Edo State; The Nigerian State

by Michael Egbejumi-David

Six years or so ago, when I wrote that Imo State has the highest literacy level in Nigeria, an Edo lady from the Nigerian Village Square disagreed heatedly – even in the face of incontrovertible statistics. She was trying to push the line that that distinction belongs to Edo State.

So it gives me no particular pleasure (wink!) when a video turned up showing a school teacher in Edo State who is unable to read. The video went viral about a week ago.

I’m sure most of us have seen the video: The Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole had made an unscheduled visit to a Staff Training Centre that was being used for the verification of certificates of primary school teachers in the State. Unfortunately for one Mrs Augusta Odemwinge, a teacher at Asologun Primary School, Ikpoba, this was the precise moment she too turned up at the Centre with her certificates and a sworn affidavit. The governor asked Mrs Odemwinge to read out her affidavit and that was when all hell broke loose. The teacher could not read! She was unable to read over half the words on the paper, and her pronunciation was atrocious. When the governor asked her to go write on the board, she demurred and asked to take the paper with her.

Everyone present was taken aback; they were greatly shocked. Embarrassment was etched on the face of the governor. A kindergarten pupil would have done better. Watching that video for me was painful and quite disheartening. Watching the teacher struggle and bumble along recalls to mind another one time teacher, Mrs Patience Jonathan. This was someone’s mother being put through the griller in public.

And in a cruel twist of irony, sitting directly behind poor Mrs Odemwinge was the Chief of Staff to the governor. The one and only Igodomigodo, Patrick Obahiagbon, a man partial to turbulent and concussive grammatical bombast. The one man in whose very presence you want to watch your spoken English.

When a teacher cannot not read; when a teacher cannot pronounce words such as, ‘judiciary,’ ‘residing,’ ‘hereby,’ ‘registered,’ ‘declaration,’ ‘provisions,’ ‘solemn,’ ‘affidavit,’ ‘virtue,’ etc, etc, what hope is there?

What has happened to education in Nigeria?

Back in December 2011, in the same Edo State, all the secondary school students that sat the National Examinations Council (NECO) exams failed. ALL of them! The great Ogbemudia must be crying in his beer.

A few years ago, I found myself lusting after a young lady from Ogun State. She had a body and a backside that simply made a man’s eyes water. You know, the kind of body that guarantees that she would always have more female enemies than friends. But when she opens her mouth to talk, you couldn’t call her spoken English awful; it was almost non-existent. It was very, very embarrassing. I almost gave up chasing what it was I was chasing. However, the young lady had a degree from a College of Education from her State!

When I also wrote that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, students were being taken out of some secondary schools in Kaduna as early as Form 3 and were being enrolled in Ahmadu Bello University’s pre-Law programme, some folks from the afore-mentioned Nigerian Village Square locked horns with me in disagreement. But look at the shape and the state of the Nigerian judiciary today.

Here in the UK, not too long ago, the General Medical Council (GMC) was forced to bar graduates of nine Nigerian Universities from practicing in the UK. Medical graduates from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma; University of Benin; University of Jos; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Port Harcourt; Ebonyi State University; Igbinedion University College of Health Sciences; Ladoke Akintola University of Technology; and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka were not allowed to practice in the UK because, in the view of the GMC, the schools did not meet prescribed minimum standards.

Also here in the UK, there are very many Law graduates of Nigerian Universities. But quite a few of them cannot put two coherent sentences together to save their lives. They are unable to pass the UK Bar exam. In frustration, about half of them have become Pentecostal pastors.

What has become of Nigeria’s educational system?

There is beginning to appear a very visible and a very loud generational divide in our educational quality and erudition. It is beginning to look like quite a few people that graduated from our tertiary institutions post the 1980s were not quite fully cooked.

We used to export professionals – especially Jurists and Professors – to other developing countries to help develop their systems. Our military officers used to train and used to lead international military organisations and peace corps. Our schools and universities used to boast of renowned indigenous and expatriate professors and teachers. But not anymore. We now turn out teachers who cannot read!

Some point the accusing finger in Babangida’s direction. The man probably accelerated the downward spiral but I suspect the problem predates the evil genius. I think Ali-Must-Go started it all. Then came IBB. Incessant ASUU strikes. Then hunger. Emphasis shifted from learning to merely passing exams. Some lecturers became corrupt. They became more interested in food, money and sex. These they traded for passing grades. Affirmative action and federal character destroyed the rest.

Things were particularly bad during IBB’s time. Government deliberately starved educational institutions (and the Police Force) of funds and support. They were crippled and made near worthless. As a result, disparate and chicken-shed private schools sprang up everywhere. I still don’t quite know the rationale behind that policy.

And so today, we have a Comptroller General of Customs who is unable to protest when accused of having someone else sit his school exams for him. We have a teacher who cannot read her own credentials. Please think about that for a moment: A primary school teacher who is unable to read! That means the future of the young wards under her tutelage is being severely compromised right at the very foundation.

To make a bad situation worse, now, there is ‘text’ or ‘texting’ language and writing, and some of our graduates can’t tell the difference anymore.


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