by Tolu Orekoya
The Kano Central PDP representative Senator Basheer Garba Mohammed is sponsoring a bill to force all public officials to educate their children through the Nigerian educational system.
In an interview granted to the Daily Trust, he mentions the reasons for the bill and why he could face strong opposition:
Excerpts from the Daily Trust:
You are sponsoring a bill on compulsory public schooling for children of government officials, what is the import of the legislation?
The bill is essentially to discourage Nigerian public officials from sending their children and wards to schools abroad except for specialization at postgraduate level or for courses not offered in the Nigerian institutions. The aim is therefore to get the public servants, whose duty it is to make education work in the country, to make the sacrifices needed to revamp the sector. The statistics of what has happened to the nation’s education is damning. About 20,000 Nigerians are in UK tertiary institutions alone and remitting over a quarter of a trillion naira from Nigeria annually to that country. The figure of Nigerian students in UK is expected to increase to 30,000 by 2015 and of course the corresponding remittances.
For African countries, the story is not different. A total of 71,000 Nigerian students are in Ghana and their remittances calculated by the Central Bank of Nigeria is N150 billion annually. So, by the time you compute the figure of Nigerians in the USA, Canada and other parts of the world we will be talking in terms of perhaps a trillion naira in remittances by Nigerian students. Many of these students are children and wards of Nigerian public servants past and present, both elected and appointed. You will therefore agree with me that there is a need to discourage our public officials from sending their children and wards to schools abroad, except where it is inevitable, like going to study in the areas not offered by the Nigerian institutions. This way, it is hoped we will be able to restore confidence in our educational system.
What motivated you to bring this bill before the House?
The situation is pathetic and it is the poor masses that are in clear disadvantage. During my campaigns, I visited the primary school that I attended. That is before the coming of the PDP government, and was shocked to see pupils sitting on the floor. There were no functional blackboards, the roofs were half blown off and the windows were without doors meaning that if it rains, the pupils will have to run from one end of a classroom to the other for shelter. I then asked myself, where are the children of the senators, honourable members, ministers and governors, permanent secretaries, directors and commissioners? If their children attend such schools, you can be sure it would not be in such a sorry state. You can therefore see that the bill is a patriotic one; a call for sacrifice to restore confidence in our education. We should be proud of what we have as nobody will develop Nigeria for Nigerians; the task of building Nigeria is entirely ours and without a sound educational system, there is no way our country can break through in technology, development and growth generally.
Some people in government are already expressing opposition to the bill because, according to them, it violates their fundamental human rights?
Yes, I am aware of the claim by some that the bill violates human rights. I do not think so because there is a leeway. There is a provision for those who insist on training their children abroad to pay special education tax that will be channeled to revamping public education in Nigeria. The Chinese government did a similar thing with the One Child Policy. That way, China has been able to manage its over one billion population, to the point of being a super power, exporting food to other countries, including Nigeria. We need to do something similar to recover our educational system and I am happy that a good number of my colleagues are in support of the bill.
But do you think that this bill will see the light of day since it affects the very political elite who are also empowered to passing and implementing it?
The bill has already received enough support in the Senate and I must say that as leaders we have to as a matter of necessity make some critical sacrifices by denying ourselves some comfort for the country to move forward. Things cannot continue like this. We must create the space for the children of the have-not to survive and have decent education.