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Nigeria’s new ministers: The tasks before them

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The Nigerian government recently assigned portfolios to new ministers with tenure, which hopefully will last for the next four years. The ministers have been carefully chosen, and trusted to implement government policies and work towards the success of the administration. President Buhari has no penchant for arbitrarily changing his cabinet, which is good for stability and continuity. And with the assurance of enjoying a long and stable tenure in office, the ministers should work with confidence and courage to achieve objectives, which will have obvious social impact, especially now, that the country is passing through difficult times. The ministries have their peculiarities and characteristics. However, the challenges in; Education, Health, Defence, Water Resources, Power, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture etc are of particular interest. 

This article which will be followed by others, will attempt to analyse some of these challenges, and suggest possible solutions to them. Education: The  12-15 million Nigerian children who are out of school, the highest in the world is a ticking bomb, and an existential challenge to Nigeria’s future. It is needless to overflog the consequences of educational backwardness, be it in Nigeria or anywhere, hence the need to urgently deal with this problem. But, how do we go about it?  The out of school children in states and local governments should be registered to ascertain the numbers involved.

The names, age, state, LGA and level of education, if any, should be collated and transmitted electronically to the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) or the appropriate coordinating government agency in state and federal ministries of education. The data and statistics will be useful in present and future plannings. The building of infrastructures, such as classrooms, school equipment and sourcing of funds will follow. The classrooms will be basic, spartan and inexpensive structures, which could be a copy or adapted form of the classrooms in ‘Jakande schools’ in Lagos State, during the Second Republic, which was derided as poultry pens at that time, but eliminated the shift school day system in Lagos State. 

If 15 million children are involved, a cursory estimate of 500,000 classrooms would be required to accommodate them as follows: 30 pupils per classroom. (30* 500,000 = 15 million). 5000 mega schools of 3000 pupils will be established. The cost of each classroom will be estimated at 1million Naira or about 3,000 usd. The costing will be in USD, rather than the more staggering  figures in Naira 1 classroom @ 1 million naira or about 3,000 USD. (500,000* 3000 usd= 1.5 billion USD. If the same amount is added to buy furniture and uniforms, the global sum would be 3 billion usd. 

Staffing: 500,000 teachers will be required to teach in the schools at an average of 1 teacher per classroom. Teaching staff will be sourced mainly from among Youth Corpers and volunteers. Modern teaching techniques, which uses audio visual materials, pre recorded lectures, and lectures transmitted via television would be adopted to support and enhance the quality of teaching. The electronic devices are not expensive, and some of the e-books can be obtained free of charge from international organizations 

Funding: Federal and State governments should make an initial contribution of 500 million USD , from security votes, and windfalls which are occasionally recovered  from looters of government treasuries.  Philanthropic Organizations: (Dangote, Elumelu, Jim Ovia, Otedola, Dantata, Indimi, Ty Danjuma foundations and several others.) The banks, (First, Union, UBA, Zenith Keystone, Access, .Stanbic, Heritage , CBN Etc, Oil companies: Chevron, Total, Shell, Exxon- Mobil, Oando, NNPC Telecom: Globacom, MTN, MTEL, 9 mobile  International Organizations: TICAD ( Tokyo International Conference on African Development). JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) UNICEF. African Development Bank, World Bank (IBRD) Construction Companies: Julius Berger, Dantata and Sawoe, Bulet Construction Company, Arab Contractors, Juba Construction Company, and many others. The contribution to the ‘Back to school’/Nigeria Classroom Project’ may also be in kind. Direct construction of classrooms in clusters of: 1000, 500, 200, 100, 10, by organizations will be welcomed. The classrooms may in this case, vary from the prototype to more sophisticated state of the art classrooms, which are equipped with audio visual and distance learning devices. 

The second challenge in the educational sector in Nigeria is the quality of recent graduates from public secondary schools and universities. A high percentage of graduates from some of the universities cannot conjugate simple verbs and compose correct sentences.  Errors of syntax and elementary rules of grammar are committed by university graduates: For example a question such as; ‘what did you eat yesterday’? Response. ‘I eat bread last night’ Where did you go last week? : I go to Abuja last last week. The past tenses of ‘eat’ and ‘go’ and other verbs have not be mastered, which ordinarily should have been taught in primary three in elementary school. If this is the standard at the university level, the secondary school level is abysmal. In some cases, the alphabets A-Z cannot be recited coherently at the end of secondary school level education. This also applies to numeracy, general knowledge and logical reasoning. 

The main problem here is lack or inadequate reading culture in these schools. You write and speak, what you have read. The simple solution is to encourage pupils in government primary schools to cultivate the reading culture and habit. The Head of primary and secondary schools and the ministries of education should set up school libraries, initially with daily newspapers and magazines, which are one or two weeks old, after publication. These may be obtained free of charge from newspaper houses, if the noble objective is clearly stated. There are thousands of audio books, which are free and can be duplicated for use in the classroom.  School literary debates, African, Nigerian, Shakespearian plays are other forms of promoting spoken and reading skills. 

The degraded educational system portrayed above is relatively new, but had become worse in the past three decades. The Nigerians who are doing very well today in various academic and social disciplines worldwide are products of the old school system and private institutions. They usually migrate and live abroad, a brain drain, which has deprived the country of high quality technocrats, administrators, professionals and leaders. 

In conclusion, the overall challenges confronting Nigeria cannot be separated  from its educational backwardness. The low expenditure on education must be reversed without which, Nigeria may not enjoy peace now and in the nearest future. Subsequent articles will deliberate on the challenges and public expectations from other government ministries. 
Rasheed was director, Trade, Investment and Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria. 


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