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‘The power to transform lives makes me to invest in education’

‘The power to transform lives makes me to invest in education’

On June 3, 2023, Rex Mafiana Foundation launched, with a target of training over 500 indigent students in five years and supporting their families. In this interview, Mafiana, a trained engineer, IT entrepreneur and founder of the foundation, speaks to OBINNA EMELIKE on his passion to help the underprivileged access quality education, curb out-of-school children, agenda for government on education, among other related issues. Excerpts:

What inspired you to set up the Foundation?

Like I was saying at the launch event, my close friend in school ended up as a truck driver because his parents did not have money to send him to school.
Over the years, as I try to maintain that relationship, I realised the impact education can have on someone’s life. I could see that my friend and I were going separate ways and clearly one was superior to the other.

There were some discussions I couldn’t have anymore with him, there were some he did not understand either.
When I talked about my children going to Harvard University, he was talking about his children learning some trade.
I felt that I was lucky because my parents understood the importance of education and made the necessary sacrifice.
Even at that time, I was thinking of a way to help my friend, but couldn’t.

So, I started realising the importance of education and decided that I will help someone go to school. I believe in the power of education. When I started having money, I paid for the kids that were not going to school in my area.
In my national youth service in Lagos, I interacted with people in Itire, a poor neighborhood and when I see children staying at home, I keep asking why they are not in school because it is school time.
But the reality is that they don’t have money to pay, something like N200 then.

Having seen what education has done for me, I only wished it could do the same for other people.
That passion to help people get educated came from the fact that I deeply believe that education has power to transform lives, especially if it is done with guidance. A lot of our people still get educated but part of the issues that look like education does not pay dividends is that when they started there was no guidance; some just wrote JAMB. Actually, it is from JSS1 level that you are supposed to know where you are going and the subjects to focus on.
Really, it is that power to transform lives that makes me invest in education today.

Following the successful launch, what is the first project you will be embarking on?

Already I have ongoing projects, but the first thing is to structure them. Like I said, what gave rise to the foundation is that the logistics of running it has become too much, so we needed a foundation to make it more organised and the children will get adequate care because you have people who are focused on it.
The second thing is that we are collecting the list of 100 people that we could start with across the country. We have done a lot in the South and I am asking people to help me in getting people in the North because I believe that it should go round.

Abraham Lincoln said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next”.
It is the value of people you train today that will be your leaders tomorrow.
The next step will be getting more people across the country so that we will have fair representation.
One of the things that drives me, according to that quote of Abraham Lincoln, is the belief in the power of education to help people understand more.

If you are enlightened, politicians cannot deceive you because you can decipher for yourself and that will impact on how we lead people, on how we respond to people and on how we guide other people on the street.
One of the reasons that Nigeria is so dysfunctional is that the people are not educated or they did not allow education to do something for them and that is why you will see a gentleman like me who sits in the car and his driver disobeys traffic light and he will do nothing. That is wasted education, my driver will not do that and if he does, I will give him a knock because education should civilize you.

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The second thing is that we are going to ride on the back of the foundation to enter partnerships that will allow us to do more.
We are already in touch with the Bridge Institute in building quality on methodology, to copy and paste it, we will build replica schools.
Though we are working with Bridge Institute to ensure quality, otherwise people will be going to a building and not school.

Who are your target for the project?
I make no apologies for saying that it is for talented children.

How do you select the benefitting children?
We have people that do the selection. Because you are talking about classroom education, let’s talk about brilliance. If you go to the British International School and ask who is the best person in the class, he is the first among equals.
If you go to Alhaja Kudirat Nursery School and ask who is the best student, he is the first among equals, but it will not show up immediately and he may be smarter than the students at British International School. We go to schools where people are struggling to come to school and we look for the good students, and the teachers know them.
We are sourcing for 100 beneficiaries, but on a first-come-first-serve basis.

It seems the foundation is all about education?

Education is at the core of the foundation. However, for effective education, you are not going to ignore the fact that the boy has not eaten. So, we work with the schools and support families to ensure effectiveness. There is a family I moved from where they lived before in order to give their çhild educational support because the environment was a bad influence on their child we were trying to sponsor.
Even to get there and for him to go to school from there was difficult.
At some point we had to relocate a student and put him in a boarding school.
Yes, our core is education, but we are looking at empowering families also.

Why are some smart kids often not in school?

Sometimes, it may not be the lack of somebody who can pay their school fees. There are people who can pay part-time unlike us who when we take the child, we take him or her for life, so long as the student keeps on.
There are people who we can pay 5000 today, but what happens is that when the money gets to the parents it disappears because the other children are hungry. So, when you find a bigger child in that situation you have to help the family also, otherwise anything you try to do, they will be distracted. You may even pay the school directly, but they will send the boy to go and hawk because they are trying to survive, meanwhile, you have paid the school fees.

So, we put financial support for families like that. We are going to put in place guidance and counseling to help the students to go into disciplines that will give them fulfillment because many just went to university and read courses that they don’t get fulfillment from.
I quarreled with my father when he said I should go and study Petrochemical Engineering. Imagine a Warri boy, all we know is ‘oil oil’. But I told my father that I will have nothing to do with the course he suggested because at that time, oil was causing problems.

Today, go and look at the Niger Delta, it is messed up because of oil. Shell left and Warri is dead.
I said I was not going to do the course my father suggested because then we had a guidance and counselor in the school and I already knew what I want to be; an aeronautical engineer or an electrical electronics engineer.
Immediately my father removed Aeronautical Engineering from it and said that I was not going to travel abroad to read. I chose Electrical Electronics Engineering. I went to the Federal University of Technology Owerri. I researched the school, it had the best quality in engineering training then and even up till date.

In my first and second choices, I chose Electrical Electronics Engineering because I had guidance and counselors and I knew what I wanted to do. so that fulfillment gives me encouragement to help others today. If I was in a profession that I am not happy with and I am earning the same amount I am earning now, I am not sure that I will be helping others today . So, all I do is build more and more on IT and chase my passion of helping other people.

How are you going to fund the foundation?

Before the foundation, l was funding my passion of helping others to go to school in an unstructured way.
I run an IT company and we fund the foundation from our profit. The company has its own CSR, which we also fund. But because of my passion for education, I decided to do my own foundation, while the company will still be doing its CSR and we will synergize as needed. We have decided to take a certain percentage, when we said we are putting a N100 million fund, it is a certain percentage of our fund and that is what we are doing.
When the idea of the foundation came to put up a structure, some people who may not have an avenue to support may come in to support. So, let us tell people.

But I am a low key person, so I do not want people to give me money for the project because I do not think everybody has the passion or push. This is a burden and some people’s burden is to go to prison to talk to the inmates, mine is to help the kids, whose parents cannot afford it, to go to school.
The funding is now coming from people. I was overwhelmed that people were donating money; some of my friends donated with a promise to donate more.
There are people who want to help but may not know how best to go about it, the foundation offers a platform to do so.

Now we have a structure, we can also go for any money we know that is available from donor houses and grant groups. Do not forget that we are sending these kids to school to be better, but my burden is on the country, and at the end of the day, the average Nigerian can stand up for himself and then we have a better society.
If we can get money from the European Union, USAID, from Japan or from anywhere and we can use it to train the kids, we will be fulfilled. Our target is to train over 500 children in five years.
We have our own earmarked funds, we have received some donations and we will go after other funds that will help us scale.

Are you considering partnership with the government in terms of legislation?

We will support anything that helps quality education. We will not start with government partnership on supportive legislation in education, but eventually we will get there.
I am of the opinion that UBE should be scrapped. It should be for pre-primary and primary school levels, but we are missing it. We can work with organisation like UNESCO and UNICEF that can force the government to do something. I want an increase in the education budget. There is a rate required and if you want to improve your country generally you must have a 15 percent budget for education for developed countries and for us as a developing country, it should be 25 percent.

But the budget for education here is 7.8 percent. If you look at what India has done in five years, it has moved to be about the sixth biggest economy in the world. You can see when they started doing 26 percent for education in their budget and that is why an Indian is Google CEO, an Indian is IBM and Microsoft CEO. There is a plan that has been happening for some time now.
It is important to work with the government to see that education is given its place, though education and social service go hand in hand.

What agenda are you setting for the new administration on education?

The first is that the budget for education should be a minimum of 28 percent because we need to catch up. How can it be that 20 percent of the world’s out-of-school children are in Nigeria. Do you know what that means? We are only 200 million people. India is 1.4 million and China is 1.3 million people, yet Nigeria, with 200 million people is 20 percent out of the world’s entire out-of-school children. population. It is a crisis.

My second agenda is to go and find Nigerians doing well in education abroad to come and design our educational policies.
Also, the government should create an Education Crisis Monitoring Board under a President Taskforce for priority sake.
There is an urgent need to overhaul the Ministry of Education and remove federal character from manning education because it is killing education. It is because education is not producing that the government does not see it as a place to invest.