Journalism in the service of society

A glimpse into Tinubu’s Lagos magic

‘I am a product of public education; my parents, poor as they were, did not groan to send me to school; and I got enough quality to allow me make my way in life… without harbouring any inferiority complex whatsoever. Can any student pass through what remains of our public education today and escape the stench of its pervasive odium and neglect? Or shall we take it that the next focus of the government for general and corporate desecration is the sprawling private enterprise in the education of our children?’

SINCE the incumbent president, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, surged ahead of other aspirants to win the primaries of the All Progressives Congress APC, in June 2022, we have been serenaded with the masterful, resourceful and near magical handling of Lagos affairs by Tinubu between 1999 and 2007. These eight years were subsequently sold to the electorates as the halcyon of brilliant and groundbreaking stewardship in the art and science of public administration. The vote-catching mantra went thus: if he did such great feats in Lagos around 20 years ago, he is eminently primed to dazzle the disconsolate and uplift the dreams and hopes of Nigerians, in a short while. 

For those who were too young to consciously live through the Lagos era of Tinubu, and other hope-bubbling devotees of the Jagaban Borgu, we have unearthed this piece written during his second tenure, at the height of his fracas with then-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. It gives a candid profile of the then-governor’s handling of an important area of the polity: education. And how we spontaneously responded. Perhaps it will help to contextualize and moderate our enthusiasm as supporters and angst as opposers. The piece was titled “Give My Daughter a Break!” and was first published in The Guardian newspaper of June 2006.

Let us move on….

MY daughter came back from school the other day and brought another letter. My heart skipped a beat, and I wondered if my grace period had elapsed. The worst that can happen to a parent is to have your child kicked out of school for unpaid or uncompleted school fees. First, you cannot blame the school for obeying the law of the jungle, and in any case, the school will also have to pay their own “fees” to suppliers, staff, and government, ever demanding and never satisfied like the grave, etcetera. And can you blame the parents who want the best education for their children? They have now been overtaken by the surging hikes in fees such that their initial calculations for choosing a particular school has been rubbished and compromised, sometimes embarrassingly. It is no longer strange to see children withdrawn from one school to another, as the old school has suddenly become too expensive for their parents’ fiscal resources.

Only psychologists can anticipate the sort of damage some of our children are exposed to as we drag them from one school to the other on account of out-of-sight increases in fees, and other perplexing demands on the fast-deteriorating personal economic portfolio of the Nigerian family.

But the clear and present danger, at this point in time, is not the exorbitant cost of private primary and secondary education (vital and injurious as it is to the Nigerian family who is increasingly worried about the unrelenting decay of the public schools); the issue is more pervasive and destructive to the quality of education we offer in Nigeria.

The letter my daughter brought was from the principal, who wanted the parents to pay an extra N3,000 for their JSS 3 children. Now, this fee is for “Registration for the new Lagos State Common Entrance Examination”. In a civil but firm note, the principal revealed that this novelty was from the whiz-kids at the Lagos State Ministry of Education. And it was meant for “additional examination practicals”. Of course, we had about two weeks to pay up or face the consequences. Knowing the rate and ferocity with which the owners of the City of Excellence run public business, we will not be surprised if the idea came as an after-thought, without consultations with schools, parents, or any stakeholders for that matter.

We all know the culprit: the lingering political tussle between the powers in Abuja and the Alausa warriors, culminating in seizures of state allocation. On that aspect, a new fiscal policy is now on course… eminent intervention (call it interlocutors and political guarantors) now have to visit Ota Farms every other month, to massage the ego of the maximum head of the country, to release a part of Lagos allocation, in return for a clear display of good behavior from the stubborn governor with elephantine political dreams. That in a nutshell is the reason why we suffer the after-effects of brainwave from harassed civil servants who must think up ingenious (even if injurious) schemes and propositions to eke out money from hapless Lagosians.

Now, why this foaming in the mouth? Is N3,000 so heavy that some of us have become “activists”? On that query, the answer is yes. Our anger is not only on the brash and impromptu procedure of demanding N3,000 for “practicals” from students in private secondary schools barely weeks to the examinations; we deplore the apartheid attitude where JSS 3 students are made to act as “martyrs” for the sins of national looters, and as mop-basin to clean up the messy stench public schools have become.

First, let us ask: are students in public schools made to pay this ridiculous amount? Of course, no. Did this same government not collect N6,000 from parents a few months ago as the fee for the common entrance examination? Were these same parents not asked to pay to their federal counterpart (NECO) another N6,000 about the same time as the one stated above? Of course, on each count, the sad answer is, yes.

And, please, pardon my ignorance: what are the “practicals” that we are asked to pay N3,000? Are these not the same items my daughter badgers me regularly for, either to help her do or get artisans to work on them? So, why are we made to pay N15,000 for the same common entrance, just to move to the next class, in the same school, without scant regard whatsoever from an elected government whose cardinal plank for governance is qualitative and affordable (if not exactly free) education?

It seems to us that the government (be it state or federal) is driving backward, at a breakneck speed, in its effort to completely wipe out any sort of quality education in the land. Or what else is the benefit of this current madness? Why do we pay for a junior secondary school examination that is five times more expensive than sitting for WASC or GCE or JAMB? Why? What are our educationists trying to prove by asking parents of Nigerian children in private schools to pay through their noses some bogus “extra-curricular” fees when indeed they should bury their heads in shame for the perfidy they have turned public education to?

I am a product of public education; my parents, poor as they were, did not groan to send me to school; and I got enough quality to allow me make my way in life… without harbouring any inferiority complex whatsoever. Can any student pass through what remains of our public education today and escape the stench of its pervasive odium and neglect? Or shall we take it that the next focus of the government for general and corporate desecration is the sprawling private enterprise in the education of our children?

If these statements sound overstretched or seem like crying wolf; one just needs to put the latest yo-yo dance over the current approaches to the Universal Basic Education scheme (6-3-3-4 structure) and the “rumour” of extending primary education to nine years, in retrospect. Before we conclude that government is indeed confused and disillusioned about how to run education in the country, we may have to observe the military tactics they have imported into public policy machinery: they brow-beat school proprietors into all sorts of hare-brained schemes, in the name of “government said so”…”.


‘…all I ask is: give my daughter a chance to enjoy her growth, and exposure to some sort of quality education… Do not collapse the system and her ambition before you fade into your well-appointed cocoons, in a few years. Stop this meanness’

…As we were ‘saying’…

THE clearest action of education authorities which reveals their tentative approach to the so-called holistic implementation of the 6-3-3-4 educational system is the advertised bias of Lagos State government towards the physical and infrastructural upgrade of a number of Senior Secondary Schools within the state; to the utter neglect of the more elementary and therefore more impressionable Junior Secondary level.

  At the start of this rigmarole many years ago, the chief among the commanding arguments for the establishment of 6-3-3-4 system, was the noble opportunity that vocational subjects would afford the less-than-brilliant-students-in-conventional-subjects the chance to excel in life. They would be equipped with an alternate process of knowledge acquisition through subjects like “Introduction to Technology”, “Integrated Science”, “Home Economics”, “Agricultural Science”, etc. These subjects, it was touted, would enable those students travel another route to academic excellence, and still be useful to their families and society in establishing cottage industries, technology-driven self-employment, and through self-driven creative initiatives they could then use to kick-start some sort of revolution in our hunger for technological “catch-up” with the rest of the world. We fell for those sweet-sounding propositions.

Years down the road, we have been serenaded with tales of disappearing equipment, importation of improper tools to drive the vocational curriculum. We read of crates of expensive equipment rotting away under our cruel weather until the projects grew too elephantine and overwhelming for the new crop of operators.

Now, through the mill of government-disjointed information management channels, the 6-3-3-4 system may now be surreptitiously brushed out of our education, and surely but disingenuously, a 9-3-4 system will be implanted. What is the implication of this to the diverse strands of interests within the society? Has this nebulous proposition been exhaustively discussed to avoid the wastage the earlier system had thrown up? Has anybody computed the enormous constraints this latest Makossa will inflict on private proprietors who will now have to build additional classes for children who will be forced to stay beyond Primary Six (for Primaries Seven, Eight, and Nine!)? What guarantees are there that these pupils will not be using the same reading materials their predecessors in JSS 1 – 3 are using? And if no, has anybody calculated the logistic anguish and financial losses publishers of these textbooks will be subjected to?

If indeed, the 6-3-3-4 system will be changed to a rather obtuse 9-3-4 system, can anyone in the education ministry tell the parents of these students now in JSS why government collected, and indeed organized national and state common entrance examinations for primary school pupils for admission to JSS as late as mid last year? Why have they collected, in the year 2006, another set of money (NECO and Lagos govt) for promotional examinations into Senior Secondary School, in the same school!? Yet, we can not be surprised if they are also expected to sit for another promotional examination by individual schools. In all these, do we really bother to examine the mental state of these young Nigerians and their hapless parents?

As the governments play the omnipotent terrorist-father, it appears that they want us to believe that since their children no longer attend Nigerian schools, all sorts of surgical knives can be dug out for this mindless butchering of our children’s future. It also appears that it is in the matter of sharing political offices and spoils that our leaders clamour for the transparent observance of democratic ideals; no one remembers that since we are in a democracy, a whiff of it should rub on the way and manner we run our education. There is no progress made when the government runs public affairs as town development meetings – very few people are aware of actions and policies of governments in particular arrears, such that as of now, schools do not know the dates for their wards’ common entrance exams! Talk less of their parents!

When I asked my daughter the date she would sit for the “practicals” she had so pestered me to pay for, she replied: “We are not sure when… they can come in anytime!” What a way to instill discipline and order, and build people of excellence.

And have you gone through the ”Cambridge” list of subjects they crawl through every school day… you wonder if you ever attended lower schools… They have 15… 17…18 subjects, with eight lessons every day… even the Aryan craze to produce a super-race couldn’t be more tedious and disenchanting. Find time to go through your children’s notes, and you will realize why students run away from some so-called “hard” subjects to less mysterious subjects. For example, what examiner or authorizing panel makes typing (on obsolete manual typewriters) and shorthand the driving force of Business Studies? They simply drive away the children in a course every child should study to have a basic grounding in dealing with the ‘real battle’ after school. Or is it the arcane and high-falutin Yoruba subject that even students of Yoruba parentage (and, I dare say, including their parents) struggle hopelessly to understand? What is the hope for non-Yoruba-speaking children who are supposed to cross-fertilize through the barriers erected by language differences? The situation appears hopelessly stacked against these little souls.

It, therefore, seems to me that the exigencies of surviving on the political firmament have toughened our political leaders and their appointed civil servants, such that speculation and subterfuge have been fine-tuned as state policies in administering education, as well as many areas of our public business. One will not be entirely surprised if this article is turned upside down, and its content splashed around as tantrums of a paid political hack, or worse still, an adjunct of shadowy opponents sponsored by “Abuja”. It does not matter; all I ask is: give my daughter a chance to enjoy her growth, and exposure to some sort of quality education… Do not collapse the system and her ambition before you fade into your well-appointed cocoons, in a few years. Stop this meanness.

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