(By Olaniyi Olayemi Luke)
“I’ve heard the older folks many a time ‘serenade’ how inconceivably utopian our education was some three /four decades ago. Tertiary students, I learnt, were literally fed and paid for studying. They lived, so to say, a life befitting of monarchs. Their clothes were laundered for them. Their foods were free but sumptuous. They say that the current state of our education is a ‘cadaver’ of what it used to be“.
I WAS born slightly over a couple of decades ago and I can say that since my coming of years, I’ve only known Nigeria for tales of better yesterdays. Our griots rivet in telling – with disquieting nostalgia – our obsolete glories. They range from the glories of our education to the righteousness of our sanctuaries and also the soundness of our home training in noble times in our national narrative. A couple of them will perhaps suffice.
I’ve heard the older folks many a time ‘serenade’ how inconceivably utopian our education was some three /four decades ago. Tertiary students, I learnt, were literally fed and paid for studying. They lived, so to say, a life befitting of monarchs. Their clothes were laundered for them. Their foods were free but sumptuous. They say that the current state of our education is a ‘cadaver’ of what it used to be.
Another example, or should I say lore, usually told by ‘moon light’ griots is the stupendous wealth we once raked from our agriculture. This was prior the discovery of crude oil and Nigeria already, they say, was on her trajectory to becoming Africa’s wealthiest. Then came crude oil that brought with it a kind of debilitating jinx. Our leaders, in their predilection for avarice, fleeced the national treasury because petrol-dollar became quotidian converse to the agro-dollar which ripens at the mercy of seasons. Insidiously, agriculture was marooned and inevitably, our used-to-be pyramids of groundnuts – borrowing a line from the Bible – became plain. Griots say we are paying direly for its reckless abandon today.
With sudden realisation, I’ve discovered that the art of story-telling has been bequeathed to me. This lore or piece (to mildly say) was birthed after a reflection of how the naira’s value has insidiously plummeted over the years. In my infancy, the Naira inhered value and meaning. It was commonplace to hear the jingling of coins in our pockets. Etched in my mind are many of our infant escapades with the Naira. A Naira coin would buy a Nigerian sprog, a lollipop or chewing gum to stop him from throwing puerile tantrums. It could buy you a stick of kulikuli if you wanted to drink garri for lunch. In school, N10 was enough to buy a good lunch. I remember a structure which became a purchasing norm adopted by many students. A ravenous student holding his N10 note would address the food vendor thus “Iya Debora, rice four, macaroni four, ewa two”! That together with a cup of water would fill the stomach to a reasonable extent.
It was a shock for me some months ago when I saw a primary school student buying N150 worth of food from his school’s food vendor! Ekana Gowon was another delicacy for us. N5 would procure you five sticks of it. My heart shreds when I bear to think of the injustice from which the modern day Nigerian child suffers. The kid market is colonised with a variety of expensive Chinese sweets which cannot even serve them a 10th satisfaction of ekana Gowon when it was cheap.
I think we really need to mourn the downward trajectory of the Naira and stop pretending that all is well. There was a time in the annals of this country when the Naira weighed more than the dollar. What happened to us?
I should say that this abashing status of the Naira is archetypal of all that concerns to us as a country. Recall the efficiency in our railway system in its heyday. In fact, in 1956 when the Queen of England visited Nigeria, she was conveyed to Ibadan from Lagos by train. Unfortunately today, what we have are archaic tortuous contraptions called trains. They take eternity to shuttle terminals. Worst of all is the way they pollute the air we breathe with black carbon monoxide. A hearsayer once said that Nigeria had had her railway before France and many European countries dreamt of constructing theirs. If that assertion is true, it becomes natural then to ask if there is any nexus between Nigeria’s frontiersmanship in railway and the decadence its railway has suffered over the years. The Nigerian Railway Corporation ordinarily should improve for us, shouldn’t it? Please spare me the tales of its abandonment during the military epoch. With a 15-year-old democracy, what really has been done to spruce up our railway? My point is that there is a congenital disease from which Nigeria suffers. The disease of her being irredeemably sent into a tailspin.
The time behoves of us all to work concertedly to redeem the soiled image of our nation. Treading this path portends the bleakest of future for us. Our ostentatious GDP is akin to the daily stratospheric increase in the prices of commodities. It seems the more our GDP increases the less the standard of living. Our glories we should know are obsolete. Alexander Pope once articulated, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” This assertion is no better exemplified than in Nigeria. Our hopes for a better “today” will be our greatest undoing if we don’t sever ourselves from our touted “better yesterdays” and work.
• Olayemi is a student of English and Education in Obafemi Awolowo University.
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