And if our future is standing on oil… It’s a slippery future if you ask me.
It was sometime in 1995, that it first hit me that we, as Nigerians, had lost our educational values and expectedly, our future. I had observed it and tried to put it in perspectives, but the more I tried, the clearer it became: THAT WE LOST OR FUTURE FROM THE WORD SCHOOL. I encountered people who at the time were never do wells and had no plans to. Legitimately, that is. They had chosen the path and are going to hell with it.
If you allow me a few paragraphs (okay, truth be told, many paragraphs) you may see my point.
In the beginning, our people were basically farmers. Farmers in what ever way you defined it. We planted. We harvested. Sold the produce. Planted more. Harvested more. Sold more… Then came religion and along side it education. Like a wise writer once said the white men came with a Bible in their hand and we had the land. The white men now told us to close our eyes for prayers. When the prayer was over and we had said AMEN! We opened our eyes, they had the land, and we had the Bible. This parable goes beyond the exchange of Bible and land. It’s a matter of lost birthright. It’s a matter of lost values and misplaced priorities.
Stay with me on this. I’m getting somewhere.
In those days before the Bible for land exchange, the people of worth, were the hard working lot. The hunter, the farmer, palmwine tapper, the blacksmith, the herbalist, the town crier, the warriors, the palace jester/the storyteller, the trader, etc. These and many more were the professionals at the time. They knew their jobs. Their jobs defined them. Some even became known and called by the work of their hands. They were dignified professionals in their chosen careers. In fact, people offered them their sons to train as understudy or apprentice if you may, just so that the professional knowledge can be passed on to their families as well.
To be expected, some families would give their daughters’ hand in marriage to such professionals because of the respect they commanded and their industry. The family giving out their daughter sees the marriage as an investment into that family, tapping into the anointing, if you may, and extending their network of influence. After all, the children from the loins of the professionals will become professionals too.
These were the simple dynamics of economics, social structure, security, prosperity, integrity and human relations at the time. They were the bases upon which a lot of decisions were taken. People’s worth were rated on the contributions they made on the community as a whole. The professional was considered a more important person to the community based on the dependence on the services he rendered. In fact, these were plus or minus enough reasons to go war.
Now, throw in religion and education in all that mix. Aha!
This man with a Bible, comes into the picture and tells us ‘blessed are the poor’, ‘prayer is the key’, ‘one man one wife’, ‘forgive’, ‘thou shall not’; there is no need to go into the different resistances and culture shock that followed. If anyone needs to be retold and reminded of what happened, I recommend the novel, Things Fall Apart by Prof Chinua Achebe.
Education and religion, came hand in hand. They both started to win people over and before “not too long” able-bodied men, who ordinarily would have been gainfully employed, were changing occupations. Some became teachers of Sunday school, Catechist, altar boys, interpreters, court clerks, messengers, etc. It was then sold to our society that hard work as it was known back then, was not the only way to earn respect or be a person of worth.
Somewhere in between all of that, was the irony of slave trade. Because if truly, that crap of hard work was not all important, why were all the able-bodied men the ones that were ‘harvested’ and taken into slavery? Why were the weaklings left behind and the strong taken to the land of no return?
In spite of the slave trade and its catastrophic consequences, some people still managed to keep providing those professional services that provided the oil that kept the wheels of the community going.
Going through history, it became clear to me that, our occupational and educational values, as defined by the things we hold dear and sacrosanct to the growth and development of our society, were determined by the kind of aspirations and expectations that are found in that society. Meaning, what we get is based on the value we place on occupational and educational dynamics. When values are placed on wrong dynamics… You can not plant yam to harvest crude oil naaaa HABA! Trust me, we have not done well. So when I look around me and see what is happening, only one song comes to mind. No, actually two songs. The first is Sound Sultan’s Jagbajantis and the second one is Jaga Jaga by Eedris Abdulkarim.
Sound Sultan, has over the years impressed me with his lyrics. And continues to do so. Jagbajantis stripped to the basics of the problems of this country. Yet, did anyone take notice? No. It was just a song. Then Jaga Jaga came. Now, did anyone take notice? Of course, yes. Why? They took notice because it was too in their face. It pointed fingers. Unlike the subtle but more important diagnosis of the matter in Jagbajantis.
One day sha… bushmeat go catch the hunter.
We have gradually become a society that celebrates mediocrity and treat excellence as showoff or an unattainable goal. We have become a country where asking for the right thing to be done is considered ramblings of the opposition. Where praising or defending the wrong is loyalty and a pre-requisite for prosperity. Where did we go wrong? How did we come to this point where someone who was not properly taught is teaching people? Who would have thought that hard working people will lose their integrity and that head lifting dignity that comes with being a professional; that contributes to the advancement of society will be trashed on the platform of selfish political patriotism?
Let me take you through the occupational degeneration or occupational trend, depending on your understanding. Stay with me, I would soon be done.
Once upon a time the respect for hard work, dignity of labour, prosperity and sustenance was the reason for people choosing to be farmers. And the products of the farmers needed to be sold and that provided job opportunities for traders. Then, came religion and education and some people saw the importance of acquiring this new education and the possibilities of being like the white men who brought them. However, after acquiring the education, some became missionaries while others became teachers in the schools established by white men to propagate the new religion. Back then, teachers were the most important catalysts in the new society that was growing out of the mix of the new religion and education.
The products of these teachers were driven to acquire more knowledge. And some got it. Those who did became the hot cakes of employers. They not only got jobs before leaving schools, they got cars, houses, allowances and of course opportunities to be all they want to be. Those not so cerebral opted for the military or jobs that didn’t require “certain set cerebral process of employment” beyond brawn.
The educated who joined civil service quickly rose to become the new crop of people that were treated with the respect reserved for the farmers who were the ish at the time. They became leaders of thought who joined forces for nationalist struggles. Others became writers, lawyers, journalists, business owners, and so on.
The new occupational respect and profile of the educated elite were so high that the teachers who made it possible, naturally, became demi-gods. So when the struggle for independence started brewing, the leaders of thought were these same teachers who had shaped the lives of the elites.
Side by side, in the occupational curve, like the educated civil servants, were those who opted to work in private companies or joined the family business or just floated their own firms. These last group, that went on to own their own businesses would later be responsible for the greatest number of employment opportunities after the civil or public service. The people in private businesses were so successful that they started to lure away good hands from government employ.
The game changer was politics, which came with the struggle for independence. And with the independence came political parties, campaigns, alignments of different people in parties to actualise their different political aspirations, elections and the eventual elections of those who became leaders. But we all know how corruption, tribalism, bribery and embezzlement. Which would later be cited as the reasons for the military coups.
A profession like the military that shouldn’t do anything but protect the country took over the controls of government and determined the future of NIGERIA. At this point, it is proper to mention again, that a lot of those who joined the military back then were those who did not quite have basic qualifications to go ahead to acquire further education. Those who became the catalyst for change and entrusted our public purses were those who became military apologists. These were the select groups whose businesses were favoured. Some even got appointed into public office as ministers or chairmen of government owned corporations.
Just to save time, let me run through the occupational value trends again. We had the basically agrarian professionals (farmers, herdsmen, rubber tappers, fishermen and the likes), the missionaries (who set up schools, hospitals, and churches), teachers (who had been taught by he missionaries and were transferring the education), civil servants (those trained by the teachers and are now employed), the oil workers (thanks o the oil boom), the politicians (elective offices had to be filled – Oh sorry, they had to serve, I keep forgetting that’s why politicians offer themselves to be elected), the military (you know who), businessmen, bankers, drug pushers and 419s ( if you did not know that this became a full time occupation for some you must be one of the beneficiaries if not one of them), politicians (second time around), telecoms (MTN, Glo, Airtel, Etisalat, Starcomms …hey were the ish), banking (you didn’t think all those 419 monies and stolen public funds had to be banked? By who else?).
We now have do-or-die party politics and now it’s just man-know-man.
So if you want to know how we got to where we are standing today, then you need to begin to take a serious look at what we have placed on our priority list and ask why we stopped placing values on the things that mattered. We MUST MUST MUST go back to our classrooms to start re-engineering our educational system and placing values on education. Because everything in government is done now based on what we get from oil. (which by the way is running out or on its last leg with alternative source of power moving from oil) And if our future is standing on oil… It’s a slippery future if you ask me.
* This article was first published on the author’s blog The Book of Ali.
About the author: I am a lover of anything creative. I admire cerebral people and writers whose creative depths take you to places unknown. I love kids, waffles, cream caramel, shoes, ties, pocket squares, jeans and Polo Tshirts, the 5Bs… Amongst other things
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.