| By C. Don Adinuba |
PIUS Okigbo, Africa’s most decorated economist and quintessential intellectual, delivered a magisterial lecture at the University of Lagos in 1992 to mark its annual graduation ceremonies. It was entitled “Crisis In the Temple”. Delivered with arresting figures and facts, it was a soul-searching lecture which provided immense food for thought. Okigbo called national attention to the abandonment of the intellectual tradition all over Nigeria, including in higher institutions, as the whole society got consumed by an unprecedented search for materialism but also filthy lucre. The scholar showed how universities were now habitually bestowing honorary doctorates on only men and women of “money and power” like General Jeremiah Useni, Gen Abdulkareem Adisa, Mrs Mariam Babangida and Mrs Maryam Sani Abacha, a remarkable departure from when genuine personages like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ladi Kwali, Simeon Adebo, Liman Ciroma and Emeka Anyaoku were routinely honoured by Nigerian universities. He called the ongoing perversion of values in the Ivory Tower a sign of the profound “crisis in the temple”, with all the profound implications for our future.
Against this backdrop, one is greatly delighted at the news in recent years from Anambra State about the performance of the education sector. For example, on Monday, January 18, 2016, the Anambra State contingent to the World Junior School Mock Debate held in Singapore presented to the state Executive Council the trophy it won as the best team. The mock debate was part of the World School Debate Championship to hold in June in Germany. In the last three years or so, the state has consistently led the country in examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council, National Examinations Council of Nigeria and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. True, Anambra State’s outstanding educational performance began with the handover of the management of a number of schools to their founders, namely, the Christian missions and the pumping of considerable resources to the institutions. When ex governor Peter Obi initiated the handover policy, he fell out with the powerful Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) which was diametrically opposed to it for self-serving purposes, but he was able to stand his ground.
His successor, Willie Obiano, has not only maintained but deepened the policy. Despite the grave economic challenges in the country, Obiano has insisted on education getting pride of place in the scheme of things. In fact, the government has developed a three-pronged education policy articulated as improvement of teachers’ welfare, radical development of educational infrastructure and rapid development of pupils. Therefore, it is not surprising that a mathematics teacher from Anambra State, Mrs Rose Nkemdilim Obi, last October emerged the best teacher of 2015 in a contest organized by the Nigerian Breweries plc in conjunction with the Felix Ohiwerei Education Trust Fund which carried a N2m cash prize. The same week, the team of speakers from public schools in the state won the Inter Basic Debating Competition, beating their counterparts from 35 other states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The contest, held in Abeokuta, Ogun State, was part of the ceremonies marking Nigeria’s 55th independence anniversary. Interestingly, another team from the state had won the 2014 competition.
A very important point to observe about the educational victories is the keenness of the state government at the highest level. Governor Obiano, himself the winner of the John Kennedy Memorial essay Competition organized by the American Embassy in 1974 when he was a student of the Christ the King College in Onitsha, has always displayed a passion towards educational triumphs. When the victorious team arrived in Awka from Singapore on January 18, the governor stopped the Executive Council meeting to receive the team members and called them “heroes”, “heroines” and “our worthy ambassadors”. He gave them the kind of reception which only footballers receive from Nigerian government officials. Education Commissioner Kate Omenugha, a mass communication professor, revealed that while Niger and Kaduna teams were supposed to be in Singapore as part of the preparation for the forthcoming global championship in Germany, only the team from Anambra made it. What is more, the governor personally ensured that world a class debate coach was recruited to train the young men and women from the state.
Obiano has promised that the state government (not just the governor) will write to each of the team members to show appreciation of their performance which has brought honour to both the state and the nation. In previous victories by students from the state, the governor exhibited equal encouragement. Every leadership researcher or management consultant recognizes that deep personal interest, called passion, is critical to the success of every enterprise. Hence, managers and leaders are encouraged to show passion for their work. Passion leads to organisational superior performance as members go beyond the call of duty; it is the extra effort which accounts for the difference between very successful organisations and ordinary ones. Students of resource-based view in human capital development and organisational competitiveness recognize this fact. The passion for work, which is infectious, has a greater effect on schoolchildren because they are quite impressionable. Bill Clinton decided to become the United States president after meeting John Kennedy when the former was 12 years.
Other Nigerian governments should borrow a leaf from Anambra State and make education a priority. The difference between developed nations and poor societies is, at bottom, the difference in their education, says the South Commission in its magnificent report of 1990. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Israel and Hong Kong have no mineral deposits, but through proper education of their citizens became global economic powers. A key driver of China’s success in recent times is the premium placed on education; love of knowledge is widely accepted as a core Asian value. It is tragic that in Nigeria, in the inimitable language of Okigbo, rather than pay homage to knowledge, we have in recent decades chosen to worship crude materialism. Worshipping at the altars of Mammon and other gods will always produce disappointing results, to paraphrase Edward Said, the late Palestinian literary theorist who held the highly prestigious title of University Professor (not just professor) at Columbia University in New York. Everything is now calibrated in pecuniary terms. The nation is thus faced with the tragedy of educated people capitulating to the superior wisdom of ignoramuses.
We thank the likes of Gov Obiano for reminding the nation of the supreme importance of education which, as Ken Saro-Wiwa once noted, makes for enlightened values and civilized behaviour. Anambra State is now remarkably living up to its reputation as the light of the nation. A state which has produced Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alex Ekwueme, Ukpabi Asika, Louis Mbanefo, Emeka Anyaoku, Arthur Mbanefo, Chike Obi, Kenneth Dike, Francis Cardinal Arinze, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo and Olaudah Equiano, among numerous other internationally renowned personages, has to be the pacesetter in enlightenment and enthronement of enduring and productive values. Obiano should not rest on his laurels.
Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.
— Jan 27, 2016 @ 17:25 GMT