“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.  When you read you begin with A, B, C; when you sing you begin with do, re, me…”  Maria in The Sound of Music

Santino is a male chimpanzee that lives in the Swedish Furuvik Zoo in Stockholm.  Born on the 20th of April, 1978, Santino came to the limelight when zookeepers discovered caches of stone ammunition which Santino had been using to throw at visitors, hidden under logs or hay.  Santino would gather his projectiles when he was in a calm state, and have them on the ready for when he was in his agitated and aggressive mood, wanting to display his male dominance.  What’s more, Santino did not attack his fellow chimpanzees – only human visitors.  Also, he did not stockpile his weapons during winter when the zoo was closed; he only engaged in his subversive behaviour at summer time, when the zoo was open to visitors.

While there is nothing remarkable about a stone-throwing chimpanzee, what impressed scientists was Santino’s ability to plan ahead.  And why I find this story fascinating is that Santino the chimpanzee displays a cognitive ability which the vast majority of our leaders seem to lack.  To be fair, we cannot limit this lack of forward planning to leaders alone; there seems to be a gene in most Africans that prevents us from understanding and engaging rationally with the concept of time.  We seem to wait until the very last minute to get things done as though we derive some sort of sadistic euphoria from being under pressure.

The fact that our government’s style of management is the crises management model is not in question.  Our national systems do not seem able to anticipate future events and plan for them.  What we should be asking ourselves is how do we as a nation mutate this African gene that is responsible for our planlessness?  If we fail to address this issue, we will continue to have the same kind of hapless leadership as we do today.

I seriously believe that education is the vehicle that will bring about compelling change in Nigeria. You cannot change a nation unless you change the psyche of her citizens.  This is not going to happen through religious systems or family structures alone.  ‘The leaders of tomorrow’ (pardon my cliché) spend the vast majority of their time in schools, especially during their formative years as teenagers and young adults.  Therefore, we cannot afford to ignore what is happening in these schools.

The Department of Policy Implementation (hereinafter called the DPI) is the agency within the Federal Ministry of Education (hereinafter called the FME) charged with this awesome responsibility of regulating standards in our schools.

At the beginning of the year, the organization I work for was visited by a team of three inspectors from the district office of the DPI. These august visitors were outraged because they were required to submit to our security process.  They felt affronted because they were made to wait at the gate.  We apologized and explained that with the state of affairs in our country, we cannot afford to be lax with our security.  And since their visits must necessarily be unannounced, we could not very well prepare for their coming in advance, could we?  They were duly placated, but scolded us for not having the mandatory visitors’ book for them to sign.  Because their aim is that of standards assurance, all three of them spent a considerable amount of time showing us what the pages of our visitors’ book should look like: the headings for each column and the recommended widths.  When this was developing into a painfully lengthy discussion about column widths I asked whether a standard visitors’ book could be purchased?

Reflecting on this visit afterward, the degree of rot in our education system began to dawn on me.  Where do we begin?

  1. Review the National Youth Service Scheme.  Copy the models Fred Swaniker of the African Leadership Academy in South Africa and Patrick Awuah of Ashesi University in Ghana are using to develop a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders.
  2. Overhaul the FME.  Engage in a rigorous recruitment exercise to hire the brightest and the best from amongst this set of newly trained corpers.  Mandate staff over the age of forty to go on an early retirement and recruit young and energetic minds.
  3. Design a framework for education that  answers the following fundamental questions:
  • What is our world going to be like when the generation of children we are educating today become adults?
  • What skills and attributes do our children need to possess in order to be productive members of the world in which they will be adults?
  • What must we teach them now to prepare them for this world?
  • How must we teach them to prepare them for this world?
  • How do we best train and equip our teachers to perform this task?

It’s time to begin to educate our children – not merely send them to school.  So, when you are voting in 2015, don’t just vote because of religion or because of tribe.  Engage with the issues that will define the longevity or otherwise of this nation, and ensure that your choice has, at the very least, the reasoning capacity of a chimpanzee.

Ms. Ishaya Audu, a lawyer, and an educational administrator, is a member of the Premium Times editorial board. She writes from Abuja.