Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Education: South-East losing the battle

THE other day, precisely on December 15, the Lagos State Government authorities closed the famous Ladipo Auto Spare-parts Market in Mushin. I was saddened as I watched from my vantage office position located adjacent to the market as multitude of able-bodied young men and women traders streamed out of the market in droves to the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. They were traders chased out of the market over alleged poor environmental condition.

The fact that over 95 per cent of the traders are of Igbo extraction who apparently have abandoned education for trading in vehicle spare parts in this techno-information driven age agonizes me. I lamented in my heart that the Igbo are finished except something is done to reverse this ugly trend in which a new class of business population made up largely of illiterates and semi-illiterates currently dominates the South-East.

Coincidentally, the first ever South-East Economic Summit had just ended the week earlier at the Concord Hotels, Owerri with the five governors of the zone paying lip service to education. Passing mention was made to education in the addresses delivered by the governors. There was no marshal plan from the summit to address the declining education in the zone. Thanks to the Sun Group of Newspapers for putting the Summit together with the governors.

Nothing was done to revive the falling enrolment in schools particularly that of the males. The summit seems to have focused more on a yet to be articulated economic development dream of the area that would include reviving the business spirit of the area by creating world class merchants importing and selling goods from other countries. That would be wrong headed.

The theme of the summit, Igwebuike, meaning, "large numbers (crowd) is strength", is anachronistic and no longer feasible in this age. Igwebuike had meaning in the olden days when there were inter-tribal wars that were fought with bows and arrows and communities with large numbers had victory. In those days when men married many wives and had many children to do farm work, Igwebuike had meaning.

But today things have changed. We are in an age when wars are fought using missiles. At such, large numbers of people are not needed to fight battles. One missile targeted at a city could destroy the entire population including the important landmarks in a second.

Furthermore, mechanised agriculture has removed the need for large numbers for those who take to farming. Our fathers and mothers yams and cocoyam have become extinct because people have left the traditional village system for the city. And if one would survive in the new city culture, it is imperative that the one should be educated. The city has no room for those eking out a living, which is caused by lack of education.

There can be no progress in any human society of this age without education. No amount of investment in business will lift the South-East zone without education. The people must be educated for them to be able to take their future in their own hands. Otherwise, a society made up of illiterate population is a brute society. In such society, individuals pursue their right by use of force. In the circumstance it becomes survival of the fittest.

The incident of December 15 was not the first time Ladipo Market was closed. In 2006, at about the same time, the Lagos State Government on the same allegation of dirty environment closed the market. That closure lasted for about a week. It took the intervention of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State to come to Lagos and talk to Governor Bola Tinubu before the market was reopened.

The Ladipo market is just one out of such several closures of markets in the state. About three weeks ago, the State Government shut the Ikeja International Computer village on the grounds that the traders were evading payment of taxes. The Tejuosho Market in Yaba, which was burnt down last year during Christmas was subsequently demolished and is still undergoing reconstruction. There are several other examples of closures or mishaps happening to markets in Lagos in which thousands of Igbo traders lose fortune.

While most of these incidents are occurring because Lagos metropolis is unplanned and markets spring up in odd places without adequate infrastructural provisions to cater for solid waste in the centres of large human population, the question is why the Igbo are the most affected whenever and wherever there is an ugly incident in Lagos markets and indeed across the country?

The answer is simple. The Igbo are the ones that form the bulk of traders in any market anywhere in Nigeria. There is a new trend among the Igbo to pursue economic adventures as illiterates. That is why there are instances in banks in Onitsha where young businessmen transact business worth millions but can't fill ordinary form! The trader has the money but he is an illiterate. Money is worshipped.

Where are we heading to when an entire people have covertly abandoned education in pursuit of wealth? Where lies the future of the Igbo if education is relegated to the background and replaced with inordinate pursuit for money? What are the state governments doing about this worrisome development? What is wrong in one getting education before embarking on business as the Japanese do?

The point is that as an illiterate businessman or trader, one's fortune lies in the hands of authorities in government. A policy swoop could upturn all the business plans and render a hitherto rich business tycoon poor. The Obasanjo administration, for instance, closed the Ibeto Cement Company in Port Harcourt over a long period before it was reopened by the Yar'Adua administration not long ago. The closure of markets, though maybe warranted by the extant laws of the state, impact heavily on the fortunes of the affected traders. Many find it almost impossible to revive after losing fortunes to such ugly incidents.

An illiterate population could cry about marginalization for as long as desirable and nothing would change except by power of knowledge gained through education. President-elect barrack Obama was able to weather the storm in the United States to be elected first ever-black president because he received sound education like his white counterparts. He could confront them at any level.

The days of fighting for one's right using clubs, bows and arrows are gone. We are in an era when knowledge rules the world. Development in this age is driven by knowledge and this will continue into the future. What this means is that both now and the future belongs to the educated.

If you build skyscrapers as an illiterate, the educated could enact law, which bans skyscrapers on the ground that they are blocking sunlight. The action of Nasir el Ruffai in Abuja should be a lesson to all illiterate builders. Thousands of buildings were demolished on the ground that they were not in the Abuja Master Plan. They defaced the city! Where would an illiterate businessman who had used all his fortune to build magnificent edifices in Abuja do after the buildings were pulled down? He can't do anything because he is powerless. He lacks education.

While this is happening, sadly enough, the state governors are not doing anything to address the education lacuna in the South-East. As a matter of fact, the governors are not helping matters by the way they have been going about implementing some divisive policies in their states.

For example, the splitting of what used to be one united East Central State into five states, namely: Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi has only created deep rooted hatred and division in the South-East. For example, a situation where Igbo people are regarded as non-indigene in other Igbo states beside theirs is offensive.

For example, reports indicate that Ebonyi State University is charging indigenes of other Igbo states higher fees as non-indigenes. There is open discrimination against the so-called non-indigenes in the state universities in the South-East. Similarly, "non-indigenes" can hardly get employment in the South-East except in their state. How can the zone move forward when the fundamental issues like these are not resolved? Let the governors not pretend to be ignorant of these destructive tendencies.

As far as I am concerned, the summit should have provided opportunity for the governors of the five states to discuss matters of great importance to the zone. One of such matters is falling education in the East. Education should be the number one issue that should engage the attention of the governments in the zone. Education would provide the foundation upon which sound economic development would be built.

The summit ought to have come up with a scholarship programme to be implemented individually by the states of jointly under a South-East Economic Development Commission. It is proposals as this that would be reviewed when the next summit is convened. Except concrete action is taken on important matters affecting the zone, the Summit could as well be a jamboree.