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TROUBLE is presently brewing in Bayelsa State where the incumbent Governor Timipre Sylva, has declared his intention to embark on gubernatorial campaign in the state in readiness for next year election despite the fact that his party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has refused him ticket to contest officially on the platform of the party. Sources informed that Sylva has vowed to launch his campaign on the party's platform this Wednesday.

PDP sources in the state, however, insisted that House of Representatives member, “Seriake Dickson is the flag bearer of our great party having emerged victorious at the party primaries held on November 19. Any attempt by the governor to go ahead with his campaign under the platform of the PDP will amount to affront and the party may have wield the big stick which earn him suspension and expulsion.”

 

General David Medayese Jemibewon (rtd) is  one-time military governor of the defunct  Western Nigeria and former Minister of Police Affairs under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he speaks  on the state of the nation at 51, Nigeria's educational system and other sundry issues. Excerpts:

FIFTY-ONE years of nationhood. In your honest opinion, what is your assessment of the state of the nation? Are we making progress or otherwise?

I think we are. It is very possible that some people might have the idea that the progress we are making is not as fast as they expect or different from what they want. But there is no doubt about it, we are really making progress as a nation.

Senator (Prof) Olusola  Adeyeye of the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) representing Osun Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly is also the Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Education. He spoke with ODIMMEGWA JOHNPETER in Abuja on issues of national interest. Excerpts:

WHAT is your Comment on the seemingly inconsistent policy we have in our educational sector. For instance, recently Federal Government introduced a new policy the 1-6-3-3-4 educational system in place of the former one, the 6-3-3-4 system. Is that not a lack of focus?

That in itself I will not call a lack of focus, any system in the world can be reviewed and reversed in consonance with expedience. You practice a system, you see its strength and its weakness and you then make whatever adjustment you deem appropriate. Whether we practice 6-5-2-3, that is 6 years of primary, 5 years of high school, 2 years of higher school or 'A' level and 3 years of university, or we practice 6-6-4, that is 6 years of primary school, 6 years of secondary school and 4 years of university, or we practice any combination of the above, really it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, what you find out is that between your first year in primary school and your last year in a Bachelors degree  programme, you spend about the same time.

So how you divide it, is really a question of convenience and structure and preferences, that doesn't really matter. What to me is more important, today, is that whether you are in 6-5-2-3, or you are in 6-3-3-4, or whatever it is you are in, the physical facilities in which our children are quartered for the purpose of education are in a sorry state, they are in what I will call a monumental mess. When you travel far and wide in this country, with the exception of private schools, most public schools are in bad shape. Those ones which may be in good shape, often times are lacking in essential modern infrastructure that are ancillary towards the educational process. These are to me what are more important. The fact that the teachers themselves are lacking in the fundamentals of knowledge is worrisome enough. When we were in primary school, most primary school teachers spoke very good “Queens English.” Today, there are secondary school teachers, who do not even understand the most basic fundamentals of English grammar. So, these to me, are more important than whether we argue about the number of years you spend in primary school, versus secondary school versus university and all the rest.

Senator, one of the problems of our educational system is the absence of value, adding curriculum which would have made it easier for graduates of our school system to be self reliant. What effort is your committee making or will make to plug this gap in the curriculum of our educational system?

Now, do you know of any country where graduates of primary schools are made self reliant? A primary school graduate is a child, a primary school graduate should only be nurtured and prepared to go to secondary school and in most places of the world a secondary school graduate is an adolescent, and most adolescents do not go into the workforce in a modern economy. Most adolescents are prepared either for the university or for vocational schools where they will now learn a trade, a profession, or a vocation, with which they can live the rest of their lives. The school system is supposed to equip a child with an array of body of knowledge. Knowledge in itself is good for the person whether or not you practice that which you have learnt. Most of us when we were in higher schools, who were inclined to the sciences learned calculus, few of us had never used calculus for the rest of our lives, but the discipline of going through the various exercises in calculus teaches you a certain trait. In life, it confers on you a mental magnitude and discipline that actually prepares you, perhaps, in a sub-conscious way for the journeys of life.

So, really my interest is not in turning Nigerian schools into vocational centres. That is not what schools are supposed to be. In fact, the UN charter to which Nigeria is signatory, forbids child Labour. So, what we are talking about is making the child literate, so he or she can navigate the world, he or she can read newspaper, he or she can make intelligent choices based on the information the he or she can acquire. Thereafter, let this child now decide, oh, I want to be an architect, I want to be a lawyer, or I want to be a tailor or I want to be a shoe maker or I want to be a trader. The issue of the curriculum really is important and I don't make light of the issue you are trying to raise but the truth is that, right now, the schools themselves are in such bad shape and the teachers are largely poorly trained. A situation where, as seen in recent years, where you have mass failures in WAEC exams, it is a national indictment not of the children who have failed, but of the leaders of this country who have created an environment, where our children cannot learn and because they cannot learn, they eventually failed the test they were supposed to have mastered. Now what do you think will be my own priority, what will I suggest?

Number one, I think we should go back to basics, we should say, in the year 2011 every Nigerian child should have access to free primary education, and free secondary education and I dare say including free books. If this Republic can spend as much as 1.3 trillion Naira to subsidise petrol and to run a bourgeois corporation that simply defrauds this Republic, I believe we have enough resources to provide free universal and compulsory education for every Nigerian child until age 17 or 18. So, that is the first thing I will like to do.

How will it be implemented? I don't believe that the Federal Government should go about building schools everywhere, what I think should happen is essentially that the Local government should be given the responsibility to take care of the primary schools, however the federal government should set standard for schools that are as good as what you find anywhere in the world.

As to what we expect of our primary schools. I would prefer that state governments take care of secondary schools, but again that the Federal government should set the standard so that the secondary schools we have in Nigeria will be as good as those we find anywhere in the world. And again I believe the federal government should have perhaps about 12 first rate Universities and I am talking about universities that have programmes from first degree up until Ph.D programmes. Then, there should be a few others that would offer, may be, only First degree or maybe they can go all the way to master's programme.

Someone like myself coming from academics, I always feel it is tragic when I see a university that has been formed and less than three or four years after its establishment, you find it advertising on the pages of newspaper, post graduate programmes in this and that, it is a joke. We have reduced education in this country into one huge fraud. It is repeated 419 on our children, we give them certificates, degree and diplomas, but we offer them no education. That to me is the tragedy that we must summon the wisdom and the courage to terminate because you and I know that you can predict the future of a country from the state of its schools.

Senator, on the issue of funding the educational sector, the UNESCO recommends that 26per cent of the total annual budget of every country should be expended on education. As the vice-chairman of the senate committee on education what do you think our appropriation on education should be especially with regards to the rot that is found in the system as you have just explained?

Honestly, I would say, we should give education whatever it would take to make our country educationally competitive with others countries in the world, whatever it would take. If it requires the 26per cent that UNESCO has recommended, so be it. If it requires more than that, so be it. I was alive when the great Obafemi Awolowo spent 32per cent of the resources of Western region of Nigeria on one ministry alone, and that is the Ministry of Education and yet by judicious husbandry of what was left he was still a pace-setter, not just for Nigeria but for the whole of Africa. Liberty stadium was the first of its kind in this country, WNTV made Ibadan the first city to be home to a   television station, not in Nigeria but in the whole of Africa. Indeed, Western Nigeria had television before some of the so called western countries that we regard today as advanced. Under Obafemi Awolowo, Ibadan had five different housing estates, under Obafemi Awolowo westen Nigeria was the first to establish a pilgrims welfare board, under Obafemi Awolowo, western Nigeria was the first to established free vaccination for school children. All these were done despite having spent 32% of the resources of that region on education. So for me personally I would always quote the fact that we were campaigning in 1978 and 1979 and I am talking of those of us that belong to the unity party of Nigeria that was headed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Awolowo went as far as saying that if he needed to spend 50% of the resources of Nigeria on education he would do so, because he said he knew so well that an educated mind is the best instrument for moving any country forward. So, if you asked me whether I think we should spend 26%, honestly that figure is from the UN or UNESCO, if I were the President of Nigeria today I would spend whatever it will take and I can tell where I would found the money, because people would say, these professors are always talking theory, I am not talking theory. These are issues to which I have given very long and deep thought. First and foremost, as we did during the Nigerian Civil War, I would declare a State of Emergency in the Republic that would require all of us for a five year period to contribute 5per cent of our salary towards an Emergency Fund for education. There and then, you have some money. Secondly, I would tell all those ministries whose job has been reduced in recent years to also reduce their budget proportionately. For example, you and I know that the Federal government of Nigeria, some years back announced that it will no longer be in the business of building houses, so I asked myself, why we still had this huge Ministry of housing, it's time to reduce that ministry. You and I know that once upon a time we have toll roads in this country; Obasanjo scrapped it, instead of modernizing it so that we can have resources to maintain our roads.

I would bring back the toll roads and I would make sure that you pay economic rates. When you travel between Baltimore and New York City, a distance of approximately 200 miles, in between that distance you pay as much as 15 dollars as toll road, 15 dollar may be probably about 300 plus in Naira but when you ask a Nigeria to pay N200, N300, they think they have paid. We often forget that when we have the original toll roads, the toll was one Naira and one Naira at that time was almost 2 dollars so that 30 years after that introduction of toll, if we are paying N1 in 1973 how much are we going to pay in 2012, we should be paying 3 dollars or 4 dollars, so the question therefore is, if we want to maintain our roads as is happening throughout the world, we should be prepared to pay for it, that will now save us money that we can devote to education.

We used to have many ministries that were maintained by the federal government, these ministries were always run at a loss the government took a decision I believe wisely to get out of running industries, so we sold Leyland, we sold Volkswagen, we sold Peugeot, many of these were privatized and yet we still have a big ministry of industry we can save money there for education. Take aviation,  today we no longer run the Nigerian Airways, so all we need is an Airport Authority that world maintain Airports and that would also maintain Aviation safety, we can drastically reduce the ministry of Aviation, we can do the same thing for communication, we used to have NITEL, we used to have P and T, all those have been privatized, so why do we need a huge ministry of communication they are ways in which we can save money and we can build those things that are necessary and one last thing, the amount of money we are using to import petrol if for once we can think and we can discipline ourselves to make our refineries work, not only do we save money, we provide job, not only do we provide job, we also earn by far extra income while at the same time ensuring that in fact we can sell petrol much less than we are selling it right now. So there are many ways by which we can garner the resources to fund education, if only we get people who will wake up, think and think, and think again, because only by thinking, can we come out with appropriate formula for moving the country forward.

This brings me to the issue of access to education. Nigeria has the highest burden of out of school children in sub-SaharaAfrica. What is the way out?

Honestly, the way out is for us to make it first and foremost inexpensive to go to school, poverty is rampant in the land. In some parts of Nigeria, some parents cannot even afford to buy books, if they can get their school uniform, they are lucky. So, the way out, first, is as was in the original U.B.E programme, the idea then was for the Federal Government of Nigeria to give the sum of N10 per child in primary school to every state and to give N40 per child for every child in secondary schools throughout Nigeria. Now, unfortunately, when the defunct UPN government began their free education programmes, the defunct NPN government felt that they are not going to be the ones to be paying for these educational programmes of the UPN and so within two years they cancelled what was supposed to be a national priority, okay, they forget that the child being trained was not a UPN child, the child being trained was a Nigerian child, so, I think we need to go back to the basics.

Again, we need to say, okay, how much does it cost to educate a child in primary school? How much of it should a local government pay? How much of it should a state government pay. How much of it should the federal government pay? Together, these sums of money should be deducted as first item so that there is no compromise, no state government would have any room to maneuver, no local government would have any room to maneuver and the federal government itself would have no room to maneuver. Then we can provide the physical facilities, the buildings, we can provide the infrastructure, the libraries, the laboratories, we can provide the assets, okay and that is what I think we should do and we should make it compulsory, we should legislate it, any parent who does not send his child to school should be arrested and some punishment meted on such parents.

Distinguished Senator, in Nigeria today allocation to technical and vocational educations is not quite encouraging, what do you think we should do on this aspect?

What we call Vocational and Technical education programmes in Nigeria were programmes that were started soon after independence because we needed what was then referred to as middle level manpower. Today, we must ask ourselves, is that still our priority? I would say no.

What we need in Nigeria today are, one, we need vocational schools, you will be shocked in Abuja to discover that before you can find a good plumber when something goes wrong in the plumbing system of your house, you will almost feel like crying I know that because I had a house where for almost three years I kept going from one plumber to the other nobody could rectify the problem. We all use these cell phones and we discard them, when you go to China, or to Korea, or to Japan, you find shops where there are thousands of used phones and they are being repaired and they are being recycle and they are being sold back to the rest of the world. That's what we can do if we train people who have not just a degree in electronics but who have some experience with how to repair some of these things. As for the university education itself, if I were to become the president of this country today, I will over the course of my presidency abolish all polytechnics, turn as many of them as possible into universities if we can afford them or into remedial programme centres where those who have left high schools but have not been equipped ready for life can do the remedial programme that could prepare them to in fact become university materials. So if you want to be an engineer, we are not going to have this dichotomy between the HND and B.Sc.

As for teachers, the time has come when every teacher in Nigeria should be a university graduate. Once upon a time, people, who had eight years of education, what was referred to as standard six in those days, went to even teach in primary school, later on they were phased out and the minimum requirement was grade 3 teachers, the time that was phased out, the minimum requirement was grade 2 teachers, later on that was phased out, today the minimum required to be a teacher in the public school in Nigeria is the NCE. I believe the time had come when we say okay henceforth we will merge these NCE centres with the universities, the admission requirements would be as rigorous as that of any university, so that our teachers would be knowledgeable and  competent people, intellectually bright people who can prepare our children for the future that awaits the rest of the world.

Today, in China, the best minds are encouraged to go in to the teaching profession. Finland now has the reputation of having the best schools in the world and guesses what. In Finland today, the best minds in their secondary schools are steered into teaching. So, once we allow bright minds to go into teaching, once we made the reward system such that teachers can enjoy the good things of life that doctors and architects and pharmacist and engineers enjoy, you will found out that people would not look down on getting a degree in education.

Looking at the last JAMB exam result, where about a million candidates sat, we discovered that less than 20 per cent is always offered admission. Where does the rest go?

Prime Minister of Israeli once said that there are three types of liars, there are liars, there are terminal liars and there are statisticians, the worst liars of all, sometimes, are statisticians. When Nigerians tell you that more than one million people took JAMB did they also tell you that more than two thirds of them are not even supposed to have taken JAMB exam, because the qualification for taking JAMB exam is to have five credits many of them don't even have four credits, many of them don't even have 3 credits, so they had no business taking JAMB exam in the first place. So this statistics you have given me have been peddled for too long but it is irrelevant, what we should really address our minds to is why are so many of our children failing in high school? Why do so many of them fail to make the five credits that are required for matriculation into any university?

What we have currently is a situation where people, who have not even had their result, go ahead and take JAMB exam, when their results come out they found out that they have performed very woefully in their WAEC exams and ordinarily ought not to have taken the JAMB exam. So , if you look at the proportion of people with five credits, who took JAMB exams and who were offered admission you will find out that the rate is much  as high as you would finds in most parts of the world with reference with those with requisite qualification to matriculate with and those that were offered admission.

So let's also bear one thing in mind, the university is not meant for everybody. The societies that I admire the best in the world are the Scandinavian societies, small countries, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. You get to these countries and you find, in my view, that these are healthy economies, these are economies that give you good transport, access to education, access to good health, access to transportation, access to housing but these are countries where entrance to universities are extremely competitive.

In Denmark, for example, they have stipulated the number of students who can read whatever course per year, so if you don't make the cut off point, tough luck, you are not going. So, the idea in which we think that everybody must go to the university is unreal, because God himself did not design this planet for academics alone, otherwise the planets would have been in a mess, God did not design this planet for people who can make 'A' in the universities. All you need to navigate life quite frankly is a C-D. Sometimes, those who have A D can even navigate life effectively. But that is not to say that we don't need universities, no, we do need universities, we need those who would be in the frontiers, who would create the ideas, which would move medicine, who would move Agriculture but the vast majority of us are not in these category of those who are shifting the paradigms. Most of us are maintainers; we are the crowd, who just make sure that things are kept normal.

You don't need a degree, for instance, to service this building, you don't, need a degree to make this air-conditioned work, you don't need a degree to make my toilet work, you don't need a degree to plant good flowers and make the national assembly beautiful. But if we are trying to create a new flower type and want to do genetic engineering to make the flowers also bloom during the harmattan, you need a degree. But how many of those do we need, not many. So, that's what we must come to realize.

 

 

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