Friday, December 31, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Where they burn books, ultimately they will burn people.
In 1821 a German writer, Heinrich Heine wrote a play, Almansor where he uttered those famous words. It is quite remarkable that 112 years later, the Nazis burned the original work in a raid on Berlin's Institute of Sex Research. What is even more remarkable is that the people who burned those books in the name of purity in thinking, eventually went on to unleash what is generally acknowledged to be history's greatest show of man's inhumanity to man.
I just watched the video again, of a man dying. It is said that the man in the video was Muhammad Yusuf, and he was executed in cold blood by members of the Nigeria Police Force in Maiduguri, Nigeria as part of their fight against the Boko Haram sect whose actions had for a few days unleashed terror on the populace of five states in the North-East quadrant of Nigeria.
For the records, my feelings about the actions of the men of the police are ambivalent at best. It must be made clear that as far as I am concerned, people like the late Mr. Yusuf (Allah forgive him his sins) are better removed from the mass of humanity for the benefit of all mankind.
However, what must also be made clear here, is that extra-judicial killing is horribly wrong, and the people involved in this must be brought to justice, ranging from the person who pulled the trigger, all the way to the person in Abuja/Maiduguri who gave the order for the execution. Make no mistakes, this writer is dead certain that someone, somewhere, is trying to cover up something messy, and there was the possibility that the late Mr. Yusuf would have squealed, and squealed loud and clear, so he had to be removed from the way.
However, the unfortunate death of Mr. Yusuf is not the focus of this article, too many of the excellent writers for NEXT have written about his demise and the allied events for my views to add much more to the discussion. I can bet that the policemen who were responsible for Mr. Yusuf's murder will not be able to justify under any circumstances what they have done. That is a lack of critical thinking...
The policeman who wielded the gun that killed Mr. Yusuf, and his colleagues who encouraged him are like the majority of the Nigeria Police Force, and sadly the majority of Nigerians born after 1973 (myself included), the victims of an incomplete education.
I can think of a hundred phrases to describe Nigerian education, none of which can appear on a website such as this. It is only a system of education such as that which we practice here in Nigeria that can produce policemen who have absolutely no clue of what their constitutional rights towards felons are. AND IT IS THE FAULT OF SUCCESSIVE GOVERNMENTS.
For too long lip service has been played to the education sector in this country, and we are beginning to, starting from our security services, see the effects of that criminal act. Of course it has spread to our political scene, more than half our 'elected' officials are literate only in the sense that they can put the letters of the English alphabet together to form words, and make sense of those words, but those same people lack the capacity for critical thinking. Ultimately, this lack of proper education will affect all sectors of Nigerian society.
During colonial times, and extending into the First Republic, Nigerian education was of good standard. At the secondary level, the government controlled a handful of government colleges, which were used as the standard that all other schools must meet to remain in business. A lot of the other schools were run by the Christian missionaries, and their standards were at par with the standards of the government colleges.
For example, a child attending Christ the King College, Onitsha or Queen of the Rosary College, also in Onitsha, missed nothing that his or her contemporary who attended Government College, Umuahia gained. Neither did he or she gain anything that the chap in Umuahia missed. Inspectors from the Directorate (later Ministry) of Education went out on a regular basis to access what these private schools were doing, and if standards were found to be slipping, the school was given a warning, then shut down if the slide continued.
The Nigerian state also funded as at 1970, six universities at Ibadan, Zaria, Nsukka, Lagos, Ile-Ife and Benin. The standard of these institutions of higher learning were at the time comparable with anything to be found anywhere, and the Nigerian graduate who decided to proceed for more research abroad after his Bachelor's degree did so on an equal footing with his peers from other parts of the world, and did so simply because the best supervisors for graduate research (as a result of a longer period of academic tradition) were in the great learning centres of Europe and America.
Somewhere along the line the standard fell, and as things now stand, primary and secondary education in Nigeria are in a mess. The standards of our universities is such that to get a more rounded educational experience, the average Nigerian student needs to go for a Masters degree in the West in what has essentially become a finishing school system.
Why did standards fall so?
Government intervention is solely to blame in this writer's view. At some point in the 1970s, an 'indigenisation' decree was introduced, and all private schools in the country (which were mainly mission schools) were seized from the missionaries. Then a rash of universities were established. The government had abdicated its role as standards regulator, and had become an active player in the sector.
With the way all things Nigerian are quite unfortunately run, no consideration was given to the need to properly plan for this rapid expansion, neither was any consideration given to proper citing of institutions of higher learning. Instead they were established in the home-towns of whosoever happened to be in power at the time of establishment (Ekpoma is an example of this), and when such a person was swept away from office, either the institution was abandoned to fend for itself (Ago-Iwoye as an example), or a satellite campus was hurriedly established (Abraka as an example).
Many teachers who at the same time were civil servants, were abandoned just like the rest of the Civil Service, and of course being human, had to do other things to keep body and soul together. This led to drastically plummeting standards as teachers essentially abandoned the classrooms for more lucrative side ventures. Meanwhile, funds that were meant for schools were diverted to the pockets of politicians and soldiers. Buildings collapsed, infrastructure deteriorated, and student numbers multiplied.
At the same time, the Nigerian demand for paper qualification meant that more and more students in their desperation for the jobs that would lead them out of poverty became less and less averse to cheating their way through qualification examinations. A lot of times with the active connivance of their parents, and in many cases with the help of teachers who were simply out to make a buck.
Apparently to one and all, government's direct participation in education has been nothing short of a disaster, and those who can afford it are doing the only logical thing. They are voting with their feet and leaving in large numbers. Despite the recession in the West, flights from Nigeria will be filled to capacity next month with another batch of students going to begin finishing school (sorry Masters degrees). Some will come back home after a year, most will stay for longer, and Nigeria will be the poorer for it.
What is the way forward then?
The first thing that should happen is that the government should pull out almost completely from running education in Nigeria. We can ill-afford several under-funded and improperly run institutions all over the place. We must return to the model of having a few well funded, institutions which act as a standard for others to follow. Autonomy has to be the watch word, especially in the research centres.
Personally I would suggest that only the six first generation universities in Nigeria - Ibadan, Zaria, Nsukka, Lagos, Ile-Ife and Benin remain under government control to be massively funded. There is no reason why the Electrical Engineering department at Ife for example cannot be given a grant of a hundred million Naira to use and try and come up with a permanent solution for our power problem. Neither is there any reason why the Legal faculties of Zaria and Benin cannot put heads together to rewrite the Nigerian constitution.
The universities which are turned over from government control should be privatised or closed. Not turned over to the state governments because they would only become glorified secondary schools. Those schools that are successfully privatised should be set against each other and against the remaining federal institutions in rigorous academic competition. Let prospective students vote with their applications.
School fees should be increased as this would also force quality up. The best who cannot afford the fees should be granted scholarships in a competitive and transparent manner so that only the best get places.
Central examinations such as JAMB should be sent to where they belong, the garbage bin. The only central examination worth its salt is the secondary school leaving examination, and that should not be used as an entrance examination for the universities, as that defeats the purpose. Then again, there should be a de-emphasis on university education and an emphasis placed on apprenticeships. Of course there should be proper remuneration for blue collar workers, but that is outside the scope of this piece.
We must not forget the quality of our academics. Frankly, a good number of them are (insert inflective here), and that is fact. Many of them need to go find other jobs where their talents (or lack of) would be put to better use. Unions such as ASUU need to be banned for good. Why should teachers be spending time unionising?
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
In the last month I have moved from being a full-time employee in a media organisation to being an independent IT consultant. Last week I was in Abuja to meet with a politician looking for help to improve his web presence for his campaign. We had what appeared to be a fruitful discussion until the issue of remuneration came about.
Politician: How old are you?
...My first impulse was to ask him what my age had to do with the price of fish, but in my almost two years back home, I have discovered that you have to be almost subservient when dealing with an older person...
Chxta: I am thirty.
Politician: You are thirty and you are demanding this much money?
Chxta: With all due respect Sir, the price I am asking for is hardly up-market because you already have a functioning website. I am only going to revamp it for you.
Politician: But that price is too much.
...For the sake of clarity, the man wants his website revamped, then run until the elections are over, which essentially is four months of work...
Chxta: Sir, considering what you want, I think the price of (less than the equivalent of US$3 000) is not only fair, but actually quite cheap. I am only coming in at such a low price because I need to build up my profile before I can actually start charging market rates.
Politician: This boy, you have a lot to learn about life. You are too young to be handling that kind of money.
It was at that point that I shut down my tablet, and walked away.
There is no gainsaying that Nigerian employers almost as a rule do not pay staff well. While I was in Abuja, the announcement came that the Federal Government had approved N18,000 as the monthly minimum wage and people celebrated.
Now consider this: NGN18,000 at the current exchange rate is US$120. Take someone in Lagos who is earning that figure, and consider just his NEEDS, forget about his WANTS. Assuming the cheapest possible combo at the nearest Mama Put, he would spend nothing less than NGN100 per meal. Which translates to NGN300 a day for feeding alone, which in turn translates to NGN9,000 a month.
Let us assume that this NGN18,000 earner has decided to cut his coat according to his size, and accordingly is renting just a room in Ijesha. The going rates for such conveniences are NGN6,000 per month. That already totals to NGN15,000. We have not included the cost of transportation, and the cost of maintaining a partner (or casual sex if he does not have a partner). Then some of these people probably have children.
Also note that we assumed that his NGN18,000 earning was tax independent, which it is not!
Just feeding and shelter alone have cost the man 83% of his income. Leaving him savings of NGN3,000 (US$20) for an entire month to do other things. Then God-forbid, he falls sick...
The second thing that came out of this meeting of mine with the politician is our attitude towards young people. This man genuinely believed that because I have spent only three decades on this planet, that I should not handle a certain amount of money. I can almost bet that he would give his kids, who are no doubt younger than I am, much more without blinking if they wanted to throw a party.
The point however, is that as a country we waste our youth, and this waste starts from the day they finish secondary school. Up until that point, Nigeria generally follows the world's pattern of rounding off secondary education at the 16-18-age range. Then we insist that our children all go to the university. Rain check here, university education is not meant for everyone. What happens, is that the majority of Nigerian youths spend on the average two years waiting to get into the university, and that translates to two years of active life wasted.
So our youth gets into the university at age 20, for a four-year course, expecting to graduate at age 24.
Then the Academic Staff (ASUU) and the Federal Government have another altercation, and our friend has to spend a combined total of eighteen months at home. This raises his graduation age to 26. Finally he finishes his university education, and has to sit at home for anything from six months to one year before he goes to start jumping through ropes at the NYSC camp. This takes away one year of his life. He is finally done with NYSC at the ripe old age of 28!
This is the true average age of the unemployed graduate roaming our streets. Now consider the case in other, more advanced countries.
A child finishes secondary school at 18. In some countries he immediately goes for military service, in others he goes off to the university or starts working. His undergraduate studies last for three years, and by age 21 he is ready to be absorbed into the labour force: seven full years before his Nigerian counterpart.
Is there really more to add to this but the question: do you really need a university degree to work in an MTN Call Centre?