The Politics & Power Of Education,By Ayisha Osori

ayisha-osori 600‘The level of parasitism on the part of the rulers of this (sic) parts of Nigeria is far reaching” – Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman

Last week’s article – (What is stunting our democracy?) which placed the blame for the stunted development of Nigeria’s democracy firmly on the heads of the political elite who know an uneducated citizenry can do their reign no harm, generated enough interest to warrant a follow up.

It is necessary to explain here what type of education is critical to democracy. It is the education that is much more than attending an institution, it is much more than certificates and diplomas. It is about the power to deduce, to reason, to question and to challenge. Having a string of degrees without being able to think: ‘what is the problem here, why is my life the way it is, why am I here, what can I do to make things better, what is my responsibility, is not the education we are talking about. It is the ability of a person to question what they think they know and what they have learned with the aim of improving the quality of life around them. It is the type of education that has made me explore why despite voting for Muhammad Buhari in 2011, I would be hard pressed to do so again in 2015 without some clear signs of a change from the past. Why? Because I don’t understand why between each election cycle he does little with the supposed immense influence he has over millions of Nigerians, the majority of whom are allegedly amongst those who would be firmly categorized by any standards as the educationally disadvantaged. He could be an advocate to ensure that Nigeria is removed from the sorry list of 3 countries which still have polio, particularly when medical experts say the polio is in the North. He could even just speak regularly and for free at every juma’at prayer to a willing and captive audience about the necessity for learning and education. Or on the Hadith and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. regarding care for women and girls – 50% of our population, particularly when every 10 minutes a woman dies giving birth in Nigeria for various reasons including ignorance and oppression. But no – it is all about the politics of elections and the corruption and impunity of government. Today, that is no longer enough. Nigeria needs a lot more and every person who says they want to rule – in any position, must be strictly scrutinized with a powerful magnifying glass by millions of educated and questioning minds.

Some took offence with the blame generally heaped on political elites in the article. They argue that some have clearly championed education in their states/regions. This not quite convincing in this context of the theory – that an educated electorate is critical to our democracy, especially considering how wide spread the buying and sale of votes is across Nigeria. Besides, the list of education ministers in Nigeria carefully attends to the federal character principle. So they must all share the blame.


 “No one will be able to say to Death when it comes in the form of power outage during an operation or inadequately trained medical personnel, ‘Wait! I am not directly responsible for the billions stolen from government’ – it is only later that we get to be judged for our actions and deeds…and by then it is already all over.”


Others shared opinions and material regarding the state of education. One of the most interesting was a paper: Political Economy and Political Stability in Nigeria: Facing Realities in the Seven North-West States by Yusuf Bala Usman. Ironically, it was delivered thirteen years ago at a workshop to discuss the ‘survival of democracy in Nigeria’. Nigerians, indeed world citizens, are discussing exactly this topic on a daily basis. According to Usman, in the North West, local, state and FG funds assigned for educational development ‘are systematically stolen by a highly organized education industry mafia, to the extent that the people of the area are some of the most educationally backward in the country’.

Using data from the number of unqualified primary school teachers in these seven states (as high as 76%) and low enrollment into technical colleges and universities, particularly agriculture and engineering, Usman lays the blame for the situation on ‘their ruling elite’ and makes the link to politics. He says the people of the north are being ‘economically exploited and educationally plundered’ and to divert their resentment from those who are rich and in power, the elite have entrenched the politics of fear in the form of communal, ethnic, religious and regional hatred.

Obviously the insufficiently educated and inadequate numbers of educated are not the only problems with our democracy. Indeed when it comes to politics, some of the allegedly well educated amongst the elite seem no different from those who never had any formal education. However, most of what is wrong with our politics –violence, excessive money to intimidate and bribe, negative identity politics, lack of transparency and accountably in most aspects of governance and every level of government and the political parties – can be logically explained and/or self deduced for the distractions that they are if enough of the electorate was educated.

Being able to recite the Quran in flawless Arabic and not understand what the words mean is not an education, neither is knowing all the hadith but not knowing the spirit of community and self dignity in labour and hard work.  No one will be spared when things crumble, we will all suffer in one way or the other. No one will be able to say to Death when it comes in the form of power outage during an operation or inadequately trained medical personnel, ‘Wait! I am not directly responsible for the billions stolen from government’ – it is only later that we get to be judged for our actions and deeds…and by then it is already all over. There should be some urgency with which those who are in positions of influence and who want to change things for the better should be analyzing these issues and trying to address them, and not as usual, luxuriating in endless navel gazing. We have now – let’s use the opportunities we have.

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