El Rufai’s One Small Step…


THIS REPUBLIC Shaka Momodu  shaka.momodu@thisdaylive.com 0811 266 1654

I read a piece of good news in the newspapers recently that the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, had finally made good his promise to enrol his children in public schools. His three-year-old son, Abubakar Al Saiddique, has just started his academic journey through life at Islamiyya Play/Early School. It is a step that may not amount to much in the eyes of many, but I tell you, it’s one small step towards saving public schools in this country.

Beyond the symbolism of the action, I commend el-Rufai for what he has done and for keeping his promise. Example, as they say, is better than precept. I hope he will find a way to persuade his commissioners and aides to emulate his example. Furthermore, he should undertake a needs-assessment tour of public schools in the state and start rebuilding them from the ground up. Nation rebuilding has to start from rebuilding the educational and health foundations of this country.

I wish our president showed this kind of example immediately he assumed power. Despite the dislocation it would have caused them, I wish he had withdrawn his children from colleges abroad and enrolled them in public schools in this country. It would have demonstrated his determination to do things differently and sent a powerful message of “change” to everybody. His reported statement that his children were in foreign schools because he could afford it was a kick in the guts of ordinary Nigerians, from which they are yet to recover.

I strongly believe that education is the most important thing after the gift of life and the joy of having children. It liberates the mind, banishes ignorance as well as provides understanding of some of the mysteries of life and diseases. It is the greatest personal enabler that helps to release the incredible power of the human mind not only to create and innovate new products, but also to change the world for the better. Furthermore, it equips one with the tools to navigate life’s many complex challenges.

These are some of the reasons serious nations invest heavily in education, to ultimately gain a competitive advantage over other countries in the quest for knowledge to illuminate the dark crevices of our world and advance human civilisation through science and technology. Our world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years owing to the quantum leap in research, knowledge, discoveries and the dizzying speed of inventions, innovations and creative ingenuity.

The pace of change and its impact on the world have simply been stunning and unprecedented. The clear evidence of human development, progress and advances in technology are all around us. From gravity-defying buildings to weapons travelling at hypersonic speed to hit targets with pinpoint accuracy, to incredible advances in medical science, humanity is bustling and bubbling with renewed confidence in its possibilities.

The internet has more than anything else changed our world and made it less vast and less mysterious. From the way we communicate, interact, shop, learn, to everything imaginable – including the social media revolution – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc, the internet has unleashed a vista of freedom, power and anonymity never before envisaged. With our smart phones and at the touch of a button, one is on the World Wide Web (should one say world wild web?). Man’s quest for knowledge has pushed him beyond earth’s boundaries to distant planets in search of the building blocks of life.

It is noteworthy that countries leading the charge knew from the outset the importance of education. Their leaders invested heavily in education because they knew it was the greatest enabler that opens the doors to all other opportunities of life. It was their legacy to their societies and it is what has put their countries ahead of others. They built great schools, great academic institutions and great science and research centres that have become icons of knowledge around the world. It takes great visionaries to envision the future; it takes an even greater leadership to actualise that future.

What is Nigeria’s contribution to the scorecard of human achievements? Can anyone point to anything of enduring value? Anyway, to put it simply, Nigeria has not been blessed with great leaders who can visualise the future, or leaders who attach great importance to the education of its people as the first building block of any successful society.

Our country’s education system is in a total shambles owing to decades of neglect, relegation, mismanagement and corruption. The system is rotten, completely rotten – the infrastructure is a disgrace. Any other description amounts to a dishonest appraisal and a wicked attempt to deny the reality of the terrible situation on the ground in our public schools.

Our schools have fallen behind in world rankings and are churning out low-quality graduates who can’t write nor speak good English. Our best schools can’t compete with second-rate schools in Africa and third-rate schools in the Western world. That is why some parents who still crave quality education and can afford it, now do everything in their power (even if fraudulent) to send their children to schools abroad to get quality education.

But President Muhammadu Buhari came out recently to tell Nigerians that the country could no longer afford to make forex available to pay the school fees of such students. While those who could afford alternative sources of forex should do so. With the value of the naira at a historic low to the dollar – the interbank rate ranges from N312/N315 to the dollar while on the parallel market, it is between N455 and N460 to the dollar, my deduction from the president’s statement is that anyone who cannot afford the parallel market rate should withdraw their children from schools abroad and enrol them in our dilapidated schools.
Now, is the president not aware that resident hostels in the University of Lagos as well as many others in various university campuses around the country are bedbug-infested, making students to have sleepless nights?

Is he not aware that in many of our teaching hospitals across the country, doctors now use lamps, torchlights and cell phone lights to treat patients due to epileptic power supply? It won’t be surprising if he is not. These are hard facts, anyway.

A former president of the Association of Resident Doctors, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital branch, Dr. Oyinlola Oluwagbemiga once said: “Imagine that you are in an emergency where you have to resuscitate a patient and you resort to that. It is that bad. It even stretches to sanitation. We have reached the point where you are having a major procedure and all you can hear is ‘please we can only supply light for the next two hours, make sure you complete your operation’.” This is a teaching hospital that trains medical personnel who will go out and compete with the best around the world. It’s little wonder that those who can afford it still rush abroad for minor ear infections.

So more than anything else, it was not so much about the insensitivity of what the president said as regards his financial capacity that irked many, it was actually what he failed to say about his immediate plans and urgent commitment to fix the education system in the country and restore it to its lost glory. No doubt this is the panacea for discouraging parents wanting to send their children to schools abroad in search of quality learning.

I can bet a pretty penny that if Nigerian schools were in good shape and the system functioning properly and effectively, no one would want to send their wards to school abroad at great financial cost and at the expense of family bond.

Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to address the fundamental growth problems besetting the country’s education system. Why? If I might hazard a guess, I would say it’s because their children don’t attend these public schools since they can afford forex at any rate. Nigerian schools from primary to university levels are derelict, ill-equipped and are not conducive to learning; they are plagued of course by frequent strikes. It is amazing that any semblance of learning still takes place in these dilapidated relics of a lost era. Sadly, despite the fierce urgency the education sector requires, there is hardly any evidence policy makers understand the danger starring us in the face.

It is cheering that following public outcry, history has been restored to the school curriculum. But more fundamentally, I ask for the umpteenth time, what is President Buhari’s policy on the education of the Nigerian youth? Is he not aware of the state of the rot in this all-important sector? Is Buhari not aware of the scale of moral corruption in the education sector actively encouraged by both parents and teachers? That parents now go to great lengths to help cheat for their wards: pay impersonators to help write examinations for their children while invigilators and examiners get all forms of inducements to play ball? Mr. President, a repugnant and an amoral culture of outright rape of female students by teachers entrusted with the task of grooming future leaders now has a firm footing in our schools. Lecturers harass and demand sex-for-grades and/or money-for-grades from students.

Some of the victims of rape bear the mortal scars and the indignity of harassment silently without sharing their experiences. What is President Buhari doing about this kind of appalling exploitation going on in our schools? We need to know.

Let me leave you with excerpts from Buhari’s campaign rhetoric in a speech to the Nigerian community in the UK on Saturday, February 21, 2015 and judge for yourself whether he has lived up to it since he assumed office as the president: “What is the difference between me and those who elected us to represent them? Absolutely nothing! Why should the Nigerian president not fly with other Nigerian public? Why do I need to embark on a foreign trip as the president with a huge crowd with public funds?

“Why do I need to go on a foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospitals functional? Why do we need to send our children to schools abroad if we cannot develop our universities to compete with the foreign ones? Why and why must our people be servants to the foreigners in the midst of plenty?” The answer Mr President, is “blowin’ in the wind”. You see, the more they shout change, the more things stay the same or even get worse.

Where Buhari has so far failed to lead by example and inspire, it is gratifying that el-Rufai, despite his many flaws and propensity for mischief, has kept one small but important promise.