Nigeria at 54: Seeking an Illusive Future , By Jibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin resizedLast week, we celebrated our 54th independence anniversary. Did I say celebrate. Well, at least the President did cut an anniversary cake in his sitting room and his ministers went there to great him. This is the fourth year that the Federal Government has not had the audacity to properly celebrate our independence. The story is simple; the presidency has been too frightened of attacks by insurgents to celebrate our independence. We all recall that it was during the 50th Anniversary Celebration that an explosion occurred just outside Eagle Square, the venue of the grand celebration. It appears that the message the presidency got from the ignoble attack was that a grand celebration of Nigeria’s independence is a dangerous activity that should not be attempted again. This is sad for Nigerian children.
Celebrating independence is not something presidents should routinize as a sitting room affair. For fifty years, from 1960 to 2010, millions of Nigerian children were on the public arena on 1st October proudly marching and waving the Nigerian flag, singing the national anthem and learning important civic lessons that independence and freedom is something you struggle for and obtain. They learn that the freedom is something to be proud about and defend. They learn that that Nigerians used to be subjects of HRM the Queen of England but that now we are citizens. These lessons of civics are extremely important in nation building. The Nigerians of tomorrow can defend and promote the nation only if they have had an opportunity to learn about it. Our children of today are sadly learning the wrong message, that independence is the day the President cuts a cake rather than the day children and the armed and security forces come out to march and show pride in our nationhood.
The belief, confidence and devotion to one’s country are never innate; they are developed through the acquisition of nationalist knowledge. The main vehicle for that is the teaching of history. That is why the history curriculum in most countries is constructed in a way that instils nationalist pride in generations of children. Nigeria is today the only country in the world where the teaching of history has disappeared from the school system. Our children go through the whole school system without learning our origins and struggles as a nation-state. In addition, very few schools teach geography. In essence, we are producing generations of children who do not know Nigeria and therefore cannot care for Nigeria. I am frightened about these generations who are being programmed not to know or care about their country.
The generations of children that we are programming are bifurcated by class. On the one hand, there are the children of 70% of Nigerians who live below the poverty line who go to schools with very poor facilities and teaching staff and most of them fall by the way side. The schools we went to did not disadvantage most of my generation, who like me came from poor families. School for us was a vital pathway to social mobility and our certificates upon graduation from university were passports to good jobs, houses and cars. Most children of the poor today have discovered that education is no longer a route to social mobility. Those that manage to graduate do not find jobs and are living a life of permanent frustration.
There are important spatial differences in the educational system. In most parts of Northern Nigeria, the collapse of public education is much more profound. Most public secondary schools produce graduates who are basically illiterate. Borno state according to the 2010 school census had 23% primary school enrolment while Lagos state had 95% enrolment. While most children in Lagos finish primary school literate, there mates in Borno remain illiterate. This means that the difference between the 10.5 million children in Northern Nigeria who do not go to school and those who do is minimal. The Northern elite has shown 50 years of total lack of commitment to the education of the children of the poor.
Our own children, we the elite in both the North and South, have however been investing heavily in the education of our children. For most middle class parents like myself, the biggest chunk of our income goes to the education of our children. The children of the middle class go to private schools from nursery to university and succeed in getting a fairly good education. The children of the upper classes however do very little of their education in Nigeria. Depending on how much money they have stolen, they send their children to Ghana, Malaysia, United Kingdom, the United States and so on. These children learn the history and culture of so many countries but not their own. When these children return, the influence of their parents is used to secure them excellent well paying jobs in nice places such as the Central Bank and NNPC. We have therefore been preparing a demographic time bomb where the children of the poor are programmed for illiteracy and unemployment while the children of the middle and upper classes are guaranteed good education and jobs. Clearly, we have not had the leadership with sufficient enlightened self-interest to prepare future generations that will build Nigeria, no history, and no education for the majority and no pride in the concept called Nigeria.
In the North East, the children of the poor are being killed regularly for daring to go to school. In many states, public primary and secondary school teachers have not been paid their salaries for months and have no motivation to teach the little that they know. Our public universities are regularly shut down due to government neglect and strikes. Our health system has collapsed and the poor simply die while the middle class spend a significant part of their savings to send the sick abroad in search of medical treatment. Daily life a perpetual struggle for the masses who live without electricity and potable water. Why should we expect the upcoming generations to have pride in their country?
The one value that we are inculcating in our younger generations is getting money, not through thrift and hard work, but through corruption. We have had a series of ruling classes that have transformed governance into successive expansion of mega corruption. The scale of corruption has become so massive that it has made nonsense of our efforts to practice the democratic mode of governance. The combination of mega corruption and poor governance has created a situation in which the state is imploding. The Nigerian state is no longer able to play its legitimate role of imposing law and order. Those in power use security agencies for private purposes thus privatising state power. As the efficacy of violence as a tool for achieving one’s purpose increase, many who are not in the corridors of power are also learning how to use it for their own agendas. The police exist only to supply privatised security to the rich and senior government officials. Many poor people now devote their energy and inventiveness to kidnap the rich and get their slice of the pie. Our Constitution defines the purpose of the state as promoting the welfare and security of the people. Today, the people’s welfare and security are at their most compromised in the country’s history. As the Nigerian state loses both its capacity and its pride, it has ceded maritime security and protection of petroleum pipelines to the leaders of armed militia.
Nigerian politics today is about trying to substitute those in office rather than trying to change the nature of the political game. In this context, it is not surprising that insurgency has been growing and more and more social actors are joining the fray of using the instruments of violence to achieve their objectives at the cost of thousands of lives. If the armed militants of a decade earlier are today the guardians of state power and resources then the message is that the potential value of armed militancy is extremely high and what is good for the goose becomes good for the gander. In any case, there is no functional state apparatus to negotiate conflicting interests and pressures from the society so people seek their armed path to available resources. The greatest threat to finding a path towards mending Nigeria is the lack of inspirational leadership. Seeking people with the commitment to Nigeria is our most important political task today.