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What Exactly Do Nigerians Want? -Simon Kolawole

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“To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you didn’t dance, so we played funeral songs, and you didn’t mourn.’ For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus Christ could well have been talking about us, Nigerians, in those words full of frustration but, most essentially, rooted in resolve.

For ages, we have been complaining about the standard of education in Nigeria. The problem starts from the foundation. If numeracy and literacy cannot be imparted at primary school level, is it at the secondary or tertiary level that students will start learning to read, write, spell and count? When 70% of those who write WAEC/NECO O’Level exams fail every year, would you say the problem started at SS3? We regularly produce university graduates that manage to cheat and beat the system and end up unemployable. As an employer of labour, I am often heart-broken at the quality of applications we receive anytime we advertise vacancies. Absolutely heart-breaking.

I thought I have been hearing commentators, activists and public officials complain about the quality of education in Nigeria for ages. I thought I have been hearing loud calls for reform. Yet anytime any governor or minister makes an attempt at reform, we murder them. I cannot believe the level of opposition to Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state, in his attempt to reserve the misfortune of education in his state. He has come under attack for doing what most of us have been canvassing for decades. Someone wants to rid the system of illiteracy and install competence and all he gets for his efforts is abuse — in addition to demonstrations and strikes.

 El-Rufai has come under heavy shelling over his decision to purge the education system of teachers that are clearly a danger to the society. Over 20,000 primary school teachers in the state failed a standard test for primary four pupils. Many cannot spell correctly. Some do not know that there is a science behind teaching. Many lack a grasp of the fundamentals of planning a child-centred presentation and the use of teaching aids. Some do not know “mean” and “median” numbers, much less have the ability to calculate them. Many do not know the three states of matter. Some cannot spell “malaria”. These are the teachers moulding the future of this country.

El-Rufai decided to lay them off, pay them off and employ competent teachers. These public schools, we must understand, are attended by children of the poor, the people we claim to love so much. We can afford to pay millions of naira for our own children to attend private schools where teachers can at least spell “Donald Trump” correctly. We can even afford to send our toddlers to foreign schools to receive the best of education money can buy. But the poor cannot afford it. So their children must necessarily attend the public schools where illiteracy is dished out to pupils. They do not have options. Their children have to be taught by teachers who cannot spell even their own names.

We complain about the state of affairs in the country. We then hammer anybody, who tries to put things right. So we attack el-Rufai for doing the needful when we should actually replicate this competency test across the country. Poor quality of teaching is a destroyer of national development. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, as governor of Edo state, sought to do what el-Rufai is doing now but had to retreat under bombardment from critics. Dr. Kayode Fayemi apparently lost his re-election bid as governor of Ekiti state partly because of a similar attempt at education reform. He was accused of disrespecting teachers “old enough to be his parents”! What do we really want?

In 2006, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, as minister of education, came up with a plan that would have significantly turned around our education system by now. In a comprehensive package that covers all corners, she showed the sort of thinking that is always so lacking in governance in Nigeria. Her proposal for the Unity Schools would have seen them competing with private schools today. But what happened? We shot it down — on behalf of the “poor masses”. Are those schools better off today? If you reform, you are damned; if you don’t reform, you are damned. We piped, you did not dance. We wailed, you did not mourn. What exactly does this generation want?

To be sure, I am aware of suggestions that el-Rufai could re-train the teachers rather than lay them off. But try teaching a 40-year-old how to spell “Nigeria” and see how easy it is to re-train deadwoods. Would you allow your children to be taught by these Kaduna teachers while they are undergoing re-training? Would you? This does not mean I do not have my own reservations about el-Rufai’s reform management strategy. After all, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, as education commissioner under Governor Bukola Saraki in Kwara state, succeeded with his own reform. The political management of reform is as important as the reform itself. But that is a different topic.

I have watched the state of things in Nigeria closely in the last 30 years and I am still trying to figure out how we are going to get out of chronic underdevelopment. We complain and cry, but we oppose any attempt to correct things. We are unable to reach anything close to a national consensus on the way forward. Some just take the opposite direction out of ignorance, some out of mass hysteria, some for political reasons, some for cheap publicity, some out of hardened ideologies and some for no reason. Our inconsistency is amazing. We would condemn President Jonathan for one thing and commend President Buhari for the same thing — and vice-versa. What exactly do we want?

For instance, we criticised Jonathan for not fighting corruption. I dare say that he lost the 2015 election partly for his failure to frontally confront this monster. We accused him of not having the balls. Now that President Muhammadu Buhari is going after those who had too much free access to the national treasury under Jonathan, we are complaining again. Generals are refunding billions and facing trial. It has never happened in this country. Judges are undergoing trial for graft. Politicians are refunding money. But we are here murmuring. You fight corruption, you are damned. You don’t fight corruption, you are damned. What exactly do we want?

Of course, I agree that Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade so far has only slaughtered his political opponents. I have complained about this too. I wish he would go after corrupt APC elements as well. But even when President Obasanjo went after members of his own party, we still complained. When he fired his friend, the late Chief SM Afolabi, as minister (over the national ID card scam), and sacked Alhaji Tafa Balogun as police chief, he was described as an “ingrate” for removing people who actively worked for his re-election in 2003. Head, you lose. Tail, you lose. There is practically no step a president or governor will take that will not be criticised, mostly for political reasons.

Obasanjo was accused of being a dictator. We called him a military ruler in civilian uniform. On the cover of a news magazine sometime in 2002 was a morphed picture featuring half the face of Obasanjo and half the face of Gen. Sani Abacha with the title: “Abachanjo”. We pilloried Obasanjo endlessly. But Jonathan came as a meek and humble president, getting challenged and humiliated by his subordinates and members of his party — and we accused him of being “too soft”. Someone told me: “Obasanjo would not have registered APC. He would not have lost re-election. Jonathan was too gentle.” We don’t want a dictator, we don’t want a democrat. What exactly do we want?

In the final analysis, leadership has to focus on results with resolve. Any leader, who is easily swayed by the crowd, will always be unstable, getting tossed back and forth by every wind of doctrine. There must be sincerity and tenacity of purpose to achieve results. As a Christian, I will repeat the words of Jesus Christ: “Wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” Or, in the words of Prophet Muhammad, “actions are judged according to intentions”. Our leaders should regularly check their intentions, appraise the purpose of their actions and weigh the results. As long as the vision is genuine and the motive is altruistic and fair, the words of the naysayers should not really matter. This I believe.

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POLICE FARCE

The Nigeria Police Force is the worst in the world, according to the 2016 World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI) produced by the International Police Science Association and the Institute for Economics and Peace. We failed on all indices: capacity, process, legitimacy and outcomes. Typically, the police have reacted by saying they are the best in Africa. A wiser response, in my view, is to address these issues. How can we improve coverage? How can recruitment and training be modernised? How can welfare be of global standards? How can operations be effective and efficient? How can our police be professional? That’s how to solve the problem. Attention!

ARRESTING THE ARRESTER

I was relieved that Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, the inspector-general of police, finally appeared before the senate committee probing very weighty allegations made against him by Senator Isah Misau (Bauchi central). Idris did not help matters when he shunned invitation to testify in the investigation. Senate threatened him with arrest and I was just wondering: who will arrest the police chief? In Nigeria? That would be some scene! I know many Nigerians have no trust in the national assembly because of the reputation of the legislators, but we should remember it is a vital arm in a democracy, so we must respect it. I’m happy Idris finally showed up. Precedent.

GANGSTER’S PARADISE

The leak of another volume of documents on tax havens, termed #ParadisePapers after the earthshaking #PanamaPapers, should set policymakers worldwide thinking. Billionaires and corporate bodies are using these tax havens obviously to avoid, rather than evade, taxes. There are two ways to it: either the tax havens are forced to harmonise their tax rates with what obtain in other countries — or other countries offer rates to discourage the use of tax havens. The nature of taxation is such that rich individuals and corporate entities will always want to part with as little money as possible and there are countries offering them the paradise. Unpatriotic?

SHOT AT SITE

In a country where women are still treated as second-class, it is refreshing that someone is stimulating our thinking again. Niran Adedokun, my friend and brother, will present his book, “Ladies Calling the Shots”, tomorrow, November 13, at NIIA, Lagos. The book celebrates the sweat of Nigerian female producers such as Lola Fani-Kayode, writer and producer of the great soaps Mirror in the Sun (in the 1980s) and Mind Bender (in the 1990s), and the late Amaka Igwe, movie producer and director, known for so many great things, most notably Checkmate. There are many more on the exploits of female producers in the 300-page book that should inspire us all. Action!

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