April 22 1990, Sunday.
We woke to martial music on the radio, it was another coup.
The broadcast we heard that morning was shocking to my teenage mind. The voice on the radio talked about excising five Northern Nigerian states. I remember my father predicting that the coup had failed at that announcement even before it eventually failed hours later. It was difficult for my young mind to comprehend how anyone would wake and divide the country. But that coup brought into focus two issues that many Nigerians till date feel is hounding the country: domination by one ethnic group and resource control.
Most Nigerians back in the 90s would be quick to point out how Nigerians of Northern extraction have always held on to the mantle of leadership as if it is a right bestowed upon them by powers that be. In fact, there is a theory (you may add conspiracy if you choose) that long before the British handed over, in fact as far back as the amalgamation of the North and South, the colonial masters worked to ensure Northern dominance. In fact it is said in 1931, the census was rigged to ensure that when it was time the North will be so positioned that they will insist on 50% of total seats in the legislature which indeed they did get. If that is not enough reason, then a look at the list of heads of States from 1960 to the 90s would be compelling.
Yet, it is a little difficult to understand why intellectuals like Azikiwe and Awolowo did not kick against this “marriage” of convenience. There was definitely enough time for them to have perceived this Northern domination. Some have posited that the Southern leaders were so in a hurry to achieve independence that they let several issues slide. There definitely were a number of national conferences in the 50s that eventually led to the birth of the federalism oriented constitution that was adopted in 1960. My position is that this probably was a concession. As it might seem, under true federalism the person who occupies the center really did not matter. Each region operated their own constitution and were more or less autonomous.
Both the 1960 independence constitution and the 1963 republican constitution reflected the one factor upon which the Nigerian nation was built – the units were autonomous as is expected in a true federalism and the 50/50 revenue allocation formula was seen to be fair to all.
Interestingly, Major Ademoyega one of the planners of the 1966 coup alluded to the fact that the amalgamation and character of Nigerian independence was partly why they struck. Eventually, Ojukwu rode on this domination theory as a driving force behind the civil war.
Let me pause at this point to say that when something is repeated to someone over and over again they are bound to believe it. I personally do not buy into this theory of Northern domination. While evidence supporting it may seem overwhelming I think it is just an excuse for a defeatist attitude. What have the various states been able to do with the ‘little’ resources they have? After all, it is not Northerners occupying all the governorship positions in all the states in Nigeria since independence. Even though the military came and distorted the revenue formula to 13% states, what were the sates able to do with the 13%? And come to think of it, since the return to democratic rule about a decade ago is it still Northern domination that has led to the lack of infrastructural development in places like Abia for instance. Is the Abia state governor a northerner?
Again, one may be tempted to advance the hypothesis that perhaps one of the reasons why Nigeria has not really progressed is that we were not meant to be a nation, that this marriage of convenience should be dissolved. Perhaps after the dissolution each group that eventually agree to stay together can form their own independent nations.
As desirable as this hypothesis may seem, it actually seems to me like the lazy man’s way out. For starters, although the Nigeria we have today can be said to be a marriage of convenience the various national conferences of the 50s was actually responsible for the people agreeing to stay together as one nation except we are trying to say that the “founding fathers” were so stupid that they entered an agreement we have no intentions of keeping. As tempting as the notion of their stupidity may seem, I will rather choose to see the wisdom behind their actions.
I want to see Northern and Southern Nigeria as two friends who were forcefully introduced and after being friends for a while decided to enter a treaty of friendship. There definitely was a reason why Azikiwe at some point stopped supporting the secession of Biafra. It is on record that in his 1953 speech on secession, he made it clear that this marriage of convenience is better maintained.
What we really should blame at this point is the aberration by the military which led to a dilution of true federalism and ultimately the struggle for resource control.
Back to that day in April.
The years of military rule had served to reinforce the theory of Northern domination. Again, many were touting disintegration as the silver bullet. Yet, many people still saw Okhar’s coup as an outburst. Nigeria’s breaking apart is like that ace that one holds but never actually uses. My thoughts is that disintegration is desirable only as a solution that can only be written on paper or used as a point during debates. In practice, we all know it should never be seen through as it will get really messy.
If Nigeria were to separate, would it be along the North-South dichotomy or along the regional dichotomy? Or will we go back to the 10 major groups and myriads of other kingdoms and peoples that were identified during the 1931 census? What groups would actually agree to stay together and which one would accept subservience to the other? At the end of the day, we realize that this marriage of convenience is better allowed to remain lest we plunge ourselves to endless strife and civil disturbances. For a fact, those who experienced the civil war would readily point out that they do not want a repeat of it. It is little wonder then that President Jonathan maintained that during the 2014 National Dialogue our nationhood is not up for negotiation.
What Nigerians actually desire is better governance based on a constitution that is built on the principles of true federalism.
Yet, there has been a dearth of leadership and with each election, we realize that we seem trapped with the old brigade who seem to have nothing to offer or who are so engrossed in the politics of leadership that they forget that leadership is, according to Jack Welch, about growing others. The true test of greatness is to start others thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persists after one has long left the scene. Leadership to me is about defining a school of thought and guiding people to adopting it.
For instance, I have long held the view that the problem with Nigeria is not just its leadership, yet the solution to Nigeria’s problems I believe lies in the leadership providing an alternate school of thought which the followers will be inclined to follow. There is a need for Nigeria to write her history and teach it. We need to agree on what this history is and have a version that will be taught in schools to counter all the noise that keeps flying around and fueling division. We cannot choose to ignore this history. The more we ignore writing a history of Nigeria, the more theories that cannot be substantiated fly around and are adopted by the largely disgruntled citizenry.
Which brings me to what I would term the biggest problem affecting Nigeria today – education.
I am one of those who insist that a well-educated populace would demand better leadership and where better leadership is demanded the quality of leadership improves. The vehicle for the transmission of this new school of thought and propagating our history is the public basic education system.
Sadly, the Nigerian public education system has been systematically run aground to the point that any parent who can and even those who can’t will rather have their children attend private schools. Unfortunately, this is hardly a solution as the teachers are still a product of a government run tertiary institutions with its attendant issues.
Yet, having an efficiently run public education system is only part of the solution. There is a need for a reorientation of the people themselves to see the need to acquire basic education. Especially, in Northern Nigeria, the “rankadede” mentality makes it difficult for education to take pride of place. It also seems that there is a conspiracy to keep people uneducated in order to perpetrate a certain group in power. A poor and uneducated people are much easier to manipulate. One of the key reasons why the Boko Haram menace took root and festered is the failure of public education in Northern Nigeria. In fact, at the root of most of Nigeria’s problems is a mixture of the failure of our public education system and the propaganda of educated mischief makers.
The leader we are talking about will declare a state of emergency on the public primary education sector and come up with policies that will force parents to send their children to school. This is not a project to be left in the hands of any level of government alone. As at the last count there are over 10 million out of school kids in Nigeria -over 10 million potentials on the verge of never being harvested. All states must be forced to adopt free education. When education is free then we have to think of why parents will rather keep their children at home. One of which is seeing the children as a revenue source. What if children were paid to go to school?
In addition, if we are to chart a new course of nationhood, there is a need for the focus to be beamed on the primary school curriculum. Of more importance than the rooms in which children are thought is the content of what they are taught. Children can receive quality education under a tree.
It goes without saying that the foundation laid is of paramount importance. With preschool education formally adopted by the Federal government under UBEC and endorsed by a number of states it is not difficult to see that a large part of the responsibility of raising the children has been handed to teachers. For this reason, we do have to pay attention to the sort of people who carry out this responsibility.
The APC manifesto recently released gives attention to a few actions that the political party intends to carry out to influence registration of students and interest in the teaching profession. While I find it laudable that they would education a pride of place, a number of suggestions they come up with may not just only be ultimately implementable. For instance, how will an APC led Federal government prevail on all states to give free meals to the students? How also will they ensure that after granting free tertiary education to people who wish to teach that they will not leave school and find other employment? Will these individuals be bound by some pact to teach for the rest of their lives?
Surprisingly, for such a well thought out document a number of the major issues affecting education in Nigeria was not addressed. It is my opinion that education in Nigeria mirrors the two major problems that have bedeviled the country since independence: “Northern domination” and resource control. What we have in the education sector is Tertiary domination and allocation control. Back when UPE was introduced by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in old Western Region in 1955, 90% of the budget for education was allocated to primary education. Chief Awolowo certainly knew how important basic education was as a foundation to all other levels of education. Little wonder that his scheme was a huge success.
The state and federal ministries of education need to give primary education priority of place. There should be a harmonization of basic content in the curricular. Emphasis should be placed on content that will contribute towards molding leaders. Given the dropout rate of those who even go to school after primary school, it becomes imperative that even more attention to be paid to teacher training and curriculum content at this level.
Only the best should be used in primary education. As far as I am concerned, given the situation of things, there should be an overhaul in the system such that only the most qualified should teach in primary school classes and this should be reflected in their take home. There should be a deliberate policy to this effect placing minimum qualifications for primary school teachers to be a Master’s Degree or its equivalent in experience.
Subjects such as critical reasoning and Nigerian history from just before independence till date should be taught in primary schools. If education is problem solving then you will readily see how much easier it will be to solve our national problems with the right kind of instruction at the right level through the right set of implementers.
The task of nation rebuilding is an uphill one. But all we really need is a few good men at the strategic places. It is time that the strategic importance of education ceases being overlooked. Surely, we do not want to hear martial music on our radios ever again but of far more importance is putting to rest this feeling of domination necessitated by a skewed resource control formula. Let us return to true fiscal federalism and let each state develop at their own pace. As Awolowo set the pace for education and others copied, let all states go into healthy competition using what they have to achieve what they want.