By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
LAST Sunday, I drove my children back to resume the new school term. The night before, I held a discussion with them about the responsibility of being educated, as a holistic pursuit of the life process.
I tried something that I felt was dramatic, and able to convey the evolution we had gone through in the decades between my children and I. I showed them the sum of N90, then asked what they thought the amount could purchase and the answer was pretty little.
Well, that was the exact amount I paid per session as a student at the Government Secondary School, GSS, Ilorin, between 1972 and 1976! And what an education we received on the back of that amount of money: A boarding school system we were exceedingly proud of, teachers who worked with utter devotion, well-stocked libraries, laboratories and workshops; an impressive sporting infrastructure which allowed us to participate in a variety of games without neglect of the academic side of school and a generally useful dietary system.
The children of the rich and the poor got an equal opportunity to be educated and therefore become prepared for the task of building their individual lives and that of our country.
In the decades between then and now, there has been a seismic shift in everything about our lives. In my time, the best students attended public schools while it was often that those who went to private schools, did not meet the requirements to enter the great public schools of those days. Up to this moment, most of those who are in leadership, in the main, attended public schools and therefore enjoyed subsidized education which they either take for granted today or almost completely neglect.
There has seen a shift that makes private schools almost de rigueur for pupils today, because of the inadequacies of the public school system. The result is the huge sums parents have to pay in order for their children to go through these private schools.
First hand confirmation
That there is a rot in the public school system is such a troubling fact, and when I got a first hand confirmation of that fact again recently, I couldn’t suppress a tear that dropped from my eye!
As part of a regular conscientising process that I embark upon whenever my children visit Ilorin during holidays, I recently took them to visit my alma mater. The GSS Ilorin will be 100 years old in January 2014 and is one of the old schools of Northern Nigeria. I had told several stories about the years we passed through and the elaborate infrastructure which served our needs as students. Those who designed the institution had remarkable foresight for a school they had envisaged was going to continue to expand into the future.
And whichever direction one looked, there was abundant land for the growth they had so elaborately planned for. But in the past couple of years, the school witnessed a systematic encroachment upon its land space and it has now been narrowed upon itself as a result of the systematic alienation and sale of its land.
There is no visual or aesthetic continuity between architectural pieces from different historical periods, while a small area has become clogged up with buildings, which was ironic given the amount of land space the school historically possessed! But what shocked me to my marrows was the near total obliteration of the sporting infrastructure we used to be exceedingly proud of. The badminton and lawn tennis courts were gone and on the space was an abandoned container.
The fives and squash courts have completely disappeared, while the old football field with the track around it, where generations of football stars and star athletes (Auwalu Aliyu, All-Afro, Rochester and Bravo! Yes, that remarkable relay team!!) honed their skills was long abandoned as one of our previous military regimes tried the insane idea of building a Principal’s residence on a sports field surrounded by students’ hostels!
As we drove round and I surveyed the alarming deterioration literally shell-shocked, my children asked if that was truly the school that I had spoken so much about.
And yes it was, except that in its current state of rot and chaotic appearance, it just about encapsulated the state of public education in our country today as well as the worrisome fact that in Nigeria there is absolutely no respect for tradition while we have almost totally lost all sense of decency in the way we live or in approach to public institutions. Given this backdrop, it is no surprise that families put so much into educating their children in often very expensive, private schools today. And it starts from the nursery level through the tertiary levels.
It is no surprise therefore, that billions of naira goes into educating Nigerian children, even in neighbouring Ghana! Add the list for other countries around the world and the full impact hits home. It was this general picture that I was trying to convey when I spoke with my children, as they prepared to resume school on Sunday. This is a burden that all families share in contemporary Nigeria.
But it must still be said that there can be no retreat from very functional public school systems as the basis for the educational development of any society. Even uber-capitalist USA sets great store by its public school system because there is no better way to bring the growing children of a country into the loop of national development beyond the public school system. It is the public school system that can help Nigeria capture into its development agenda a brilliant but indigent child, in say a Bayelsa village or in far-flung Kaura Namoda.
It is also impossible that Nigeria will find its development with pupils getting educated in French, American, British, Turkish or such schools (we cannot achieve anything producing American, British, French or Turkish children)! Our business is to produce Nigerian children upon a diet of Nigerian curriculum as a steppingstone into Africa and the world they have to be engaged with.
The basic foundation of educational development has to be sought in a radical reform of the public school system and as a parent who has to pay very exorbitantly for four children to be educated in a private school, I talk from experience and I am sure my angst reflects that of many parents too. We need to reclaim the space for very well appointed public school systems in Nigeria. There is no other way seriously meaningful in the long run!
Obasanjo and the pdp crisis: Solution and problem return to source
ONE of the most abiding imageries out of Nigeria in the past week, is that of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, leading party elders in search of reconciliation of the two factions of the PDP: old and new. In truth, the whole thing is an elaborate burlesque assured to take the “Dead-on-Arrival”, DoA, ride to the mortuary of politics. How could Obasanjo lead the search for reconciliation when he is an interested party?
Didn’t the old man walk out in utter frustration as the BOT Chairman? Ok then, whose sidekicks systematically got kicked out (no pun intended!) from various party positions at the centre and in the South West? Isn’t Obasanjo the same person feeling less-than-appreciated by President Jonathan, despite being the vehicle of his emergence in the first place?
If we can ask these questions from the sidelines of politics, why can’t or won’t those locked to the charade within the two warring factions? Maybe there are peculiarities to the PDP way of getting things done that we might not fully and comprehensively understand. Afterall, wasn’t it said severally, that whatever happens under the leaky umbrella of the PDP, is stricto sensu, a family affair?
It was the Roman statesman, Pliny the Elder, who once remarked that something new always issues forth from Africa. PDP’s politics must stand out tall as one of the strangest phenomena out of our beloved continent. In truth, PDP started out with admirable ideals which transmogrified into a monstrosity, starting under Obasanjo. The party gradually saw the withering of its nation-building credentials and the transition into a platform which covets and will do everything to stay atop the float of power and access to lucre.
For a long time, the glue that held members on a tight leash, was that access to power and the tremendous opportunity to be able, in the long run, stay in proximity to inordinate affluence and influence. Unfortunately, Obasanjo contributed a lot to reaching the point of impasse he has positioned to now break. It is even more poignant, that these reconciliatory steps are coming at the point of hardening of positions between the two factions.
Toga of peacemaker
Yet I get a feeling that even President Goodluck Jonathan is not taken in by the charade of Obasanjo wearing the toga of peacemaker. Old man EK Clark, the ultimate interpreter of presidential mindset and chief spokesperson for Jonathan has said that much. Even the President was alleged to have directly accused Obasanjo and then walked out of the talks!
We might try an imaginary peek into the Obasanjo mindset as he prepared to lead the elders at the first meeting of the factions. Locked inside his bathroom, our former president chuckles at the naivety of those who employed him to find peace and reconciliation when he hurts so badly that he was systematically de-robed by Jonathan and his own faction of the party.
Isn’t the crisis an expression of vengeance? And soon as it broke, wasn’t Obasanjo at the Aso Villa in the company of Beninois President, Boni Yayi? Those able to interpret portents must have shivered with cold sweat running down their backs!
Obasanjo was at Dr. Chuba Okadigbo’s residence; he danced with the late Senate President’s wife on the eve of the termination of his tenure. And why did they forget the infamous meal of pounded yam at Chief Audu Ogbeh’s house on the eve of his forced removal from office as PDP Chairman? There is an eerie pattern to the Obasanjo way of doing things that is not too difficult to put together, rather like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
When they appointed Obasanjo to look for reconciliation, the denizens of the PDP took solution and problem back to source. It is rather like the famous story in the proverb of the man who hid a piece of meat in the mouth and yet got the onerous responsibility to lead a search for its whereabouts!
We can only wish them well in their search, knowing they have embarked on a futile effort!