Objection, Mr. President

Okey Ikechukwu
Guest Columnist: Okey Ikechukwu (EDIFYING ELUCIDATIONS)

There is no objection here to the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari as President two days ago; given the verdict of INEC after the last general elections. There is also no objection to the legal steps being taken by those who are challenging the INEC verdict. That is the beauty of democracy and we applaud it, to the extent that its processes are followed. But there is an objection in principle here to any action or policy initiatives of the government, the President or his proxies that may not serve wider, long term, national interests. In this regard, and especially since there is the suggestion of continuity in the just-inaugurated government, Mr. President may wish to advert his attention to some matters of state to which one may be justified in raising some mild objections.

The first is the decision of the recently-dissolved Federal Executive Council (FEC), three weeks ago, to spend the sum of 4.7 billion on the construction of seven Models Schools in the six geo-political zones of the country. The federal government can choose one Unity School from each of the geo-political zones and upgrade it to a Model School, or school of reference of some sort, instead of starting fresh school projects. A simple costs-benefits analysis shows that 4.7 billion Naira will go a very long way in rescuing the 104 now-decrepit and derelict Unity Schools in the country and increasing their carrying capacity. The old students associations and the parents of the current students who are now maintaining and sustaining these schools in the critical areas of infrastructure and learning environment should be relieved of a burden that a distant Federal Ministry of Education, a consummate cabal with impressive credentials that no minister of education can easily see through of dislodge, claims to be handling but is not.

To build new model schools is to award building contracts to “reliable” contractors. Construction of the schools will probably take some two years, or more, to be followed by the provision of state-of-the-art amenities; which essentially boils down to a series of procurement contracts. The seven Model Schools will not make any impact whatsoever on human capital development, or contribute to the growth of education, one way or another in Nigeria in the next five years. But upgrading some Unity School will do just that within the same timeframe. So the proposed new schools will be nothing but a major capital project, resting on the mistaken assumption that the provision of learning infrastructure is the same thing as sustainable investment in education.

It is not right that we should have a huge budgetary provision that will go down on record as proof of government commitment to education when it is not. We should not be content to celebrate cash evidence of massive government investment in education, when in fact the name of the Nigerian child is being taken in vain by contractors and government jobbers. Who builds models schools without simultaneously training Models Teachers? Should part of this freshly budgeted sum of 4.7 billion not perhaps go into strengthening the National Teachers Institute (NTI), the Teachers Registration Council (TRC) and probably reinvigorating the academic content and quality of various faculties of education nationwide/ do our teacher-producing facilities not need specialized short courses on contemporary teaching and learning paradigms and much more?

The school system is like a “factory” producing human capital for the nation. It needs “factory workers”, as well as facilities and the physical infrastructure housing all activities. Investment that focuses on factory machinery and the premises of our education industry is not the best approach to improving the quality of citizens (or “products”) we turn out. It is not enough for an investor to procure and install fine “machinery.” The equipment will not translate to quality products, or even any products at all, except there are also competent people to handle them. A man who builds a bakery to the best global standards, complete with a service and marketing template that even the Jews would envy, but who fails to train bakers and install an efficient and effective management has invested in folly. He will have impressive installed capacity, but pitiable capacity utilization. Incompetent staff will quickly destroy the unfamiliar equipment and ruin everything.

That Mr. President must, in this his second term, come to terms with the fact that there is a difference between “investment in physical infrastructure for education”/learning environment and investment in teacher education/knowledge upgrade, up-scaling of learning outcomes and other measures that would impact the quality of products of our schools. The expenditure of most states of the federation on education over the last twenty years of our democracy shows huge budgetary allocations to education, at the same time that we also show a precipitous decline in educational standards and learning outcomes. Some states with very high records of expenditure for classroom rehabilitation, the supply of desks, books, etc., also have the worst teacher training, school enrolment and retention records. Check the investment of the federal and state governments on the training of teachers, provision of teaching aids and more in the last 20 years. So, let us pull the blinkers off our eyes and get real.

Let us recall that the introduction of the 3-3-3-6 secondary school template was predicated on the expectation that the products of our secondary schools would be eligible for some form of employment, based on a “technical” education of sorts. Introductory Technology (Intro-tech) came on board as a subject in our secondary schools because of this. Impressive machinery and other infrastructure for teaching the subject were also quickly imported (procurement contract). Some of the “Jakande Schools” in Lagos with their low walls had to build new halls for safe storage of the equipment. But there were practically no teachers for the new subject anywhere. So while we cheerfully planned for a revolutionary national human capital development outing and procured the equipment for it, while we celebrated the expected outcomes a very sound education policy, many schools could not even install the equipment, to say nothing of using them.

The equipment procured and given to schools all over Nigeria for that revolution are nowhere to be found today. The products of that revolution are also nowhere to be found today. Worse still, there is no impact on national development, technological evolution and unemployment.
It is against the background of the foregoing that one fells constrained to say: “Objection Mr. President to the proposed Model Schools.” Increase the number and quality of teachers, expand the carrying capacity of the existing schools, and provide the necessary contemporary teaching aids and ensuring security of lives and property for the students, teachers and contiguous communities. The nation is yet to recover from the debilitating impact of the brand new universities of questionable authenticity established by the Jonathan administration. Record of expenditure is not evidence of impact.


BA Myetti Allah Et Al

A meeting between the umbrella body of some cattle herders in Nigeria and the leadership of the Interior Ministry and other major national stakeholders was rumored to have come up with the idea of “settling” some people in the name of national security. No deal of this nature will impact positively on, or ameliorate, the spate of kidnapping, cattle rustling, the periodic invasion of many villages by marauders, killings by herdsmen, etc. we now have several freelance stakeholders in the kidnapping and sundry crimes industry. The downstream and retails sector of this industry is now fully deregulated and democratized. If Myetti Allah is at best a trade Union with members in the cattle trade, its very limited membership (when compared to other trade unions) makes it a player of questionable overriding credentials.

We must distinguish between herdsmen, who are essentially people who herd cattle, and kidnappers. The latter are criminals, while the former are not. It is the “mobility of labour” across both frontiers, arising from poverty and poor security, which has led to the anomalous concept of killer herdsmen. We have had herdsmen without kidnapping for decades in this country. The recent development is not just because there are Fulanis, or herdsmen, in Nigeria. The spread and innovation now evident in this “industry” whittles down the imagined relevance of Myetti Allah.

The kidnappers in Port Harcourt, Abuja, Edo, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, etc. are not taking instructions from Myetti Allah. The small bands of murderers and robbers who are taking over parts of the South East, who are freelance operators, may also demand accommodation in the government deal. The scores of occupied villages in the Middle Belt, some of them occupied for over a year now, will not be released to the indigenes because the federal government had a conversation with Myetti Allah. The angry, hungry and roaming Almajiris in Kano, Sokoto, Katsina and other northern states will not fit into the government`s alleged deal, especially as they are now forming quasi leadership structures, sharing territories and determining which dust bins may be visited by whom among them. Then there is IPOB, OPC and the Arewa youths, whom no one has consulted to find out their views on paying those who are bringing the entire northern establishment into disrepute, by making the entire region look like a clan of benighted murderers.

The Nigerian State should not lie flat on its tummy, under the leadership of a General of the Nigeria Army, begging suspected, presumed or known criminals to have mercy and accept a group ransom. Mbanu!

The submission here is: “Objection, Mr. President, to any line of action that may make you, or the Federal Republic of Nigeria, look weak, irresponsible, partisan or ill advised on a matter of critical national security and national survival.” In case Mr. Presidents is not aware, there is an Igbo saying to the effect that whosoever sets out to catch a slippery snake with a soapy hand has set himself an impossible task. Ekwuchakwaa m!