01 October 2013

THE MISEDUCATION OF NIGERIA - the loss of content and the dumbing down of everything sacred

Every generation clings to a nostalgia of the past, refusing to let go of the umbilical chord that connects to the ‘good old days’. This is fair enough for each generation. Not so for the generation after them, many of who are repulsed by the constant glancing back and who may believe that advancement in technology, the Internet, the iPad, and 4G connections more than compensate for the loss of family values and a slower pace of living. In countries like China and India, this trade-off may be acceptable, however for Nigeria; it's a double whammy of losses. Our greatest problem is not just the loss of the good old days, but also the cataclysmic surrender of the future.

Although, it is generally believed that corruption is the major slayer of everything good in Nigeria; the time bomb is the mis-education of our people, the celebration of mediocrity and the resulting casualness of our youth. These unchecked bugs have surreptitiously but steadily stripped our nation and its people of everything decent, everything cultured and everything of value. Be it in our music, art, communication skills, church, politics, print media, literature, broadcasting, and banking, it’s like Nigeria has been stripped of every valuable asset by an evil business predator leaving us only with cheap dross. Sadly we appear not to appreciate the seriousness of this matter.

Poor Communication Skills
Someone once said, “the average Nigerian, when he’s NOT told, will not ask questions.” I also believe, that an average Nigeria, when he’s told, will not ask questions either. One of the major areas that expose our mis-education is the rarity of good communication skills. Many of our graduates find it extremely difficult to articulate their thoughts and be expressive. Worse still, they are blissfully unaware. In trying to appear posh, some of our young people miss the plot entirely, pronouncing 'time' as 'thyme', and ‘yes’ as ‘yels’; they jumble up their sentences and make no sense most of the time. Employers are understandably frustrated about having to painstakingly explain everything to a graduate employee just for him to grasp their bearing. Graduates on their part cannot understand why employers are being 'unnecessarily difficult.'  Rather than doing  something to baulk this trend, our professors, educationists and politicians fall over themselves to be the most popular user of 'big' English words that bear no correspondence with reality.

Instead of cutting edge programmes on our television stations, what we have are presenters attempting to speak in fake foreign accents. These novices parading themselves as 'pros' confine generations of Nigerians to communication backwardness with words like ‘WED-NES-DAY’ for ‘wednes/day’; ‘next tomorrow’; for ‘day after tomorrow’; and ‘de-ve-lope’ for ‘de-ve-lop.’  

Apart from the apparent pronunciation issues, our main national TV news lead with stories of the sitting president, vice president and senate president, in that order most nights irrespective of what is happening around the world. Silly me, what do I expect from a media house that has used the same theme song for over three decades. Rather than a self-introspection of its calamitous state, this same media house takes the mickey out of us all by gleefully referring to itself as the biggest in Africa. Obviously we are not fooled. In fact, when Nigerians see NTA, it is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138 all over again: “When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her, though I know she lies”.

Dumb and Dumber
We are engaged in a systematic dumbing down of everything sacred and everything good including our television shows. Out are ‘Cock Crows at Dawn,’ ‘Village Headmaster’, ‘Mirror in the Sun’, ‘The Masquerade’, ‘Baba Sala’, all of which were well-thought out dramas that illuminated minds and educated millions. In, are trash Nollywood movies, endless reality shows and round-the-clock hip-hop music. We seem to have occupied our miserable lives with reality shows and European football.

Our journalism is poor and the newspapers offer no learning articles or features to young people growing up. Our media do not do investigative journalism, and they have no seasoned writers either. A glance through a typical daily will show that they are mostly glorified advertisement pages littered with messages of congratulations to a charlatan who has just bought a doctorate degree from a bogus American university or a looter who has just been given his 20th chieftaincy title by an equally shameless traditional king.

Talking about traditional rulers, they once were the custodians of everything sacred and noble. Now their belly is their god. Bribed with the latest cars, they lose their voice of reason and respect. Through their inaction and greed, some of them connive with Governors and politicians to bleed their people dry.

We have massacred and plundered everything and we now have a nation stripped of its culture and sheared of its history. Whilst it may be true that dumbing down is a global phenomenon, particularly amongst young people in this computer age, the tragedy for Nigeria is that unlike many other countries we have nothing to fall back on. We do not have a huge manufacturing base like China or a local Silicon Valley like India. We have no great palaces, stately homes, parks or works of art that can provoke nostalgia like in European countries.  All these countries can afford to dumb down to some extent as they have counterbalancing infrastructure in people, the art, or technology. Nigeria just cannot afford to do the same.

Charlatans as heroes
In Nigeria, we lose our few heroes and replace them with charlatans. Rather than visionary leaders with real strategies for development, we have built a manufacturing line of motivational speakers who are long on words but short in content. And we celebrate them. We diminish the best of our traditions; we create what should be a passing fancy and make them tradition. We have a twisted code of honour, flattering and edifying political rogues and economic thieves at the expense of honest hardworking people.

We treat unmarried ladies badly; we believe that hard-working menial job workers, road sweepers, bus drivers, bricklayers, carpenters, and every blue-collar worker are sub-human.

We are slaves to what we should master and overbearing with things that are trivial; slaves to protocol; titles, and academic qualification, yet we shout in public, pick our nostrils and cannot make our health system work.

Fads over Values
In my view, the problem with our country is hardly the corruption of stealing money; it is the corruption of what is right, decent and good. It is the elevation of fads over values, instant-ness over process; reality shows over reality. Obviously this was long in coming, I should have noticed. Sometime in 2008, I was traveling outside Lagos. At the top of the hour, I wanted to find out what was happening around the world. I switched the radio on and searched for a station where I could listen to the news.  After going through a dozen stations and being confronted with one form of rap music or the other, I realised we were in a deep mess. No news bulletin, no current affairs programme, nothing to challenge the brain. I found out this was the norm, not a one off. Little wonder very few of our graduates and young people are anywhere near an acceptable level of intellectual capacity.

The new fad is to deny our children the privilege of speaking their mother tongue even when born and raised in Nigeria. In the process they still do not speak good English and they lose out of the balance and well roundedness offered by the rich anecdotes, stories, sayings, and folklores of their mother language.

Another fad is the standard for all pastors to talk the same way, carry themselves the same way, walk as if they are doing the ground a favour and teach funny doctrines such as 'prophet offerings' to unsuspecting, gullible and clearly lazy congregants. In the same churches, we have substituted dancing for praise, attending endless programmes for service and blind obedience to the pastor for following Jesus.

The Crumbling of People
It isn't just the crumbling of infrastructure therefore that is one of our greatest challenges; it is also the crumbling of people, of business expertise, of political savvy-ness, of seasoned civil servants, of culture, of manners, of excellence. This is evident in the inability to do anything well, and the safe ignorance of this. For example, it is believed that there is no known indigenous Nigerian company that has been going for 100 years. In the same vein, we have no definitive evidence of our history too, no known book or books that can be picked up to give an in-depth literature of the Nigerian journey. There is almost an artistic vulgarity to our un-repented walk-away from everything that tasks the brain. Our people do not want books and culture; they really don’t want to learn. What we eat and breathe is money and not knowing what to do with it.  

In comparison to other countries, the disparity is clear. Travelling on the tube in London, a good percentage of commuters carry a book. If you frequently use the same route, you will get to notice that the same commuter with the big book three days ago now has his head buried in a different big book. These are hardly professors but ordinary individuals challenging their brains daily. In Nigeria, we fill our times with entertainment, not education; gossip magazines, not books.

Somehow, we have accepted that saying ‘you are welcome’ is the way to welcome people, and putting a straw in a 1-litre carton of juice at a party is fine.  So it's not just in our communication that we have been mis-educated, it's also in our attitude and behaviour. We assume that we can keep other people's ‘change’, we place unrealistic demands on people and we make them enemies when they don't deliver. We think academic qualification equals education. We have no serious understanding of the notion of exposure.

We appear to have graduated from urbane people conscious of the value of a good name into an area-boy dance culture. Our core geology has been washed away, replaced by layers of sedimentary hogwash. Instead of the value of a good name, we celebrate criminals masquerading as politicians. The visionary efforts of true heroes past who pioneered TV, free education, rubber and cocoa plantations and industrial estates have been replaced by empty-barreled Governors whose only legacy are a dozen bus stops in four years of governance.

The Knowledge Disrespect
Our average university student cannot complete the basic Yoruba proverb, Omo ti o ba fe je asamu...He probably thinks Socrates is a Brazilian football international and that the Cold War was an actual battle fought with tanks and guns. He may not be able to name the first executive President of Nigeria and has no clue about NATO, the Warsaw Pact or Newton's First Law of Motion.

University education has been so badly decimated that our graduates require a master’s degree from foreign universities to be taken seriously by any employer. We no longer have public libraries, we can't easily walk into a cinema, we have no galleries for art, no science or cultural or historical museums. We no longer have Civics lessons that teach about king Jaja of Opobo, Oba Overami of Benin, and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s birth in Zungeru in 1904. The mis-education of Nigeria is no longer a time bomb; it has become a ticking time bomb.

We used to be the country of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, of Wole Soyinka, of quality magazines like Atoka and Aworerin; of good Yoruba books like Kadara, and Aja lo leru; of the Pacesetters series, and of many authors in the African Writers Series. Only a quarter of a century ago, book reading was the right of passage into teenage-hood, to now find anyone in Nigeria who reads a book or weekly magazine by habit is as rare as the Haley’s Comet.

Music and the Art
Our musicians used to make sense with their songs. Bongos Ikwue sang of meaningful paradox in order to make a point:

Show me a virgin in a maternity ward
Show me sunrise that comes from the west
Show me a river that never flows
Show me a woman who will never fall in love

Sonny Okosun was a freedom fighter through his many songs such as Fire in Soweto, and Papa's Land. With music, he was able to capture the suffering of South Africans, Namibians and Zimbabweans in the 70s and 80s. Through his music, he single handedly created in me the awareness of justice and probably sowed in me the desire to use politics to effect change. All these before I was 10. Nowadays however, everyone - young people, old people, male and female, corporate bigwigs and responsible housewives, politicians and lecturers, pastors and Imams, area boys and church congregation are all into the Yahooze dance or alanta. My firm belief is that a nation is in trouble when its housewives, politicians and criminals share the same values and dance to the same tune.

Mortgaging the Future
I once had a conversation with a young man who needed money to purchase an application form for his GCSE. He routinely mentioned that he would take the examination at a ‘special centre’ where invigilators will assist them to cheat for a fee. When I challenged him about this, he looked at me as if I was the strange one. Our mis-education is complete when you are considered strange for questioning a fraudulent behaviour.

I’m often worried about how the future will pan out with the crop of people being raised in the country at the moment. I’m worried not only for the future of the country but also for the people as I foresee a form of intellectual servitude to expatriates if things don’t change. It could be argued that this is already happening as more and more companies are recruiting Nigerians abroad to key corporate and public positions, a phenomenon that puts homegrown graduates in the long grass.

The Future
I have deliberately analysed things the way I see them. Despite the unwholesome picture, I am optimistic about the future. Firstly, because it is the most pragmatic thing to do. If I’m not, I shall be giving in to the people who have systematically raped our country. A better attitude is to continue working, in my own little way, to address the problem. I am committed to this. In any event, it is because of this optimism that I am motivated to do what I do.

Secondly, I am optimistic because I know the solution to our problem is easy. We need education, education, and education. Good education liberates people and changes mindsets. Attempting to arrest the problem after university or with youth empowerment programmes is too late; what we need is a comprehensive educational strategy that ensures every child has a good grounding in life. This policy will also include a complete strategy to train skilled artisans in plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, tailoring, building, motor mechanic etc.

We also need visionary leaders to make this happen. Although it appears we lack this at the moment, it isn’t because we don't have them in our midst; they are just not in leadership yet. They will soon. 

Gbenga Badejo is the publisher of PostcardfromLagos.com. He is also a Principal Partner at ParkRoyal & Lagos Finishing School


Unknown said...

Quite a thoughtful piece. It is a clarion call to all men of goodwill. I hope the 'remnant' is not already overwhelmed.

Anonymous said...

Very good article.
Though I fear you are too harsh in some places.
And too kind to the past in other cases - I never saw the need for civics lessons when I was at school.
Keep up the good work.
Warm regards.
Michael N

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all though out piece, most of us have known for long that our country is where undeservings get ahead of hard working people, it is sad how we found ourselves at this state of decay, area boys lives better because we don't reward excellence as you rightly pointed out, people are ready to steal your ideas, even the one you passed on to them are dumb down only because they didn't want you to claim ownship. My brother once gave idea on how to spread computer useage only for him to hear about its inception form strange sources
I have wrote aboit the need for vocational educational as not everyone is cut out for university education and even if it severe as a stop gap for our teaming youth waiting for JAMB it was like what os he talking about but we have to continue for the love of our father land
Thank you and keep it comimg
Wakeel Abiodun Bombata
Concerned Nigerian

Anonymous said...


I struggle to share in your optimism.

I foresee more anarchy, complete chaos and then maybe, a reconstruction afterwards.

Sometimes, we need to accept things are beyond redemption.


Lawrence Okonofua said...

I cant agree more with you. However my visut for data capture in NIMC on 30th Sept gave me cause to hope. For once in a long time i got into a Govt establishment that work progressed smoothly fton one stafe to the other with courtesy by the staff. it was ordely movement from the height measurement to filling out the forms, data capture et al. A far cry from the confusion witb Drivers' licence regime in FRSC/VIO.
Wishing NIMC the best as they fly tbe nigerian flag. I was happy for the experience.