A sluggard by virtue of his nature is uncompetitive but relishes an easy way out to solve his problems. Indeed, such a person is an opportunist. As a child of a cocoa farmer, my early setting years were filled with memories of sagas shrouded around tortoise and his wife “Yanribo”. Naturally, the tortoise is an animal unquestionably known and identified with slow speed and could not effectively compete with other animals in any race attributed to running the distance of any length. Although whilst slowness seems his bane, tortoise finds solace in feisty wisdom, and diabolically induced characters. After the day’s work on the farm, my father would gather his children and wives in the evening under the full moon that beams its bright light and without mincing words would dig into stories of the tortoise.
There was one particular story where a woodpecker was marrying its wife and other birds were invited to the wedding that would take place on a high Iroko tree. When the tortoise heard about the event, he without hesitation mischievously plotted its strategy of attending so to likewise with the invited guests, feast in the party. In the absence of own wings, it seemed impossible to ordinary eyes for an animal like the tortoise to make the journey. But tortoise understands the arithmetic and the chemistry of achieving its objective. Digging into its armoury of debauchery and diabolical nuances, the tortoise invited a friendly bird for a visit on the day of the wedding. Unknown to the visiting bird, tortoise challenged it to a test of love and probity by demanding to finger through the anus of each party to see who has a stone in its stomach and a mark of hatred for one another. Tortoise asked the bird to first open its anus to conduct the first examination on him. Convinced that no stone was found inside its friend, it was the turn of the bird to examine Tortoise. Whilst the examination was in progress with the bird’s hands deeply inserted into the anus of the tortoise anus, the deceptive tortoise closed its anus and firmly wedged the bird’s hands. Seeing the bird writhing in excruciating pains, tortoise commanded its friend to fly him to the wedding party and to which the bird speedily obliged. Coming back was not as easy as tortoise envisaged as all birds refused to take him back to the ground. His machination of wrapping himself in cotton wool to jump from the tree top ended in shattering its shell, hence, the scar patterns on the back of the tortoise to this day.
Education, they say, is a vehicle of socio-economic development. Nonetheless, not every sector of the Nigerian populace holds sway to that injunction and not every individual has what it takes to be educated. In the Western world, it is made compulsory for the kindergartens to go to schools and regularly attend lectures till they reach the culpable age of 18 after which they are on their own. In England, university education is not compulsory but encouraged through local and central government financial inducement of grants and easy access to bank loans. In all of this, England runs qualitative education that is unequalled anywhere in the world. The high standards in the Queen’s land make higher education inaccessible to all and sundry but for the few that are mentally ready for the journey. From this few emerged best engineers that build world acclaimed standard hospitals, staffed with best medical practitioners but patronised by high ranked Nigerian public officials. The few draw out best astronauts, build best automobiles, aeroplanes and war machines, construct state of the art bridges and sky scrapers, and produce thoroughbred technocrats and pragmatists. There is no compromise to accommodate mediocrity.
Like every other public sector in Nigeria, education is also witnessing its hours of darkness. The current Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, is not helping the issue either. His time at the cockpit of authority has seen the sector gone down the drain in purpose and lacking in vision, making Nigerian scholars a laughing stock in the eyes of the public world. What is the meaning of promoting quantitative education through assisting eggheads with 30 per cent on the ladder of ability and achievement in today’s highly competitive world?
Education should not be placed and administered under the useless quota system of federal character. It must be understood and accepted that not everybody is a university material. Adamu and his co-authors of 120 JAMB cut-off should have known better. For the less educationally developed regions in Nigeria to catch up with their better-disposed colleagues down south should never be done through a three-legged race between a tortoise and a horse. When the two are tied together running on impeded three legs as against free four legs, you are callously hacking and holding down the progress of the faster horse. Such an attitude is terrorism against the human race and development as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would have it defined. After all, when an underperformed candidate graduates alongside a colleague on the platform of excellence, they wear the same gown and each parades themselves a universal scholar. That cannot be right. No wonder we see many of these educated illiterates exchanging blows and serving salvos of insults at one another in the Presidency, legislature, and even the governors’ forums.
Education development in Nigeria, West or East, has never witnessed 30 per cent pass measurement. Chief Obafemi Awolowo never contemplated that in his days. Prof. Babatunde Fafunwa would abhor and reject such Father Christmas present. Prof. Wole Soyinka didn’t bag his Nobel Prize laureate as a pushed up underperformer. Prof Chinua Achebe went through quality education before he could come up with his books such as, “No Longer at Ease, and Things Fall Apart”. When the Southern states of Nigeria value and religiously uphold education from the onset of our independence, establishing schools all over the regions and sending their children to all centres of learning home and abroad, the North and the Middle Belt treated this tool of civilisation and economic development with levity. Now, nemesis has come. Seeing the seed of education in the rapid growth and socio-economic development down south of the country is suddenly awoken and challenging the interest of the North and the Middle Belt states. Crying to JAMB for a bailout is not a bad proposition but dragging back the clock of progress to align with other mundane interest of some areas is not the way forward. Healthy competition is, otherwise, one could easily fall like the tortoise and with time, clobbered by own wisdom.
Dr Aruleba, a public affairs commentator based in London, wrote in via email@example.com