(By Oyewole Akintoye)

This is the benefit to national productivity, dignity of labour and job creation that can be derived from sending a well-educated mind into the workforce as opposed to sending a quarter-baked mind. And this is just at the lower levels of human endeavour, imagine the difference it would make if in the more complicated world of the purer sciences, we were graduating quality engineers, chemists, doctors, architects, physicists and the like.

THE leadership inadequacies that have steered Nigeria to its current position are at best reminders of how developing nations should not be governed. The unenviable fact is that as of today, Nigeria is where it is and no amount of faultfinding about the past will change a thing. What matters most are the premeditated choices and changes to our way of doing things, which we make today to guarantee a better future for this country and its people.

Unfortunately, while on paper we have institutions that should be engaging in intellectual debates of the highest order in a bid to fashion out a path for the future of the country, the reality is that such institutions are barely functional. If at all they had churn out any dossier on how to return Nigeria to the path from which it has strayed, the likelihood is that such documents are gathering dust in the corridors of the Presidency and, perhaps, National Assembly.

In the absence of any well documented strategic solution, I make bold to put forward one of my own – Education is the key! And when I say education, I do not mean the dysfunctional and irrelevant system we have been putting our children through for the past 20 to 30 odd years, rather a radically redesigned educational system, re-built from the ground up and challenged and molded by the best minds available with accessibility to ALL our children, guaranteed by law and ruthlessly implemented to its letters.

Of course, all of this would require an extremely passionate, dedicated and strong willed leader to push through the reforms, but we shall discuss our current leadership inadequacies another day. Nigeria’s population continues to grow at a relatively fast pace and the country cannot afford to continue with the current practice where a majority of its youth is either totally illiterate or poorly educated. Let us stop for a moment to reflect on where we are today as a nation.

A majority of the scourges in our society today have a link to the poor education we gave our children a decade or so ago. The touts and agberos (street urchins) who dot our streets, were they in school – a quality school – 10 years ago? The militants and armed robbers of today, did they receive quality primary and secondary education when they were kids? The Boko Haram members of today, were they not the abandoned street urchins of yesteryear? Even the prevalence of HIV/AIDS today can be traced to a generation of youth, who were not educated enough to make the right choices of abstinence from sex or at least to insist on the use of condom.

The present can only be fixed with remedial action such as the amnesty programme for our militants and building of almajiri schools in the North in the aftermath of the Boko Haram bombings. However, the potential pitfalls of the future can be addressed with strategic and calculated initiatives to ensure that the youth of today are so well educated and mentally equipped that they would make much better choices for themselves in the future. No doubt, this approach on its own will not stamp out violent robberies and militancy in years to come. For that, a much more multi-faceted approach will be required, but at least we would be on the right path…and in more ways than one.

For Nigeria to catch up with the rest of the world, we need to equip our people with the most cutting edge educational systems that we can afford and while Nigeria is not a phenomenally rich country, it can certainly afford a significantly improved educational set-up than the current one – primary to tertiary – if only corruption will allow!

As of today, a majority of Nigerians still operate in the informal sector – shoemakers, carpenters, plumbers, market women, bricklayers and taxi drivers, among others, and they are mostly illiterates. While quality educational system will not take away the need for such people, but consider the difference between a well educated artisan of the future and one of today.

Let’s take a carpenter, for example, most of the carpentry work in our towns and cities is still done the old way…a carpenter banging nails into the wood with as much strength as he could muster, or sawing through a piece of wood with one leg perched on top of it in a vain attempt to hold the wood steady so that the line would be straight. This in 21st Century world, where there are nail guns, electric saws and electric planners to smoothen the wood! The typical carpenter of today is simply not aware of these technological advancements how much more is he able to take advantage of them.

On the other hand, if a secondary school leaver in 2025 decides to take up carpentry after leaving school, having received qualitative primary and secondary education, being aware of the world around him and is able to think logically and rationalize issues in his head, the expectation would be that he would be able to immediately rationalise that he would be far more productive and produce furniture of a much higher quality by using equipment rather than physical strength to cut and prepare his wood.

He would be knowledgeable enough to know that it would make sense to join a co-operative society to gain access to capital to purchase required tools. He would know enough to key into government initiates like the various poverty eradication programmes to access technical support and more funding.

He would know enough to ask a former school mate with the same passion as himself to form a partnership rather than go it alone, and would as well be smart enough to draw up a basic agreement that would spell out the terms, to which both parties would agree to foster a healthy working relationship. He would know enough to keep in touch with the latest innovations in his industry by scouring latest industry trends off the Internet or by signing up to newsletters – both hard copy and digital version.

This is the benefit to national productivity, dignity of labour and job creation that can be derived from sending a well-educated mind into the workforce as opposed to sending a quarter-baked mind. And this is just at the lower levels of human endeavour, imagine the difference it would make if in the more complicated world of the purer sciences, we were graduating quality engineers, chemists, doctors, architects, physicists and the like.

I cannot remember when any of our universities researched into a local problem and came up with a solution. Instead, all we do is import solutions and technology to address our problems. Has not a single university in Nigeria been able to conduct research into the gully erosion of the South East, for example, taking into cognizance the soil type, vegetation cover, rainfall pattern, natural topography and flow of water, among others, and come up with a solution in all these years we have been suffering this phenomenon?

Has not a single university in Nigeria been able to put together a research team to study the unique issues we face regarding our failing roads, with specific reference to our heavy road usage in the absence of a working rail sector, soil type, cultural habits and rainfall, among others, and propose a solution? Perhaps the solution would be to use concrete roads instead of the more common asphalt roads. Or maybe it would be some sort of hybrid combination of the two, interwoven with some epoxy material that would bind all the materials together and produce a far more resistant base for our roads given our climatic conditions than what is in use currently. But how will we ever know if our universities are not equipped with the adequate mental resources to conceptualise such a research project?

Even in our political space, we are currently in the process of a constitutional review. What quality of persons speak at all these engagement sessions? What is their mental capacity for logic and reason based on the facts presented by our history and empirical evidence of available socio-political and economic science proven the world over? The truth of the matter is that most of our politicians – at the local, state and federal levels – where these debates are being held are some of the worst products of our educational system.

Many of them are individuals who could not even progress beyond the extremely low levels of quality where our educational system currently sits, and left the system to become garage boys and eventually found their way into politics. Even many of the others who “graduated” are at best literate, but not properly educated.

Otherwise, I don’t understand why almost all the debate in the ongoing constitutional review seems to revolve around state creation, when empirical evidence suggests that many of the existing states are barely surviving; and the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and many other authorities have clearly articulated how much of our national resources are spent on simply running governments rather than improving the lives of the people!

Surely, a well developed mind, one capable of proper use of logic and reason, would realize that of all the anomalies we suffer in the Nigerian state, which we can use constitutional review to correct, state creation shouldn’t necessarily be at the top of the list! After all, doesn’t our history indicate that Nigeria enjoyed much of its infrastructure development in an era when all we had were three regions? And what is to guarantee that the governor of a newly created state will do anymore for his people than the governor of the existing state from which it is carved out?

Shouldn’t it be more important to re-engineer the political process and structures of governance such that people who are able to run the government devoid of petty ethnicity and nepotism are elected into office rather than creating more states to cater to every cry (usually unjustified) of ethnic marginalisation? Again, more cases of putting the cart before the horse, clear evidence of a people bereft of sufficiently qualified minds to engage in the kind of debate that will produce the solutions that will put this nation on a sustainable path towards long-term greatness.

In all facets of our existence as a nation – socially, politically, economically and more – it is obvious that the best way to ensure longer term viability as a nation is to engage in radical change of our educational system. If militancy, Boko Haram and the current dearth of quality leadership and strategic thinkers in our political space are the results of the poor and, in many cases, absolute absence of education our children had in the ’80s and ’90s, then what will be the outcome of the continuing decline in education that we give our burgeoning youth over the next decade? Only time will tell. But if I can infer from the past, then I think I can give you a hint…“it isn’t looking pretty!”

• Oyewole Akintoye, an accountant, wrote from Port Harcourt.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”