria’s adults cannot read or write, a situation which not only curtails their ability to participate in the economy but also adversely affects their capacity for making proper political choices. 34% of girls are out of school in some areas while 25% of boys are in many. 40% of primary school teachers are unqualified and almost half of the students who have completed primary education in the country cannot read.
In some areas, as many as 72% of such primary school finishers cannot read a complete sentence, signposting a great need to improve the quality of schooling through improved teacher to pupil ratio, better training and more resources.
About 80% of children have been reported to have no textbooks for all subjects and about 60% of primary students do not have learning materials for such key subjects as mathematics and English Language. A figure of around 9 million Nigerian children are said to have never gone to school at all and the largest number of out of school children in the world is said to be in the country.
As in LBJ’s America, in Nigeria today, teachers are underpaid if paid at all. At all levels! And curricula are not only outdated, they poorly reflect the values and ethos of the Nigeria of our dreams.
So, in order to build the Nigerian ‘Great Society’, as Johnson said, a nation must give every child a place to sit and a teacher to learn from while it ‘works to remove poverty from the list of barriers to learning.’
According to Johnson, more classrooms and more teachers would not be enough, the nation must build an educational system ‘which grows in excellence as it grows in size.’
To build his envisioned Great Society, Johnson made a promise thus: ‘We are going to assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America.’ And he did.
Interestingly, he was first to acknowledge that the solution to his country’s problems did not rest solely on the central government. Hence he sought to create what he called ‘new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism,’ by which the national leadership and the leaders of other tiers of government including the local communities worked together, agreed on the ideas as relevant to different areas and shared out responsibilities.
Conferences and meetings involving the Federal Government and other levels of government were organised on specific plans and the unassailable, comprehensive documents mapping out the journey to that Great Society were drafted for the final legislation in 1965.
Now, this is fascinating because I believe it is one thing the Buhari administration may have tried or should be trying to do, especially with the most recent economic retreat, but not communicating well to an increasingly impatient populace. Buhari should lead the way by getting the other tiers of government to do their bit in a proper federation.
More importantly, it must be accepted that Nigeria has not only failed as a warped federal state, as a result of which it now has a failing economy but it cannot afford to fail at inclusion in areas that matter. And one of those is education, the ultimate leveler and guarantor of democracy’s success.
Nigeria is blessed, much more so in human capital than the immense material capital the wasting or looting of which is too well documented. So, in the battle to save Nigeria, the more urgent retreat should be on education, which ultimately gives everyone a chance at solutions to the nation’s many problems. Education alone is needed to create wealth and properly manage it.
In which case, the country will remain poor, even when the economic base is diversified or when oil prices rise to astronomical heights and the economy improves, because education has been de-emphasised, because inclusion is not part of the deal and, to parody Martin Luther King’s words, people marooned in the desert of poverty and ignorance, dotted by islands of material wealth, are in the overwhelming majority.
Tragedy is: that majority in poverty and ignorance, seeing the world leave them behind with no one taking up their case, may one day overwhelm this country and upset its peace and prosperity.
God, and Muhammadu Leko Buhari forbid!