Nigeria rejects 21st Century: A personal reflection
This 21st Century is driven by globalised knowledge culture. The use of computers and the Internet are fundamental instruments in this knowledge culture. It also known as the digital culture. The workings of this information technology are not elitist in nature. They are not limited to few persons in the society. The workings are mass based in the sense that computers are connected amongst themselves all over the world through the Internet to produce the phenomenon known as the World Wide Web (www).
This new mode of production requires fundamentally, a high percentage of literates in the workforce of any human society in this century. Thus, the economic and social performance of all nations is measured by the number of persons who have access to, and knowledge of the computer.
Access to the computer and the Internet is a deliberate policy of any visionary government which invests massively in this sector. The investment is an integral part of educational and vocational training.
During the first quarter of this century, developed countries, including South Korea, invested heavily in the knowledge industry especially in the educational and vocational sectors with a view to transforming their economies into digitised economies. Thus, the first quarter of this century witnessed rapid transformation of Korea’s educational system to meet with the imperative demands of the information age.
The story of South Korea is highly fascinating. This was a country whose economy was destroyed by both the Second World War and the internecine Korean Wars.
The South Korean political elite decided that it must mobilise resources to gradually rebuild the country’s economy. By the 60’s, South Korea was at par with Nigeria. The Koreans had gradually surmounted the atrocities of the above mentioned two wars.The same elite did not stop at that stage. They decided to invest further in the educational and vocational training. By the time these demands of the 21st Century became inevitable, the Koreans further invested in these two sectors. Today, South Korea is the 6th biggest economy in the world.
While this wheel and train of progress ushered in the 21st Century, Nigeria’s elite did not wake up to their responsibility like their Korean counterparts. They stagnated.
This digression is inevitable for an important reason: It helps us define the yardstick we should use to measure the 21st century. This yardstick would show that the Nigerian elite have continued to reject the demands of the 21st century. In this context, rejection simply means a state of mind that is not bothered or worried about the future and has adopted a culture of stagnation and backwardness. The much needed investment in educational and vocational training stagnated. While South Korea invests annually, about 50 percent of her annual budget in educational and vocational training to cater for her industrial and social needs, Nigeria still invests less than five percent of her annual budget in the same sector. Unfortunately, she did not take advantage of the unprecedented earnings from the proceeds of sales of her crude oil and gas at the international market. Instead, she still engages in the culture of consumption of imported goods even from South Korea. Once again, the Nigerian elite reject the demands of the 21st century.
What are the consequences of this rejection?
According to the official records from Nigeria’s Ministry of Education, about 8 million Nigeria’s Children are out of school, one of the highest in the world. And over half of the country’s population are illiterate. They cannot read and write. It means that the Nigerian elite continue to reject the imperatives of the 21st century that is, massive investment in educational and vocational training. No country can be a force to be reckoned with if her human resources are under-developed. The sad reality is that within this huge mass of illiterate citizens, there are potential individuals that could become members of Nigeria’s work force that would transform the Nigerian economy.
Right now, Nigeria would continue to be an importer of finished goods and services. She cannot transform her raw materials locally into finished industrial products because she has not invested massively in educational and vocational training to produce the critical mass work force needed to transform her economy.
The glaring danger is that the country’s sole dependence on crude oil and gas would further jeopardise her needs in many sectors especially in the power sector. Nigeria is one of the highest importers of generators, thanks to the oil and gas proceeds. Experts forecast that within the next 15 years the price of crude oil and gas would nose dive for three major reasons: the emergence of more oil producing countries, the production of crude oil from America’s schist shell, and the acceleration of alternative sources of renewable energy especially from the sun and the wind. The Nigerian political elite have not put anything on ground to find solution to this imminent and inevitable transformation; again, an additional proof that our elite reject the demands of the 21st Century.
What is to be done?
It is clear that Nigeria’s potentials must be converted into a positive force with a view to preventing her from moving disastrously towards countries like Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. One proposes these fundamental reforms.The available resources show that our country has no business with poverty and illiteracy. The political elite must, as a matter of urgency, give maximum priority to funding of educational and vocational training by reducing the cost of governance. Concretely, the amount of colossal money spent by the executive and legislative arms of government, at the three tiers of the State , must , as matter of urgency, be reduced and diverted to the funding of education and vocational training. This fiscal reform must be undertaken in order to provide funds for these two sectors. We don’t have to borrow money to fix our places of learning. We must cut our coat to our size. Moreover, the Nigerian elite must reform the taxation system with a view to doing away with wastes and plugging the loopholes. The judiciary should be reformed to ensure that tax defaulters and those corrupt elements in these two sectors vital to our existence in this 21st Century are tried and if found guilty must be punished according to the laws of the land. There should be no sacred cow! And the culture of impunity should stop. We are late in catching the 20th Century train and nothing should stop this country from moving forward.
It is not enough to fund these two sectors. The content of education and vocation training must be reviewed to meet the needs of our country. One of the fundamental requirements of this century is to combine and develop at primary, secondary and tertiary levels the brain and the hands. In order words, learning must also incorporate vocational skills.
It is not everybody that must go to the university. The current practice has produced unemployable graduates, a time bomb waiting to explode. With the proposed reform, every child would be allowed to excel.
As long as the English language remains our common language of communication, we must reintroduce, as a compulsory subject, English literature. The course is the best avenue to ensure that we don’t allow the current practice where graduates, in most cases, cannot speak or write correct and Standard English.For Nigeria to be admitted as respected member of comity of nations in this 21st Century, we must undertake these reforms.
• Fatunde is a Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, Lagos State University
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