Martins Oloja

Let’s step aside from the social media’s animations over the recuperating president’s controversial speech and the comical noise level of the ‘rats’ association’s’ rebuttal of the allegation against it by a president’s reputation manager, ‘the rats’ have alleged massively scandalized them.

And so let’s migrate to my regular beat – education where the minister, Malam Adamu Adamu has just begun some revival just by the renewing of his mind – and saying the right thing at the right time. That is why I would like us to return to discussion points on education this week. As I was reflecting on this, a related story popped up from Rwanda of all places on how public schools have towered above private schools in a country ravaged by genocide in 1994. While I was flipping through the good news from Rwanda, at the weekend, another un-put-down-able story broke that Africa’s richest man, and a credible Nigerian industrialist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote had applied to the National Universities Commission (NUC) for establishment of an authentic University of Technology in the nation’s capital, Abuja.

The two education stories from Rwanda and Dangote momentarily threatened to take the steam out of the context I had planned to encourage the minister of education on the power of his recent positive attitude. And so, the stories from Dangote Foundation and Rwanda would just be used as companion pieces to complement this compliment on the education minister.

I am fully persuaded that we should at this critical time encourage our representatives and indeed public officers in Abuja to freeze politics and squarely refocus the restructuring debate too on governance strategy that can make education attract some remarkable attention in Nigeria. It is in public interest to begin to have focal points in restructuring and education quality should be one of them. The reasons are not too far to seek. One, it is a fact that education quality that can deliver employable skills is the best gift that government can deliver to its citizens, not just certificates. Besides, quality in higher education is the only known weapon of country and global competiveness, thanks to World Economic Forum (WEF) that has been preaching this good gospel.

Adamu Adamu’s Attitude:

Management experts have been harping on the power that the right attitude can confer on people that are given such grace. They always say that, “attitude is everything”. Senator John McCain and Mark Salter in 2005 wrote a book on character power titled, “Attitude is Destiny”. A well-known researcher on this, John C. Maxwell posits that, “leaders cannot rise above the limitations of their character”. Steven Berglas, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of “The Success Syndrome”, notes that people who achieve great heights but lack the bedrock character to sustain them through the stress are headed for disaster. So, Berglas believes that persons that have such character flaws are destined for one or more of the four A’s: “arrogance”, painful feeling of “aloneness”, destructive “adventure-seeking”, or “adultery”. Each of these is a terrible price to pay for weak character. That is why Maxwell on his part notes that as you lead others, recognise that your character is your most important asset.

That sums up why the attitude of a taciturn minister of education in the last few weeks of crisis rocking the tertiary education and recurrent admissions through the national Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has attracted my attention. It is in a crisis management you can recognize some quality in management and leadership. I think Malam Adamu should be encouraged to sustain the momentum, in this regard so that his colleagues in the cabinet who talk anyhow can learn something about contemporary political communication and crisis management.

The first unusual attitude was thus noticed when Adamu curiously admitted that the Federal Government had actually failed to fulfill some of the promises made to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). He did not as it is typical too, give datelines to blame past regimes for the failures at issue.

The minister manifested the (attitude) while speaking with State House Correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council Meeting, two days after ASUU declared an indefinite nationwide strike that has halted activities in most universities across the country. In embarking on the strike, ASUU had accused the government of failing to fully implement the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement and the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), among other things. But the Minister, who described the ongoing strike as sad, did not defend the government against the allegation. His disarming words: “I must confess that government has not fulfilled its part of the bargain. Though we are unhappy that ASUU went on this strike without following due process and giving us good notice, we realised that we promised something and we didn’t fulfill it.” This is the attitude that has set the tone for useful discussions that have raised a glimmer of hope that the ASUU-FG faceoff will be resolved, after all.

What is more gratifying, last week, a recurrent issue of post Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) reared its monstrous head again. And instead of the usual blame game and its attendant consequences on school calendar, Malam Adamu admitted without blinking that the cancellation of the UTME by the federal government in 2015 was a “regrettable mistake”. This swallowing of pride and vanity was on a big stage: during the policy meeting for the 2017/2018 admission meeting with Vice Chancellors, Rectors, Provosts, and Registrars of tertiary institutions at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja.

This should be seen as unusual meekness, (not weakness), which has elicited a conflict resolution mechanism rather than the usual provocative responses to trade disputes workers sometimes declare with government. This attitude should be a useful communication strategy that public officers should always adopt instead of blaming innocent lions, hyenas, jackals and rats for personal failure in official matters.

And so as Adamu is beginning to earn respect of stakeholders in the education sector, he should not doze off.

The accountant-turned journalist should seek help from real experts who can generate useful data on the parlous state of public schools and how to fix them. Data gathering and strategic planning on the state of public schools should just be treated as a serious process and not an event that should celebrated in the media. Outstanding implementation results will announce themselves to the world as the Rwandan example and serious attention to education planning in Finland and South Korea have done. Teaching as a profession in Finland and knowledge development in South Korea are serious governance issues that all public officers cannot afford to joke with.

So, the minister of education should burn some midnight oil on the expediency of preparing data with which to declare an emergency on education.

There should be constant renewal of our minds and continued education about the way the world now works.

The other day “The Economist” a supreme intelligence on global affairs, looked into the seed of time and posted a brief but significant message in a story to its readers that, “The World’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. The influential news journal used the logos of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, UBER, FaceBook, TESLA’, etc as dominant illustrations of the warning story. Yes, in this age of the big data, there is no miracle that can create wealth through data in countries that continue to underfund critical infrastructure in education at all levels.

Certainly, the nation cannot benefit from a senseless policy of the federal and state governments that continue to set up more instead of better universities. Why more Technical, Maritime, ICT, Science and Technology, Education and even Medical Science Universities when there is not even one world-class University our neighbours in Africa can apply to attend as they once upon a time did? This is the defining moment for Malam Adamu to ask for restructuring in the education sector, lest we should be the last as a poet, Kwesi Brew, has warned. 

…And Lessons from Rwanda:

Concerned Nigerians are now re-circulating an old story about quality of public schools in Rwanda, a country ravaged in 1994 by genocide of the worst genre the world has ever known. It is indeed a tribute to strong and transparent leadership that the world is beginning to recognize too as an example of zero tolerance for official corruption. The recycled but remarkable story is this: Private schools in Rwanda are on the verge of closing down because of low patronage. A report by East African newspapers confirm that desperate proprietors who face imminent closure of their institutions are now asking the government to sponsor students in private schools at public rates. But the government has rejected the idea. According to the report, trouble began for private schools when the government’s twelve-year basic education policy, which made public schools affordable and preferable, began to bear fruits.

More than 30 private schools are said to have closed indefinitely while others are struggling to stay afloat after losing students to public schools that continue to deliver quality skills too.

…Dangote’s N200bn University in Abuja

Africa’s richest man and Chairman, Dagote Group, Aliko Dangote, is ready to establish a world-class University of Technology in Abuja. Confirmed reports indicated at the weekend that the proposal has since been delivered to the National Universities Commission (NUC). The report added that the Dangote Foundation had set aside a whopping N200billion for the project. This is a welcome development because the University will establish the real nexus between the town and gown.

The Dangote Group will fulfill the dreams of the organisational learning thinkers and besides, the Group will touch off the art of learning organisation in its fold. And a major benefit will be that the conglomerate will no longer depend on too many foreign research institutes for Research and Development (R&D) component of their operations. What is more, the University of Abuja, Nigeria’s most underfunded University will use the billionaire’s university as a reference for blackmail – to demonstrate to its owners how a 21st Century University should be equipped to produce graduates that can solve contemporary problems. All told, the Dangote University can be a citadel where even the already skilled graduates can learn, relearn and unlearn according to Alvin Toffler. May the God of all grace help the humble billionaire, Dangote, Nigeria’s original Big Man who is wealthy from his work as the world knows.