This is how two government programmes have crashed in a headlong collision. The N-Power programme has collided with the School Feeding programme and the situation is catastrophic. I have a feeling that these programmes are usually pushed through once people in government see that there is a likelihood of making personal money.
I’m very glad to have contested the presidential elections in February 2019. Whereas many Nigerians may mock one, because they expect that someone should contest once and win immediately, they fail to see the many other opportunities from getting involved in such a venture. I could list some of these opportunities. First, the people you meet. Then the places you visit. The realities you learn. The little interventions you can make in places. The lives you touch. And very importantly, the bragging rights you acquire when discussing matters that concern your own country. For me, contesting for that position is more important than winning. There will be only one leader in a nation at each point in time. But rather than sit and whine about how someone is not running the country right, or cursing ourselves out on religious and tribal divides on social media, it is important to step up, apply your youthful energy, showcase your ideas and generally get involved. I also believe that the presidency is indeed a job for people between the ages of 45 and 55. It is a madly tasking assignment, and often a thankless job, even when done right. I also have this conspiracy theory that the Nigerian presidency is a death wish. Many people want you dead if you don’t deliver on their greedy requests. You will be shocked how greedy this world is.
This is why I will repeat that for me the only office worth running for in this country for now, in view of the urgency of our challenges, is the office of the president of the Federal Republic. This is true for anyone who understands the preciousness of time (for the challenges facing Nigeria are not such as one may defer till the next voting cycle, and who is sure of being around forever?); anyone who understands global issues and can see that Nigeria is suffering greatly as a result of inability to tackle macro issues; and anyone whose vision is greater than the limits of his tribe, his state, or senatorial constituency. In short, anyone who may not be bothered about sliced up issues, when the very ship of state upon which those platforms are mounted, itself is sinking fast, having hit several icebergs.
One of my chief concerns is the state of Nigeria’s public schools. And so as I drove around for the campaigns, I made it a duty to conduct spot checks in a number of public schools. By sampling what was going on near the highways, I could surmise with some level of accuracy what could be happening in the more hinterland schools. I recall the respectable but poor principal, one David Paiko, in his school on the way to Minna. I recall that lady teacher who I caught begging one of her poor students to always attend school, even as the child told her she had absconded for four days because they had no food to eat in her house. That was in a village towards Ogbomoso in Oyo State. I recall the hardy village children I met in class in Igbere, Abia State – and shoeless Chukwudi, who the teacher said was the smartest in class, and I recall the eager-to-learn but teacherless students I saw in Katsina and Zamfara States, among others. I recall the toddlers I saw in Zamfara State, unwashed for days, catarrh running down their noses, who showed up in school around 9.30 a.m. just to collect Osinbajo’s school food and disappear. That school was just a centre for the collection of badly needed food. I almost cursed their mothers for leaving those beautiful children in that condition.
…the class system being operated in those parts, sees to it that children of the rich and powerful get adequate and even top-range western education, while children of the poor are made to stew in continuous ignorance in this age.
I discovered that in parts of Nigeria we see the facades of schools but no teaching goes on in there. The first issue is that there is no discipline around public (government) education. A big work needs to be done in this regard, to bring the peoples of these regions to understand that there is nothing wrong with western education. In fact, without it one is lost these days. There is a misreading of religion on one hand. The Arab world has since embraced western education, in the same way the Islamic revolution of the 1600s brought back science and mathematics, which the Inquisition-era Christianity had banned. There is therefore no basis for the continued and misguided animosity towards what should now be regarded as standard education. For a fact, most children all over northern Nigeria really wish to learn, and they show up in school almost daily. But there are usually no teachers, and no effort by state governments to ensure that any teaching takes place. On the other hand, the class system being operated in those parts, sees to it that children of the rich and powerful get adequate and even top-range western education, while children of the poor are made to stew in continuous ignorance in this age.
I have recorded my experiences on the campaign circuit. In the south of Nigeria, the state of education infrastructure is appalling but the teachers struggle to impart whatever it is they know. I recall a scenario where a teacher was wrong in the solutions she was giving some primary six students in Osun State, and how two of the students subtly insisted on the right answer. As I was there, I helped them build confidence. But in some parts of Nigeria, students come in anytime and depart anytime. One remarkable thing I saw the teachers do, one Monday morning in northern Nigeria, was to line up the children for a hygiene check. That was good. But it was two teachers controlling about a thousand students in Katsina. Another remarkable thing was the crèche I saw attached to a public school in Katsina, where toddlers sang rhymes in English. This is a recent initiative of the Ministry of Education, but at some point, due to the lack of teachers and lack of supervision, these same children lose track and fall back into functional illiteracy.
Zamfara was my worst experience. There I saw total unseriousness on the part of the state government under Abdulaziz Yari (I saw in the news today that he bought 110 cars for his wives, girlfriends and so on), and also that many little children are sent to school simply to go and eat, and return home. Some collect the food in bowls and leave immediately. The government school feeding programme was a joke, even toddlers as old as three knew it was. In the same Zamfara, I discovered that N-Power is another fraud. Many young people enrolled with N-Power with no intention of performing the service. Anyway, the same thing persists all over the nation, but where there is no supervision, the situation is worse.
It’s a terrible shame that we never think policies through in Nigeria, or we allow ourselves to be led by pecuniary and selfish aims. A little patience, some sincerity, robust monitoring, and continuous open dialogue, I believe, will solve these problems.
This is how two government programmes have crashed in a headlong collision. The N-Power programme has collided with the School Feeding programme and the situation is catastrophic. I have a feeling that these programmes are usually pushed through once people in government see that there is a likelihood of making personal money. For we warned that the programmes be better thought through but we were ignored. On N-Power, right from the beginning, I warned that people had inserted ghost workers into the scheme. After several billions, we hear that now government is owing for four months in some places. Once governments start to owe, the programme is dead or dying.
In the same vein, the much-vaunted school feeding programme is owing vendors. There was no attempt to work on strategies to ensure these children stayed in school. Kaduna State stopped its own version of this programme earlier in the day. Almajirais stormed the schools in Kaduna in search of food. A few or none remained after the food was served. The bragging rights of the state disappeared. Now the same is happening at the federal level.
It’s a terrible shame that we never think policies through in Nigeria, or we allow ourselves to be led by pecuniary and selfish aims. A little patience, some sincerity, robust monitoring, and continuous open dialogue, I believe, will solve these problems. Yes, millions of children are hungry around the nation and nothing is wrong in government feeding them, so long as their parents are ready to be more responsible, but we must achieve the aim of inching education up among these children at the same time. On N-Power, people need employment around the country, but we must look out for abuse right from the get-go. The investigative reports of The Cable and PREMIUM TIMES, as well as BusinessDay have justified my earlier position. Thousands of young graduates who have other jobs, and even non-graduates, have enrolled in that scheme just to collect the monthly stipends, share with school principals and disappear into thin air. In all the schools I visited, north and south of Nigeria, I could hardly find N-Power staff. The principals will conform that some of these guys were allocated but hardly show up.
The solution, however, is not to gloat. How can we genuinely fix these two programmes?
Picture credit: osun.gov.ng.