Adamolekun: Holding Govt Accountable in Education Will Ensure Better Nigeria
Ms Yemi Adamolekun is the Executive Director of Enough is Enough Nigeria. In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, she explained why it is imperative to teach governance from the school system to enable citizens to know their rights and that government must be held accountable, especially in how it runs the education system
Do you think Nigerians have had enough of bad governance?
I think they have. But the difference is what they intend to do about it. Most times, we talk about everything. But we’re not willing to do anything. I have come to realise that for a lot of us, it takes a lot of energy to cope with being a Nigerian. When you hire people to work, you don’t just pay them every month. You must get them to do their jobs before they run your business aground. So I think of Nigeria as a business, and elected officials are the people hired to run the country. For instance, at the National Assembly, everybody there represents their constituency, and they are there to negotiate what is in the best interest of the whole country. Unfortunately, the people there are not doing their jobs. Their salaries are paid. There is no query or discussion about what they are doing there; they do whatever they want. There is no incentive for people in government to change because nobody is asking them questions. The citizens are tired. We don’t teach what democracy is, it is not in our curriculum, yet we expect people to know. A lot of them don’t also know and do not expect people to be asking them questions, but they should realise that we have the power to hold them accountable. The other part of the challenge is that we have not spent time teaching people and helping them situate our cultural norms and hierarchy about who has power. Culturally, we defer to people who are older than us. It’s very hard for me to be asking someone who is old enough to be my father how he spends money. It comes across as rude. So, there is a cultural and religious problem with how we see power and authority. Both Christian and Islamic faith talk about power belonging to God and giving whoever he wants power. So we are almost abdicating that to God, especially the Yorubas, and expect him to solve the problems. So God will not do what he has given man power to do. Our history of military rule, I believe we underestimate how much it does to our psyche in terms of how we engage the government. In our minds, the association with the military is that they are dangerous. The idea of whether enough is enough is yes for so many reasons. For some of those reasons, culture, the history of military rule and expecting God to solve problems and deal with day-to-day issues stop many of us from doing anything about it beyond complaining. With Enough is Enough (EiE), we want a better Nigeria, and we want it to work.
Is it that easy to fire our leaders for non-performance, and how can the ugly situation be reversed?
Part of it is education and people understanding that they have power. A few years ago, we did a booklet on recall. The constitution allows you to recall members of the National Assembly that are not serving well. But the process is very difficult. Secondly, many people don’t even know because the law allows that. Elections come every four years, but we tend to refrain from using the opportunity to fire for different reasons. A friend of mine once did a study on a particular state governor who wasn’t doing well. When they asked people to vote against him, they said no. My takeaway is that as much as we complain, we haven’t connected in our brains how the actions of people in government directly affect our quality of life. It’s a whole way how we think about sanctions for bad behaviour. When there is no penalty at the end of the day, they don’t feel as if they have done anything, and this feeds into every area of our lives.
How will you educate and galvanise youths’ support for a better life to make the right decision ahead of the 2023 elections?
One of the challenges of #EndSARS was education. Many young people didn’t know the context of this rule. EIE started from a protest 10 years ago. A lot of them thought they knew what they were doing and falsely believed that because we are in a democracy, they could do anything and get away with it. Nigeria is still very military in how we respond to citizens. That is why anytime there is a protest, they arrest people. That is why the constitution allows freedom of association. For young people, it’s a learning for them. Educating the youth is a process. The education system doesn’t prioritise or teach it. It has to be taught outside the class. The easiest way to actually teach it is in school because it has scale. You have to continue drumming it into people’s ears right from school age so that they will understand by the time they are older. We are trying to work with religious institutions because that is another place with scale and platform. We can use religious platforms to also educate people on their rights and responsibilities. Secondly, we have tried to do a lot of work on social media, and at a point, we had a radio programme in 33 states called ‘Office of the Citizen’, just educating people that they have rights. What we have not done is share some of the success stories. When people hear that someone was able to succeed in doing something, they know they can do it too. We have seen it. But we don’t have the resources to amplify the success story as much as we like. We need to have it in our curriculum, at least from primary one, so you understand your rights and other things. Unfortunately, many of us focus on Mr president and shout about him. A lot of us need to shout about our councillors and local government chairpersons to fix basic infrastructure because they influence our lives. These are the things we don’t teach. And that is why it is easier to blame Buhari for everything.
Basic education is meant to be free, with the government at all levels providing free textbooks in core subjects. That’s not happening in most states. What can be done?
We are not doing enough to force the government to obey the law. For instance, in Lagos, it is illegal for children to hawk. There are conversations we should be having that we are not doing to engage local government chairpersons, state house of representatives. What is the budget for education? Why are we not enforcing children going to school? It is because we haven’t prioritise it, and that is the truth. Government can get away with it because nobody asks any questions. It is a lot of work, and we haven’t got enough organisations going that way. One of my favourite organisations is Teach-for-Nigeria, and they focus on teachers. It’s one thing to send children to school. It’s another thing for teachers to teach them. As a sector, I don’t think the last two administrations have prioritised education. Our university system was shut down for eight months. How does the country want to grow when it’s okay for its next generation of workers, developers, scientists etc., to sit at home? As we move into the general elections, demanding more from the government on education should be an election topic in Lagos or any state when children are on the road and there is insufficient provision for the girl-child. We talk about the education budget; how is it spent? The government, unfortunately, like so much of pretty things, so we spent a lot of money on buildings. We should look at it again wholistically.
How can the Chibok girls who recently returned be assisted?
There are two angles to it. One is that there is a budget from the Ministry of Women Affairs every year for them, and it has been in the budget since 2015. However, they complain that the money is there but that they don’t release enough. The private organisations are trying to figure out what they can do regarding support. But there is a challenge there. You can’t send them to boarding schools unless there is a provision on who will take care of them. There is a conversation on how to provide the structure that will allow them to be educated.
You recently held a fundraising auction and book presentation on art, fashion and photography. What is the essence of it?
When EiE was going to turn 10 in 2020, in 2019, we decided that we wanted to document our story in a book instead of writing it as a chronology. We decided to write a chapter yearly. For instance, we have 10 chapters on elections, the use of technology, our culture of protest, fundraising, office of the citizen, social media bill, the human cost of corruption and one voice. We got 10 young people to write about the ‘Nigeria of our Dreams’. Our celebrity partners also contributed. So that was the idea, and we got the ‘Foot Print: Past, Present and Future’. Covid prevented us from finishing it in 2020 and in 2021 we took a break. But this year, we decided we will do it again. So this is our 12th year, and we added two more chapters, and it became a book of 12 chapters, and we launched it on December 12. It is basically to document our story and share knowledge. It was written by different people who have been a part of our journey. They include Pastor Tunde Bakare, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Aisha Yesufu and Tu Face. Every year, we do an auction to raise money, and this year, we are doing the same thing.
Since you started EiE in 2010, how has the journey been, and how do you get funding and support?
It started with a protest, and it was a bit challenging from the beginning. 2011 was an election year, so we decided to drive the energy into young people to participate in the elections, and that was how we coined ‘Register, Select, Vote and Protect’ your vote (RSVP). In 2011, people came. But they began to either join political parties or run their own businesses. By 2013, we started focusing on the National Assembly, and by 2014, we hit on the phrase ‘ Office of the Citizen’, and that, for me, captured what we were trying to do and get citizens to understand that they have power and that they can use it. So we started working on that by creating content and what it means to be a citizen, knowing your rights and responsibilities. We partnered with the National Orientation Agency because we can’t use the coat of arms without partnering a government agency. They also have a booklet on values and ethics, so we included all that. It’s been interesting getting Nigerians engaged, and I think we have been successful in some parts. On social media and on the work we have done on the radio, we got people talking, and a lot of people are aware that they have power. We also have organisations trying to do the work in their communities and amplify the message. This year also, it opened up the concept of delegate, and people now understand the power of the delegate. We started being funded by foreign organisations, but I fundamentally believe that due to the nature of what we do, not everybody will protest or run for office, but you can volunteer or donate. So we were able to create a system where we have a growing community of people who donate to us every month to support our work. To me, that is more sustainable than depending on foreign organisations. So until Nigerians take it seriously, then we are not yet there. You can find an organisation that does what you like and support them. It is part of contributing your quota to nation-building.