By Jon West
At Independence in 1960, education, agriculture and industrialisation were the basic aspirations of the regional and federal Governments and in that order. Even in the educationally disadvantaged but politically resurgent North, the emphasis was for a plan to reduce the educational deficit to the better endowed South.
The foresighted premier of the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello, decided to use the facilities of the Nigerian Institute of Science, Technology and Agriculture, Zaria, which he converted to a university, all be it in his own name, to push for this educational deficit reduction. My father, though from the South, was one of those recruited to drive this noble endeavour, which was initially quite successful. The goal was not really altruistic, because it was designed solely for political conquest: however it lifted the overall performance of the country in global intellectual competitiveness. In the other two better intellectually endowed regions, new regional universities were set up at Ife and Nsukka, in addition to the new Federal University in Lagos.
With the advent of the military regimes that( mis?)ruled Nigeria from 1966 – 1999, there was a great onslaught on education, knowledge and intellectualism in all facets of national life, due perhaps to the fact that, unlike in other parts of the world, African armies were recruited by the colonialists as internal oppressors of their own people, and what better oppressor is an illiterate or poorly educated person in command of the educated. Officers and other ranks were recruited from the pool of the illiterate and antagonistic ethnicities, in a divide and rule process that ensured the pacification of educated and nationalistic agitators for political and economic Independence. The most horrendous products of this colonial agenda were Idi Amin of Uganda and Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the short-lived Central African Empire.
This colonial agenda was also in play in Nigeria , where with a surfeit of educated people from some part, recruitment standards were drastically reduced to allow unqualified , but politically compliant candidates, to be recruited from certain areas of the country. This led to the situation where candidates without even the requisite basic qualification of the West African School Certificate were recruited into the Nigerian Army Officer Corps, with only promissory notes of academic ability by secondary school principals. However, all these Nigerian officer candidates attended the Nigerian Defence Academy and British, American, Indian and Pakistani officers training schools, where the basic qualification for local lads , was a university degree. This incongruity was tolerated by these foreign institutions, because the African products were never going to work in the trainers’ Armed Forces.
The need for officers to man a rapidly burgeoning armed Forces required to prosecute the Great Genocidal War of 1966-1970, required a further lowering of standards, such that people without even the basic First School Leaving Certificate(Standard 6) became officers of the Nigerian army, with the only qualifications required being participation in coups, “bravery” (read genocidal actions) in the field of battle and general good old boy behaviour. Today, some barely literate soldiers, who joined the army as truck drivers,one of them rumoured to having the distinction of being the man who delivered the final blow that ended the life of the Commander-in-Chief at Ibadan in 1966, ended up as Generals of the Nigerian Army. One such retired “murderer-General” has just become a “distinguished” Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In order to strengthen their hold on the polity, the successive military regimes in Nigeria,made a great and successful effort to destroy the educational system, in order to destroy the middle class and ensure that military rule was not intellectually challenged. Perhaps the greatest coup against intellectual thought in Nigeria was the ban on the teaching of Nigerian history in secondary schools in the late 1970s, which unfortunately subsists till today. This ban on the teaching of history was to hide the ignoble role played by some military “heroes” in the Great Genocidal War of 1966-1970 from the curious youth. The assault on education was further entrenched by denial of adequate funding to the educational sector in the national budget and the recruitment of now impoverished lecturers and Professors as Assistants to military CEOs of states , MDAs and other Government institutions. The descent to the rule of the ill educated soldier and the educated civilian charlatan was now complete.
Fast forward to the late 1980s to date, and we have started harvesting the grapes of wrath. From a country, whose graduates from primary, secondary and tertiary levels were the equals and sometimes the better of many developed countries,we have now reached the nadir of the educational horizon, with many of our university graduates , unable to string a few English sentences without mistakes and imbibing the culture of miracles and an omnipotent and omniscient deity responsible for all of life’s achievements, without regard to the application of human intellect , ingenuity and the spirit of enquiry.
Now, the reformed(?) drug addict Pentecostal pastor, sundry born-again criminals, marabouts, Alfas or other religious charlatan, is the determinant of the future of medical doctors, scientists, economists and engineers, not modern science or the New World Order of Information and Communications technology. We have come full circle from from the precolonial culture of witchcraft and ancestor worship, without imbibing some of the heady experiences of modern scientific culture, thanks to the jackboots in military fatigues, who destroyed the future of Nigerian scientific thought, in order to entrench themselves and their intellectually challenged culture and hide their crimes against humanity from the Nigerian youth.
The Americans say that ” if you think education is expensive, why don’t you try ignorance?”. In Nigeria, we have been trying ignorance for decades and unfortunately expecting the results of good education. While in Brazil, the decades of military rule left the country with a massive industrialisation program that produced the Industria Brasiliera genre, which transformed the country from the producer of basic agricultural products, to a major industrial country with great strides in Aviation (Embraer), petroleum and offshore petroleum technology (Petrobras), a major weapons manufacturing program and nuclear capability; in South Korea, the military regimes helped create the Chaebols(Daewoo,Hyundai, Samsung and Lucky Goldstar) that industrialised the country and pushed the country into the 21st century intellectual and knowledge economy. Even in Thailand, the military regimes have ensured that the country’s industrial and agricultural potentials have been realised.
What do we have to show for decades of military rule in Nigeria? Total collapse of the educational system and regression of intellectual rigour in human interactions. We have a Defence Industries Corporation, set up in the 1960s at the same time as Brazil, South Korea, India etc. that imports and sells crude salt(DICON salt) and manufactures furniture among other miscellaneous items, while the country goes cap in hand, begging for weapons and ammunition to fight a brush fire insurgency. This, in a country where decades ago, locally minted scientists produced weapons, rockets , armoured vehicles and made great strides in rocket fuel research. Yes, half a century ago in this same space of land!!!
The National Oil Company, NNPC, is the worst performing NOC in the world, even worse than EG Petrol of Equatorial Guinea, a country that has less than fifty engineers and oil industry professionals.
The intellectual deficit of succeeding military rulers, has ensured that the harnessing of local industrial and intellectual capacity became a mirage. There is no more eloquent testimony of the descent to the desertification of intellectual content in Nigeria as the discussions in the social media prior to the 2015 Presidential election. The Nigerian youth, whose future is balanced delicately on the precipice of oblivion,thanks to the misrule of of those that the Greek philosopher, Socrates, described as fools, were coerced by agents of a symbol of our intellectual hubris, to very joyfully state that the possession of a Dangote cement company invoice or a power utility receipt, was sufficient for a candidate to aspire to the Presidency, when the constitution stated clearly that only a WASC will do. The election pitted PhDs and other well-educated candidates from both major parties, and all other parties, against another candidate that did not have the minimum qualification and even dredged up a visibly fake statement of result in 2015, for an examination held in the early 1950s, and that candidate won a handsome, even if contrived victory.
Today, barely a year in office, we are witnessing the unintended consequences of the American admonition about the very dear cost of illiteracy or poor education. A political and economic team of intellectual Lilliputians, led by an equally challenged and even less intellectually endowed leader, is currently in the process of deconstructing the gains of the last democratic and economic dispensations, in an effort to justify its unpreparedness for political and economic power play. Perhaps the only aim was just regime change and a chance to scoop up any remnants of the oil and gas booty that the profligate previous regime left in the nation’s coffers.
Like my father admonished me, so will I admonish the intellectually famished youth of Nigeria. Good education is the only endowment that nobody can take away from you and once acquired you should guard it with your life, in the literal sense.
Finally, again I cite the saying “If you think education is expensive, why don’t you try ignorance?”: the difference, like we say in these parts, is clear and a trial will convince you. Fortunately, four years is not an eternity.
-Jon West, Lagos.