It has become imperative on us to ask ourselves the questions of why do Nigerians go to school and what do they want to achieve by being educated? This is in consideration of the new dimension unemployment has assumed in the country in recent times. Just over a week ago, we witnessed a tragic situation in which according to newspaper and eyewitness reports, twenty one Nigerians lost their lives and many others sustained different degrees of injuries in search of jobs with the Nigerian Immigration Service. Apart from the dead, fainted, slumped and the injured, hundred others lost all or some of their heard-earned academic credentials.
The aftermath of the cancelled immigration recruitment exercise is no doubt a national embarrassment which did not only went a long way in describing the rate and severity of unemployment in the country, but has also shown the vulnerability of educated Nigerian youths and uselessness of education when it is only used as a tool to search for employment. Sometimes events like this happen for us to derive some lessons because when they occur, they raise important questions.
Now back to our question: what is the purpose of education in Nigeria? A direct answer to this question is that, as much as arguably 96% of Nigerians get educated in order to earn a living. If that is the case then, is education a way to earn a living or is it a means to gain knowledge and become civilized so as to decide how best to live?
U.S Publisher and politician, Malcolm Forbes once said: “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Tijjani Shu’aibu Adamu, an experienced Nigerian educationist described education as an agent of social mobility which is capable of moving an individual from the lower class to the upper class. Therefore, it is an instrument for developing an individual socially, mentally, physically, emotionally, morally and psychologically.
Tijjani went further to concur with Taiwo’s view on education as a process which enables a person to distinguish between good and bad attitudes, right and wrong behaviours, just and unjust tendencies, social and anti-social habits in the society so as to prepare an individual for the future. I would personally define education as a combination of tools and techniques used to gain empirical knowledge about the useful components of life and how best to make use of them, recognize the useless ones and how best to avoid them and to establish a clear cut boundaries between them.
What do we have now? Education in Nigeria has been relegated to the means of livelihood. If not for the expectation of monetary employment, most Nigerians would not go to school. Is this the kind of education we want? Have we ever asked ourselves why the high number of graduates we produce every year signifies education growth but does not reflect in our national development? This is because most people are not willing to become professionals, develop careers, gain and apply knowledge, understand life from an intellectual point of view and offer solutions to life problems. Rather, we are all seeking for jobs which do not exist.
Now we are faced with two major problems. One is completely turning education into a means of survival and two is completely relying on government to provide direct jobs. As long as we don’t take care of these problems, we are bound to witness more and more scenarios of the immigration recruitment exercise. In fact, we can only expect things to get worse and nastier. As long as we continue to produce graduates whose only objective is to get direct employment, which no government can provide, then we shall witness not only accidental deaths but deliberate killings of each other in order to gain employment. God forbid.
For many years, the Nigerian education system has been suffering immensely simply because it has been completely relegated into a process of providing employment. This is the reason why students graduate empty headed because they were never after the knowledge in the first place but the grades and certificates. Students are being made to believe by their parents, teachers and society consciously and subconsciously that the major objective of school is to work and earn a living.
The best way to get out of this quagmire is to develop reliable means of livelihood as we go to school so that after graduating, any job gotten could be just a supplementary means and a path to career development. This will enable us to avoid bizarre scenarios where an engineer works in a bank or a historian working in a construction company just because they need something to support their lives. Do you want me to believe that a reasonable number of the about 7 million immigration applicants who were made to part with a collective application fees of about 7 billion naira were willing to become immigration officers? The truth is that most of them applied not because they were interested but because they have been prepared from the beginning to have no choice. We must raise ourselves and our children to become farmers, entrepreneurs, traders, and artisans so that we can seek education for the purpose of knowledge and improvement of life quality only. If we fail not only to do this but to do it effectively, we may well regret in the future as I have come to understand that regret is not only about bad deeds, sometimes you regret about good deeds which you should have done better.
The second problem is of solely relying on governments to provide direct jobs which have succeeded in adding salt to our already severe injury. Federal, states and local governments in the country have continued to fool themselves and the people with the illusion that they can provide employment. Some politicians, out of ignorance make promises during electioneering campaigns that they will provide direct jobs for everybody. Other politicians do so deliberately under deceit just to secure votes. But the truth is that no government in Nigeria can provide direct employment to a satisfactory level.
At the moment, out of the 36 states of the federation, only Lagos state can fully pay the salaries of its workers without waiting for federal allocations. Few other states like Kano, Rivers and Oyo can pay a reasonable fraction of their salaries without federal allocations. Some states cannot even pay salaries at all without federal allocations. The Federal Government itself is suffering from huge recurrent expenditure mostly accrued due to salary payment of its large work force. Gradually, it is becoming apparent that the burden of salary payments is hugely taking its toll on the Federal Government. How then in the long run do we expect governments to continue employing directly?
What governments should do is to face reality and stop deceiving people with direct employment. They should rather encourage people to be creative and shift their thinking away from ordinary and conventional means of getting employment and try new initiatives. We must understand that when everybody follows established paths, there will be no creativity; we have to think beyond the normal way of doing things.
Secondly, the government should strengthen sectors like power, transportation, infrastructure, security and justice because such sectors have the potential of automatically creating and consolidating direct and indirect jobs. For example, if there is adequate security and power supply, businesses would run for 24 hours. When some people who conduct businesses during the day are asleep, some others who were resting during the day will conduct businesses during the night. Nigerian businesses will work for 24 hours with no valuable time to waste thereby hugely increasing productivity.
When power is available, thousands of jobs would be created both directly and indirectly. Therefore, advisably, rather than invest in providing direct jobs which cannot satisfy all, let the government strengthen security and power. We have seen what the telecommunication and entertainment industries have done to our economy through direct and indirect jobs creation with ripple effects and I think that success can be replicated in many other sectors. When this is done, governments will rely on its happy and self-employed citizens for taxes rather than the other way round.
Amir Abdulazeez is the President of Foundation for Better Initiatives (FBI) and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org