Tambuwal, Awolowo and free education

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youths” Diogenes Laertius.

One of the most noticeable aspects of the “change” which the Buhari-led APC government promised the nation is, no doubt, in the realm of education – the proper education of our teeming youth population which, due to lack of quality education, have become disposable tools in the hands of criminals and terrorists who enlist them into their wretched world defined by evil as they know nothing more than social alienation, material neglect and bitterness against an uncaring society.

There is no better evidence for this connection between lack of education, poverty and criminality associated with deep-rooted social dislocation and anarchism than what is currently happening in some parts of Nigeria where Boko Haram have found willing pools of ignorant and uneducated youths who they recruit into their anti-education campaign as clearly indicated by the name they bear “Boko Haram”, meaning Western education is evil. The truth is that you don’t miss what you don’t have. These criminals are exploiting a pliable population that has really never being educated. So, it is easy to mislead them into the faulty conclusion that Western education is alien, if not evil.

It is an indisputable fact of life that education makes it difficult to mislead, maltreat and oppress a people while it makes it easy for them to be democratically governed and prosper in their individual endeavours. It is not by accident that the most developed parts of the world today are also the most educated and are still investing heavily in more and higher education. Just as the statement by Diogenes Laertius above suggests, a nation without a sound policy on education is not one that will progress in today’s fiercely competitive world. From civilisation to civilisation, it has been an accepted maxim that the surest way to guarantee a happy, prosperous, peaceful and progressive society is through a policy of universal education in which no child is left behind.

It is a fact also that most stratified societies of the past deliberately denied education to sizeable chunk of their population so as to keep them at the level where they could be easily overawed, manipulated and exploited. That explains why slave-owning societies deliberately denied their slaves any form of education beyond that required for their servitude. They knew that an educated individual would be more difficult to hold down and dominate, apart from the fact that education is also a veritable leveller which would eliminate the unfair capacity of one class to dominate the other.

For example, whereas several European nations like Finland, Estonia and Latvia (then within Russia) legislated for compulsory education of their youths much earlier on, France and the United Kingdom and Russia, on the other hand, did not do so due to the resistance of the so-called upper class who were defending their educational privileges and turfs. Their fear was that universal education would eventually dilute their aristocratic privileges.

In the US, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first state to pass a compulsory education law as early as 1852. These progressive laws continued to spread to other states until finally, in 1918 when Mississippi enacted theirs. This time-lag somehow explains the disparity in the quality of life and general level of development between the two territories today, one is quite developed, with Harvard and MIT and several Ivy League campuses within, the other remained a painful symbol of rural America where bigotry and racism refused to go away.

Back home in Nigeria, no one can deny the fact that the introduction of a free primary education policy by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the old Western region has continued to mark a considerable difference in the situation of residents of that part of the country in contradistinction with what we have elsewhere.

The difference between the China of today and the China of the pre-Mao years is the revolution that took place within the educational sector where a deliberate policy of mass education along socialist line with strict “vocationalisation” of the basic education sector led to its being the current world leader in expert technological manpower supply which has catapulted her to the enviable status of an industrial power house.

That Gov Aminu Tambuwal has made it his priority that the children of Sokoto State must attend school and get properly educated is commendable and, in many respects, a silent social revolution by itself. Towards that end, he has sent an Executive Bill to the State House Assembly with a prayer that it be passed into law stipulating that primary and secondary education are now compulsory for every child resident in the state.

Sokoto being a typical traditional society may offer some resistance to this great modern idea and, in anticipation of that, the governor has been busy telling them that the state could be left behind in the future industrialised Nigeria if they don’t support him with the explanation that:“if the state gets its education priorities right, many ills of the society will be taken care of”. No one needs to remind the people of Sokoto State of the wise words of Nelson Mandela that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

If Chief Obafemi Awolowo could successfully execute a free education programme in the old austere fifties, I strongly believe that with rational prioritisation of resources allocation, even within the harsh economic situation brought into being by the fall in oil prices and the unbridled official and institutional corruption of the recent past, Governor Tambuwal should not have much difficulty in pulling through his evidently progressive, if not revolutionary, educational New Deal for his state.

He should not be afraid of the fiscal straightjacket such might put him or the subterranean political resistance of those whose fixation is on the dark exploitative past where superstition and ignorance held sway. To sustain the project, I think a special state-wide token tax may be necessary. Such would also make the residents to become fiscal stakeholders in the scheme, a likely guarantee for their sustained interest in its operations.

I would only suggest that for the state to get full value for the money thus spent, it should strive to make the educational system re-oriented to technical and vocational areas within the context of contemporary workplace requirements in which IT is key. Properly executed, Sokoto State could someday become the next China of Nigeria a once neglect backwater which is now the source of global technological supplies. It is either we are educated for the contemporary competitive global market or we are not. The so-called nomadic education presently operating in those places is a subtle euphemism for the dominant ancient Alimajiri system for perpetually short-changing our youths which observers now fear has become recruitment centre for terrorists.

No amount of effort, time and money expended on education is too much because it ultimately profits the society enormously. With functional and progressive education, we can all be Phd holders (wisdom) and the society would be better for it, whereas, it is very difficult to have two Dangotes or Bill Gates in one economy due to the limited nature of wealth and power. The failure to understand this fact manifests what Aristotle once categorised as constituting the ‘Human Predicament’. In any case, like they say, “If you think education is expensive, then try ignorance.”

Finally, I would like to plead with Governor Tambuwal, who is also the Matawellen Sokoto, not to give up on this revolution that he has started because quitters don’t win.

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