• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Another policy lying fallow

When a good policy gets mismanaged

If we are to look at all the indexes typically used to gauge the level of a society’s socio-economic development and how meaningful life is for its citizens, then it would be difficult to disagree with those who insist Nigeria is on its last legs.

It is certainly not a coincidence that as the quality of government-funded education in our country has continued to nosedive over the last number of decades, so have we witnessed a commensurate degradation in almost all sectors of the larger society too.

It was the iconic father of modern-day Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who very instructively remarked in his book, From Third World to First, that, “The more talented people I had as Ministers, administrators and professionals, the more effective my policies were and the better the results.”

In recognition of the fundamental part education would need to play to achieve his socio-economic goals for his country, he set out to drastically improve the quality of education all round but then he did something else too that was quite extraordinary

It would be foolhardy of anyone to argue with a man who miraculously pulled his backwater fishing village of an island out of poverty and obscurity literally by its bootstraps, and into becoming the envy of the world. Within the relatively short span of 30 to 35 years, Singapore grew to become one of the cleanest, safest, most vibrant and most prosperous nation among the developed nations of the world.

In recognition of the fundamental part education would need to play to achieve his socio-economic goals for his country, he set out to drastically improve the quality of education all round but then he did something else too that was quite extraordinary.

He very intentionally set out to utilise measures that would help to elevate the educational standard of the Malay ethnic group, in order to bring it up to par with the other two ethnic groups (Chinese and Indian) that make up Singapore.

This he did, not by acting unilaterally but by first engaging leaders within the Malay community, so to understand better how their culture, traditions and other factors might have inadvertently contributed to them lagging behind the rest of the country in terms of education, which translated into underdevelopment in their communities too.

I believe it was the great Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi who once said, “Whatever you do for me but without me, you do against me.” This may be a good lesson for our political leaders especially to learn.

It is also instructive to note that unlike in some other climes, Lee Kuan Yew did not resort to introducing a retrogressive national educational policy that would slow down the educational advancement of the more progressive ethnic group as a solution to bridging the yawning gap.

Instead, he succeeded in lifting the whole country partly by using an effective and inclusive educational policy to forge a formidable sense of unity in a pluralistic society. But we will leave that story for another day.

Nigeria has never been short of excellent policies and good intentions but has often come unstuck when it comes to implementation. The National Policy on Education (1981) of Nigeria outlines national objectives that also double as the philosophy of Nigerian education.

These objectives summarise the collective world view that the National Education Policy is intended to project and they are: (i) A free and democratic society; (ii) A just and egalitarian society; (iii) A united, strong and self-reliant nation; (iv) A great and dynamic economy, and (v) A land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens.

All the above sound very admirable and fantastic but if we are to be honest with ourselves the country is infinitely further away from achieving any of these than when the policy was announced 41 years ago.

The Nigerian youths in 2020 protested against police brutality, extortion by those paid with taxpayers’ money to protect them, and daily reports of unjust treatment. Speaking to the first and second objectives above, this calls to question how free and just the society actually is.

Read also: Dangote refinery is boosting Nigeria’s local content policy – NCDMB

Furthermore, for the better part of well over two decades the country has relied entirely on importation for its daily petroleum consumption needs, embarrassingly standing it out as the only OPEC (Oil Producing and Exporting Country) member that does not refine its crude oil.

Unknown to the majority of Nigerians, myself included, until the Russia/Ukraine war broke out, Nigeria imports 95 percent of the wheat it consumes therefore any adverse movement in the international price of wheat automatically affects the price of bread and other wheat based products in Nigeria.

Also, because of the notoriously inclement business environment characterised by epileptic power supply and a regime of multiple taxes, which makes commerce extremely difficult, the country is far from being strong and self reliant.

For these same reasons, Nigeria has increasingly become an import-dependent economy. Though there are in theory many opportunities for business as the business environment is still quite green, in practice the multiple obstacles make it almost impossible for those who enter this terrain to succeed.

The sad irony is that Nigerians are incredibly dynamic, diligent, enterprising and innovative people, which is evidenced by the larger proportion of the highly capitalised “unicorn” fintech companies in Africa being Nigerian but Nigeria is also home to over 90 million individuals living in abject poverty which has earned the country the unfortunate sobriquet of the poverty capital of the world.

It is therefore obvious to anyone that the National Education Policy as implemented has not produced the desired results. It probably does not help either that for the last couple of years, Nigeria has carried the title of having the highest number of out of school children. This percentage stood at 12.3 percent in 2021 according to SB Morgan Intelligence.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time