By Tabia Princewill
Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the American Constitution, wrote about public education as a means to ensure that those trusted with power don’t become despots. Public schools, in Jefferson’s mind, were where Americans would be taught how to safeguard their rights and freedoms as well as the ideal environment to identify the “best geniuses” who would, through competitive ranking and scoring be “raked from the rubbish annually” until an intellectual elite arrived at university and was there prepared for public service.
Jefferson feared that one day a pseudo aristocracy (one where intellect is substituted by wealth and power) would take over society. But he had so much faith in America’s nascent public education system that he declared “in general they (the people) will elect the real good and wise. In some instances, wealth may corrupt, and birth blind them; but not in sufficient degree to endanger the society.”
The reason why governance in Nigeria appears to have been so completely overrun by undesirable characters is as a result of the collapse of public education which no longer produces discerning citizens, individuals capable of separating the wheat from the chaff by electing competent, capable individuals. The system also no longer produces the sort of individuals who are truly fit for public service and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board’s decision to make 120 out of 400 points the cut-off mark for admission to universities further sounds the death knell for progress in this country.
Nigeria has been taken over by a pseudo-aristocracy defined by ill-gotten wealth, whose very existence is a danger to democracy. Our society’s current monarchic tendencies are quite simply anachronistic. Inequality and overall poverty in Nigeria won’t decrease till we tackle the structures and systems which keep them in place. Corruption is one of them but it exists, in fact, because of the debasement of our educational system which produces many half-baked minds who would dare to defend, on the grounds of ethnicity or religion, the same people who oppress them and keep them poor.
In most exams around the world, a candidate who only scores 30% (the equivalent of attaining 120 over 400) would not be given a pass mark and allowed to proceed to the next level. Making 120 the benchmark would become another “mass promotion” syndrome whereby an influx of mediocre university candidates would simply be unleashed into an already very corrupt, by and large, substandard system.
But there are greater dangers for the republic than its inability to produce competent future employees for the job market, even if this, in itself, is already a catastrophe.The people whom public education fails are easily manipulated by the false aristocracy and oppressed by immoral norms and values. Destroying public education is the best way to ensure the complete and sustained subjugation of the Nigerian people. How better for an undeserving pseudo aristocracy to maintain itself in power than to keep the general public in a state of cluelessness?
The lower classes, ordinarily the natural instrument of social renewal, cannot play their role in a system where neither the tools for their betterment exist nor is there a reward for the pursuit of excellence. Equality is hardly ever produced or encouraged by those who enjoy the status quo and if education in Nigeria doesn’t teach critical thinking, history, or civics, then the public doesn’t have the tools to elect good leaders or the ability to fully grasp what it is owed by those who claim to lead. Nigerians are also not trained to recognise, know or advance their own class goals and interests (whereas the political and business elite on the other hand are skilled in that regard), which is why we continue to have a society where exploitation is the general rule and oversimplified debates about restructuring political office overshadow the real work that needs to be done to ensure that ordinary Nigerians can rise to the top.
Creating more states, less states, providing them with more money, etc. will not fundamentally change the life of the average Nigerian if we do not have the right people in office. Without reforming education in particular, we could very well restructure the Federation and see no benefit, so long as poor people in Nigeria, the silent but ever-present majority, are not given the tools to turn their interests into talents and become self-sufficient. The poor in Nigeria rely on other classes to advance their goals and are often betrayed by leaders who quickly forget their working-class roots.
Nigerians are routinely misinformed and deceived because they don’t always have the education to decipher fact from fiction and make sound judgements. For all our politically motivated talk of presidential appointments which favour this or that region etc. we are yet to see that our politics where everything is based on ethno-religious sentiment and trade-offs, we are yet to produce calculable benefits and improvements for the masses.
Some analysts would say that the 120 cut off disproportionally benefits candidates from the North who get admitted to university with lower scores. Perhaps this is true due to many Northern elements’ realisation, 30 years too late, that they are playing catch up on too many levels. But in the interest of Nigeria, we must find it in ourselves to shelve ethnic resentment which benefits only the rich in Nigeria. The poor man in the North has had no access to the billions in foreign currency stolen by the political elite. He suffers just as much as the rest of Nigeria (if not more, as social indices for health, education etc. show yearly).
We must not allow ourselves to be divided and instead commonly fight the policies and dangerous ideas which keep us all poor and unable to achieve our true potential. Sadly, again, this requires more education and awareness than currently exists in Nigeria. Had public education not collapsed or been constantly attacked by shoddy reforms, we would know and understand intersectionality, the idea that the issues facing various social identities (gender, ethnicity, religion) overlap.
Fighting normalised oppression will require our combined efforts from the North to the South, no matter our religion because we are all marginalised in many different ways given our daily struggles for survival in an oppressive, unfair environment. So when we talk about restructuring, when do we discuss the details which will enable the man on the street to thrive?
Senator Isa Hamman Misau
The Senator representing Bauchi Central has been declared wanted by the Police for alleged forgery and desertion after he alleged that the Inspector General of Police was himself corrupt. The police not only have questions about the Senator’s true identity but also about whether he is qualified to serve as a senator given that he allegedly never retired from the Force and according to them forged his retirement letter. The Police called on the Senate Ethics committee to ask Senator Misau to appear before them to answer the charges against him.
In Nigeria, powerful suspects are treated with a lot more regard than anyone else who simply would have been arrested if there was enough evidence to do so.The usual allegations and counter-allegations story in Nigeria, where one person accuses another of corruption and the accused responds by claiming the accuser is also corrupt, continues to make a mockery of our institutions. Public confidence in them is low because institutions are fused with the trials and travails of the Men who represent them. Incessant scandalous revelations without any real resolution, prosecution or sentencing doesn’t help either.
On the subject of how to improve the civil service and encourage its output, he recently said that the Federal Government is considering raising workers’ bonuses in order to encourage productivity in certain key agencies. There is definitely a correlation, even in the private sector between wages and revenue. A content work force is a productive one. Let’s hope the Vice-President has the room to manoeuvre.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.