It is tougher to walk up the stairs than to run down. But, if you take it a step at a time, learning at each step, you will be at the topmost floor in little time. We have to learn and unlearn as we carry out our daily activities. This is important because we learn a thing or two that prepare us for the challenges we may face in future. Thankfully, we are not isolated in our respective environments. What happens around us influences our actions and reactions. The present shapes our future. Youths, they say, are the leaders of tomorrow. Unfortunately, our youth today are in a hurry. We jump to the conclusion too many times that we forget the importance of engaging with the processes.
At a meeting with the top management of a company on a project management contract, a participant wondered why the project fees were huge. The project manager explained that this was because local artisans would work on the project. This fact necessitated fees for consultants to monitor the artisans. In short, the current generation of artisans doesn’t know enough to deserve little supervision.
This is worrisome. A lot of us were taught little. And so, we have a growing population that knows little about efficiency. This is why a carpenter contracted to make furniture would charge an unreasonable cost. He has to travel to buy the wood then leave it dry for days before processing. To worsen the situation, the end product may look nothing like what you asked for. In the end, the carpenter demonstrates lack of knowledge and misplaced priorities. These are everyday scenarios caused by a gradual depreciation of standards. It applies to several aspects of Nigerian life: education, morals, faith, reasoning, or commerce.
Worse, we pay little attention to attempts to improve a standard. For example, consider Ayodele Daniel Dada who graduated with a perfect CGPA from the University of Lagos. His recognition has been, at best, an Internet sensation. He will likely be underutilised during his NYSC service year. Institutions such as the Nigerian Police, EFCC, ICPC, National Orientation Agency ought to scout him. Instead, he will likely end up in a corporate office where his skills will only benefit a few shareholders and managers. Meanwhile, in developed countries, governments hire psychologists to engage and direct the course of social behaviour. We are experts at fitting square pegs in round holes.
An Israeli researcher, Dr. Joseph Shevel, said low investment in education by Nigerian politicians could be attributed to the fact that the sector takes a long time to mature and getting returns requires patience. But then, there is nothing to show for the little investment. Everyone is eager to get out of school by hook or by crook. This is a fundamental problem.
Government need not focus on University education. The most important stages of education are the primary, secondary and technical education. When these are qualitative, employers will engage graduates at these levels. This is enough to accelerate development as a country. Technical skills aid development faster and are important for production and manufacturing jobs. Unfortunately, Nigerian companies keep shutting down because they lack an enabling environment: there are no adequate skills and there is little government support.
The National Bureau of Statistics reported that the total value of capital imported into Nigeria in the thirddquarter of 2015 was $2,748.10 million, while the fourth quarter recorded $1,556.95 million. The total for 2015 was $9,643.01 million. These figures look good until you discover the sectors that most of it went to: banking and telecommunications. Little went to production and manufacturing. This mirrors the country’s nature as a services based economy.
A random sampling of what people will do if they got the prize money of the Lagos City Marathon was taken. The responses were outstanding. Only the entrepreneurs said they would invest in their business. Most of the rest, including an 89-year-old great grandmother, said they would build houses and collect rents. When asked about setting up a business and employing people, the response was that there are no skilled people for any jobs. No one wants to produce. All we want to do now is collect rents. This indicates a poor education and a lack of patience.
Consider the debates around the devaluation of the Naira. A lot of the rhetoric around devaluation is mainly from journalists, rookie economists, and a few people with industry knowledge. Most of them argue that the real value of the Naira was its price at the parallel market. If we apply this argument to fuel scarcity, then it means the price of fuel was what the black market priced it. Is this necessarily true? Yet, a good education would have indicated that an increase in price is tied to demand and scarcity, not necessarily value.
In January 2015, Shell agreed to pay £55 million settlement to the Bodo Community of Rivers State for a “highly regrettable operational spills in the area”. The settlement was supposed to take care of the payment of a total of £35 million to individual claimants who would accept the settlement agreement in compensation for losses suffered and the other part for community development. About 99% of the 15,602 residents in Bodo Community decided to spend the £55 million equally. Each person got around N900,000 (about $4500 at the time). This is a community where 50% of the population lives below $1 a day. They all spent the money building houses for themselves, 90% of which remain uncompleted till today, most of them unroofed. Their reason for sharing the money this way was that their leaders would embezzle it. The community’s environment has not been restored and their standard of living has remained the same.
The Bodo Community case is a sad tale. You then wonder what the government was doing. There are processes that could have been triggered or created for the restoration of the community. The oil spill occurred in 2008, judgement was delivered in 2014 and they got the payment from Shell in 2015. The devastating effect could be quickly curbed if the money had been properly utilised. Greed, impatience, rent seeking and lack of foresight deprived them of a better environment and an enduring future. The government didn’t help either. Instead of providing direction, it was nonchalant.
Shevel’s concluding remarks in his keynote address is instructive. He noted that “the rivers in Nigeria are enough for the country to have enough fish for export. The land resources are enough to grow crops that can feed the whole of Africa. What is required is the will to do what is necessary”.
As a country and a people, what we need is to do the necessary–mass education. Learning is a painful sacrifice and one must be patient. Until we get it right, we will remain a country striving to leave negative legacies for unborn generations.
Abdulwahab is a legal practitioner based in Lagos. Engage with him on twitter via @oseni_debola.