Let me start by heartily commending the founders of Dowen College – Dr. & Dr. (Mrs.) Olumide Philips for the great success they have made of their joint enterprise and noble endeavour in establishing a school which in the twenty-two years of its existence has become a national treasure with students from different parts of our nation and beyond – in the pursuit of excellence in education.
It was very brave of them to grant me the latitude to choose any subject for my address. I have with considerable restraint settled for the title: “Why should we care?”
Indeed, we are entitled to believe that the founders of the school were prompted by the same formidable challenge and perplexing dilemma – why should they care to educate other children, having successfully educated their own children to the highest level in the world? This is in addition to agonising over our nation’s moral quality. Who is going to rescue our nation; and why should we care whether or not redemption comes the way of Nigeria?
The English playwright William Shakespeare (1564 to 1616) has served us notice along with a powerful warning in “Twelfth Night” “Care is an enemy to life.”
Regardless, even if it means putting our lives at risk, we must care for all those who have gone through the portals of Dowen College. However, we have to (consequentially) deal with another problem – where do we draw the line? Are we going the full hog? – a lifetime of caring without pausing to ask ourselves the question begging for an answer: What have we got in return for the sacrifices we have made for our children and our nation?
Should we cut our losses now or persist in the belief that if we persevere, deliverance and abundant reward will eventually come our way? Our own generation was only too eager to reward our parents for the sacrifices they made in order to give us the best but are we entitled to reciprocity from those who are graduating from Dowen College where the school fees for quality education do not come cheap?
Another complication which has infiltrated our consciousness is how will the excellent products of Dowen College fit into the rest of society where the deplorable are in vicious competition with the ruthless for whom scruples have no meaning whatsoever? We are launching them into the Jetstream of the uneducated – to swim or drown. They are very vulnerable and we can only pray that they do not fall prey to those who, out of envy and resentment, are already plotting their revenge against those they consider overprivileged and overpampered. They subscribe to the view: “The sins of the father must be visited on the children.”
Regardless, we must endeavour to fortify the students of Dowen College, with the strictures delivered by the late Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968): “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” As for Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), his focus was not on movement. Rather, it was on imagination: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
Hence, it is our duty as parents to teach our children to dream big but work hard. They are the builders of the future. We have done our bit and the choice of when to take a bow may not be in our hands. However, before we exit, we have an obligation to fulfil our duty of care and thereby inspire the next generation.
It is a monumental task and whether we succeed or fail depends on the outcome of rigorous soul-searching. Having fast-tracked the products of Dowen College into the lane reserved for the privileged, why should we care whatever befalls them in the arena of economic, financial and social inequality?
Let us ruminate on the GINI index. According to the World Bank Development Research Group, the result of a survey carried out in 2009 stated that Nigeria had an estimated GINI index of 43.0 percent. A subsequent assessment made by the CIA in 2013 showed that inequality was on the rise scoring the prevalence of income inequality in Nigeria at 48.8 percent, a 5 percent increase after four years. Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) claims a GINI Index of 41 percent for 2013 which would entail a 2 percent decrease in the inequality index for the same period.
As at 2016, a survey carried out by the NBS declared the GINI Index for Nigeria to be at 39.1 percent which connotes a downward trend in inequality in Nigeria. With regard to our country’s commitment to reducing the prevalent inequality within our nation, a 2018 report released by Oxfam during the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank (IMF/WB) meeting held in Bali, Indonesia between October 12 – October 14 2018 scored Nigeria as dead last in the CRI (Commitment to Reducing Inequality) amongst 157 sovereign nations which were assessed.
The report gave a scathing description of Nigeria’s lack of commitment to closing the inequality gap stating that: “Nigeria remains at the bottom of the CRI Index, failing the poorest people, despite its President claiming to care about inequality.
Nigeria has the unenviable distinction of being at the bottom of the Index for the second year running. Its social spending (on health, education and social protection) is shamefully low, which is reflected in very poor social outcomes for its citizens. One in 10 children in Nigeria does not reach their fifth birthday, and more than 10 million children do not go to school. Sixty percent of these are girls.
We are now in mortal danger of handing over to the next generation a nation that is in chaos – where insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, human trafficking, rape, drug trafficking, abuse of power, injustice, looting and impunity are the order of the day. It is a poisoned chalice
The CRI Index shows that in the past year Nigeria has seen an increase in the number of labour rights violations; the minimum wage has not increased since 2011; and social spending has stagnated. The CRI Index shows that there is still significant potential for Nigeria to raise and collect more tax, so it scores very badly on this aspect too. There have however been very recent improvements in this area in 2018, which will show up in next year’s CRI. The IMF has given clear advice on the importance of tackling inequality, referring to Nigeria’s score in the CRI Index. The President of the country has also said that tackling inequality is important, as inequality leads to political instability.
Yet little has been done. We are now in mortal danger of handing over to the next generation a nation that is in chaos – where insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, human trafficking, rape, drug trafficking, abuse of power, injustice, looting and impunity are the order of the day. It is a poisoned chalice.
Before we surrender in despair, we may have to deal with the choice that faced apartheid South-Africa while Nelson Mandela was still in jail. In the midst of their crisis, the Almighty gave them two choices – either pray for a miracle and divine intervention to solve your problems while you slumber or choose the much tougher option which is for all of you to put heads together to find a solution. South Africa chose the hard route. Rather than pursuing rigid adherence to dogma and prejudice, they chose peaceful reconciliation.
That is how they survived and prospered – rather than fight each other until the last drop of blood. In Nigeria, poverty is the new enemy. Our report card shows very clearly that we have failed every subject. Our hope lies in the investment we have made in the students of Dowen College and other private colleges while the public schools, colleges and universities are in ruins. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s finest are leaving in droves out of frustration.
The truth is that while Dr. & Dr. (Mrs.) Phillips can deliver a robust thesis on all that ails our nation, it is the students whom they have groomed and nurtured who can provide the anti-thesis (the theoretical options). However, it is the combination of Thesis and Antithesis which will crystalize into SYNTHESIS and thereby deliver demonstrable progress and salvation – from mendacity and self-destruction.
(Address delivered at Dowen College, on 7th October 2019)
BASHORUN J.K. RANDLE