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The difficult march toward educational security in Nigeria: Law, Policy and Gorvernance Imperatives

By Afe Babalola, SAN

Introduction: I consider it an honour to be invited as the Guest Speaker at the 2017 edition of the Annual Lecture of the Faculty of Education of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and to be conferred with the Faculty Award for Excellence for “my Exemplary Contributions to Nigerian Education”.

Mode of Delivery of Invitation Letter: When the Dean of the Faculty of Education, the well respected and erudite Prof. B.I. Popoola, led a team of 12 Academic Giants, including the Immediate Past Registrar of JAMB, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, to Ado-Ekiti to personally deliver the letter for me to be your Guest Speaker today, I was not only humbled and honoured, it was imperative in the circumstance for me to accede to their request despite my very tight and busy work schedule. I am glad I am here with you this morning.

Apart from that, let me say right here that I accepted to be here for several reasons, but I will mention only three, viz:

  • This university, Obafemi Awolowo University, a prestigious university by any standard, is well respected globally for maintaining a consistently high standard of comprehensive learning and human development since its establishment in 1962.

Impeccable  infrastructure

  • Here is a university that is well known for its expansive and impeccable infrastructure and cutting edge human and physical resources.
  • And most importantly, here is a university that is named after one of Africa’s visionary and most respectable leaders, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN, the First Premier of Western Region, the progenitor and brain behind the establishment of this University for whom I have tremendous regard for his sterling and selfless contributions to education. Every student, graduate, Faculty or anyone for that matter that is associated with this University has reasons to be proud of its distinguished history and track record.

Legendary contributions of Chief Awolowo: Chief Awolowo’s contributions to education were legendary. Of particular importance in this respect was his introduction of Free Primary Education in the Old Western Region way back in 1955 and the deployment of as much as 52% of the Region’s resources on education to make total men and women out of the indigenes of the Region then. This paid off with the monumental development of the Region ahead of others, even till today.

His vision in spearheading the establishment of this University was to promote quality University education, character development and Spartan self-discipline. This could be gleaned from one of his famous quotes, to wit: “Any system of education, which does not help a man to have a healthy and sound body, alert brain, and balanced and disciplined instinctive urges, is both misconceived and dangerous”

The sage also once remarked that: “Any people that is starved with books, especially the right type of books, will suffer intellectual malnutrition, stagnation and atrophy”.

Between OAU and Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti:

These lofty ideals and visions of the founding father of OAU, which is to reform and promote qualitative education in Nigeria, are strikingly the same visions and ideals that I have passionately championed and dedicated the latter part of my life to. Like Chief Awolowo, I work tirelessly to be, and will hope to be remembered as the father of University reform in Nigeria and an ardent defender of the rights of the Nigerian people to qualitative, affordable and accessible as well as functional education.

Dwindling Quality of Education: For many years, Nigerian Universities have at a geometric rate waned in quality, substance and prestige. Those of you here who attended and taught in any Nigerian university in the sixties would easily appreciate the extent of dilapidation of necessary physical structures and facilities in many of our universities today. A combination of infrastructural decay, lack of adequate funding, dearth of qualitative practical training curriculum and inability to attract the best teaching minds have all combined to stagnate our Universities to the current appalling point whereby QS World University Ranking and Webometrics Rankings that rank Universities based on facilities, programme and instructional content, perennially fail to rank or mention a single Nigerian university in the top 1,000 category. For many of us, this situation was an unbearable dishonor to the legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo that required urgent and aggressive turn around.

It was the commitment to play a role in reforming Nigerian educational system that spurred me to initiate diverse reforms during my tenure as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Lagos. Many of the achievements we recorded during that period have been lauded globally and remain a reference point till today as a result of which the NUC voted me the “Best Pro-Chancellor in Nigeria” twice in succession.

Hope Not Lost

Ladies and gentlemen, the hope of a rewarding education system in Nigeria is not lost.  My personal commitment and aspiration is to do all that is humanly possible to make the Nigerian university system one of the best in the world. I am very confident that we will get there. Today’s event presents another opportunity for all of us present here to brainstorm and rub minds on how we can get there. Based on my experience as a former Pro-Chancellor and now Founder of ABUAD, I hope to share with you my practical suggestions on how our educational systems can be strengthened to deliver quality, accessible and affordable education for the people of Nigeria.

The Three As: I intend to offer some practical suggestions on how “the three A’s” of Accessibility, Affordability and Availability of quality education systems can be attained in Nigeria. In particular, I will divide my talk into three distinctive areas. First, I will outline the dimensions, scope and content of what I mean by educational security. Second, I will discuss the threats to educational security in Nigeria, particularly how lack of robust constitutional and legislative safeguards on educational right continues to hinder educational security in Nigeria and finally, I will outline how Universities could be at the forefront of reversing educational insecurity in Nigeria through innovation-driven programs and education that is relevant, sustainable and functional.

EDUCATION AND EDUCATIONAL SECURITY

I perceive education as the full development of the human mind, cutting across cognitive, affective and psychological domains. Education goes beyond schooling; it transcends classroom teaching and the attendant certification. It is the process of inviting truth and acquiring all-round knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and character, needed to become a better citizen.

Education is the birth right of human being: Education throughout life is the birthright of every human being on earth. The right to education is one of the most basic rights recognized in International Law and in the laws of every civilized country of the world. Education has long been recognized as both a human right and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights.

Unlocking  prosperity

Education is also a principal tool for unlocking prosperity and eradicating endemic poverty.  According to the United Nations, every year of formal education increases an individual’s earning capacity by up to 10%, the higher the level of education, the greater the chance of escaping poverty.

Education and eradication of diseases: Education also has a role to play in eradicating diseases and premature deaths.  This is why life expectancy rates in highly literate countries is often very high, 88 years in Australia, 87 years in Canada, 85 years in the United States, while unfortunately the life expectancy for an average Nigerian is 47 years.  For example, United Nations statistics suggest that a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past age five.  This is understandable because in our current highly polluted world, education provides mothers with the tools to make proper choices in nutrition, sanitation and water consumption, all of which can reduce infant mortality.  The UN also notes that each extra year of a mother’s schooling reduces the probability of infant mortality by 5-10%.  No wonder the US Philosopher, Brigham Young, stated that: “You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a whole generation.” 

Education – Passport to the Future: Example of Transformation Power of Education

Education is undoubtedly the passport to the future with each page filled with limitless opportunities. With all modesty, my life is an example per excellence of the transformative power of education.  From modest and humble beginning in Ado Ekiti, my Standard Six Certificate from Emmanuel Primary School, Ado-Ekiti, I was able to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from London University in 1959 and an LL.B in 1963 from the same University of London both by Private study. All of these have afforded me the opportunity of serving as Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of UNILAG, the Chairman of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of all Nigerian Universities  and now the Founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD),

This is why that Chinese adage states ”If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people”. Investment in education is the only sure way to the liberation of human minds. As I tell my students, education, especially quality education breeds discipline, discipline breeds character, character breeds faith and faith never fails. This my view was complemented by the inspiring wise words from the throne when in 2013 His Royal Majesty, the Alaafin of Oyo described ABUAD in the following words:

“The greatest benefit that education confers on an individual is character. Character is determined by three important factors; heredity, environment and training. For the first time in this country, we have seen somebody put into practice these parameters of character moulding. We have in this environment, a conducive atmosphere that will sustain and encourage learning, well stocked library, professionals of high quality, all from the singular effort of a single person”.

Given the intrinsic value of education to human life, environment, prosperity and survival in general, International Law has emphasised the right of every individual on earth to quality education.

 


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