Prisms of empowerment and hope
In September 2016 ,young Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook described by Okey Ndibe as “one of the central deities in the global revolution called social media” held the Nigerian nation spellbound for about three days.
He not only jogged on Fashola’s bridge connecting Victoria Island and Ikoyi, he also walked freely on the streets of Yaba and enjoyed what looked like a sumptuous meal of pounded yam and fresh fish.
At the end of his short adventure to Nigeria he concluded that the technological and entrepreneurship spirit of young Nigerians are simply stupendous.
This observation captures a non-negotiable fact about the Nigerian terrain. It is a nation blessed with abundant natural and human resources.
The perplexing paradox however is that in spite of these resources, Nigeria is still groping in the dark about creative ways to harness these God-given resources. My simple thesis in this article is that education holds the perennial lynchpin for unlocking human potentials and aspirations. I am not making this assertion in vacuum; rather, it is connection with the recent official commissioning of Osogbo Government High School by President Muhammadu Buhari on September 1, 2016. I will use this development as a credible and empirical litmus test for making my case for a new appropriation of education in Nigeria.
This article seeks to contextualize and problematize the issue at stake within the Nigerian polity. It also proffers some insights on how to move the country forward. This article underscores the paradox of the Nigerian state. It is a nation that is confronted with many challenges on several fronts, but yet, it is a nation with so much promise. I submit that quality education is an essential key to sustainable long-term socio-economic transformation. It seems to be that Governor Rauf Aregbesola understands the importance of education in the overall development of the Nigerian nation, hence his unalloyed commitment to his initiatives in education.
Recently in his contribution to the Private Sector Summit at the United Nations Global Assembly, with the theme: ‘Securing the Way Forward,’ Wale Tinubu, the Chief Executive of Oando Plc., asserted that education, innovation, and good governance remain key facets to socio-economic growth. I affirm without any equivocation that education is the most powerful empowerment tool within any society. It simply provides people with choices. Education provides an auspicious opportunity to embark on a new narrative in the State of Osun and in the entire nation. It is the best ingredient for reinventing the “Nigerian project.” Education is more than textbooks and knowledge by rote; rather, it provides a worldview and a new orientation.
I recently visited Edgewood College, in Lekki, Lagos. The founder and Executive Director of the school, Mrs. Kehinde Phillips beamed when she talked about the achievements of the graduates from the school. Students at the school come from different socio-economic backgrounds, but they graduate with a new sense of empowerment. They know that they can change the world through the power of education.
The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
Right from an early stage, Yoruba people memorize a nursery rhyme that simply states that: Bata re a dun ko ko ka to ba ka iwe e, meaning you will walk with commanding and resounding steps if you take your academic work seriously. This is an effective way of affirming that through education, people can achieve upward socio-economic mobility. This is a powerful process of “conscientization” to borrow a word from the Brazilian educator Paulo Fierre or building what Niyi Akinnaso has described as “literacy and individual consciousness.”
The motto of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife is “Learning and Culture.” Education is not about abstract knowledge but it should contribute to the development of the virtues of an omoluabi. The lessons garnered throughout such an educational odyssey become part of what the ancient Latin scholars dubbed vade mecum (carry me wherever you go) for life. In light of this perspective, education becomes imole aye, the light of the world to borrow a phrase from the singer Oladotun Aremu. This is a worldview that shines in the midst of darkness.
All over the globe, Nigerian students are raising the educational bar. Recently, a 21-year old Nigerian emerged as University of Kent’s most outstanding graduating student. In 2012, the US Bureau of Statistics affirmed that Nigerians are the most educated immigrant community in the United States. Nigerians have overtaken Indians and Pakistanis who had previously basked in the glory of the most educated immigrant community in the United States. As I was writing this article, Hillary Clinton sent a message on twitter: “I want to give a big THANK YOU to my Doctor who travels everywhere with me, Dr. Oladotun Okunola. I wouldn’t be here without him. Literally.” One can conveniently write a compelling monograph on the educational and professional achievements of Nigerians all over the globe.
In a season of dire recession, there are many daunting challenges. Governor Rauf Aregbesola must take these challenges very seriously. As someone who has taught in educational institutions in Nigeria, the United States, and Qatar, I know that these are formidable challenges. However, in spite of various fissiparous forces, it seems to me that State of Osun has made a bold step in re-positioning and re-affirming the legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo by pulling resources together to construct several magnificent educational institutions all over the state. A journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. After all, an African proverb states that “by crawling, a child learns to stand.” A step in the educational path is the right one. The building of human capital remains a sine qua non for any society.
Many African leaders from Mandela to Nyerere understood the remarkable power of education in transforming individuals, communities, and the world. In the midst of meager resources, both Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Governor Rauf Aregbesola have embarked on impressive educational projects.
The former started Osun State University with campuses in different parts of the State while the later has demonstrated his commitment to educational advancement by providing a new road map for schools in the State. The new building projects are empirical testimonies to his dream and vision. He has also supported an initiative under the Obafemi Awolowo Educational Foundation for the recruitment of indigenes of the State of Osun to Education City in Doha, Qatar. Three students from the state are currently studying in three universities in Doha. These are Georgetown University, Northwestern University, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
It is my sincere hope that this laudable program will continue to attract young, enterprising, and academically gifted Nigerians. I have witnessed the tremendous positive growth and development of all the recruited students. Abdulqudus Sanni, the student at Georgetown University is already working on breaking the school’s academic record.
In the right educational context, Nigerians would flourish and excel. I solemnly remain a prisoner of hope concerning the power of education for empowerment in the State of Osun. The official commissioning of the massive Osogbo Government High School speaks loudly to the audacity of hope in the midst of rampant pessimism, cynicism, and grotesque fabrications.
We ignore or dismiss the transformative potential of education at our peril. As Isiaka Adeleke, the former Governor of the State of Osun rightly said in his piece on Osun at 25, the beat continues!
• Akinade, an ordained minister in the Anglican Church of Nigeria, is a Professor of Theology at Georgetown University’s Edmund E. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Qatar. He is the author of Christian Responses to Islam in Nigeria: A Contextual Study of Ambivalent Encounters (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan Press, 2014). Within the American Academy of Religion, he serves on the Editorial Board on its flagship journal, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion (JAAR) and also on the International Connections Committee.