Get Rich Or Die Trying

by Osita Okoroafor

‘Education is a social process… Education is growth… Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.’
– John Dewey

We are in times when boys are born as men, and men grow to become boys- the nine-year old bus conductor, toddlers totting trays of goods- those ubiquitous street hawkers, and under-aged prostitutes in its many beaches, are symptoms of an open sore that is Lagos, which quickly infected other Nigerian cities and major towns. Yes! It can be argued that child labour and child prostitution is not generic to Nigeria; industries of these debased human practices practically exist in Far East Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand even in some East European countries like Romania and Bulgaria. Lagos might boast a burgeoning population of street urchins (who of course mutate into the menace known as ‘Area boys’) but even these pale in comparison with the army of street children- the perennial scourge of the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. The point I have struggled so hard to make is this: the Nigerian youth is no longer raised in homes and schools, but reared in the streets.

The quirks of Nations like Cambodia and Vietnam, even the malaise of Brazil can easily become a Nigerian tragedy in view of our current repositioning in the comity of nations; a tragedy because the Nigerian project has been an abysmal failure and all ingredients of greatness, which we possess in abundance have been wasted by a bewildering lack of will and indiscipline and sadly by the mismanagement of our greatest resource- human capital.

Hard biting poverty and a crippled economy have forced hundreds of thousands of children out of Nigerian schools and into the streets to fend for themselves and their families. Those who are better off economically have fared no better educationally; from lack of basic educational infrastructures to non-payment of teachers’ wages to incessant labour strikes by university lecturers, one or the other of multifarious reasons have conspired to keep the youth out of school.

Nigerian universities lie comatose due to the impasse between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government, which has remained unresolved. No thanks to idleness, the stranded youth were easy recruits for a standing army of political thugs, which was then quite a lucrative deal judging from the bulk monies realized from the vogue of the recently concluded elections- fund raising dinners (assuredly a chunky slice of the loot was deployed to fund private armies). Now that the elections are over and the thug nation of youths are out of business, deadly weapons which were freely circulated to unleash mayhem on political opponents have been brought to ample use in raids of daredevilry armed robbery- these people must feed one way or another. While one questions the ethos of a nation that has shackled its future for almost a year, the pathos of an ASUU leadership, which has resorted to using the future leaders it has the sole prerogative of nurturing as a mere bargaining chip in its wars with a hard-hearted government is fast loosing currency in the courts of public opinion.

…But ASUU does have a point despite the deplorable tactics employed in proving it; the educational sector has suffered from sheer neglect and apathy from the ruling government despite the fact that education is the hub of the revolving wheel of every progressive nation. The 2003 budget made a paltry 1.8% budgetary allocation to the Education sector, as against UNESCO’s proposal that 26% of the yearly budget of every developing country should be devoted to education; need I say more on the stance of the ruling government on education? Most of our leaders even at the highest echelon of governance are mere beneficiaries of honourary doctorate degrees with no academic merit from classrooms. A popular governor did trumpet his return to the school and the media applauded his gallantry, phew!!! A host of our leaders can hardly string words together in English (the grammar nobi our papa language clan), albeit possession of oratorical skills is hardly a criterion for determining leadership qualities, yet a sound analytical mind is expected of any leader who desires to wrestle the myriad problems besieging our shores. I will not mince words: most of our leaders are illiterates; quite a number of them are ‘fictitious graduates of Toronto Universities’ (if you catch my drift). It is hardly a moot point then that only those who know the worth of education can appreciate its value.

With education sliding down the scale of priorities, every moral attendant with its civilization has been obscured by the latest rave- acquisition of wealth (by any means necessary). The youth have equally caught with this new national pastime (if I am allowed to call it that) and it is not shocking that most turn to crime to actualize their quest (of course you didn’t expect to see them in Fortune Magazine on account of their geniuses at creating computer softwares; even those who are so gifted are roundly ignored by government). Labour in the garden of education is an arduous task, made the more so by a system of decay, which has ensured that young, bright and happy minds are churned out as sour and disgruntled adult minds; four year courses drag onwards up to eight years, sometimes, due to incessant strikes and cult attacks that attract indefinite closures of schools.

In Nigeria the fruits of education are meager and hardly rewarding; certificates are worth little more than sheets of paper, unemployment queues lengthen while suitably qualified graduate applicants could be heard ‘slapping’ through the streets of Nigerian cities with worn soles. It is in this haze of idleness, frustration and sometimes indolence that many hear the call of crime (what gainful employment do you think a vibrant mind would be engaged in seeing the present situation as obtains in Nigerian educational system and labour market?).

What can adequately attest to the true state of a Nation than this fact: parents of some girls who were repatriated under the auspices of Mrs. Eki Igbinedion wife of the Governor of Edo State from their sojourns while selling the fleshy wares in the booming sex markets of Europe has hit back at the poor woman for destroying their source of livelihood. It is indeed curious that protestations at the re-election of her husband was hinged solely on these ground and not because His Excellency cannot point to one single achievement during his first tenure. Is this not a reflection of a system in rots- a state of the sordidly surreal?

When a country cannot cater for its citizens, there is always a large scale inclination to resort to self-help and it is thus that: from the crateful of nubile girls shipped off to a life of prostitution in Italy to the marauding robbers and blood-drunk assassins the motto remains: Die Hard: “Get rich quick or die trying,” (apology to 50 Cents).

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1 comment

Anonymous May 9, 2005 - 10:59 am

I Agree totslly with the points you made about our rulers being illetrates. What is the use of the Youths graduating from college, if they are going to be ruled by illetrates. These rulers have been in the same position from the time most of us were born to our old age. Ruling from Military to our so called Democracy.


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