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Education: Nigeria’s greatest problem

By By Luke Onyekakeyah
11 May 2010   |   11:13 am
NIGERIA is a country in dire straits practically in every aspect of human endeavour. There is little to write home about the country after 50 years of political independence. Politically, the country has no enduring system. Leadership is here for grabs by the strongest. Economically, there is no lasting blueprint. The state of the economy…
NIGERIA is a country in dire straits practically in every aspect of human endeavour. There is little to write home about the country after 50 years of political independence. Politically, the country has no enduring system. Leadership is here for grabs by the strongest. Economically, there is no lasting blueprint. The state of the economy at any given time is a function of who is at the helm of affairs. The economy has no structure and it is hard to predict its trend in the short or long run. Socially, there is total disarray and discontent. The things that make life worth living are lacking. I can go on and on to highlight the woeful state of affairs in the country. The situation has thwarted every attempt to deal with the issues confronting the country from whatever angle.

The complexity and magnitude of the problems create confusion among the populace. The leaders also face the same confusion. The leaders don’t know where to start to tackle the myriad of problems. That is why there are divergent views and programmes at different levels of governance. For example, while the federal government pursues a different agenda, the governors in all the 36 states pursue different agendas based on their own perception.

For example, while some state governors are focusing on the provision of water, others are working on roads, yet others focus on environmental sanitation and infrastructure. The federal government seems to be focusing on electricity, among others. There is no coordinated and coherent agenda among the different tiers of government in the country. But it should be appreciated that Nigeria as a country has one common problem notwithstanding the creation of states.

Therefore, the solution to the country’s problems must have a common locus, though; the approach maybe different but the end result would be the same. The lack of a common goal and focus is not helping the system. That is why governments come and go and yet the country remains in appalling state. Nothing seems to be moving. Or rather, things are moving round the circle. There is stagnation and underdevelopment. There is no positive impact from governance on the people and the country. And you begin to ask what the previous administrations did with all the money voted during the periods?

The reason is that the key problem of illiteracy has not been identified and tackled. When the key problem is tackled squarely, the rest of the problems would definitely find their level. Our problems in this country are complex meaning that they’re interrelated and traceable to a common source. The solution to education would affect the others and it goes down in a kind of sequence. If this key problem were to be the main focus, the different tiers of government would embrace and focus on it in addition to whatever else they might be pursuing. It will become a top issue on the national agenda to which governments at all levels would be out to implement

When that happens, it would be clear that the attitude and conduct of the people across the country would change. Let me illustrate: If you get educated people from different nationalities, tribes, religions and languages and put them together, there will be peace and harmony because of their enlightened mental and intellectual state of mind. No one will feel cheated. But get another group of people from the same nationalities this time made up of educated and illiterate individuals, there would be friction because the attitudes and behaviours differ. The illiterate ones would feel cheated and inferior even when the educated and enlightened ones have open and friendly mind. That is what is happening in Nigeria. With more illiterate people in the population, no programme of government would work since the people can’t be carried along. An illiterate and ignorant mind can’t appreciate lofty ideals. People must first be educated before they can appreciate what government is doing.

Against the foregoing, the number one problem facing Nigeria today is education? But if the question were posed to a cross-section of Nigerians, depending on the status of the persons, there will be different answers. While some will say bad leadership, epileptic electricity, lack of social amenities, others would say poor infrastructure, poverty, hunger, disease, and many more. Whereas all these are problems confronting the country, to my mind, they’re not the greatest. Lack of an educated population is the greatest problem facing the country. This in turn affects every other aspect of our national development drive. I want to state categorically that if we have an educated and enlightened population, most of the other problems would be solved.

Let’s take the issue of leadership for example. The leadership disaster we have had in this country since independence has its roots in lack of education. In 1960, how many Nigerians were educated? What was the literacy rate in the country? The literacy rate in Nigeria at independence was about 10 per cent. With that kind of population, the few educated people that emerged as the country’s leaders at the time had Herculean task trying to lead a an illiterate population.

Apart from that, because the masses of the people are illiterates who have little or no say in the political dynamics of their country, the few educated people have unfettered latitude to lord it over their people. All that the poor illiterate masses need is handouts in form of food, money and other material inducements to buy over their votes. That trend has continued till today because the majority of the people are still illiterates wallowing in poverty and ignorance. That explains why the politics of bread and butter flourish. All that the poor masses need to be bought over is mere pittance, food, bicycle, motorbike (okada) and all that simple material inducements. On the other hand, it would be hard to mortgage the conscience of an educated person with such material inducements. When the wrong persons use money and other inducements to buy hungry followers, what do you expect from the leadership? Disaster as we have it.

But you can’t have that kind of situation in the developed world where people are enlightened. In the developed Western countries, those who want to be leaders prepare themselves intellectually. This is because the electorate know what they want. Barack Obama won the presidency of the United States not because he is rich but because he has the intellectual capacity to face and convince an enlightened American society. You don’t win election in the developed societies because you have money to buy votes and employ thugs to ensure that the votes are captured for you.

In those societies, even when you win the election based on what you promised to do, the prying eyes of the enlightened electorate would be watching to see that you fulfill your promises. That one has won an election to be in office for four years doesn’t guarantee that the one would have another term of four years. It is not automatic. If the one must have another term, it must be based on measurable performance.

These ideals are lacking in this country because majority of the people are illiterates. In Nigeria, money is what matters because there is mass poverty. Political aspirants have no need for intellectual capacity because the people are mostly uneducated illiterates. There is no political debate based on issues of the time. To contest for political post, you must have a strong financial backing (godfather) because the race is not for the most intelligent but to those that can throw money about to the poor hungry and illiterate electorate. With the winner takes all mentality, whoever wins election automatically becomes a small fief that lords it over the rest of the illiterate masses. The masses lack the capacity to question how their common wealth is shared.

The most dangerous dimension is the prevailing trend that once someone is elected into office for four years, he automatically has to remain there for two terms of eight years. That is unconstitutional. Leaders should be voted for the second time based on real performance. That is what obtains in civilised societies. But because the electorate here are illiterates and can easily be manipulated, the leaders buy the votes with money and have the opportunity to exploit masses for eight years! What a disaster!

The importance of education in the development of the country cannot be over emphasised. So long as the majority of the people are uneducated and unenlightened, even the most progressive of government programmes would face uphill task. Take environmental sanitation for example. Because the masses of the people are illiterates and unenlightened, the more you clear the gutters and sweep the streets, the more people litter and dump refuse unabatedly. If you build streetlights, the poor uneducated people would vandalise it. If you erect world-class infrastructures, within a short time, they’re vandalised. Electric cables and transformers are regularly vandalised by the poor uneducated. Handrails on bridges and flyovers are vandalised. There will be no end to this malaise until the country takes education as the primary factor of national development.