By Peter Obi
Many years ago, the philosopher, Aristotle, observed that the difference between the educated and the uneducated is like that between the living and the dead. To Aristophanes, it is the dissimilarity between broken and unbroken horses. As President of the US, Lyndon Johnson declared: ”At the desk where I sit, I have learned one great truth. The answer for all our national problems; the answer for all the problems of the world — come to a single word. That word is education.”
All these notions about education have been with man as far back as we can trace its history. Efforts have always been on-going to improve on education among nations and their peoples.
It is universally acknowledged that the distinction between success and failure lies in education; in the same way that educational attainments explain the disparities in the growth and development of nations. The great countries of Europe, theAmericas and Asia are what they are today due largely to consistent investments in education. Great inventions and innovations that have propelled the world to greater heights, including going to the moon, are products of education.
The Asian power houses — China and India – have become the dominant growth areas of the world; and this rooted in education. Among the legion of examples are:India’s ascendancy in ICT; Singapore’s elevation from the 3rd to the 1st World; China’s current economic ranking.
Coming home to Africa, the Mandelas, Ziks, Awolowos, Nkrumahs, Nyereres,Balewas and others who fought for the freedom of their peoples had the benefit ofearly exposure to education. The achievements and development of Nigeria to date in the polity, economy and society have come mostly from educated minds. One can hardly imagine what would have happened if we did not have lawyers, doctors,bankers, academics and the like.
At the recent launch of UNESCO Education for All, the organization’s Director inNigeria, Professor Hassana Alidou revealed that said that Nigeria shared some of the worst education indicators in the world. The country has about 10 million out-of school children — the highest in the world – the majority of who are in the North. Experts contend that this deplorable state of education in Nigeria istraceable to the long governance of the country by persons with limited educationalattainments and the concomitant little appreciation of its benefits. The statistics show that the levels of development of the Zones in Nigeria and their embrace of civilization are directly proportional to their educational exposure.
Alas, against this background and in the heat of electioneering — during which the three dominant issues should be education, education and education — it is veryworrisome that our leaders are actually busy talking down on education. In one of the APC’s recent rallies, for instance, somebody queried the country’s benefit inhaving a President Goodluck Jonathan and his Vice, HE, Namadi Sambo with a Ph.D. and B.Sc. Architecture respectively. With evident glee, the party stalwart gave the ‘verdict’ that the educational attainments of the two gentlemen have not translated into goodies for the country. Even more embarrassing was that the APCcrowd cheered!
Education provides the platforms for planning and proper articulation of policies – not just for today but for the future as well. Since failure to plan is planning to fail, the generation of good policies and programmes starts with recruiting educated minds. Take the case of President Goodluck Jonathan and the positive difference his tenure has made in education:
Today, there is better and sustained funding of Universal Basic Education in the country through the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). Among others, this is reflected in improvements in the country’s performance in various examinations. For instance, the WASCE pass rate was highest in 2012-2013 [38% & 36%]; as compared to the 15%-25% of 2000-2009. NECO statistics reveal thatin 2010, 9.36% of the total number of candidates made 5 credits & above[including in Mathematics & English]. Corresponding figures were 8.06% in 2011; 32.22% in 2012; 48.37% in 2013 and 52.29% in 2014.
Unlike the road-shows of the past, President Jonathan further demonstrated his love for and commitment to education with the firm establishment of schools for the Almajiris in the Northern parts of the country; even as he is taking on the challenge of male child drop-out of schools in the South. With the establishment of 14 new universities – 10 in the North and 4 in the South – he has ensured that practically every State of the Federation now has a Federal University – with the additional benefits expanding admission opportunities and development hubs.
Because of his exposure to education, President Jonathan has done a lot of things differently — carefully assembling core teams of people with the requisite educational exposure & cognate experience. A few examples are instructive: Underthe competent management of the Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, a renowned Agricultural Economist, the administration’s programme of action for the strategic agricultural sector is encapsulated in the Agricultural Transformation Action Plan [ATAP] and Agricultural Transformation Agenda [ATA], with the active involvement of practicing farmers, especially women and the youth. The key emphases are to strengthen linkages between production, marketing, processing & storage as well as between agriculture & rural development. Critical success factors in efforts to transform the sector to commendable heights include funding, technological support, promoting Made-in-Nigeria, concrete export support, Public-Private Partnerships [PPPs], from subsistence to mechanized farming, natural fertilizer from organic waste,agricultural extension services, and agro-allied industries.
The ATA is easily the largest-ever government-enabled private sector-led effort to develop Agriculture in Nigeria. It classifies and treats agriculture as a development programme; a business that would boost domestic food production, reduce dependence on food imports, expand value-addition to locally-produced agro-products and create wealth for millions of Nigerians. In the process, the sector will become steadily fruitful, efficient and competitive. On the bases of the success stories to date, conservative projections expect additional 20 million tonnes of food to domestic supply and 3.5 million jobs by 2015.
As Minister of Finance & Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has infused quite a number of creative measures in the financial sector and economy at large. Initiatives of this globally-renowned and Harvrd-trianed Economist & erstwhile Managing Director of the World Bank include the Sovereign Wealth Saving Fund, Subsidy Re-Investment Programme [SURE-P] andYOU-WIN scheme. The creation of the Mortgage Refinancing Company to make long-term funds available and increase liquidity in the sub-sector has greatly boosted the Housing sector. Aside from generating several thousand job opportunities, the boom is expected to steadily reduce the nation’s housing deficit[currently estimated at 17 million].
Prior to his appointment as Minister of Trade & Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga had served as Managing Director of the famed Goldman Sachs. Under his management of the Ministry, Nigeria now has an Industrial Policy. Among otheroutcomes, investment in the sugar sub-sector has grown from US$100 million in 2011 to some US$3.2 billion in 2013. The National Automotive Policy has enabledthe resuscitation of moribund motor assembly companies such of PAN and ANNAMCO as well as the firm emergence of others, including INNOSON and NISSAN. In the same vein, the Cotton & Textile Development Policy and the N200 billion SME [low interest] financing scheme are progressively creating manyjobs and expanding the economy.
The Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson was theManaging Director of Accenture, and is doing very well. Under her management, Nigeria now has an unambiguous clear template on ICT development. Professor Chinedu Nebo, the Minister of Power served as Vice-Chancellor of University of Nigeria, Nsukka; even as his predecessor, Barth. Nnaji is a celebrated Professor of Robotics. The Federal Ministry of Education is headed by a veteran educationist & administrator, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau – ably assisted by Mrs. Viola Onwuliri, a reputable Professor. The Minister of Special Duties, Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turakiis a highly-respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
These and other key Ministers of the Jonathan administration could not have achieved the much they have without the privilege and benefit of good education. This [and of course, more] is what Jonathan wants for the entire country.
The person who raised the issue of Mr. President’s educational qualification alsoderided the value of the Vice-President’s degree in Architecture, wondering howmany roads he has built. It is known that the VP has his schedules, while there is a full-fledged Ministry of Works headed by two Ministers.
Be that as it may, the Jonathan administration has done a lot on road construction and transportation. Under SURE-P funding alone, it has variously completed work and is undertaking projects on several roads across the country. These include: dualization of the Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja road; dualization of Kano-Potiskum-Maiduguri road; reconstruction of Benin-Ore-Shagamu dual carriageway; rehabilitation of Onitsha-Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway; construction of Loko/Oweto Bridge across the Benue River; construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge at Onitsha/Asaba; rehabilitation, reconstruction & expansion works on the Lagos-Ibadan dual carriageway; Calabar-Katsina Ala road, among other projects. The railways, which became moribund over 30 years ago, have been resuscitated. While the narrow gauges are coming back into operation, the Federal Government is building standard gauges as part of the 25 years Strategic Rail Development Plan.
Even for the sake of argument and in the worst-case scenario, the apparent failure of those that are educated to lead us is not an excuse to go for those that are not educated. That alternative is scary. At a point in history, companies like Enron of America, Globacom of Canada and Lehman Brothers of America [which were runby the best brains from the best schools] experienced failing fortunes, but nobody advocated that uneducated persons should take over their management. That people still die in the hands of qualified medical doctors is not a basis for us to start patronising Native Doctors.
Without dabbling into the certificate controversy, I have always maintained that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari [rtd.] is a respected elder statesman ofintegrity. Similarly, I have also noted that educational qualification is not a measure of integrity. However, I am constrained to add that those who want to lead must strive to play with the laws of the community and the norms of the community. Though none of us is perfect, but the rules of engagement have prescribed minimum qualifications to contest for public offices; and they must be adhered to.
Obi is the immediate past Governor of Anambra State and the Deputy Director General, South, of the PDP National Campaign Council.