Ita Faji and the legacy of ‘progressivism’
Last month, at least 20 people – including school children – died when a building collapsed in Ita Faji, Lagos Island. We of course now know that the building had been marked for demolition before it finally gave way. But what was even more amazing was that a building marked for demolition had a school inside it. The episode, as usual, reveals more than we will like to admit.
Not long after the collapse, I asked people on social media to count the number of private schools they see near where they live or on their way to and from work. I had an idea of what to expect but the answers still surprised me. On one road in Ibeju Lekki, someone counted 29 schools. Another person counted 15 in their estate in Oshodi Isolo. On average, people counted 3 or more on their streets. One way to look at this is that if a building collapses anywhere in Lagos today, it is very likely to hit or involve a school. Everyone talks about the proliferation of churches but no one talks about the sheer growth in the number of ‘private schools’ across the state.
A 2014 World Bank report showed that 75% of students – an astounding 1.3 million pupils – in Lagos were being educated in private schools. Just 451,000 or 25% were in state schools. It is one thing for government to provide a poor service, but it is next level incompetence for government to so woefully fail to deliver a service for which there is a glaring and obvious demand. How did Lagos get here? The erosion of educational standards has happened quietly but steadily over the years. Who really knows what kids are being taught in these ‘private schools’ that are often just a room in a house somewhere?
Even worse – where other states can claim that politics has disrupted the consistency and long term planning necessary for educational improvement, Lagos state cannot say the same as it has been led by one party (or one man) for 20 years. A child born in 1999 would have gone through the education system and be nearly done with university by now. This is more than enough for a party or government to make its mark on education in a way where everyone can see improvements. Yet there is no sign of this anywhere.
One obvious reason is that the APC in Lagos (formerly known as AD and ACN) does not take education seriously. The ministry of education in Lagos sits under the supervision of the Deputy Governor. Bola Tinubu, Governor Emeritus of Lagos and the author and finisher of the ‘Lagos Masterplan’, went through 3 deputy governors in his 8 years as Governor of Lagos state. In Nigerian political philosophy, the deputy governor is the spare tyre you hope never to use but you still carry to fulfil all righteousness. Alongside education, the Deputy Governor is also responsible for local government chieftaincy matters and chairs the committee on boundary disputes. You can draw your own conclusions from all these as to how much priority education really conveys in such an arrangement.
A wise Nigerian philosopher once said it is from Thursday that we know how the weekend will pan out. The disregard for education by the APC in Lagos over the last 20 years is all the signal you need to know that the people have been left to their devices to educate themselves however they can (mind you, the leaders don’t take such chances with their own children). Education was not a signature issue in the recent governorship campaign and not in 2015 either. There is no major policy drive or commitment of funds to boost education outcomes in the state. It is just something that is sitting under the benevolence of the Deputy Governor.
This is how we got to Ita Faji. When the government has practically given up delivering this essential service (like many other services) to its citizens who in turn resort to self-help of varying standards. It is how we got to the situation of a school with 100 children being inside a building marked for demolition. Since there is hardly any supervision of them (the World Bank report in 2014 found that almost half of the private schools in Lagos were unregistered), you can be sure that each one is an accident waiting to happen. If a trailer runs into a building, there might be a school in it. If a building catches fire, there might be a school in it.
This is the legacy of 2 decades of ‘progressivism’ in Lagos. A complete and utter betrayal of the future. And it is what should alarm us the most about Ita Faji. The presence of the school in that building is a gross indictment on the leadership of Lagos state.
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