by Omoya Yinka Simult
It is hard to be a Nigerian at the moment. On July 21, 2016, while appearing before the Senate, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, declared for the first time that Nigeria was “technically in recession”. An average man might not understand the economic jargons she used in expatiating on her assertion, but the truth is that every Nigerian has come to grips with the implications of recession in the country. Quite contrary to a careless statement attributed to the Finance Minister that “recession is just a word”, Nigerians now know that recession is that which captures the economic ordeal into which our nation has been plunged. We know this not by definition, not because someone up there made a public declaration of it. Nigerians know recession by experience, because it has become the reality by which we are defined.
In recent times, beyond the geographical and cultural markers that distinguish one region in Nigeria from another, we now have a new set of distinctive features, which are based on the forms of insecurity experienced in each region. The North now brings to mind the unfortunate reality of religious fanaticism and bomb explosions. The South has come to be associated with militancy and pipeline vandalism. The West prides itself as the headquarters of ritual killing, and the East is no safer because of the worrisome endless cases of abduction and armed robbery. The sociopolitical and economic landscapes in Nigeria have been blighted by the endemic twin evil of crime and violence, and it is high time the federal government directed its searchlight to a more efficient strategy for combatting insecurity.
THE PRESENT DEPLORABLE STATE OF THE NATION’S ECONOMY AND SECURITY
For the past one year, Nigerians have suffered a drastic increase in cost of goods and services without corresponding increase in purchasing power. According to the quarterly report released by the National Bureau of Statistics, inflation rate has deteriorated by 17.1%, the worst in over eleven years, and unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 13.3%. This, in a way, partly explains why many citizens embraced the varieties of ponzi schemes that pervaded the country a couple of months ago, which promised to give fantastic interests within a short period for their savings. Of course, it should be sounded that such ponzi schemes portend even greater evil for the economy, considering that they discourage investment and honest toil. Yet this, as sad as it can be, is understandable, for wouldn’t a drowning man clutch at a mere straw in his search for hope?
From the professional point of view, economists have referred to recession as a negative economic growth for two consecutive quarters. It is also a business cycle contraction which results in a general slowdown in industrial and economic activity. Thus, Nigeria is currently in a kind of economic mess where there is a fall in macroeconomic indicators such as gross domestic product, inflation rate, investment spending, capacity utilization, household income and business profits, while bankruptcies and the unemployment rate continue to rise.
Of course, it is equally paramount to examine how an average man — say, a market woman or a student, who does not care two hoots about Nigeria’s gross domestic product and other countless figures churned out quarterly or annually by government parastatals — understands the intricacies of recession. To him, recession is that evil force that prompted the company where he worked as a manual labourer to lay him off, not because he erred but because there was no point in keeping so many workers when demand for goods and services was abysmally low. Recession is to have the same salary as before but discover one can no longer afford the basic necessities that one could afford in the past.
As far as insecurity in Nigeria is concerned, politics has been implicated. A former ambassador of United States to Nigeria, Dr. John Campbell, predicted that Nigeria would not survive 2015 general elections without getting balkanised, having considered the unprecedented political violence ravaging the nation. While Nigerians are glad to have disappointed him and made a mockery of his doomsday prophetic tendencies, the fact remains that one of the root causes of the turmoil experienced in this nation is the megalomaniacal inclinations of our leaders. The human right activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has pinpointed as the genesis of terrorism the official manipulation of religion for political purpose, which started in Babangida’s era, as well as the fortification of jobless youths with arms, in order to make them disposable pawns in the game of power.
One would have been thankful that the federal government “technically defeated Boko Haram”, whatever that means, if not that we still continue to have spates of suicide bombings in the North, and that other forms of violence and crime still continue to thrive in Nigeria. Crude oil production plummeted from 2.11 million barrels per day in the first quarter of 2016 to 1.63 million barrels per day in the third quarter, with about 400,000 barrels lost to militant activities in the Niger Delta. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has estimated over two million internally displaced people to be in Nigeria, most of whom are victims of terrorist attacks, heavyhanded counter-insurgency operations and ongoing inter-communal clashes, putting Nigeria among countries with highest population of internally displaced people in the world. Since the civil war of late 1960s, Nigeria has never felt more insecure than now.
SALVAGING NIGERIA: EDUCATION AS A VERITABLE PANACEA
Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State of the United States of America, once postulated that the quality of education of a nation is a direct function of a country’s national security. This relationship stems from the role education plays in providing the human capital needed in economic development, in enhancing the comparative advantage of the nation in the global market, in preparing the personnel that serve in the military and providing the knowledge base for technological training. Implicitly, the human capital of a nation is a derivative of its quality of education, and the quality of education is as important as the national security and economic sufficiency. Thus, it is necessary to look at saving education under the following sub-headings:
i) Reorientation on Education
There is a fascinating story of a Nigerian graduating student who, on his convocation, made a rather notorious statement. Excited that he was finally done with his degree programme, he announced to the utter discomfiture of parents and well-wishers that now that he had gotten his B.Sc certificate, he would never read anything again in his life, not even a lettered billboard by the roadside, let alone a newspaper!
There is an urgent need for reorientation among Nigerian youths as regards the definition of education. Education is an endless journey, not a destination. It is not just what gives you some decorated paper with which you can apply for job in some oil and gas company. No. Rather, it is the enlightening of the human mind and the acquisition of knowledge to be applied in solving the manifold problems of mankind. The youths must see education in this new light, and not as a boring customary rite or an irksome imposition by parents and society, for this would be pivotal in the quest to revamp our dear country. Therefore, the government and the mass media must do everything possible to disabuse minds of these erroneous conceptions of education. Less emphasis should be laid on paper work and more emphasis laid on brain work.
ii) Reformation of the Educational System
A little boy was once asked what class he was by some reporters of Vanguard newspaper. As innocent as his answer was, it captured the confusion that has come to characterise the Nigerian education sector and its governing bodies. “They say I’m in Basic One, but all I know is that I’m in Primary One,” the six-year-old boy said.
Over the decades, like a pendulum bob moving back and forth, Nigeria has gone from one system of education to another. In 1982, the 6-3-3-4 system of education was introduced, substituting the previously existing 6-5-4 system. And because a “whole” former Vice President of World Bank for Africa region could not come without leaving an imprint on the history of education in Nigeria, be it positive or negative, Dr. Obiagaeli Ezekwesili modified the 6-3-3-4 system of education to 9-3-4 during her tenure as Minister of Education. Perhaps her successor, Prof. Ruqayyat Rufa’i, did not like the sound of that, so she proposed to the National Assembly the need to revert to 6-3-3-4 system but, of course, with a slight modification: 1-6-3-3-4.
It is time to ask Nigerian policy makers that Shakespearean question: What is in a name? Give a rose any other name and it will still smell just as sweet. Rechristening the system of education on every whim does not make it any better. If anything at all, it is a sheer waste of resources and what could have been productive time. The government should rather make the existing system work by adequate implementation. For instance, the essence of the six years spent in primary school is to acquire functional literacy and numeracy. The first 3 years spent in secondary school (JSS) is meant to impart introductory knowledge in Science, Art and Technology, as well as reduce unemployment by providing sellable and vocational skills. In the same vein, the university is supposed to produce professionals, graduates who are sound in mind and independent. But what do we have?
To save Nigeria from its present sorry state, it is exigent that our schools be made to re-emphasize the importance of vocational subjects as well as other courses that promote entrepreneurship. More practicals should be carried out, and our tertiary institutions should bridge the gap between “the town and the gown” by executing more projects that offer goods and services to the community.
iii) Earmarking More Funds to the Education Sector
On December 14, 2016, the federal government, as usual, disappointed the citizens of Nigeria yet again. But the disappointment in itself was not so much a cause for despair as the message of blatant disregard it passed to the teeming population of children and youths. At the National Assembly Complex in Abuja, President Muhummadu Buhari submitted the 2017 budget proposal, which had a terribly meagre 7.4% as its allocation for the education sector. This is a far cry from UNESCO recommendation of 26% of the national budget.
Although the Nigerian government continues to state its commitment to the education sector, a comparative analysis with the budgetary allocations of other countries, even in Africa, indicates that the government is not putting its money where its mouth is. Considering the bulk of work to be done in the sector, ranging from the outstanding allowances of the teaching staff to the acquisition of modern laboratories and facilities, it is very important that the federal government improve on the annual allocation for education in subsequent years. Matching UNESCO recommendation will be a good start.
Saving education to save Nigeria is no wishful thinking. The world abounds with countries who have put into use this strategy and experienced amazing results. Notable among such countries is Singapore, which is now reckoned as one of the most peaceful countries and one of the countries with the highest concentration of millionaires. It is no surprise that approximately 20% of the government spending goes into education.
At the end, it all boils down to simple logic. With improved standard of education and more Nigerians seeing education in the right perspective come better innovators and more entrepreneurs, active citizens who have no time for vices. When our educational institutions turn out graduates who are competent, employable and skilled enough to establish or start their individual enterprise, there will be a surge in Nigeria’s economy, because we will become more of a producing nation than a consuming one. We will no longer be overly dependent on crude oil. There will be more jobs, befitting of our youths and lucrative enough to make them shun violence and terrorism. The economy will thrive in a peaceful environment, attracting foreign investors and experts. Our nation will be secure, politically stable and recession will become a sorry tale in the past. But first, we have to save education.
Many might have forgotten the only British Prime Minister of Jewish birth that the United Kingdom ever had, who lived and died in the 19th century, but Benjamin Disraeli, the first Earl of Beaconsfield, did make a most poignant statement that lives on today: “Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends.”
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(First published on thepageng.com on June 14, 2017.)