The biggest problem in Nigeria today, in my view and after traversing the length and breadth of this country, is our millions of out-of-school children. How some of our elites have lived with this growing monster over the decades boggles the mind. How some who are educated and ‘enlightened’ today try to justify this current crisis is shocking.
I am ready to call the upcoming elections for old man Muhammadu Buhari, a man who should not be found within a one kilometre radius of public governance, simply because he is tired and old age has caught up with him. His recent outings have shown that he suffers Alzheimer’s or dementia, diseases that almost all of us will also suffer if we are lucky – like him – to live long enough. These are diseases borne out of the shrinking of the brain, leading to the loss of memory, disorientation and such like. Nothing to mock him about. But sufferers need rest, not running a chaotic country like Nigeria.
But President Buhari is not contesting chiefly because he has some out-of-the-box plans for the generality of Nigerians, but for some other primordial reasons, like maybe he believes he is governing Nigeria on behalf of his club of ex-military friends or religion, or ethnic group or something of that sort. We were deceived in 2015 but not anymore. Those speaking for this old man, and offering childish accolades from the sides, explaining to us how he is the only honest this and that, are liars, frauds and enemies of the people. The symptoms of these old-age diseases can only get worse in the few years to come and it will be an awful thing for this country to continue to be governed by someone who forgets who or where he is, and gets frequently disoriented.
Indeed it must have been that disorientation that made him go to sleep for the first seven months of his first term, and led him to utter annoying statements that dug the country deeper into recession. Imagine a president saying ministers are noisemakers, refusing to declare his asset openly as he had promised, and also asking people with children studying abroad to withdraw them from those locations, while his own children were being sponsored by the state in the same ‘abroad’? Imagine him hopping into a presidential jet at the drop of a hat for medicals in the most-expensive hospitals abroad, while telling people with sick family members to go and source their own foreign exchange from the black market? Nigeria is yet to recover from that deep recession; the jobs lost; those who sank into despair, debt and hunger; businesses that closed down, etc. It is no wonder that under this man, and with the assistance of the deceivers floating around him, Nigeria became the country with the highest levels of inequality; the highest numbers of extremely poor people, out-of-school children, maternal and child deaths, in the world, among other infamous accolades.
Still, I can see why the new generation politicians, especially those running for presidency this time, cannot possibly win – at least not a first time simple majority. I can almost already call the election for Citizen Buhari, who will hopefully be the last representation of our infamous status quo, and status quo ante; cloak-and-dagger-men who hold us in disdain and operate Nigeria as a class society where they see themselves as masters and the rest of us as slaves. Nigerians can jolly well vote for him and get their just desserts shortly after. But we shall keep an eye on those who have been benefiting from the absence of mind and physical weakness of our dear leader, including those who hope that he may expire soon so that those they truly support will take over. Neither of these options are acceptable to me. And I believe no one should play yo-yo with the time, emotions and lives of Nigerians.
The biggest problem in Nigeria today, in my view and after traversing the length and breadth of this country, is our millions of out-of-school children. How some of our elites have lived with this growing monster over the decades boggles the mind. How some who are educated and ‘enlightened’ today try to justify this current crisis is shocking. In many parts of Nigeria, we have seen the deliberate mass-breeding of ignorant minds over decades when we should have declared emergency in tackling illiteracy so as to catch up with the rest of the world. Our population, which should be an advantage, has now become a major cancer, leading to some Nigerians and non-Nigerians suggesting curbs on population (even Eugenics). The chief reason why the new-breed cannot sweep the majority of Nigerian minds today, is because of this phenomenon of out-of-school children and the deliberate mass-manufacture of ignorance, which has since matured and is still growing. Generations of untrained and traumatised children are now adults and in their millions, producing multimillions of ignorant children still. These are the people whose ‘majority’ votes will continue to perpetuate mediocrity and backwardness until we fight and win this war; until this intellectual revolution of ideas takes place. It is also a fact that the absence of basic education whittles down the usefulness of a human being to society. Boko Haram may not have taken over the entire North, but for millions of children the ‘book’ is still effectively equated with evil today. Yet we can combine Islam perfectly with the “white man’s” education. They do that everywhere – including Iran, Saudi, Turkey, Pakistan, UAE and everywhere else. Why are we doing this to ourselves in Nigeria?
This problem must now become a United Nations issue because Nigeria has not only embarrassed herself to the point of being a threat to herself and Africa, with the highest sheer number of ignorant and unproductive people in the world, and the deprivation of poor, innocent but bright children from attaining at least some enlightenment.
I have traveled far and wide for campaigns – as to be expected. I have seen things I never knew existed. I have seen the stark beauty of Nigeria. I have seen our deserts, our Sahel savannahs, our mangroves, our thick rain forests. I have met great people, been embarrassed with the kindness of Nigerians, where least expected. I have leant that oftentimes, a prophet has to find succour in lands far away. I have seen hope among Nigerians, and I have seen despair and hopelessness. I have seen joy and kindness, generosity and uncharitability. I have also seen our potentials in the event we get lucky with good leadership. I have seen the filth and neglect which bathes Nigeria from head to toe. I have seen vast wealth and I have also seen abject, unpardonable poverty. I have seen thousands of neglected, unkempt children and thousands of innocent ones who are bootstrapping themselves, despite the lack of care from parent and governments. I have walked into and interacted with children in ‘schools’ where nothing gets taught all year, yet children are ‘promoted’. I have also interacted with poor teachers who do everything to ensure poorer children keep coming to school, and that they actually learn something every day. I have also seen the food vendors employed by government to feed pupils from primary 1 to 3.
Again the biggest threat to Nigeria, today and in the future is the phenomenon of out-of-school children. It has always been a major issue but one needed to visit the most-affected territories in order to see what the real issues are and the sheer enormity of the problem. The traditional, political and religious elites in Nigeria have failed us all and we must now push back and escalate the issues. 13.2 million children, or 15 million depending on what figures you believe, is 132 million children and youth in the near future, for Nigeria, who would be uneducated, ignorant and under-productive. No one should think we need ignorant people just because some people need to be maiguards, to carry loads in the markets, be bus conductors or shoe-shiners. Nature almost always takes care of that. There are white security men, odd jobs men and so on. But they were offered the minimum – opportunities to make something of themselves through the availability of schools and basic health; what we call Public Good in the field of Economics.
There is mass abuse of children in parts of Nigeria. That one has the necessary organs to sire or give birth to children does not confer on one the right to abuse such children by leaving them fully at the mercy of the elements. This is a chiefly Northern phenomenon, but we also see such happening rapidly in the poorer areas of the South, East and West of the country, due to the sinking levels of governance everywhere. I am proposing that this problem should now be escalated beyond the purview of our usual leaders who are steeped in their traditional ideas around race, tribe, religion, class and other prejudices. The time and age for such thinking is certainly over. This problem must now become a United Nations issue because Nigeria has not only embarrassed herself to the point of being a threat to herself and Africa, with the highest sheer number of ignorant and unproductive people in the world, and the deprivation of poor, innocent but bright children from attaining at least some enlightenment. Nigeria has become a problem to the world.
It is this mindset that is locked permanently in a distant and better-forgotten past that governs Nigeria till today. It is what needs to be changed. And so I was totally heartbroken when I watched Citizen Usman Suleman Jau, a young lawyer and an apparent believer in Muhammadu Buhari struggle to get his point on Almajiri children across at the Kadaria debates. He asked the right question. He knows what the issues are. He refused to give up until he fully contextualised the problem. He has an enlightened, egalitarian mind. He is most-likely a beneficiary of the rotten system of privileges in the country. But he knows that the system is hopeless and unsustainable – and he is ready to torpedo that unworkable system. Usman reminded Buhari, who seemed not to know the meaning of Almajirai, that many enlightened Northern Nigerians were sick and tired of seeing multitudes of unkempt, unwatched, diseased, abused and hungry children on the streets. The lawyer understands collective development. He stopped short of saying that the phenomenon had become an open sore on the conscience, especially of Northern Nigeria and the country as a whole. Usman advised that this was a tough issue, but that Buhari should apply himself because he may have some good will in that department, after all he increased fuel price by almost 70 per cent overnight and we didn’t even issue a whimper. I saw through the bleeding heart of Usman. And I know taht after the event, some ‘traditional’ people will rebuke him for going where he should not tread. Usman is a General in the war that we MUST fight and win.
For now, I humbly believe we should concentrate our efforts already on the urgent business of emancipating our people, especially our children. Every child in Nigeria belongs to Nigeria fully. And the future is NOW!
President Buhari gave a pathetic answer. He said something about local governments and he boiled this immense problem down to the matter of who gets what allocation. Perhaps I need to amplify this. To President Buhari, and other presidents that will come after him; to all those who call themselves ‘leaders’ in this country at every level, nothing is more important than those children who are our best resources but whose minds we criminally waste on a daily basis because of some very retrogressive beliefs around religion, culture and class. I am made to understand that the Almajirai system is for those considered as the underclass in the North of Nigeria. Someone even said that no Fulani child will be found in the midst of the Almajiris. Is this true? Is it a Hausa, not a Fulani affair? I learnt quite a bit from a Facebook thread shared by Dr. Aliyu Tilde the other day. I also say how pained a growing number of middle class people from the North have become. We must all assist
I doubt much if I can win this election, and I would have extended this pessimism to other guys working their butts off, like Sowore, Moghalu, Durotoye, Byron, Duke, and the rest, but I believe I should keep encouraging these valiant citizens till the very end. It will however be difficult to topple this inequality and poverty-breeding governance arrangement because it has become so rooted, so widespread, so generational and so endemic. It is there on every street in the North, South, East and West. As I began to interact with Southerners, all I hear is the demand for money. On the streets of Uyo, many pointedly demanded for little amounts before listening to what one had to say, and I wondered whether it is true that Akwa Ibom State is the richest state in the country. In spite of the so called riches of Nigeria, mismanagement, selfishness, greed, wickedness, small-mindedness, has driven people down and robbed our people of their right minds. Most adult Nigerians are in a deep poverty trap, with their children in tow. How do we begin to preach futurism to such people? Don’t we now have to change our proposed economic models which emphasise what individuals can do to rescue themselves? Can we see the collective trouble we have put ourselves in? Are we truly ready to fight the war with our feudalists, classist oppressors and mind-destroyers, no matter where they may come from? Do we truly appreciate the impact of wasting millions of young, innocent minds who have no say in this matter? Do we know the value of the mind? I usually tell young people that the six richest companies are products of the mind – Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Ali Baba and Microsoft. The smallest by market value is $500 billion. The most expensive (Amazon) is over $1 Trillion. Nigeria’s GDP is a mere $420 billion or thereabouts. Those who started these companies were mere in their youth when they did. And here we are deluding ourselves, maintaining expired mindsets in leadership, and throwing away the future
So for me, I have realised that winning elections is not the place to start from. But contesting for the elections provides one with the opportunities to see Nigeria in stark relief and document the problem. Also it gives us a voice. I will invite those who are interested to join me in escalating this issue. This country must make progress. Restructuring cannot fully solve the problem. Internationalising the issue will have a better impact, while we gradually and cleverly begin to wring away the monies meant for collective development from an evil elite which has us all in its claws. It is certainly going to be the war of a lifetime. We must save our children, or most-important resource, immediately.
This I believe is where we need to start from.
NB: To justify my position on our inability to shift the status quo for now, we have seen how the ruling party has been able to purchase every advert space all over the country, breaching spending limits and accounting to no one. I have been to the length and breadth of Nigeria and it is the same. Buhari’s people have pulled every stop and are taking no prisoners in the psychological saturation and intimidation of voters and other parties, all on taxpayers’ money. Sanwo-Olu has branded every space in Lagos. Amosun has totally painted the whole of Ogun for Akinlade. Akwa Ibom is under lockdown by PDP and APC. The entire North is branded by APC, with some sprinkling of PDP. They don’t even know Atiku in most parts, much less the new, shaprapra candidates with lofty ideas. The game on hand is the game of money. Anyone with too little should shift. But one day, all these gallivantors will have their time with history. We are watching. For now, I humbly believe we should concentrate our efforts already on the urgent business of emancipating our people, especially our children. Every child in Nigeria belongs to Nigeria fully. And the future is NOW!
‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, is presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.