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“Can a Nigerian stand as candidate for the election into the British Parliament? No. Can a Nigerian footballer play for England? No. So, how can some Nigerians be seen as players in these two fields? They are British and they achieved what they achieved in Britain in an environment that made it possible for them to do so” Shehu Dikko, June 30, 2017.
“There is excellence at home and excellence abroad, and they can be experienced in equal measure. In every sector in Nigeria, astute individuals can be found honing their crafts and performing at an international level. Some professionals have built transnational careers, grounded as much at home as abroad”
– Prof. Richard Joseph, July 2, 2017.
A debate, heated, but ultimately edifying broke out last week, shortly after the publication, by The PUNCH of my piece entitled, “Disorder at home, excellence abroad? ( The PUNCH, Friday, June 30, 2017).
The conversation included several dimensions and side attractions, but for convenience, I have isolated the contrasting views of Shehu Dikko, a social critic and activist, quoted above, and Prof. Richard Joseph, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at North Western University in the United States. One of the main reasons for revisiting the discourse is the recent international award bestowed on a former Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, last week. Adesina, who is currently the President of African Development Bank, was presented with the prestigious 2017 World Food Prize, a laurel that is reserved for someone who has contributed to boosting “the quality, quantity or availability of food in the whole world”. Adesina’s achievement, which included innovations and renovations in Nigeria’s agricultural sector, were not earned in Britain or the United States, but right here on Nigerian soil.
There is a fashion among social critics to write off that which is worthy or notable about Nigeria and Nigerians, in order to strengthen their advocacy for good governance at home. Philosophically, as a nation, we are losing grip of the complexity of social existence and events, by viewing life as a contest between good and evil, between right and wrong. We tend to think in polar opposites, forgetting that real life is often more complicated than one-sided views suggest. Consider, to give an example, that Adesina’s unique policy interventions were made under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s monumentally corrupt government, which demonologists of that government would have us believe, was bereft of noble governance departures.
In the same connection, several intellectuals prefer advocacy to rigorous analysis. You are no longer allowed to examine the merits and demerits of particular positions and policies before arriving at a conclusion. One respondent, Dr. Noel Ihebuzor, an international development expert, took me to task over last week’s essay, for writing in an “on the one hand and on the other hand fashion” without maintaining a firm standpoint. My reading of Karl Popper and other philosophers of science is that you must leave your postulations open for the purpose of empirical testing, in order to confirm, modify or refute them. Empirical testing in this case refers to alternative arguments, conceptualisations and narratives. As Popper saw it, the failure to test arguments by opposing narratives is what breeds dogma. To be sure, Dikko is entirely correct when he asserts that many Nigerians, who are celebrated abroad, are citizens of the countries in which they reside, and became renowned in the context of working in a clime that facilitates achievement, and where the state is more emancipatory than predatory. Granting that point, however, takes nothing away from the thousands of Nigerians who are doing very well at home, in spite of the inclemency, and are becoming transnational actors, as Joseph informs. Before advancing the discourse, this writer craves the readers’ indulgence to enter a short take.
Philosophers, Karl Marx famously wrote, have interpreted “the world, the point is to change it”. Someone who has taken that lesson to heart is the Orangun of Oke-ila, Oba Dokun Abolarin, who at this year’s Toyin Falola Annual Conference, held at Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, demonstrated how he is employing educational philanthropy to fight poverty. The conference itself, as narrated by Prof. Ademola Dasylva, chairman of TOFAC Board, is the seventh in an unbroken row of pan-African parleys around the continent. Expectedly, we were treated to highly cerebral academic discourses by the likes of Prof. Jermaine Abidogun of Missouri State University, United States, Prof. Fallou Ngom of Boston University, also in the US, as well as Prof. C.O.O. Kolawole, a former Dean of Education at the University of Ibadan. Enter Oba Dokun Abolarin, who presented in a moving ceremony 12 students, cutting across gender, of his emergent Abolarin College, Oke-ila, Orangun. The students, all from very poor backgrounds, several of them had lost their parents, treated the audience to recitations and displays of a quality comparable to the best schools around the country.
What is truly novel about the college is that the students are all on scholarships, clean their environment, grow their own food on the school farm, and are trained as budding entrepreneurs. This is a far cry from the business model of private education, which has become a familiar feature of our educational landscape; indeed, it is a retrieval from our national archive of the model followed famously by Mr. Tai Solarin, the proprietor of Mayflower Secondary School, Ikenne. Abolarin, a lawyer and public orator, sounded like one with a vision and a mandate to alleviate, if not eradicate, poverty through this educational experiment. He held the audience spellbound by a treatise on training future leaders through a model of compassion-led service, targeted at the poorest section of the society. If the vision succeeds, it will stand out as a showpiece of intelligent social experimentation, riding on a pro-poor approach to restructuring education.
To return to our initial topic, there can be no doubt that the Nigerian state, for all sorts of reasons, is not, as currently configured, an enabler of achievement. Almost six decades after independence, successive governments generate electricity that is much lower than the quantum of electricity generated by Spain, a European backwater. The computer revolution in Nigeria is incomplete, patchy, and largely dependent on erratic service providers. As a result of poor social services and rising levels of insecurity, life is often nasty, brutish, and frequently rudely terminated. The dark exploits of the Badoo gang in parts of Lagos have joined the long list of threats to existence posed by Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers such as the notorious Evans, cult wars, road accidents, among others.
Government after government have promised to make life better, but have left office lamenting their failures and being mourned for their incapacity. There is no gainsaying all of that, but those citizens who are making waves took a decision not to spend their lives airing the woes, but to count for something by making changes in their neck of the wood.
If government at federal, state and local levels will simply fulfil their electoral mandates, there will be many more Nigerians rising to eminence at home and abroad. The human resource profile is vast, but it is waiting to be harnessed by purposeful governance.