By Dele Sobowale
“Two bald men fighting over a comb”. Spanish writer,
The Spanish author of that hilarious piece, whose name escapes my memory at the moment, was commenting on the Falklands/Malvilands war involving Britain and Argentina in I982. The remote and virtually useless cluster of islands, captured by Britain from Spain, in an earlier era of colonial expansion, became the reason for carnage in that year.
The people speak Spanish; not English; and it is only about 200 nautical miles from Argentina as opposed to seventeen thousand miles by sea from Britain. Yet, thousands of people died on both sides; all victims of the vainglory to which leaders sometimes succumb. Britain and Argentina are two former empires, whose suns have certainly gone down. But, they still pretend to have a national vigour that is lacking.
In Nigeria, two entities, former allies, like the “bald men” of the I980s, are currently engaged in verbal conflict over a toothless comb. ACN and Afenifere have centred their conflict over who are the “true Awoists”. A greater waste of useful time, by people who one greatly admires, would be difficult to imagine.
To start with, none of the two warring camps had bothered to define what “true Awoism” means, let alone proving conclusively that its own practice of governance approximates the ideal and that it is even still relevant in Nigeria today; or whether it is still useful now without major revisions. Collectively and individually, they are too lazy or uninspired to undertake the revisions needed to modernize Awoism.
At any rate, the conflict is odd in one way. ACN runs five states; Afenifere is not in government anywhere. So, there can be no comparison of the different styles of governance. However, let me help the combatants out of their self-imposed difficulties by suggesting that we focus on the best known component of “Awoism” which is “free education” – either at only primary or at all levels.
The concept of “free education”, introduced by the Action Group party, to the Western Region (including Edo and Delta at the time) in the 1950s was not even Chief Awolowo’s own idea. The originator of the concept was Dr. S.O. Awosika, a Minister (regions also had Ministers in those days) under Awolowo.
Awosika also had the distinction of starting the first private primary school, in the region, in Ondo. The school exists till today. Awosika convinced Awolowo that “free primary education” could be financed by imposing a small levy on all adults, under 70, in the region. It is to Awolowo’s everlasting credit that he readily accepted the idea and organised his government to implement it.
The other hero of the “free primary education” programme was Chief Simeon Adebo; a lynx-eyed administrator and Head of Service, who ensured that every taxable adult was captured and every kobo was judiciously spent on the “free primary education” programme.
If there was one programme that was totally corruption-free, it was the “free primary education” project – which succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founding fathers – that means Awolowo, Awosika and Adebo. There will be more on Adebo later.
Nobody questioned the use of the word “free” at the time – perhaps because there were few Nigerian economists at the time. But, in strictly economic terms, the use of the word “free” was, at best, misleading. And, at worst, it was a political gimmick. Let me hasten to explain myself before hearts start to race, like Bolt at the Olympics.
My lecturer in my freshman (one hundred level) year in 1964, at the university in the US, always introduced new students to economics by telling them the same story. A young king, newly crowned, wanted to acquire knowledge and wisdom (they are not synonymous) very fast. So, he gathered together all the leading practitioners of every profession and all the best thinkers.
His assignment to all of them was to summarise for the king the principles underlying their trade and profession. They were given six months to report back. Let us forget the rest and focus on the economists. They returned with ten truck loads of written materials from import and export, principle of comparative advantage, diminishing returns etc. The king was crestfallen.
“Gentlemen”, he told them, “the medical doctors came with twenty five truck loads; engineers with 30 truck loads; lawyers (you know the learned people) lugged in 50 trailers of stuff. I can’t finish reading all of these until my old age. Please reduce it”. The economists went and came back with 2,000 pages of script.
Still, the king asked for further reduction. Finally, it occurred to the economists that they were wasting their own time and the king’s. So, they agreed to reduce all of Economics to one sentence. “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH”. For that matter, there is no such thing as “free education”. What Awolowo introduced was “government sponsored education”. It might cost the students and their parents nothing; but the bill is being paid by the tax payers.
In I955, virtually all kids attended public schools, mostly mission schools. The number of private schools could not have been more than 30 in the entire country. Our relative poverty and the zeal of the missionaries (Christian and Muslim) made, virtually, all of us dependent on governments for education. Today in the area constituting the old Western region, only a tiny minority of kids attend public schools. Anyone still campaigning on “free education” is, at best a jester; or at worst a liar…
ADVENTURES IN PROPHECY (CONT’D).
“In times of victory, prophets are unnecessary distractions”. Trevor Roper. (VANGUARD BOOK OF UOTATIONS p 204).
Back in January 2009, when late President Yar’Adua was admitted to hospital abroad, I wrote a column published on these pages titled, OPEN LETTER TO MRS YAR’ADUA urging Mrs. Yar’Adua to take her husband home after his discharge from the hospital.
The reasons were quite simple; a man who was rushed from the campaign ground, in 2007, to Germany, did not possess the requisite stamina to be president – a job known to ruin the health of strong men and women. Thus, as far back as January 2009, less than two years into Yar’Adua’s four-year mandate, I was calling on the late President to resign and hand over to Vice-President Jonathan – because it was inevitable that he would.
This reminder is vital to this series on prophecies for two reasons. First, at a time when nobody in Nigeria wanted to discuss the possibility of Yar’Adua not lasting the distance, I had already asked him to hand over to GEJ. Second, many of those who later decided that I hate Jonathan and those who now pretend to love him more than others were too scared to take the courageous stand of asking Yar’Adua to go – until the bogus Doctrine of Necessity was invoked by the Senate fifteen months after. I repeated the call in December 2009 when Yar’Adua made his terminal journey to Saudi. Then, I made a prediction about Nigeria’s future after Yar’Adua….
DR OKUPE: THE NEW MESSENGER
“The medium is the message”. American communication expert in the I970s.
A crucial, if not the most important component of the medium, is the messenger. His reputation or credibility could strengthen the message or detract from it. Jonathan’s new choice of messenger – Dr Doyin Okupe – is akin to a man who, sweating and stinking, deciding to take a bath with muddy water.
A word is usually sufficient for the wise. But, we already know that, “It requires wisdom to understand wisdom; the music is nothing if the audience is deaf”. Walter Lippmann c I970. (VANGUARD BOOK OF UOTATIONS p 275).