“With the quality of Nigerian degrees likely to remain substandard, Nigerian students who can afford to study abroad will continue to do so. As a result, the total number of international students will continue to rise, with Britain well placed to benefit.”
–The British Council Report 2012
Recently, the graduation from British universities of the sons of some of our top politicians attracted animated discussion on social media, following the posting on Facebook of photos from their graduation ceremonies. Senate President Bukola Saraki’s son, Seni, graduated with a First Class degree from the London School of Economics; Bidemi, Senator Babafemi Ojudu’s son, graduated from Durham University, also with a First Class degree; while Ahamefela, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State’s son, successfully completed a Master’s degree from Imperial College, London, having also bagged a First Class degree from the University of Manchester, two years ago.
The Facebook photos conveyed the proud ecstasy of the politician-parents as they hugged or shook hands with their sons. Fully conscious of what a fortune it costs these days to educate one’s children abroad, this columnist congratulates the three politicians for both the graduation of their sons, and their star performances. Beginning on a lighter note, however, many will recall that PUNCH columnist, Prof. Niyi Akinnaso, had recently queried the glut of First Class degrees in Nigerian universities (What is your class of degree? The PUNCH, May 23, 2017). Well, Akinnaso may wish to extend his probing research skills to the United Kingdom, where so many First Class degrees are being netted by sons and daughters of Nigeria’s political elite. As someone noted in the torrents of comments in the social media, even Abdul Mutallab, who was later caught trying to detonate a bomb on a United States bound plane, bagged a First Class.
Of course, it is unlikely, even far-fetched to imagine that British universities, with a reputation for excellence will lower standards just to please Nigerian politicians with deep pockets. Still, it may still be of interest to investigate the matter, in case the concept of degrees for export is not totally extinct.
Now, to substantive matters. The Eastonian definition of politics as the authoritative allocation of values, suggests, among other things, that the action, inaction, even the body language of political leaders chart a course for the rest of us to follow. So, with so many top politicians, with access to the national kitty, proudly advertising the education of their children abroad, while perpetuating the comatose state of Nigerian education, one would think that Nigeria has been recolonised by Britain! A few months ago, I chaired the 7th Founders’ Day Lecture of Caleb University, Ikorodu, which was delivered by Prof. Abel Olayinka, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. On that occasion, the Special Guest of Honour, Dr. Olatokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, went down memory lane to recall that her father had a policy of educating all his children and wards in Nigeria. Chief Obafemi Awolowo made an exception in her case, she reminisced, because of the existential threats, posed to the politician and his family, in the year she gained admission to the University of Ibadan. I can confirm that the late Mrs Ayodele Soyode, Dr Awolowo’s sister, graduated a few years ahead of me at the then University of Ife. So, for politicians of an earlier generation, nationalism was not an abstraction to be deployed for political correctness, but the definitive mantra by which they ordered their actions.
What do we have today? A riot of populist slogans that bears no relationship to political behaviour. Our leaders tell us to buy Made-in-Nigeria goods, but flaunt the latest goods and services from everywhere in the world except Nigeria. At the faintest evidence of a headache, they jet out to British or American hospitals to be diagnosed or treated. Does it not strike them that the leaders of the countries they visit do not behave that way, and they employ every occasion to promote the brand, the identity, the peculiar niches of their countries? Does it not worry any of our leaders that as the opening quote indicates, the British are now banking on the continued existence of Nigerian education as a substandard species? Dr Patrick Wilmot, it was, who is credited with the remark that a later generation of Nigerians surveying what a mess our politicians have made, despite the splendid opportunities they have, would wonder why there are so few wise men among them. Wise men see beyond today to invest in the future. They realise that some of the opportunities offered today to their nation may never come again, at least not in the same posh manner. They also know that the trends that they set today will become points of departure for their nation tomorrow.
It would have been refreshing, therefore, if there is a critical mass of Nigerian politicians who are not only making efforts to turn the tide of mediocrity in our educational landscape, but are willing to match words with actions, by making it mandatory for their children to take their first degrees in Nigeria, while going overseas to take postgraduate degrees.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, obviously has his weaknesses and perceived transgressions, but he at least has the presence of mind to have insisted that his kids be educated within our shores. That gesture allowed him, last week, to claim the moral high ground against politicians from the ruling party, who had sent their children at tender ages to the UK. That list includes President Muhammadu Buhari, whose son and daughter graduated last year from a British university. Fair comment requires that we admit that the quality of Nigerian education has continued to go downhill for many years. The question however is, how can the system be healed if all the doctors who should cure it go to all lengths to ensure that their children do not partake of it?
The outpouring of criticisms, mainly by Nigerian youths on social media in respect of the politicians who posted the graduation photos of their sons on Facebook, are based on the condemnation of the hypocrisy of claiming to reform a system, while not being man enough to allow your family members to experience the reforms.
There is another side to the matter, namely that the kids who are sent abroad at tender ages learn the normal curriculum, as well as imbibe a hidden curriculum which glorifies the countries and races where they studied, and disdain their country of origin, which presumably they are coming back to govern. No wonder, it is so difficult to make meaningful changes.
What then is to be done? The National Assembly should pass a law which will make it mandatory for top office holders to train their children up to first degree level within Nigeria, making exceptions for cases where their courses are not available within the country. That apart, it is obvious that the thorough solution is to bring up our schools and universities to the competitive standards that they once enjoyed. Finally, the electorate should be mobilised by the civil society to sanction politicians, at the polls, who only engage in glib talk about reforms, but jump ship when the going gets tough. Punch