We are watching: The education curriculum
We live in a country where the rumor mills work relentlessly and unceasingly, a land where conspiracy theories are never in short supply. There are rumors in the air that a new curriculum of basic education is either about to be adopted, or has already been adopted by the Federal Ministry of Education, and that it is already being implemented.
It is said that this curriculum, with the stated intention of merging religion and national values, merges subjects like Christian Religious Studies, Islamic Studies, Civic Education, Social Studies, and Security Education into one compulsory subject; that this compulsory subject will be taught to our children from Primary 1 to Junior Secondary School 3; that our young and impressionable minds will be taught in this ìcompulsoryî subject that Jesus neither died on the cross nor resurrected; that all the children to be taught this subject would be required to memorize and recite the Quran; that they (children) will be taught or are being taught already that they may disobey their parents if they do not allow them to become Muslim.
For the sake of limited comfort, let us be hypothetical and imagine that these rumors emanated from the fertile imagination of idle mischief-makers. That would be a confirmation of the famous dictum that the idle mind is the devilís workshop. The emergence and increasingly powerful influence of social media clearly and unambiguously demonstrate to us in Nigeria that there is a large population of such minds. Their stock in trade is misinformation for the sake of dissension. They know how to make falsehood appear as truth and, even when they speak the truth, they do so in a way that misleads. Such individuals threaten our peaceful coexistence.
But there is room for another hypothesis, a discomforting one this time. What if such a curriculum exists, with its contents as reported in these rumors? If indeed such a curriculum is being implemented or is about to be implemented then its authors and executors should seriously consider its implications. It would be gravely imprudent to present Islam to a Christian child in ways that devalue Islam. In the same way, it would amount to a grave disservice to interreligious relationship if Christianity were to be presented to a Muslim child in ways that devalue the teachings of Christianity.
The Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, has many positive things to say about Jesus Christ: the Quran speaks of Jesus as word of God cast in the womb of Mary, that he was an authentic prophet of Allah, that as prophet he could not have died ignominiously on the cross, that the executioners crucified a phantom and not the real Jesus, and that, since he did not die on the cross he could not have resurrected. Anyone with the faintest knowledge of Christianity knows that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ are articles of faith. But no one should be compelled to share this faith with Christians, just as no one should be compelled to believe what Islam teaches. A curriculum that teaches a child to disobey his or her parents if they object to the childís conversion to another religion is an affront to religious sensibilities in a multi-religious entity like ours.
Whether or not this ìcurriculumî is real, however, we must admit that the question of the relationship between the government and the citizen in Nigeria is a recurring decimal. The general history of Nigeria is replete with instances of arrogant presumption of omniscience and omnipotence of government and its officials. Despite our ìdemocraticî credentials, there is nothing on the ground that suggests that such presumption is about to end soon. Public office holders repeatedly ignore the fact that they are elected or appointed to serve the citizen. Where the public servant dictates to the citizen whose money pays his salary the tail is wagging the dog. But what is true of our general history as a country is infelicitously exemplified in the education sector.
Policy makers in the education sector, with consistent obstinacy, refuse to listen to participants in the sector. The obvious results are ill-conceived policies that have destroyed education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. How can we forget easily the illegitimate confiscation of schools from their rightful owners during the dark days of pestilential military dictatorship? How can we ignore the fact that, even now that we claim to belong to the comity of democratic polities, important decisions are taken without carrying the citizen along? Today it is one policy, tomorrow it is another. And they are announced, one should say decreed, with arrogant finality. Such can only happen where the state is more powerful than the citizen. But a country where the state is more powerful than the citizen is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship. If it appears in the garb of democracy it is adorned in stolen robes.
Education cannot thrive in a dictatorship. For, in a land so ruled, government and its officials determine what is to be taught, what is not to be taught, who teaches and who does not without reference to those whose wards are on the receiving end. Experts without political connection are ignored, their competence is left untapped in a country that needs them. When education is in shambles, authentic development is impeded. Where authentic development is absent, poverty is present. And where poverty is present, insecurity prevails. There is a relationship between injuries inflicted on education in this country by successive governments and the current situation of economic deprivation, insurgency and generalised lawlessness. The solution cannot be found in an omnibus (gbogbonise) subject that would confuse and compel young and impressionable minds to take existential decisions in matters of religion at an age when they are not equipped to take such decisions.
This country needs religious harmony. But the need cannot be met by clandestinely imposing a curriculum that offends the beliefs of any of the faith communities in Nigeria. Let us hope and pray that this curriculum does not exist. But for our faith not to turn to vain credulity, the Federal Ministry of Education should, as a matter of urgency, clear the air. It should confirm or deny the existence of this curriculum. Such a gesture would take the wind out of the sail of rumor mongers, that is, if this whole episode is their fabrication. It would also assure us that government is servant and not master of the citizen.
• Anthony Cardinal Okogie is the Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos.