It is becoming more evident by the day that the strongholds of capitalist structures embedded in privatization and heavy commercialization of social services are getting propped by their minor agents who rather organized massively. I would, in quick succession, point out unequivocally the imminent attacks on social services particularly education in my dear state, Ondo. It is no gainsaying that the governor who rode on the popular mantra of abolition of poverty and free education is about launching a serious ballistic attack on the campaign promises as if these promises were made only for the air; to be broadcast and not for the people.
The Akeredolu-led administration has taken an enormous scoop from the policies of the party that brought it into power. However, it is laying credence to my thoughts while I was addressing a group of students and activists a while ago that: ‘No politician, irrespective of his personal integrity and goodwill can perform outside the agenda, manifestoes and programs of his party. If a party is anti-people and anti-poor, the political leader is anti-poor. A political leader is a reflection of his party’. A very close example surfaces in the disillusion that is sweeping across the socio-political sphere of the country over the persona, Buhari. The difference between the Buhari who contested in 2015 and the one in Aso Villa is the word ‘gate’. He now has so many ‘gates’ to his name and administration. Ineptitude, inconsistencies, gross incapability and impunity are seriously oozing out of his administration. I could remember in one of his electioneering meetings - Buhari Means Business - which held in Marina, Lagos how he, jocularly said that he would speak from his mind because he could not continue reading from the brilliantly prepared speech that was written by whosoever wrote it then. The analysis in the text so caught my attention and fancy that I took my pen to jot. I never knew I was wasting time. Today, the vocally spontaneous Buhari at that meeting has become the unaware Buhari of Aso Rock. A public citizen in 2015 but a private citizen in 2017. Who knows if he is even aware that his daughter is married? What happened to the man of ‘integrity’ who campaigned across the length and breadth of the country?
Nigeria is a complex country with complex problems yet solved by our politicians with simple good policies and methods. All on paper though.
A narrative beyond mention must be made as in the above for a background and clear understanding of the situation of the political system we run and how it would continue to shrink dividends of democracy from getting to the people, even in crumbs.
It shatters belief that a lettered element like my governor, Akeredolu, could want to commercialize education heavily in a state blessed with mineral resources, a teeming population of human resources of over five million people and a vast part of the demography as young people with the national embarrassing minimum wage of 18,000 naira which most times takes the sinusoidal path. It must first be established that education is a social investment program. If this isn’t understood by the Governor and his team, the aim of this article is already forfeited. I would rather stop at the next full-stop. We must understand that it is an investment for social security and the government must invest with the mindset of getting returns on their investment. What do I mean?
There exists a salient difference between spending on education and investing in education. The reason governments cry out over funding of the sector every now and then is because they collectively do not see education as a program that is investment-worthy. This neglect is so appalling as it crosses all level. A government would rather spend billions in servicing debts and getting their political appointees fat than funding education. This could be seen in the paltry 50 billion naira that was allocated to education in the budget of recovery while a huge 125 billion naira was thrown to the septic tank; as the money allocated for snacks during plenary of the National Assembly. This calculated efforts of these governments show where our priorities lie. A nation cannot grow beyond the level of its education. Even the best of infrastructures will suffer lack of maintenance and outright abandon where there is no qualitative education for the people. The effects of this program cannot be overemphasized, just as the agitation for its being free and qualitative must not be trivialized. Let the government stop deceiving her people. Government can fund free education irrespective of any population explosion provided there is a will to do so.
Awolowo, who introduced the free education program in the Western region, did it out of a will. This program succeeded even at a time when all Nigeria, specifically the Western region had was cocoa. The best public universities in the country today were products of the investment in cocoa. It was as good as students being fed on campuses. Places in University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University where students scamper to read overnight today, were cafeterias where meals were served. Not surprisingly, proponents of education commercialization have always justified their inglorious stance with the elusive propaganda that there was less education seeking population during the Awolowo’s period as compared to now. This difference in the population of education seeking persons they reiterate is the reason free education was relatively easier and practicable. But they unfortunately and consciously forgot that the geometric increase in population was as well accompanied with greater increase in revenue through oil. The cocoa producing industry in Nigeria was a labor intensive sector in Nigeria, but the discovery of oil in Nigeria meant enormous and mindboggling wealth in which our cocoa cultivating forefathers could have imagined possible only in a world of a very costly fiction.
This discourse which has taken a broader polemic structure over the last few weeks has enjoyed the participation of some diasporic Nigerians who unfortunately could not be cured of neo-colonialism despite ‘traveling wide’. It is a neo-colonial mentality to believe education must be commercialized in Nigeria because it is commercialized in the UK or USA. ‘It must be in Nigeria as it is in the West’. Very wrong perception! I do not applaud the commercialization in these places at all yet it is expedient to factor the discrepancies in climatic conditions. There are functional public schools in the USA and UK citizens can be proud of. It is pitiable that, in this 21st century, we do not consider students in our government schools buying their own chairs and lockers disgraceful. Lest you forget Mr. Governor, we do not have the same wage structure. Here is a country where an average Nigerian lives below a dollar per day according to statistics. The sky is different here.
There is no cause for us going as far as the USA in this discourse at all. We have a good example in the Rwandan government and her educational policies. The public education in Rwanda has taken the best of shape to the extent that private school owners begged the government to take ownership of their schools. It is considered flagrant to take population as an excuse here. A serious government prepares for all. In fact, uses the population to its advantage. The Chinese gave that example.
Mr. Governor, you were the Vice President of the Great Ife Students’ Union in the 1975/1976 academic session under the military government of Obasanjo. It was at the time the regime attacked the education sector with heavy commercialization and draconic cuts in food subsidy of students. The revolutionary stance you and your generation took, still resides in the great books of history. The stance you took those years was heroic and absolutely correct. But what is left of you now is only that which is terribly villainous and highly protective of the rich with an uncommon penchant for deliberate attacks on living standards of the poor. It is a clear confirmation that you now represent the same class you once fought in the late 70’s. You joined your generation to stop this loathsome class from depriving you and pool of poor others of public education. And now, we must stop you and this class you now represent from pricing education from the reach of the poor just as you once did in the late 70’s when you belonged to the category of the economically weak and less privileged.
Mr. Governor, the Ondo students never thought this was what you meant by the #ThinkingAnew #ActingAnew mantra. I want to believe that you would give this a thought because you would not want to oppose your own #ThinkAnew mantra. Commercialization of education is an old strategy of the thieving ruling class to cover their excesses while they plunder the resources of the people. If this act stands in Ondo, you have not done anything new. You have only shown the difference between an armed robber and a fraudster. The dividends of democracy must get to the people as the downtrodden of the world have gone beyond believing slogans.
Adeyeye Olorunfemi is a student activist who writes from Ondo State.