Education is an investment in human capital, national unity, and ethnic and socio-cultural harmony. Quality public primary and secondary education provides the fountain for human development and a catalyst for social and economic development in Nigeria, a nation endowed with natural and human resources finds itself politically, socially and culturally polarized. What is the best way forward toward national unity and peace, social harmony, and economic growth?
In the New Year 2014, delegates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) will meet to discuss its constitution and the seven cardinal points as stated in its political manifesto. They will determine programmes and make promises to gain support and hearts and minds of ordinary Nigerians, and they will appeal to Nigerians in the Diaspora for moral and financial support. If APC truly hopes to be fundamentally different from the People Democratic Party (PDP) in character and substance, it must endeavor to reform public education at the primary and secondary levels, tackle the energy problem head-on to ensure that the productive sectors can perform, solve the youth unemployment problem as well as address the security and safety issues facing the country.
When rumors of alliance and merger floated in 2010, many people were unsure whether the alliance and merger could be sustained. Now the alliance and merger are a reality. The coming together of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP),Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and Rochas Okorocha-led All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the courting of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the identification of party leaders such as Muhammadu Buhari, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the national party officers such as Abdulkareem Bisi Akande, Aminu Bello Masari, Tijjani Musa Tumsah, Nasir El-Rufai, Lai Muhammad, Rochas Okorocha, Rotimi Amaechi, Sadiya Umar Faruq, Alhaji Shaibu Musa, Abubakar Lado, Muiz Banie and Bala Jibrin offered mixed feelings initially, but knowing fully well that politics is about pragmatism, it seems to have dawned on all that the salvation of Nigeria may be around the corner. However, the new party has to have as a pillar of its agenda the saving of public education, as General Buhari charged the CPC delegates at the CPC national convention in May 2013, that “we must explore every opportunity to save our country.” Public education should be fully explored as solution to national unity, peace, social harmony, and economic growth?
The APC national convention should be about the people. It should be about national security, unity, and economic growth. It should be about infrastructural development. Nigerians want the energy crisis resolved, but more importantly they want their children to have quality primary and secondary education.
A nation with over 160 million people, rich in natural and human resources, rich in human and cultural diversity, with over 54 million students attending more than 94,000 public schools and over 27,000 private schools in about 15 thousand local school districts in Nigeria, APC leadership should tap into the possibility and potentials of these youths.
Many educators and observers of Nigerian political landscape continue to argue that the transition from British colonial rule to the first generation of Nigerian leaders left a sound, viable and organized education system. The educational system was functional and operational in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but quality began to decline in the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, quality gave way to neglect and mediocrity, giving rise to total decay. With the persistent national strikes at the higher education level, which is impacting the lower levels of education, and is affecting human capital development and economic growth, especially as bad governance spurned unemployment, leading to disillusionment and desperation among the youth. This also affects social and ethnic harmony. A good foundational education provides a good vocational and career preparation as well as for a good university or other tertiary education. But the lack of funds, overpopulation, decaying infrastructure, hostile environment, ineffective teachers, weak school administrators, underpaid staff, lack of adequate teaching and learning materials at all levels meant that quality has been sacrificed, thereby preparing the ground for the current spate of insecurity and criminality of all sorts. As a fundamental approach to solving the myriads of national problems we would suggest that APC should make public primary and secondary education a priority.
Another reason why APC should invest in primary and secondary education is to begin the process of changing the mind-set and perception of Nigerian youths. The Nigerian youth seems to have lost its capacity to think reflectively, critically, and creatively. They seem to have lost ethnic and cultural pride that united the country after the civil war in 1970. The idea that all Nigerian youths, regardless of the geo-political orientation and affiliation are bound together for a common cause, for one indivisible Nigeria, is an ideal APC must embrace to give vision to a great country in the 21st Century. By doing so, APC will project diversity and inclusiveness as a catalyst for change. Nigeria is one of the nations in the world that is politically, sociologically, culturally and educationally divided. We are still divided along gender, religion, language, and ethno-tribal lines. This is an area primary and secondary education can address through curriculum orientation which emphasizes the common humanity of each Nigerian, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, cultural orientation or even economic situation. This should be the flagship of APC ideology.
Another reason why APC should invest in primary and secondary education is to preserve and sustain democracy in Nigeria. Without a sound democracy, the future of Nigeria is bleak. When Nigeria became a constitutional democratic nation in 1999, various educational reform initiatives were undertaken but yielded marginal gains because there was no commitment to the tenacious investment in education to make it the back bone of national development. The new Constitution addressed core national issues such as citizenship, fundamental human rights, the legislature, the executive branch, the judiciary, national identity, and political parties among others. Today, the nation has embarked on a National Dialogue to examine framework of the national constitution and structure. The assumption here is that the outcome of the dialogue would lead to a new Constitution that will be the catalyst that will engender change in national consciousness, political reconstruction and participation, economic stability and growth, and ethnic desensitivity.
Democratic behavior and attitude are learned. They have to be cultivated in youths at the early stages of life. Our primary and secondary schools curriculum should be reviewed and possibly changed to reflect the new thinking, the new aspirations, and the new APC vision of good leadership and good governance. Democracy thrives on good leadership and good governance. Two of the basic concepts of good leadership and good governance are popular sovereignty – the idea that all governmental powers rest with the people. The second is representative government – the idea that individuals who are qualified and eligible should be encouraged and given the opportunity to serve their people. Good leadership and good governance can begin in schools. The sense of nationalism, patriotism and pride of self and national identity, and national harmony will be achieved in primary and secondary schools. This is consistent with APC’s justice, peace, and unity slogan. It is also consistent with the provisions in the APC manifesto and the constitution. This is the change all Nigerians, particularly Nigerians in Diaspora, demand from APC leadership.