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The good old days and the bad new days

By Owei Lakemfa

AS the battles over the 2019 Presidential elections rage in the courts, I had cause to examine governance in the closing years of colonialism, the First and Second Republics and contrast it with the past 35 years of military-civilian rule. I did so using four critical sectors. The first is education which is both a vehicle for development and an instrument for emancipation. I am convinced that an education that enables the student to master his environment, to be useful to himself and his society, is an education that liberates; that is the kind of education we require.

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Nigeria has failed’

When on January 17, 1955, Chief Obafemi Awolowo mapped out the free education programme of the ruling Action Group Party in Western Nigeria, he married it with a school-to-land programme that showed the pupil where the food he ate, came from. There were laudable programmes by all regions to expand education in post-colonial Nigeria; it was a healthy rivalry that saw the East establish the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on October 7, 1960, the West created the University of Ife in June 1961, and the North founded the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on October 4, 1962.

The Lateef Jakande administration in Lagos State while building on this legacy, carried out a revolution in education that became the benchmark in our country. In applying more of brains and determination, than funds, he transformed the daily three-tier education system of morning, afternoon and evening school streams to a single morning stream. In a system of “The Lord has need of it” he was able to acquire land with little compensation on which he built primary and secondary schools. This is what public acquisition of land is for;  it is not meant for RUGA.

Jakande within four years from 1979, increased the primary schools in Lagos State from 605 to 812; on the average, he built 52 new primary schools every year. Within four years, he doubled the number of secondary schools in the state; from 105 to 223; that is building an average 30 new secondary schools per year. His government constructed 11, 729 classrooms with a maximum of 40 children per class between March and August 1980, and by 1983, he had constructed over 22,000 classrooms.

Aware that some products of the free education programme would need to go to tertiary institutions, he tackled the issue of establishing a state university in a novel way that married speed and maximum utilization of funds. There were some new high school structures in Ojo, what Jakande did in the overriding interest of the public, was to take over these structures and in 1983, use them to establish the Lagos State University, LASU, which today, has over 35,000 full-time students. This type of vision and programmatic mind that revolutionized education in the country has been largely missing in the country since the military seized power on December 31, 1983. The current Buhari administration is not known to have built any school in four years!

I also examined shelter, an essential human need for which Nigeria suffers an 18-20million deficit. In 2016, when I visited China which had newly liberated 300 million from the poverty pit, I discovered that one of the main things that the country employed in achieving that human feat was by building homes. Housing when constructed by direct labour, provides mass jobs and at the same time elevates the beneficiaries and helps sanitation.

However, this is no discovery for Nigeria as the Shagari administration had made it a priority in the early 1980s. But, the star of our housing revolution was the Jakande government. In its four years in office from 1979, it built over 30,000  low-income houses in at least 18 housing estates across the state. That means the Jakande administration built over 7,500 new houses yearly or 650 monthly or 21 new houses for every day it was in power! If we had this replicated across the country and the military had not truncated this system 36 years ago, we might not have the serious housing crisis we have today.

Also read: OPM: Empowering thousands of children with free education

A third aspect I examined was healthcare. In a state like Lagos, no matter how long a patient spent in the hospital, all the medical care, bed, feeding, drugs and inviting experts in various fields to manage cases, was absolutely free! That was three and a half decades ago.

Today, the health system is so run down that the ruling elite treats even their headache and ear problems in Europe while the upper-middle class treat theirs in India. The mass of the people is virtually abandoned to their fate. Things are now so bad that even giving birth has become a dangerous enterprise.

Lastly, I examined mass transit. It is commonsensical that in any society, the mass of the people must move and the surest way is through mass transit. The Japanese Shinkansen (bullet trains) began to run on October 1, 1964. Now,  it can attain a speed of over 320 kilometres per hour (199 miles per hour). It is also one of the safest means of transportation in the world with no fatal accidents in its 55-year history. China’s speed trains carried about three billion passenger rides in 2016. In 2011, three years after it was put to service, I rode China’s first high-speed rail, Beijing-Tianjin high-speed train. The 135-kilometre journey took about 35 minutes.

Nigeria in the 1960s and ‘70s had enormous wealth but did not build a mass transit system. Eighteen years after the introduction of a high-speed train in the world, and with austerity measures biting hard, the Jakande administration began the construction of what promised to be our country’s first mass transit system.

Lands including one for a terminus at the Yaba Bus stop were acquired and buildings on the proposed mass transit route, marked. The construction was on in 1983 when the military struck, overthrowing the civilian administration.

Rather than continue what promised to be a historic and transformative project, the Buhari regime scrapped it in 1985. It took over $78 million from the Lagos taxpayers purse to pay off the French contractors to stop building the mass transit! So, today, Lagos with an estimated population of over 18 million has no mass transit.

In an ironical twist, 33 years after the illogical decision to scrap the mass transit, Lagos was shut down on March 29, 2018, to enable General Buhari, now President Muhammadu Buhari opens an uncompleted bus terminus in Ikeja.

To recall the good old days is to weep and stare in disbelief at what has become of our dear country. We need to make conscious and determined efforts to return to those days when the people were the centre of governance.

Vanguard

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