Welcome Address delivered at the Presidential Retreat on Education for Ministers held on November 13, 2017 at Old Banquet Hall, State House, Abuja.
It is with great respect and gratitude that I welcome His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, to this important Presidential Retreat on Education for Ministers. Your Excellency, your presence at this important and historic event is a demonstration of leadership and your personal commitment to education and the passion and commitment of this administration to revitalize our education sector and develop the nation’s human capital.
The education family respectfully welcomes you to this retreat; and, with your permission, I would also like to welcome His Excellency Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the National Assembly, Ministers of the Federal Republic and other invited personalities who have graced this occasion.
Permit me, Your Excellency, to also specially thank the Vice President for the initial directive, for his interest and continuing support. I would like to also thank all my colleagues in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the robust discussion at the FEC meeting of June 25, 2017 that has now culminated in this Retreat. I thank you all and I hope that at the end of the Retreat, we will all come to better appreciate, and place even higher premium on, the necessity to rejuvenate and overhaul education provisioning in the country.
As we all know, no nation can rise above the standard of its education, because it is education that serves as the springboard for every kind of development. If education is weak or dysfunctional, society and its development will also be weak and dysfunctional. And all change – including our very Change Agenda – begins with education; because it is education that shapes, corrects and restores society.
But to be able to restore order to society, education has to be made a national priority. This truism is valid for every society and is of particular relevance for our own society which, we all agree, is confronted with a litany of challenges and deficits. Education offers us the knowledge, tools, skills and attitudes with which to address and surmount these challenges, to correct and overcome inhibiting deficits, and to put our country on the path of accelerated development and sustainable change.
Your Excellency, permit me to share a story I read about the Chinese. In their determination to build, and live in, a peaceful society, they built the Great Wall believing that it would keep invaders at bay; because they thought it was impossible for anyone to scale it, given its insurmountable height. However, within the first century of the construction of the wall, the Chinese were invaded three times. Every time the invaders came, they had no need to climb over the wall; because each time they came, they were able to bribe the guards on duty at the gate, and the gate was opened for them. The Chinese took pains to build the wall but they forgot to build the character of the guards who were supposed to secure the walls. The great lesson of this story is that character-building precedes wall-building.
And character is everything: as one of the Orientalists once said: “If you want to destroy the civilization of a nation, there are three ways of doing so: 1) destroy the family structure 2) destroy education and 3) lower role models”.
In order to destroy the family, all you need to do is to undermine the role of the Mother. To destroy education, you should give no importance to the Teacher so that the students despise him. Then, to demean role models, you should undermine the scholars, cast doubt on them until no one listens to them or follows their teachings. For, when a conscious mother disappears, and when a dedicated teacher cannot be found, and when role models are ignored, who is there to teach the younger ones values?
If the foregoing story indicates anything, it is the strong message that the entirety of civilization is at risk and in great peril when access to proper and quality education is denied the majority of its citizens. Such a denial can lead to a number of undesirable consequences, the most pernicious of which are value erosion and character failure among the youths who are supposed to become leaders of the society.
The signs of such value erosion and character failure in our young population are already there for us to see. The rise in the incidence of corruption, moral decadence, juvenile delinquency, examination malpractices, cultism and drug abuse among our youth is symptomatic of this malaise, and indicative of such value erosion. This is enough warning that indeed for our nation, the enemy is already at the city gate. The advancement of this enemy must be checked now.
Education alone offers us the tool to confront this enemy, to defeat its armies and bring about and institutionalize change. Yes, education offers us the way out of our current vicious circle, and to the emergence of an equitable and stable society characterized by inclusive development and driven by positive values. Education is our collective responsibility and its failure can well be taken as the failure of the entire country. We are all involved in education because it affects us all.
But from what has happened to our education since independence, it is clear that our educational system has failed our people, and has been unable to prepare our children for life as responsible and creative citizens of the twenty first century. Our recent poor performance in meeting our commitments to the Millennium Development Goals adequately illustrates the extent of such a failure. In short, our education is not achieving the desired results and there is a need for urgent action.
Your Excellency, it is trite to bore you with the challenges that face education in Nigeria. We all know them: and they are there at all levels – basic, secondary and tertiary. Basic education constitutes the foundation and it has to be given all the attention it deserves. We need to ask questions on what we teach and who does the teaching. As it happened to the Chinese, our national security itself may be in grave danger unless we give priority to education in our national reckoning. At the same time, we must also create the enabling conditions that would enable tertiary institutions to play crucial roles as the engines that drive national thinking and lead the application of research and development to all facets of national development.
It is also high time we paid attention to teachers and to teaching as a profession. Mass literacy, adult education, distance learning, nomadic education and the rest are all important; but we cannot deliver them without giving respectability and renewed stature to the teacher. We must learn to make education attractive to the best brains, make its study free, its outcome lucrative – and accord it the respect it deserves. That is why we must attract and retain the best brains in to the classroom as it is done in many other nations of the world.
In Germany and Finland, for example, the highest paid professionals are teachers. They are better paid than judges, doctors, engineers, accountants, and so on. When Chancellor Angela Markel, was asked by the engineers, doctors and judges to pay them the same salary as teachers, she told them, “How can I compare you to those who taught you?” This is the logical perception and attitude that Nigeria’s leadership should have of education. I am strongly persuaded that if we offer automatic scholarship to students who take education, and automatic employment and a preferential compensation package to those who take to teaching as a profession, our system will improve tremendously. If we give regulatory agencies the teeth to bite and do their work, mediocre teachers will soon disappear from our classrooms. If we insist on professionalism with appropriate deadlines set for those who teach, the situation will improve phenomenally. We can minimize and in due course eliminate mediocrity in the education sector.
There is need to harmonize the learning and teaching that transpire in our tertiary institutions as well as re-define our national goals periodically. Since independence and up to the time Your Excellency was military head of state, this nation had had National Development Plan and we must return to development planning if this nation is to develop; or else, it will remain one vast landscape of unconnected contracts, and disconnected researchers unable to connect their work with national development policies and vision.
Already, the Federal Ministry of Education has commenced work in all three areas with the publication of our Ministerial Strategic Plan on education, which anticipated, and is therefore in line with, the recently approved Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
Our education should drive our national development objectives and we need to carry the universities and other tertiary institutions along. We have to revive our vocational training centres and give our technical schools adequate and requisite attention.
Mr. President, to achieve the desired change that education needs, there is need for improved funding and a measure of political will in national governance. Such is the weight of the problems that beset our education and the deleterious effect it has had on our national development efforts that I believe that this Retreat should end with a declaration of a state of emergency in education so that we can face the challenges frontally and squarely.
These challenges are not insurmountable: what is needed is vastly improved funding accompanied by a strong political will. The strong political will needed to do all this is present in this government. What this government must now do is to make the funds available.
You Excellency, nobody has the moral and resource capacity to intervene promptly, substantially and sustainably in all areas of education provisioning better than the government. Unfortunately, from 1999 to date, the annual budgetary allocation to education has always been between four per cent and ten per cent. None of the E9 or D8 countries, other than Nigeria, allocates less than 20% of its annual budget to education. Indeed even among sub-Saharan Africa countries, we are trailing far behind smaller and less endowed nations in terms of our investment in education. There is therefore need for a major investment in education in the national interest. A clear guide, Your Excellency, is the costing of the APC campaign promises in education which shows that a minimum of one trillion Naira per annum, over four years, would be required to fulfil your thirteen promises.
Mr. President, Honourable Ministers, I want to once again welcome you all to this Retreat and I thank you for coming to be part of it. I earnestly hope that by the end of this Retreat, we will have arrived at actionable strategies and, hopefully, the declaration of an emergency – that will change the fortunes of education in Nigeria. All change must begin with education, because, if we get education right, other areas of our national life will be right and they will fall in line.
Finally, I also want to appreciate the team of experts that worked strenuously on planning this Retreat. The Team is chaired by His Excellency, Prof. Michael Omolewa, with an array of distinguished stakeholders in the education sector as members. I have not seen more intimidating CVs than theirs – in education or in any other disciplines. We feel dwarfed by their mere presence, and we were all too pleased that they accepted to help. In preparing this Retreat, they have considered the recommendations of every report ever written on education in Nigeria; because they or their students have written them. And if there is a last ditch effort to rescue education, this is it.
Your Excellency, I do not want to be a barrier between you and what they have to say. I will therefore promptly sit down. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention and I wish us all successful deliberations.