16 December 2012

Nigeria: A Cry for Help for our Public Schools


When it rains, it pours, they say. I was still belly aching about what so-called churches are doing to oppress our people. I was ruminating about the great schools that the orthodox churches, run by white men and women, built and bequeathed to us; schools - in my neck of the woods - like St Gregory, St Finbarrs, Baptist Academy, Methodist Boys, Methodist Girls, Annunciation, St Louis, Christ School, St Thomas Aquinas College, even the Ansar U Deen Colleges. Those were great secondary schools, which had everlasting effect on students who passed through them! Unfortunately, many of those leaders who have today gone rogue on all of us studied in these schools! What happened to the great lessons they were taught? The white man equally built the best hospitals where many of our 'leaders' were born, for free; hospitals, where the treatments of tropical diseases were perfected. As much as we complain about the white man's oppression - and I often do - it seems certain now, that we do a worse job of oppressing ourselves.

When it rains, it pours. A slew of decisions were taken by the Federal Executive Council in the past few weeks, in their determination - not to change the people's lives for the better - but to ensure that Nigerians become more impoverished, and absolutely sick, tired, depressed and insane! In a year - 2013 - when the government has made a huge budget which it purports to be unable to fund, and in which Nigeria has become once again a beggar nation, with applications to borrow money from the IMF, World Bank, Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, Chinese EXIM Bank and French Development Agency, among others (more on this another day); in a year where Nigeria would officially deposit itself back into the debt trap it managed to 'escape' in 2006, it is evident where our priorities lie. I have said before that the runners of Nigeria's government are behaving just like the irresponsible and unthinking father of a household, who parties while his children die of hunger and disease.

Two weeks ago, the key decision reached at the Federal Executive Council meeting, the most important meeting in the Nigerian space, and one in which they have a singular fixation with issuance of contracts, was to build another banquet hall for the president, for a 'paltry' sum of N2.2 billion. People complained, but Minister Bala Mohammed of the FCT, a man who has taken sycophancy to a brand new record level, justified it because 'it would make the president's job easier'. The president said nothing, because perhaps to him, a former shoeless school child, spending N2.2 billion to 'make his job easier', in a country where millions of children still have no shoes or even shirts on their back, is not a big deal!

But that wasn't enough. The next week, the same heady minister of the FCT who also vowed to destroy 31 housing estates and that 'no law passed by the Senate can stop him' (topic for another day) also announced some other crucial and urgent priority spending approved at the very next meeting of our president and his ministers. This time around, they chose to approve the sum of N17 billion to build a new residence for the vice president. All this while the permanent secretary of Aso Villa kept complaining that the N1.4 billion allocated for feeding for a year was grossly inadequate!

Another crucial decision reached at the FEC meeting last week was to build a great new, joyous city, somewhere within Abuja, in order to 'celebrate Nigeria's Centenary' (100 years of existence), in 2014. This new project should cost the nation another Trillion Naira (of borrowed funds perhaps). And all this will happen in Abuja, a city that has no provision or regards for the poor, where cars kill dozens every week while dashing across roads, where there are no public toilets and people are made to live like wild animals to the disgrace of all of us, where ugly posters are left to deface the entire environment! It bears recollection that when the FCT minister was dragged before the Public Complaints Commission because of the rate at which speeding cars kill pedestrians, the best he could do was to borrow money from the World Bank in order to build pedestrian bridges. And he says there was a master plan for this city? What kind of master plan is only good when there is a need to embark on some puritanical and sadistic venture of house demolitions, but has no provision for the basics which make a city truly livable?

Dear readers, those of you who are close to this government should help ask them a few questions on everybody's behalf. Ask them, if there is no need for sobriety or modesty, or chastity, or austerity at any point in our national life? Ask them why we cannot continue to 'manage' what we have, why the house that Atiku stayed in is no longer good enough for Sambo. Ask them, why we should be borrowing to fund our budget deficits and yet be embarking on different vanity projects? Ask them, why all of them, who attended public schools, have now totally forgotten the great lessons taught in those schools, and are now watching over the deliberate destruction of those schools. Please help us ask the business community, the religious leaders, the traditional rulers, AND THE GOVERNMENT, why they have chosen to conspire against the people of this country! For the emancipation of this country is achievable, even if difficult; but it is evident that this very government is not ready to even try because if it did, its policy choices would be different from the above.

For every billion spent on banquet halls and glistening residential buildings - and this goes on at state level as well, as one Chris Udoh on one of the Nigerian listservs justified the above spending by pointing out that the 'performing governor' of Akwa Ibom State also spent N10 billion building a banquet hall and N15 billion building a governor's house, and so 'what's the big deal?' - a lot could be done to invest into the future, and the future is in the education of the vast majority of our children.

A picture is circulating on social media. Students of Ajuwon High School at Iju in the Lagos/Ogun border sat on tyres to write their exams. Because there were no seats. I needn't go far, my own Army Comprehensive High School still looks like a hurricane passed through the place. Roofs blown away, windows hollowed out, library without a single book, laboratories without a single beaker, students with desperate faces, losing hope, teachers who engage in prayer sessions hoping for a saviour. I visited sometime back and made a promise, to myself. But I am not that saviour they are waiting for. I have resolved to do something serious for that school - and by God's grace I will - to right a few of the wrongs. I wonder often what state the schools that the president and his deputy attended are in today. What have they done for those schools? We know they have their children safely tucked into some American or British school or the other.

This is a cry for help. Dear reader, you too have the means to help. Yes, it would have been great if our president was actively helping to mobilise funds for these public schools, but his focus is different. But we know that if we could all give a little, we would cause a revolution, for good, in those schools and our children will thank us for it.

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