The coming storm

by Cheta Nwanze

On Wednesday, May 11, the News Agency of Nigeria ran a story about the numbers of students registered for this year’s National Common Entrance Examination. The NCEE, for those who may not know, is the examination into Federal Government Colleges (Unity Schools) across Nigeria.

According to the news agency, a total of 62,682 pupils had registered to sit for the examination. Considering the fact that this examination is meant for pupils in the 9-11 age bracket, the first question that came to my mind was whether we have just 62, 682 children of that age in Nigeria.

When you think of the fact that 70% of our 150 million-population is under the age of 30, then that figure of 62, 682 becomes utterly ridiculous. Assume that there is an equal distribution of citizens in each year of life, then we should be expecting to see upwards of 10 million souls registering for the NCEE; not a paltry 0.6% of that figure.

As is usual with these little dramas, the devil is in the detail. According to the CEO of the National Examination Council, Prof. Promise Okpala, 16050 of the 62682 registrants are in Lagos State, Kebbi has 83 registrants, and Yobe has 74!

So where are all the 9-11 year olds in both Kebbi and Yobe states? And how come Lagos alone has 26% of all the registrants? The last time I checked, our own official figures give Lagos 6% of our total population.

What this tells me is that education all over the rest of Nigeria, not just in the North, is shutting down. The potential impact of this is incredibly horrifying.

Consider that the post-election violence in Northern Nigeria was orchestrated by a small, but influential, and educated elite who use the large numbers of uneducated boys milling aimlessly around as a weapon, then you realise just how bad things will become if we continue at this rate.

The signs are already there: Northern Nigeria is shutting down, and a lot of its citizens are voting with their feet and moving down South in search of greener pastures. This movement will lead to more communal conflicts, of the kind we have seen with increasing frequency in the Middle Belt.

The scariest part of the whole drama being played out is what will happen if, as these indicators point to, Southern Nigeria decides to go the way of the North and stops educating its young, or worse, gives them poor education. The potential (and catastrophic) effects are better imagined.

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