The good old days and the bad new days, By Owei Lakemfa

#TrackNigeria: As the battles over the 2019 Presidential elections rage in the courts, I had cause to examine governance in the closing years  of colonialism, the First and Second Republics, and  contrast it with the past 35 years of military-civilian rule. I did so using four critical sectors.

The first is education which is both a vehicle for development and an instrument for emancipation.  I am convinced that an   education that enables the student master his environment, to be useful to himself and his society, is an education that liberates; that is the kind of education we require. When on January 17, 1955, Chief Obafemi Awolowo mapped out the free education programmme of the ruling Action Group Party in Western Nigeria, he married it with a school-to-land programme that  showed the pupil  where the food he ate , came from.

There were laudable programmes  by all regions to expand education in post-colonial  Nigeria; it was a healthy rivalry that saw the East establish the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on October 7, 1960, the West create the University of Ife in June, 1961, and the North  found the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on October 4, 1962.

The Lateef Jakande administration in Lagos State while building on this legacy, carried out a revolution in education that became the benchmark in our country. In applying more of brains and determination, than funds, he transformed the daily three-tier education system of morning, afternoon and evening school streams to a single morning stream. In a system of “ The Lord has need of  it” he was able to acquire land with little compensation on which he built primary and secondary schools. This is what public acquisition of land is for;  it is not meant for RUGA.

Jakande  within  four years  from 1979, increased  the primary schools in Lagos State from 605  to 812; on the average, he built 52 new primary schools every year. Within four years, he doubled the number of secondary schools in the state;  from 105  to 223; that is building an average 30 new secondary schools per year. His government constructed 11, 729 classrooms with a maximum of 40 children per class between March and August 1980,  and by 1983, he had constructed over 22,000 classrooms.

Aware that some  products of the free education programme would need to go to  tertiary institutions, he  tackled the issue of establishing a state university in a novel way that married speed and maximum utilization of funds. There were some new high school structures in Ojo, what Jakande did in the overriding interest of the public, was to take over these structures  and in 1983,  use  them to establish the Lagos State University (LASU)  which today,  has over 35,000 full time students.

This  type of vision and programmatic mind that revolutionized education in the country, has been largely missing in the country since the military seized power on December 31, 1983. The current Buhari administration is not known to have built any school in four years!

I also examined shelter,  an essential human need for which Nigeria suffers an 18-20 million deficit. In 2016, when I visited China which had newly liberated 300 million from the poverty pit, I discovered that one of the main things that country employed in achieving that human feat was by building homes.

 Housing when constructed  by direct labour, provides mass jobs and at the same time elevates the beneficiaries and helps sanitation.

However, this is no discovery for Nigeria as the  Shagari administration had made it a priority in the early 1980s. But, the star of our housing revolution was the Jakande government. In its four years in office from 1979, it built over 30,000  low-income houses in at least 18 housing estates across  the state. That means the Jakande administration built over 7,500 new houses yearly or 650 monthly or 21 new houses for every day it was in power!

If  we had this replicated across the country and the military had not truncated this system 36 years ago, we might not have the serious housing crisis we have today.

A third aspect I examined was healthcare. In a state like Lagos, no matter how long a patient spent in hospital, all the medical care, bed, feeding, drugs and inviting experts in various fields to manage cases,  was absolutely free!

That was three and a half decades ago. Today, the health system is so run down that the ruling elites treat even their headache and ear problems in Europe while  the upper middle class treat theirs in India. The mass of the people are virtually abandoned to their fate. Things are now so bad that even giving birth has become a dangerous enterprise. 

Lastly, I examined mass transit. It is commonsensical that in any society, the mass of the people  must move and the surest way is through mass transit.  

The Japanese Shinkansen (bullet trains) began to run on  October 1, 1964. Now,  it can attain speed of  over  320 kilometers per hour (199 miles per hour)It is also one of the safest means of transportation  in the world with no fatal accidents in its 55-year history. China’s speed trains carried  about  3 billion passenger rides in 2016.

 In 2011, three years after it was put to service,  I rode China’s  first  high-speed rail, Beijing-Tianjin high-speed train. The 135 –kilometre journey  took about 35 minutes.

Nigeria in the 1960s and ‘70s had enormous wealth but did not build a mass transit system.  Eighteen years after the introduction of high speed train in the world, and  with austerity measures biting hard,  the Jakande administration began the construction of what promised to be our country’s first mass transit system. Lands including one for a terminus at the Yaba Bus stop were  acquired and buildings on the proposed mass transit route, marked. The construction was on  in 1983 when the military struck, overthrowing the  civilian administration.

Rather than continue what promised to be an historic  and transformative project, the Buhari regime scrapped it in 1985. It took  over $78 million  from  the Lagos tax payers purse to pay off  the French contractors   to stop  building the mass transit! So, today, Lagos with an estimated population of over 18 million has no mass transit.

In an ironical twist, 33 years after the illogical decision to scrap the mass transit,  Lagos was shut down  on March 29,  2018  to enable General Buhari, now President Muhammadu Buhari   open an uncompleted bus terminus in Ikeja.

To recall the good old days is to weep and stare in disbelief at what has become of our dear country. We need to make conscious and determined efforts to  return to those days when the people were  the centre of governance.