Education, as a basic investment in the consumers and producers of the future, must be an inalienable priority
I want to be Governor of Edo state in 2016. My purpose is to realise a collective sense of achievement for a people who have always taken pride in being heirs to a great heritage. Colonialism may have demolished that heritage and the incorporation into a larger Nigerian fold may not have assuaged it. But I am determined to prove that within the particularity of one nationality, Edo, and the fold of a multinational state, Nigeria, it is possible to achieve high feats of modernity, cultural civility and technological proficiency comparable to that of any other country in the world. And, this, within forty months. Not two terms of office.
The programme underlying my quest is made up of seven platforms:
1. Wipe out illiteracy for all citizens from age one to sixty and computerise education in order to position the state for competition with all-comers, including the Asian tigers and the Western world;
2. Re-plan and rebuild every village, town and city, in a format that turns the whole state into one true economic community based on shared welfare and common morality;
3. Build a Super Dome Underground Railway station, surrounded by replicas of the iconic buildings of the world, at Oba Square in Benin City, as the nucleus of an All-Nigeria Central Line linking the Ijaw towns and villages in Edo State to Kogi State and the Kaduna-Abuja line already in existence;
4. Ensure that sixty percent of all goods consumed, or sold in shopping malls, are produced either by factories and processing plants in Edo state or in collaboration with neighbouring states;
5. Create a health care system, free for majority of citizens, that removes foreign medical tourism from the agenda of Nigerians;
6. Create money, investible and welfare funds, through aggressive solid minerals, gas and agroallied industries that eliminate punitive taxation, waste, and improper expenditures;
7. Turn Edo State into a proper House of Culture, attracting the rest of Nigeria and the world, with a Showpiece Cultural Programme covering communal theatres, special online and offline libraries, museums and galleries, a film emporium, with a translation centre that renders the best of world literature including Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Festus Iyayi, William Shakespeare, and Leo Tolstoy in Edo languages.
My strategy is to bring together the best minds that Nigeria, at home and in Diaspora, can muster. It calls for a basic recourse to self-sufficiency while challenging the whole country, and the world at large, to participate in a new modality of nation-building based on respect for cultural diversity. I believe that this must begin with the complete elimination of illiteracy across all age grades. Put every child in school and nudge and humour and cajole every citizen and resident in Edo under 60 years of age, and above if they so wish, to go to school. Provide for everyone who does not have it, whether native or not, with the equivalent of a school certificate which the Nigerian Constitution, since 1979, has declared as the minima for full citizenship. Not to forget: the current Constitution requires that people may vote but cannot be voted for unless they acquire this equivalence or a diploma. This is not a responsible provision for a Constitution to have. Unless education is offered free at the requisite levels and made justiciable, it is a dampener of commitment to a healthy sense of nationality. A country that makes education a definer of citizenship but fails to have a coverall education policy is fit only for spoils. As things are, with millions uneducated to that level, the challenge is to press the supply of education into a driving emergency. The young will go to school in the morning and the elders would attend their classes later in the day. All age grades, as beneficiaries of a computer and internet age, would have access to special classes on dedicated communication and television channels. All schools must have computer savvy backed by a policy of one-child-one-computer. One-adult-learner-one-computer. The whole society must become a school as well as a buoyant industry of progress. And progress must be defined in no facile terms. In all walks of life, it must imply unyielding, community-enhancing attributes.
Education, as a basic investment in the consumers and producers of the future, must be an inalienable priority. Essentially, this is about a tool that must become an end in itself. It is necessarily a function of cultural literacy, the capacity to locate our struggles as a people in the context of a general national and international competition for the use and enhancement of the world’s resources. We must not only learn to develop and deploy the resources, such as we are, as economic beings. We must take special interest in how and what we contribute to the way the world works and the heights towards which we propel our energies.
Cultural literacy deserves to be emphasised as a basic factor in our definition of progress. Not only in Edo state but across the country. At a time when pre-modern school buildings are being torn down, and new ones erected all over the place, we must know that school buildings do not an educational system make. We must create a proper educational system, trustworthy enough to deliver world class competition in learning and character-building. A proper educational system must have a staffing that has priority in the allocation of resources. Teachers must be well-trained, well paid, and promptly, if we must insist on their dedication and commitment to duty. Only such teachers can give a general education of high quality for all to look to the future with a positive sense of mastery at handling the critical problems of our time.
But, first, let me be upfront with it, that education is about linking indigenous knowledge and creativity to universal know-how. It must begin with saving our indigenous languages from the irresponsibility that goes with neglect. We must resuscitate them. Allow them to enter the conversation of world languages. Translate world classics – Shakespeare, Soyinka, Achebe, Tolstoy, Iyayi, Dickens, Ibsen, Faulkner and Mahfouz and the great philosophers and scientists of the world – into our indigenous languages. Watch the synergies go beyond mere theatre such as performing Shakespeare and Soyinka in Edo language in 2016. Let’s link the feats in language development to the great creativity that gave Benin bronze sculptures to a mesmerised world.
We must not forget, and must teach the young, that the organisational complex that made such a great past possible was due to the savvy of one redoubtable fifteenth century monarch in Edo history, Ogun Ewuare, who burnt down and then rebuilt his capitol. He, it was who created the broad, wellpaved and straight streets, crossing at right angles, still in contention, which the Portuguese adventurers admired so much. He, it was, who ensured that every coming of age implied being fitted into an occupational bracket. Every quarter in the capital city was an occupational zone into which he insinuated the best practitioners of trades and callings from the known world. In the manner that, today, the United States of America seduces and lures owners of special skills and intelligence to her domicile, Ogun Ewuare pulled off the transformation of society by literally barracking people according to areas of competence in order to domesticate the best that the human mind can produce. Think of industrial estates, industrial parks, emporiums of music, youth camps and the first standing army known to our part of the world! No hedging or shaking! It prescribes for us a way of turning agriculture into a grand preoccupation by linking farms and factories. But not as a choice between one or the other.
Unfortunately, the centuries of slave trade and rude western incursion, exploitation and rampart imperialism, have continued to deter our people from bold and grand entrepreneurship; halting progress, and truncating whatever trajectory was in the offing. Nigeria, as a country, has been shadow-boxing with history as a result. But we do need to return to the organisational suasion that our history vouchsafes. If we must progress, the purpose of education in our times must be to dredge the old heritage, refine it in relation to the knowledges with which our people were once conquered. We must craft a different future from the one that the ill-fortunes of our history have laid out. (To be concluded on Wednesday)
– Odia Ofeimun