Re-Educating the North(1): A Letter to Bauchi State Governor
Your revelation that only eight students out of the eight thousand who sat for the SSCE exams were successful is the greatest PR done to the state in recent history. I do not know when you learnt to be a public relations officer, though I do not know how to qualify you, good or bad. Anyway, I know the angle from which you made the revelation: it is a challenge. The results however have come to be regarded as the greatest educational scandal in the country: N600million earned only eight successful candidates in SSCE. My God, crisis!
Please share with me today my personal views and suggestions on the steps to redress the situation. Pardon me if I have not met you personally to deliver this contribution. I would not like dislocating your busy schedule nor do I have the resilience to undergo the time consuming protocol of meeting with a governor. The government house does not have E-mail either. Since it is not an isolated problem, others may also wish to benefit from our discussion. So the newspaper is unavoidably the best meeting point, from whatever angle you may view it.
This is not the first time states in the North are registering such a colossal failure in Education. The results are funny as much as we may like to regard them as mad, sad and bad. If I were in your position, I would dire dismissing all the personnel in the Ministry of Education and close it until further notice. I will hand over all schools in the state to private investors and managers, and spend N600 million as scholarship for our pupils and students in such schools.
This may appear radical but the result will be interestingly different. Please, consider the following arithmetic. If I am ready to spend yearly N9,000.00 on every primary school child, N30,000.00 on each secondary school pupil, and N50,000.00 as annual “bulgar’ (scholarship) for each undergraduate, the achievement will be incredible. I will be certain of turning out the following: 4000 very successful primary school candidates capable of being admitted into the best secondary schools in the country; 1000 SSCE, all with 5 credits and above; plus possibly the best 1000 university graduates in the country because no student presently enjoys this much as scholarship in the country.
Now, if you are ready to maintain the same expenditure over ten years, you will have 10,000 university graduates in various fields of specialization. In fact a more detailed arithmetic has revealed that the above arithmetic contains some waste that could be avoided. Also, for the fact that the graph of investment in education is linear curve, not a horizontal line parallel to the x-axis, greater success could be recorded. In any event, these are details to be sorted out later. However, the point I have attempted to convincingly make here was that there is an unimaginable gap between these results and what obtains presently, i.e. only 8 SSCE students.
If the decision to close down the ministry is considered too radical for implementation, then I will settle for what I consider the barest minimum. That is, the present education administrators in the state must be forced to re-engineer the status quo to achieve the same result. I heard you over the BBC just some minutes ago, saying that you will provide desks, books, feeding, etc. to our schools as a means of correcting the situation. Mr. Governor, I am afraid, the whole system is dead, completely rotten and antiquated. Previous administrations have tried to revive this dead body through traditional means but consistently hit the rock.
Extreme situations require extreme corrective measures. To be successful, we need a complete overhaul, inject it with modern concepts and restart all over. Otherwise, be prepared to receive the funny results that other administrators before you were accustomed to. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to abandon the future of our children to maintain what I consider a blood sucking ‘welfare organ’ under the disguise of a ministry.
Before putting forward my suggestions, I seek your indulgence to dwell briefly on the genesis of the problem in the following few paragraphs.
It is an irony that such a scandal is happening in a state founded on knowledge social justice and revolution. Less than twenty years ago, the state was producing hardworking students that filled its quota in various institutes of higher learning. Today, such graduates are reputable academicians, consultants and public servants in the country. I do not have to go far. You are one of them, sir.
At least up to the early 1980s, the state kept pace educationally with other states in the North. However, since the middle 1980s, we started to note with sadness the decline in quality of our primary and secondary school products. It has been a national decline though it was more acute in the core-North due to three principal reasons: our dependence on public schools, the failure of the nation to manage the universal primary education (UPE) program creditably and irresponsible leadership.
I have always maintained that the UPE was an ill-conceived populist program. However, given the background of Obasanjo as a Yoruba from an environment where Awolowo has always peddled with slogan of ‘free education’, it never came as a surprise. We do not doubt the nobility of its goal, but given the cost of education, it could have been wiser to be less ambitious. Nowhere in the world has education been given free successfully to the whole population over an indefinite period of time. Against all expert advice, the Obasanjo regime embarked on opening the primary schools in every nook and corner of the country. States in the core-North were forced to abandon their gradual approach to educational development and embraced the wild dream of the ego of the then military dictator.
The Federal government was able to construct schools and pay reasonably good salaries to teachers initially. Despite this effort, we can assert that right from its takeoff the program was impregnated with a serious handicap. There was an acute shortage of trained personnel to man it all Northern states. Efforts to make up for the shortfall by sourcing such teachers from other regions still fell short of demand. So pupil-teachers came to form the bulk of its personnel. These were primary school failures who could not pass the common entrance examination or the “interview” for placement in the few secondary schools then existing in the region. Inevitably, quality of our primary schools, and later of secondary schools, started to decline quickly.
Successive economic and political developments only aggravated the situation. Like other elephant projects, the UPE came to epitomize the shortsightedness that has typified Nigerian leaders. Perhaps the oil boom was thought to be everlasting by the Obasanjo administration when it instituted the program. They could not also claim to be ignorant of the corruption that has been ravaging the country since the beginning of the early seventies. Halfway through the first term of the Second Republic, oil prices plummeted and revenues were spent in the same extravagant fashion of previous military dictators. It hardly produced its first graduates before the program became an unsustainable burden. Efforts were made to open more post-primary institutions right from the beginning, but it only succeeded in intensifying the magnitude of the burden.
The education was one of the sectors most severely hit by the large-scale corruption that took place during the Babangida administration. Whereas heavy investments were made in politics and security, all institutions of education were dilapidating by the hour. While administrators announced that education took the lion share of their budget, it was an open secret that such funds were grossly mismanaged, sometimes even developing wings. In effect, government made the least impact in sustaining the infrastructure of schools, and paid only paltry sums as salaries to teachers. The salary was itself reduced to nothing by the devaluation of a Naira that was heading towards N150.00 by the end of Babangida’s tenure.
So all ingredients required to produce satisfactory results were absent: no good infrastructure, no equipment, no tangible salaries, just naught. Despite centralization of primary school management at the Federal level, nothing improved in that direction except the series of corruption scandals.
Southerners are certainly correct to observe that we ‘Northerners’ are responsible for our backwardness especially in the education. We were certainly not prepared for the UPE, but that should not be a scapegoat. We have failed to emulate the enviable achievement of the South in this sector. Of course, when public schools in the North went down, their counterparts in the South also went the same way. However, the South has a long-standing culture of private investment in education while the North is still spoon-fed by government.
Please allow me quote Professor Itse Sagay who ((THISDAY, July 19, 1999) once put this hard fact eloquently in the following words:
“They (Northerners) have no target, they don’t say to themselves this is the level we want to reach, no. To me that is shortsightedness. We in the South do not look at any other person or group of people or geo-political zone. We want education for particular ends, to be professionals, to be enlightened, to be versatile in our lives and so we go for it, we pay for it. Most of our schools are private, expensive ones. They should forget about the South and think of education, think of the goals they want to achieve and design education for that goal and pull resource to meet (it). This whole thing of living on the back of Nigeria, of being carried like a child, is what they have enjoyed so long..”
You got it right, Prof.
The above quotation from Professor Segay summarized the problem and solution of education in the North. We need to define our GOAL. Without it all investments in the disastrous blackhole of failure. We must say explicitly why we need education. This question is not farfetched in a society with a literacy culture dating back to over a millennium. With a powerful conviction, we must pursue this goal at all cost. There has to be a DESIGN, a well-orchestrated plan to meet this specific goal. Finally, lets PULL RESOURCES to achieve it.
I cannot envisage a better proposal or a better time for its implementation. You are young enough to risk an attempt. To define a goal, design and pull resources to achieve it, certainly Bauchi State can boast of a thousand and one competent hands. I would like to briefly outline some practical steps in this direction.
1. A Committed Leadership
Revolutions like this are not possible without a responsible and committed leadership. Leaders in this country commission committees of able minds to study one problem or another, only to dump their findings and recommendations in the archives. For this reason, many people, including myself, are no longer interested in wasting their time undertaking such assignments.
So your leadership has to prove in various ways its commitment and ability to develop the state by behaving differently. I am sorry to say that the debut looks ordinary. You started with the customary complaint of inheriting an empty treasury. I consider the statement redundant because it will not take your government anywhere. It does not stop you from outlining your program for which you had over six months so far to do since your election. If the government will be the ‘business as usual’ type, it should forget about making any history. Successful changes are always achieved by making sacrifices that are hard in these days of material indulgence.
2. Formation of a Think-tank
If you are convinced that you need a revolution in education, then the next step is the commissioning of a think-tank with specific terms of reference. Their number must be small, consisting largely of intellectuals and professionals, result-oriented individuals with indisputable skill in information management with the necessary exposure to contemporary advances in learning. Since most such people are in the private sector and they may not necessarily be ‘sons of the soil’, to get the best of their ideas, they need to be paid a handsome fee, not just begging them to operate on the empty rhetoric of patriotism. This will further commit the state government and assure them that the exercise will not be in vain.
You may find some of the following points useful in outlining its terms of reference:
Collection, analysis and presentation of data on the investments made by previous governments and their impact on the sector.
Creation of a comprehensive database on educational manpower and infrastructure of the state.
Identification of social and bureaucratic elements responsible for the decline in education and how they could be overcome within the shortest possible time.
Re-engineering education resource management to achieve specific quantifiable goals at different levels and at specific intervals.
Investigating and proposing steps towards partial privatization of education in the state.
Reviewing educational curriculum in line with the state of educational development of the state.
Integrating traditional and western education to reduce wastage of time, to boost the confidence of parents in the system and, more importantly, to improve the relevance of students to their community and prepare them for leadership role in the future.
Studying the relevance and means of returning primary school management to meet local demands and pace of educational development.
Means of developing, recruiting and maintaining the high-standard manpower necessary for achieving the required result.
3. Implementation of Recommendations
The committee must submit their report within 3 months to enable the state study it and come out with a white paper before the next budget. The state government should make revitalization of education its cardinal goal and no amount of resources expended in this area would be a waste. Education has formidable positive ripple effect on other sectors of human activity.
I am not discouraged by what has been depicted as the poor revenue base of the state. What a big lie! From where did the state get the N600million it expended on education last year? It also beats my imagination that a state with minerals at only a meter depth regards itself as poor.
Okay, we are poor, but what is the cause of our poverty? Obviously, it is engendered by laziness and thoughtlessness, greed and nepotism, ‘big name’ syndrome and irresponsibility.
However, if we are ready to eradicate the social afflictions that have come to characterize our leadership and adopt new approaches to resource exploitation and management, the sum of N600 million could be generated annually with ease and managed judiciously to graduate the best students in various fields of education.
Let me conclude by asserting that Bauchi state, which has produced the highest number of Danfodio’s flag-bearers during the pre-colonial era, and produced impeccable personalities like Sa’adu Zungur and ‘the Golden Voice of Africa’, Tafawa Balewa, in contemporary Nigeria, and indeed all states in the core-North, has both the ingenuity and material resources to re-ignite its lamp of educational glory. It can produce thousands of such scholars and become the best in the Federation by the end of the first decade of the third millennium.
That is however only possible if we have a leadership that refreshes its commitment to the progress of humanity, utilizes our material resources more efficiently, and above all, stands well above the primordial plane of material greed.
Charity, they say, begins at home. Next week we shall go beyond Bauchi State to consider strategies necessary to revamp education in the entire North.
3 August 1999