If we don’t wake up, smell the coffee, and invest in education; the result will be predictable and painful. The reactions from those in government suggest the only way to repair the damage is to become the change agents we cry for.
When I wrote my first article for the Front Page, I didn’t think it was going to be tolerated for one year. It all started with a fairly innocuous piece about the inevitable meeting of town and gown, where I advocated for more participation from the private sector in Nigeria’s tertiary education sector. One year later, I’m ashamed to be writing about the same topic. It is a sign, if any was needed, of an inability to refresh my thoughts.
I have decided to take this risk, and rehash the discussion on tertiary education after reading Oby Ezekwesili’s speech at the 42nd convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria. For the sake of full disclosure, I am one of those starry eyed boys that admire Aunty Oby the way the men in fedora hats fawn over one of our beautiful ministers in Abuja. So pardon me if this article makes no sense, it is the result of being confused by a woman’s passion to improve her society when the chance to increase her bank balance remains an easier option. The thrust of her lecture, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Who Will Restore the Dignity of Nigeria was instructive. The first part was devoted to making the oft repeated comparison between Nigeria’s resource wealth and our depressing human and economic development indicators; the second part linked this poor performance to the disdain with which education, the driver of wealthy nations, is treated; and the final section speaks to the ability of what she called “The Turning Point Generation” to drive the long awaited revival of Nigeria.
The contentious paragraph of her speech reads:
“Furthermore, it is happening back to back with the squandering of the significant sum of $45 billion in foreign reserve account and another $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007.”
After reading that speech, I am amazed that several foolhardy government officials wasted my hard earned tax on newspaper pages that should have been used to make toilet paper. The CBN Monthly Report for August 2007 puts the gross external reserves at $45.01 billion, while an excerpt from Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s book, Reforming The Unreformable says: “We built savings for a rainy day through the operation of an Excess Crude Account (ECA) which accumulated up to $17 billion, boosting foreign exchange reserves up to $60 billion in September 2008.”
Both sources suggest that Mrs. Ezekwesili was not far from the truth when speaking about the state of government reserves, so I’m intrigued to know what caused the hubbub from the choir of hoarse voices. It is amusing that several government robots have left their day jobs to attack one paragraph in a twelve page speech and forgot to take message from the lecture back to Abuja. The point made by the former Minister of Education is clear; the days of plenty are about to end, and our unborn generations will pay for this wastage. Her message about an investment in education, and an end to the wastage of oil revenues has been repeated by everyone from Bill Clinton to the auto mechanic that maintains my car. The funniest part of the amusing response is that the government is apparently thinking along those lines. This year, education accounts for 8.7% of the Federal Budget, the highest of any ministry. While this is way below the UNESCO recommendation of 26%, it is the highest amount any government has allocated to education in decades. A right thinking minister would have thanked Mrs. Ezekwesili for her comments, and articulated clear plans to redress a festering sore. Instead, the good governance tourist decided to engage in a village version of fact checking.
If we don’t wake up, smell the coffee, and invest in education; the result will be predictable and painful. The reactions from those in government suggest the only way to repair the damage is to become the change agents we cry for. We must organize ourselves within the democratic process, and hope Claude Ake was correct when he suggested that a people-driven democracy has a fair chance of success. What I have learnt from the responses to a fairly innocuous lecture is that our central government is surrounded by court jesters. We are left without a choice because as Chinua Achebe said, “Real tragedy is never resolved; it goes on hopelessly forever.”
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.