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Welcome to the school of hard-knocks

October 2, 2009

Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate, in his book Development as Freedom says that “[Education] can add to the value of production in the economy and also to the income of the person who has been educated. But even with the same level of income, a person may benefit from education in reading, communicating, arguing, in being able to choose in a more informed way, in being taken seriously by others and so on.”

From all indications value added production, increased income and improved literacy mean nothing to the ministers of Education and Labour (and productivity?). Not in the least. If it did, the merry-go-round attitude towards the ASUU strike won’t be the disorder of the day. Why should Nigerians be better able to choose, be informed and taken seriously?

Could it be our ministers prefer the tenuous peace in the Niger Delta? Where a toxic mix of greed, environmental degradation, oppression and a dead hero can be doused by providing skills that improve the lives of scores of unemployed youths in the delta region?

Maybe because autonomous and functioning universities filled with independent minded lecturers are threats to Nigeria’s socio-political and economic future? Yet without an educated citizenry, Nigeria’s bureaucrats and technocrats tout about Vision 20:2020 – man shall not live by GDP per capita alone.

That said, Sam Egwu, the minister of education, made time for photo-ops with the four bright young things that did Nigeria proud in the just concluded Zain Africa Challenge (the minister dropped a clanger by calling it the ‘Zain talent hunt’). How au courant he is.

(r-l) Olanrewaju Shittu, Nnaemeka Nwachukwu, Tunji Olalere and Tolu Oloruntoba

(r-l) Olanrewaju Shittu, Nnaemeka Nwachukwu, Tunji Olalere and Tolu Oloruntoba

In February 2009, the UI quartet: Nnaemeka Nwachukwu, Tolu Oloruntoba, Tunji Olalere and Olanrewaju Shittu, bested 31 other African universities in a quiz competition in Uganda. Before now, in a picture that appeared in a daily, none of the four were identified by name. The minister blithely smiled on. Between December 2008 and January 2009, these students gave up their Christmas holidays to prepare for the January 22nd national qualifying tournament in Abuja.

In an exclusive interview (during a get-together at Irawo University Residence), the quartet spoke of their initial inertia. A couple of them had doubts whether the selection process would be transparent. It was. Meritocracy and democracy prevailed throughout. Demola Lewis, the coach, asked all 23 to nominate four students, bar himself. The four came out tops.

Unfortunately, soon after returning from the competition, university lecturers downed their tools. Tolu was the most fortunate: he graduated from medical school last May. He’s now a house officer at the UI teaching hospital. Olanrewaju was a few weeks shy from writing his final exams en route law school. Now he’s caught in limbo. Law school resumes in a few months time. Nnaemeka and Tunji are “making do”. Nnaemeka plans to work with a microfinance firm while Tunji is reading books other than medical sort. Before the interview, he was reading Frederick Forsyth’s Emeka.

Welcome to the school of hard-knocks

What these four had learnt in school hardly prepared them for the Zain Challenge. It was a “fast-paced battle of brains”. To Tolu life on campus is a do-it-yourself affair. To excel, “you have to pull yourself up by bootstraps.” An “information junkie”, Tolu attended Mary Hill primary school and the International School, both are in Ibadan.

For Olanrewaju, thirst for broadening his worldview was primed at Festac primary school and in secondary school. He represented Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta in several quiz competitions. (MKO Abiola, Prof Lambo and former president Obasanjo are few notable old boys). A news junkie, varied subjects and news interest him; “no knowledge is lost” he says.

Nnaemaka, a fourth year student of Physiology, has eclectic leisurely pursuits. An old boy of Kings College, his nerdish look is deceptive.  His hobbies include playing football, pop culture, geography, space and history. Though he says he’s more enthusiastic about the present than the past.

Unlike Tunji, whose interest in Greek mythology, history and literature was piqued after his school lost a quiz competition. An old boy of Wesley College, a science-based school, Tunji is in his fourth year of medicine and surgery. While at Wesley, he stumbled upon a trove: encyclopaedias donated by the late Obafemi Awolowo (also an old boy), in the school library. He found it more interesting than attending classes. There’s a streak of the contrarian in him. Because he wasn’t old enough, his parents barred him from the novel-stocked library at home; he sneaked in and read copiously.

This healthy mishmash of qualities and interests egged them on to win a flawless victory in Kampala. Though they insist that all the universities representing eight African countries were exceptional; especially Jomo Kenyatta School of Agriculture. The students from Kenyatta gave them a tough time in a tightly contested race. Deciding the winner of this round came down to what they refer to among themselves as deus ex machina (interpreted as divine intervention).

Each team had to choose either “t” time or farmers alphabet questions. Questions were based words beginning with the letter “t” and words related to farming respectively. Each correct answer earned the team 50 points. For some curious reason, the Jomo Kenyatta crew choose “t” time questions. Nnaemeka’s coy pun: ““t” time was torrid”, aptly summed the outcome.

Nigeria, participating for the first time, was represented by four other universities: Federal University of Technology, Ado-Ekiti (FUTA), University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) and the University of Lagos (UNILAG). Egerton University of Kenya, winner of past two events, was knocked out by Unilag in the quarter-finals. Unilag was ousted by UI’s quartet.

Perishing from a lack of knowledge

Clearly, Nigeria students can perform even better if given the opportunity. But our universities are gradually savaged by incessant strikes and poor funding. Students coast through school with sole aim of graduating. Initiative, propriety and being innovative are lost on them. Campus life is cold comfort for those seeking to be exceptional. A sad situation. Any economy’s real staying power is knowledge.

The reality of the 21st century is that innovation, high technology and intellectual knowledge rule. Mineral wealth will fuel our economic growth only to a certain degree. Of the thirteen variables used in analyzing the growth potentials of economies tagged as the next eleven (N 11) after Brazil, Russia, China and India (BRIC), Goldman Sachs ranked Nigeria 8th and 11th in schooling and life expectancy respectively. Education and health are important ends of development. Both are reinforcing. A healthy and well educated populace increases productivity. It also improves the ability to use modern technology.

Besides, the economic gains of the past years are a testimony to the impact of competence, whether in the public or private sector, on Nigeria’s economy. Hence, efforts to wrestle the chronic condition of education is imperative for attaining a 5 trillion naira GDP and a $4,000 per capita GDP. It’s on record that the three success factors that thrust East Asian economies forward were open markets, investments and education. The Nigerian economy needs a thriving education system or her dreams of being the heart beat of Africa will simply be a blip.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. silvercaptha permalink
    October 5, 2009 7:29 pm

    its amazing….. really.

  2. Ayo Olanipekun permalink
    September 14, 2011 12:09 pm

    These are my friends. And I’m simply happy and proud of them. I hope the standard of education will improve on time. The future is right here!

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