A huge part of our national building is being left to rot, and the rot is left to a few largely uncoordinated (and sometimes unconcerned) people to repair, instead of all of us seeing this as a monumental crisis. The rot I am talking about here is the state of Nigeria’s Education System.
I will narrate two shocking conversations I have had in the last few years to buttress my point, as if it needs any buttressing.
The first one happened while I lived and worked in the beautiful city of Asaba by the River Niger.
I once remarked, in my casual jovial way, to the young teenage girl who was a cleaner where I worked that I saw her the previous evening with her boyfriend at about seven pm.
Immediately she denied the young man “He’s not my boyfriend o”.
OK. “So who was the chap?” I asked innocently, still continuing with my work as she cleaned a colleague’s table.
“He’s just the guy writing my exams for me!”
I practically dropped what I was doing in complete shock.
“What exams are we talking about here?”, I asked.
“My O’level WAEC of course” was the smart reply, like I should have known.
“And why are you not doing that by yourself?”
“I don’t have the time to read”
I was simply too shocked to immediately respond. Then I took the news in slowly. Yes, she works hard as a cleaner. Yes, the cleaners sometimes have to close late, but never later than six pm… So I called her again with another line of reasoning, or so I thought.
“And how do you know he will pass these exams on your behalf?”
“Of course he will pass. He did my sister’s WAEC for her, and she’s now in 200level at the Delta State University, the one at Anwai.” And I am ashamed to say that I did not try too much to make her see the error of her ways, for it was obvious this was a family matter and the young girl obviously did not execute this treachery without some input from her immediate community.
The second one was this year, just about a month ago when my ward returned from the writing of her University Matriculation Exam (UME) and it was almost night when she came in. I had heard on the news that the exams started rather late in my part of Port Harcourt but to come in at about seven pm for a short exam was bordering on the bizarre. Then she explained that though the papers came in really late, the invigilators at her exam center, which was a primary school (as usual) immediately asked that the students coming for the exam divide themselves into two groups. Those who have money on them, and those who don’t. Why would they need to do that, you may ask? The invigilators were asking for some “fees” that would let them invigilate in blind mode, thereby allowing anything to happen in those halls. The brazen audacity of it is so shocking; the exams were delayed longer while the negotiations lasted. Most of the students parted with money, and the rest begged their way in under one condition. They were not going to be allowed to cheat, as the others would.
I am ashamed to write that this is what we have become. A nation of cheats that cannot guarantee the quality of the youth that will be Nigeria tomorrow.
Agreed, very small handfuls still remain, that do things the right way, but they are the dwindling exception, and in our millions we have lost our sense of shame. And of pride. And of dignity.
Many of us analyze this problem, as well as many other national shames every day, with our friends, our families, and our colleagues (as I myself have told the first story a number of times) and all we say is “God will help us in this country”. I am afraid to bring the news to us cold. God will NOT help us anymore. I think we have stopped deserving his help.
For my cleaner colleague in Asaba, we have shown her the way of life in Nigeria, where you do not need to take a test to get a driver’s license. A license that can have Mungo Park as the name of the holder, and his address somewhere in the middle of the rainforest between Nigeria and Cameroun, and no-one will be any wiser.
When a nation has money but not smart educated people, they can buy their social services from China, India, and South Africa. But what will happen when (not if, WHEN) that country runs out of money? Doom, I assure you.
So what can we do?
We can start by RECOGNIZING that it is a trend that MUST be stopped, or we are dragging ourselves right down a huge ditch, just a few years down the road. We should stop ignoring it or stop thinking we can put it in God’s IN-TRAY. He has family in Ghana too. And they do not worry him so.
We can start by POLICING OUR OWN AREAS OF INFLUENCE; ensuring that no teenager or young adult under our watch is asking a mercenary to do his/her exams at whatever level. A final year student at one of the federal universities was severely cross with his brother-in-law because he (the final year student) had failed an important course, and the brother-in-law would not give him money to go ‘sort’ the lecturer with. He was really mad with the brother-in-law for wanting to waste one more year of his life, instead of helping to bribe this lecturer.
We (you and I) must PUNISH people in positions of authority (lecturers, invigilators, etc) that provide the market for this rubbish called SORTING, wither with cash or with wetin-call. How will that be done? You, think that one up.. Really.
We must THINK of solutions to Nigeria’s problems by ourselves, and start solving them.
Our survival is at stake.