“If they go about solving the problem this way, how many more problems will they have created by the time they finish?
James Baldwin, in TELL ME HOW LONG THE TRAIN’S BEEN GONE.
VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 201.
James Baldwin, perhaps the greatest black American writer of all time was the first person to suggest to me to take up writing as a career. I was spending the Summer vacation in New York City, NYC in 1965 as an ASPAU Scholar embarking on a career in Medicine. I also wanted to spend some time in New York. One of our mates at the university was writing his final year paper on the works of Baldwin and had an interview with the great man. Being white, he asked me to accompany him for the interview. After the interview Baldwin asked me a lot of questions about Nigeria – which I answered as honestly as I could. Then, he turned to me to know if I had any questions to ask him. I asked only one. “I want to spend my Summer vacation in NYC and I need help because I know nobody. Can you help me?”. “You know me. You can have my flat and I will try to get you a part-time job.”
Later, during the summer he saw a description of NYC which I had drafted and left on the dining room table. Then he called me. “Hey my friend from Nigeria, you wrote this?” I said “Yes”. Then in typical American straight forward way he said, “Listen my boy, stop that Medical school bull shit. You should be writing for a paper. You are a natural journalist.” Me, journalist?
That bit about my otherwise unadventurous life, is pertinent because the book TELL ME HOW LONG THE TRAIN’S BEEN GONE focused on how decisions made impulsively by people, especially leaders, often result in many unexpected and unpleasant consequences for the people. Thus, when Buhari dragged his entire cabinet to a retreat in the Villa to find yet another solution to the declining quality of education in Nigeria, it was instant front page news – or theatre. To me it was a combination of both. It was seriously comical and pathetic.
To start with, the idea of a “retreat” was so totally bastardized that most of those hailing the decision failed to notice it. In my early years in the organized private sector, a retreat meant that the participants would leave their offices, head for a venue far removed from headquarters to prevent the temptation to continue to conduct their normal business. The retreat was supposed to provide an opportunity for them to concentrate solely on the problem on hand and to chart a new course. Buhari merely moved people from one room in the Villa to another and the “retreat” was on. Front page photographs showed the President, the Vice President and the Ministers being towed to the new meeting place wearing appropriately grim faces which the occasion demanded. Two among them were former Governors who left their states’ education in worse shape than they found it.
Nevertheless, they were supposed to help provide solutions to a problem which they created while in office. That should produce laughter; but this is a tragedy we are discussing.
“It is a very serious situation when teachers cannot pass the exams that they are supposed to teach their pupils to pass” – according to Buhari. If the President had more time, he should have gone back to read his address to Nigerians in 1984 when he became the Military Head of State and what he said about education. It would probably shock him to discover that trillions of naira had gone down the drain, since then, at Federal, State and Local Government levels to make the matter worse from primary to tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
His first constituency, the Armed forces of Nigeria, was the first group of unpatriotic Nigerians to ruin what the Founding fathers bequeathed to them. His second constituency, the politicians, completed the job of demolition – so much so that none of them now sends his kids to public schools. His grand children certainly don’t attend those schools. That explains why the absolute rot in education has escaped his attention.
The participants at the retreat itself were like people who had spent all their lives in a castle being asked to come and offer suggestions about how to clean up life in the slum. They mostly pretended to be interested but, they actually had no ideas to offer and they certainly have “better” things to do. The solutions they will eventually offer will not be different from those of previous attempts made by Presidents to solve the problem. Reports about what transpired at the retreat are scanty, but, it is doubtful if the participants were given and had the time to digest the reports by committees set up by Buhari’s predecessors. It would at least have saved them from attempting to re-invent the wheel.
One cannot fail to be shocked that Buhari is just waking up to the calamity in Nigerian education. As Presidential candidate four times it would have been expected that he possesses a comprehensive idea of the problems of Nigeria; that he had prioritized his intervention and he has made education his top priority – instead of just waking up to it two and a half years in office. Obviously, he had no remedies for education when he came into office and is just now searching for answers. That is unfortunate. He then compounded that mistake by appointing as Minister of Education, our own Adamu Adamu, a journalist’s journalist. Adamu, from what I have heard about him, is accomplished in many things – but education is not one of them. He is what the author of the BRIGHTEST AND THE BEST, would describe as “the best general for another war”. What we have in education is the social equivalent of a war we are losing badly and we don’t even have the right general to lead the battle.
But, despite his obvious deficiencies as Minister of Education, Adamu realizes that sharply increased funding is indispensable for the efforts to yield results. So he has proposed N1trillion per annum in expenditure as a start. If he had bothered to look at the 2018 Budget, he would have discovered that total allocation for education stands at N435 bn for recurrent and N63 bn for capital. The total comes just short of N500 bn. That is not bad on the face of it. But consider these facts.
To get ASUU back to the campuses N400 bn was promised and not delivered. The nation’s polytechnics are locked up; teaching hospitals are on strike because government is owing the staff backlogs of allowances etc. Altogether, if the N500 bn allocated to education for 2018 is applied to redeem promises, there will be no single kobo left undertake any reform in education. Furthermore, N500 bn out of a total budget of N8.6 tn is a mere six per cent of the total compared to nations spending twenty per cent or more on education. From an economic standpoint, short of tearing up the 2018 Budget and starting all over again, the retreat is an exercise in futility because there will be no funds to implement the reforms recommended anyway.
The Federal Government had jumped into the same pothole it did when negotiating with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. The Minister and Dr Wale Babalakin, SAN, were sent out empty-handed to negotiate with their creditors. A deal was struck without anybody asking the Finance Minister if the funds were available to pay. No Chief Executive Officer, CEO, in the private sector or even the reputable public sector would allow any of his top managers to commit the enterprise without checking with the Finance Director or Chief Accountant. But, the Nigerian government did just that.
Consequently, the Federal Government is biting more than it can chew. The “retreat” will produce a report which will most likely join others gathering dust in the Presidency. By this time 2018, the education sector will remain just as much of a disaster as now – and perhaps worse. Buhari’s political handlers will continue to hail him, as they are doing now, for demonstrating his concern for education. Realists already know that this entire problem is mostly a matter of cash. This government does not have it or is unwilling to spend it on education. The retreat will achieve nothing. Mark my words.
PDP AND THE SHIP OF FOOLS
“A [political] party is the madness of the many for the gain of a few.”
Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, VBQ, p 181.
By the time you are reading this article, it will be a mere fifteen months away from the 2019 General Elections — including the all-important Presidential election. Despite that, the mob calling itself the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has not settled its internal differences sufficiently to guarantee a National Convention in December – which is only a few weeks away. Chief Vincent Ogbuluafor, a former Chairman of the PDP, once boasted that the PDP would rule Nigeria for seventy years. Given such stupidity at the top of the party, it is not surprising that the false prophet is alive to see the party not only out of power but also in complete disarray.
After getting rid of Bono Sherrif, the victorious Senator Ahmed Makarfi faction of the party have turned on each other like wild dogs in the South African veldt. On November 21, 2017 a national newspaper published a statement by Senator Buruji Kashamu stating that: “It is clear that Makarfi and his allies have brought ill-luck to the PDP…”. Next day, the Bode George Organisation released a statement saying that “Makarfi’s action, to put it mildly, is sickening, untoward, blatantly tendentious, totally stripped of the typical moral high ground that often defines a well-meaning and God fearing leadership.” That is “putting it mildly?” God help the PDP and Nigeria.
“A group without a leader is a mob.” (VBQ p 82). Obviously, PDP has no leader with so little time to go to the next elections. How can they expect to contest, win the election and govern Nigeria?