Aregbesola In the Eyes Of History, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Warts and all, Aregbesola is an invigorating historical character. A throwback to the past, he is actually in reality, the one real social democrat who has held a strategic office in this republic. This is an amazing feat, having come out of the right wing neo-liberal environment of post-1999 Lagos State.
Aregbesola in the eyes of history from my perspective is an assessment and evaluation of a legacy and foundation to be built and improved upon by the incoming administration of the governor-elect, Gboyega Oyetola. Governor Aregbesola’s lasting legacy is anchored on his investment in education, social intervention and the social protection programmes he created. His tenure navigated the tensions between innovation, infrastructural development, fiscal difficulties, personal welfarist beliefs, the rise of interest groups, subtle religious antagonism, the pull of regionalism, and the rising demand for public services.
We cannot build an enduring structural foundation for the future without incorporating the lessons of the past. The lessons of the past are embedded in the natural and cultural property of the Yoruba, which only Aregbe is on record to have promoted. As far as I know, he is the only governor in the South-West and, indeed, in Nigeria who has created a framework for incorporating indigenous knowledges into the body politic.
Love him or hate him, by his investment in capacity building, the creation of Ọpọ́n Ìmọ̀, preservation of indigenous knowledges, new curricula development, the inclusion of the Diaspora in higher education, those of us who study society and development see a pioneering and revolutionising trend. As these investments mature, they will yield and his place as a visionary in secondary and African higher education will be assured.
If one Nigerian state is ready to fully integrate the global knowledge economy, it is the State of Ọ̀ṣun. In 2015, continental and international stakeholders in African higher education held the first African Higher education Summit in Dakar, Senegal. I marvel at the remarkable synergy between the policy recommendations of the Dakar Summit and Aregbe’s bold steps in higher education. As Africa prepares for a follow up to Dakar in 2019 at a second continental summit to be spearheaded by the African Union and other international stakeholders in the African education sector, I am privileged to know that Oṣun is prime to be one of the showcases due to Aregbe’s work in the sector.
Warts and all, Aregbesola is an invigorating historical character. A throwback to the past, he is actually in reality, the one real social democrat who has held a strategic office in this republic. This is an amazing feat, having come out of the right wing neo-liberal environment of post-1999 Lagos State. In many ways the social intervention programmes put together in the State of Ọ̀ṣun, which have been adopted by the federal government remain the only redeeming point for a lacklustre All Progressives COngress (APC) central government. e
Executed in a difficult fiscal climate, the free school meals programme, “O”meals; Ọ̀ṣun Youth Empowerment programme, “O”Yes; O’reap in Agriculture; the disbursements of micro credits, amongst many others, was a throwback to the Action Group’s programmes for “Life more abundant” or in modern times, “Government for the benefit of the majority and not for a few”. If, as the Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci said, “the essence of politics is to shift the territory of the discourse in the direction of your own objectives”, clearly the Aregbesola intervention has been beneficial in the fight back against neo-liberalism. As Obafemi Awolowo found out in the fifties, balancing investments in physical and social infrastructure for the future against game-pleasing immediate “stomach infrastructure”, comes with an electoral cost. However, as was said of Christopher Wren, the transformative architect of what became London, “if you seek to know what he has achieved, look around you”. In terms of methodology, decades-ahead historians will probably divide an era into the pre- and post-Aregbesola phases. The verdict placed within the pre-existing conditions in which he intervened will be favourable. If in doubt check the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report. It is a report based on tested global parameters. Ọ̀ṣun has the lowest poverty rate in Nigeria.
Is Aregbe without fault? No! A kìí mọ̀ ọ́ rìn, k’órí má jì. Ọ̀gbẹ́ni is remarkably stubborn and often rigid. Sir, your imperviousness has political implications and I hope you have learnt your lessons. To your critics, your asceticism is grating and you wear your religion on your sleeves.
Is Aregbe without fault? No! A kìí mọ̀ ọ́ rìn, k’órí má jì. Ọ̀gbẹ́ni is remarkably stubborn and often rigid. Sir, your imperviousness has political implications and I hope you have learnt your lessons. To your critics, your asceticism is grating and you wear your religion on your sleeves. These are as far as I am concerned and I had told you as much when we met last year. Your sin was that you bit much more than you could chew. You took on too many social programmes, ran too much debt because you wanted Ọ̀ṣun to develop overnight. Oil prices dropped and you found yourself in a hole.
Gboyega Oyetola: the Case For Education and Inclusive Development
To the incoming governor of Oṣun: You were part of the outgoing government and the head of a new one. You must learn from the mistakes of Ọ̀gbẹ́ni. Your legacy will be a validation of his and a creation of yours. Do not subscribe to the notorious short-termism Nigerian leaders are known for. Think long term. Think of Ọ̀ṣun in 20 to 50 years from now. Think education, the economy and development. The infrastructure is there already. I know you won’t have much money to spend but your creativity can create gems of development. We know that the critical themes of development are sustainability and inclusivity. Development needs to be sustainable and inclusive in order for it to be meaningful to its beneficiaries. Everyone talks about sustainable development. What about inclusive development? You must think inclusive development by bringing together the formal and the non-formal sectors of Ọ̀ṣun economy.
Furthermore, the state of your economy in twenty years’ time depends on the state of your schools today. Rejig and rework Ọpọ́n Ìmọ̀, don’t discard it. Please note: Curricula or textbooks that lack local relevance and devalue indigenous knowledge can lead us to nowhere. Like we did in time past, we must focus singularly on education as our major weapon and appreciate education as the nomenclature of development. The Yoruba achieved early success and greatness because our late leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo recognised quality education as a ladder to success. Under his watch, the South-West became an industrial powerhouse due to his early investment in people and education. We staffed the federal bureaucracy because we trained our people. We created an enviable crop of leaders who championed and midwifed Nigeria’s economic development through education.
As I speak, the South-West is living on its past glory, which is fast fading away. We are in far more trouble than we realise as a people. The performance of your State and every state in Nigeria in the standardised test of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is depressing. In Ọ̀ṣun, you have the structures. It is time to invest in better teacher education for better outcomes. Henry Brougham, esq., M.P., in his speech to the House of Commons, on Thursday, February 7, 1828, titled, “The Present State of Law”, said, education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave. The State of Ọ̀ṣun and the entire South-West cannot lead when our youth are denied the right to quality public education and equal opportunities, a fair chance to get a decent job – to escape poverty, to support their families, and to develop their communities. Every society at the forefront of advancement and development (Asia, the Gulf states, the West, etc.) are thinking the future in terms of education. The available 30, 40, 50 year development plans for Dubai, China, Europe, the United States and even South Africa are anchored on education. It is noteworthy that capable leaders will not and cannot emerge and lead in today’s knowledge economy without world-class education.
According to H.G. Wells, human history becomes more and more of a race between education and catastrophe. The Yoruba have helped Nigeria avoid catastrophe because of advancements recorded in education in the earliest days of Nigeria’s nationhood. The South-West did not become the conscience of Nigeria by chance; the Yoruba became one by design. All the giant strides have become stories. Those who had the benefit of great education and some of us who had a semblance of good education at some point are now forced to ask some hard questions: How did we arrive at this exact point in time? What will happen when those we denied quality education take on the reins? What will be our future as a region?
If our region is to produce transformative and visionary leadership, if we are to be competitive in the next 50 years, we need to have a fundamental rethink of our education immediately! Ọ̀ṣun can take the lead in this because you have a springboard in those schools Aregbe build and equipped. A rethink is needed for futuristic projections in terms of infrastructure, science, innovation, high-tech agriculture, Information Technology, advanced industrialisation, etc. We cannot do this state by state. It is easily achievable through regional integration. From the experiences of other nations, the connecting strand and the driver of regional integration and other forms of cooperation, collaboration and integration is the global knowledge economy.
How do we tap into it? How do we harness education for a quick yield? We can do this by creating a basket of hubs. Hubs are effective knowledge centres for ideas, products and services. Through hubs, we can establish the connection and linkages between education, human capital development, and the global knowledge economy. We can democratise the meaning and forms of education by breaking it down to knowledge hubs along the dynamics of regional collaboration and integration.
Ọ̀ṣun is the most urbanised of all Yoruba states and the Yoruba centre for the arts. Ọ̀ṣun is uniquely positioned to be the Yoruba base for Oodua civilisation, Oodua philosophy, Oodua thought, where professorial chairs in philosophy can be endowed to help us build a strong, competitive and virile region.
What does this mean in concrete terms? It means education or knowledge hubs will be broken down into three main areas of specialisation – philosophy, innovation and teacher training. We need to have specialised centres for thinkers and philosophers, innovators and teachers. The philosophy hub will be for the production of thought, knowledge and culture. The innovation hub will be for technical, technological and scientific exploration, research and production. Education and the teacher training hub will go back to the basics of teaching.
In France, École Normale Supérieure produces only thinkers and philosophers. They concentrate those who philosophise the future of the French race, of the white race, of Western culture, modernity and civilisation there. The people admitted into École Normale Supérieure do nothing but produce the thought that morphs into culture, democracy, governance, institutions, mores, ethos and visions of society. On the other hand are technical and innovation institutions, which produce the makers and the inventors; followed by teacher training.
In the race for the future, Dubai, China, India, etc., are all adapting the French model of specialisation to meet these needs. The South-West needs to reconceptualise education in terms of specialisation hubs. All the institutions of tertiary learning in the region need to be rethought along these lines. There must be mergers and mega-mergers among tertiary institutions. Ekiti and Ondo could be the teacher training hub; Lagos and Ogun could be the innovation hub; Oyo, the technical education hub and Ọ̀ṣun, the philosophy hub. Ọ̀ṣun is the most urbanised of all Yoruba states and the Yoruba centre for the arts. Ọ̀ṣun is uniquely positioned to be the Yoruba base for Oodua civilisation, Oodua philosophy, Oodua thought, where professorial chairs in philosophy can be endowed to help us build a strong, competitive and virile region. We must establish innovation hubs, innovation supermarts, supermegamarts and a philosophy hub to be a competitive region. Aregbe created the framework for indigenous knowledges and social intervention, Governor Oyetola should pioneer hubs.
The South Africans are already moving in this direction. On the continent, the University of Johannesburg is a good example. It is a merger of a University and about three polytechnics to form one philosophy hub. Knowledge hub is the new nomenclature of education that will shape the next 50 years in the advanced world. Traditional universities in those places are rapidly adapting to the emerging trend. The South-West needs to be at the forefront of this new realignment of the purpose, nature, and dynamics of education. The demographic being captured worldwide in this new thinking are millennials and the emerging digital generation and those coming after them.
There is no shortcut to hypermodernity. The link to hypermodernity is education. We cannot compete or achieve hypermodernity by continuing with education in the traditional way. We have to recalibrate education to fit and tap into the new knowledge economy by creating hubs and regionalising processes.
Getting this done requires funding and a healthy dose of creativity. We need to break away from the unitary strictures of Nigeria. We cannot continue to wait for restructuring before we begin to look at education creatively and differently. Education, health, agriculture, road, housing are in the concurrent legislative list. In this list are areas of human need and activity, where responsibilities are shared jointly by both the federal and regional or state governments, as stipulated in the Nigerian Constitution. The South-West governors can take the bold step of committing close to 25 per cent of their state budgets to education as recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). We must break away from feeding bottle universities by looking for public-private partnerships and taxes as ways of raising funds. These prescriptions are long-term solutions for development and a pipeline for identifying and nurturing leaders. It is time to shed the notorious short-termism that has been our albatross.