“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there’s no hope for it’’ – Albert Einstein
Two decades ago, two professors that have spent a lifetime in education, Prof. Jibril Aminu and Prof. Babs Fafunwa, gave the nation a short, medium, and long-term plan for the establishment of an education policy in Nigeria. Starting with the National Primary Education Commission (NPEC), they presented the plan to the Supreme Military Council, and following its approval a decree was promulgated establishing the commission. For the first time, there was a bottom-up policy in our approach to education in the country, addressing first the curriculum, then primary school infrastructure, and, third, teachers’ welfare. The plan was to replicate the same model throughout all the levels of our educational system, once it had taken root at the primary level. The funding mechanism for the commission was a direct line vote from the Federation Account, and not from the ministry of education.
It was this aspect that became the Achilles heel of the plan, as the minister of education, state governors and commissioners for education fought to regain control of the education purse strings. The plan was as good as dead on arrival as it was killed within two years of the decree establishing the NPEC. I believe we all see how education is faring in this country today.
After almost 60 years of self-management of our national affairs, I see no plan on how to develop the nation and take us out of poverty, unemployment crisis, ignorance and environmental degradation. It is shameful that, in the 21st Century, our nation, Nigeria, with all the resources it has garnered over the years, and that are still at its disposal, does not have any development plan of its own that successive governments, even from the same party, can key into.
Barack Obama once defined governance as a relay race where each President, after completing his race, hands over the governance (baton) to the next President. The salient point here is that the race is one and the same; you should not drop the baton. In Nigeria, we do not only take our eyes off the baton, we abandon the race altogether. If you do not believe me, just ask our leaders what our energy policy is.
It is appalling that, as a collective people, we have no shame anymore. We were once trained to maintain dignity of labour in our various skill sets. It appears that we have lost that too, otherwise how can we explain that a PHCN staff or DISCO staff will go to work every day and produce or supply zero megawatts of electricity for the customers that he sends monthly bills to? Gone are the days when people would leave the office desk to go home and beat their chests with satisfaction at what they have accomplished for the day. In a fast changing world, I see calamity and catastrophe, if we don’t start now to make plans and do everything to achieve those plans. But, perhaps, we must first answer the question of, “What kind of a nation do we want Nigeria not to be?”
A nation without transportation policy cannot effectively move millions of commuters from one part of the country to another. We would not be able to move our farm produce to markets and consumers in good time, neither would we be able to move our imported goods from the ports to the hinterland. The effects of this lack of policy is there to see: traffic chaos, broken highways, congested ports, poor or non-existent public transportation, insecurity, and environmental pollution. The security aspect is worth noting; without adequate road networks, our army and police as well as first responders would not be effective in combating crime, insurrection, and disasters. So, we are at the mercy of criminals and perpetrators of evil acts.
Our inability to plan and focus on our goals has also ensured that we are a nation with no industrial policy. We have deliberately derailed every step that was taken in the 1970s towards developing an industrial policy. We killed our steel rolling mills, vehicle assembly plants, textile industries, machine tools industries, paper mills, refineries, etc. Today, the global community has started developing policies that will usher in sustainable development as in the use of solar and wind power for electricity generation; we are not in that race. Germany has achieved 100% generation of electricity from sustainable sources. Volvo will stop making internal combustion engines in 2022. By 2050, most industrialised nations will not need fossil fuels anymore. What is our plan for life after oil and petroleum resources? Is anyone thinking about that, outside the often repeated mantra of the half-baked attempts to “diversify the economy”?
In this age, most countries in the West are currently developing and executing policies to deal with the menace of plastics in our lives, meaning that non-degradable plastics are in the process of being banned. Here in Nigeria, we have not only continued to be producers of all kinds of plastics, some of the plastic industries that are being pushed out of Asia and Europe are finding hospitable ground in Nigeria because there have been no policy statements from our Federal Government.
Nigeria belongs to every existing organisation in the world for fighting climate change and environmental degradation. We have laws that stipulate punishment and remedies for pollution. Yet, apart from the cleanup of Ogoniland, which was actually mandated by the World Court, our creeks and continental shelves are heavily polluted with hydrocarbon spills. To a casual observer, it appears the country has no laws for the health of the environment.
We pay lip service to United Nations-mandated global development goals that we naturally welcome and tackle with some vigour. But as soon as the expiration of the deadlines occurs, we would eagerly dismantle all infrastructures that were built to execute such intervention programmes. A case in point is this: in 1974, the World Bank sponsored a potable drinking water policy for Nigeria and the slogan then was “Water for every Nigerian by year 2000.” But by 2020, Nigerians are drinking poisonous water known as “pure water.” Potable water supply by government just doesn’t happen. The obvious question then is, how will a nation that cannot guarantee potable water supply for its citizens provide quality healthcare? I believe we all know the answer to that one.
But in all, the greatest injustice done to Nigerians is that of power supply. Until we have 100% power supply 24/7 to all nooks and crannies of this nation, we toil but in vain in nation-building.
I am convinced without any doubt that my generation has failed this nation. This is why my newest book, which will be presented soon, titled “How Little We Are – A Collection of Thoughts,” is dedicated to the younger generations who have the immense responsibility of repairing the damage caused by my generation.