It was not an original plan to write this week about Charles Chukwuemeka Oputa, 66, popularly known as ‘Charly Boy’ and his protest in Abuja. I am sure we haven’t met at close range. But his career in the entertainment sector can only be strange to the young ones who would not like anyone to talk about members of the old setup. What touched off the contextual analysis of Charley Boy today was some deduction from a short post I did early in the week, in response to a colleague’s strange Facebookarticle on the maverick’s protest in the nation’s capital.
A reflection on some responses to that brief post triggered this topic on democracy and (good) education, a subject I began this column with. It was clear to me from responses of some critics that indeed “we the people” should persuade our leaders to abandon all uncompleted projects now and concentrate on how to fund education quality in Nigeria. This is the origin of my strange suggestion. The way most analysts on digital platforms have been demonising Charly Boy and even those who have risen to defend his right to protest in our democracy, has got me quite worried about the future of Nigeria.
One is beginning to realise once again that one of the most unpleasant consequences of long years of neglect of funding quality in our education at all levels is production of a generation of political analysts that lacks understanding of basic issues, which affect the governance of their country. It is worrisome that at the moment, numerous analysts are so intolerant of views that tend to ask basic questions about public service and good governance. It is more tragic for the society that even some elders, some fiery lawyers, journalists and civil society activists we once looked up as towers of strength, appear to have have lost the fire in their bellies. What is worse, the academics we used to depend on for fresh ideas and content development in the media appear overwhelmed and are curiouslyquiet when their country is quite unhealthy. Before our very eyes, the governance institutions that nurture the majesty of democracy are being desecrated; state actors are becoming massively arrogant; the presidency is sickly and the lawmakers are daily turning into lawbreakers; the political parties that should develop roadmaps for development are barren; the once vibrant civil societies including student bodies have been curiously perverted; the once robust civil service is unserviceable and the economy has become rudderless. And sadly, when a Charly Boy springs up to say, our mumu don do, don’t siddon look for too long, some even educated citizens would say, he should be hacked for his bad verses, like Cina the poet, in Shakespeare Julius Caesar.
It is given that in the Federal Republic of the Nigerian Army as General Chris Alli’s book (2001,2014) suggests, it is ‘permissible’ for the police authorities to crack down on demonstrators against state actors, especially the president and his men. Yes, in a house that has fallen under the weight of massive corruption, state-owned news media and their few private allied forces can sell their souls for a mess of porridge. But it should be a huge concern if some elders, some civil society activists most of whom fought ruthlessly to get this democracy in 1999, now look askance when the Charly Boys who demonstrate peacefully against state actions are being abused, suppressed and assaulted by state agencies.Besides, what do the leading lights and indeed the elite and civil society activists in this country stand to lose if they choose to stand up and cry against a crackdown on peaceful protests against state actions that are considered unusual? In Nigeria, has it become a crime to demonstrate and write critical comments against crackdown on pro-democracy figures?
Even as answers to these questions continue to blow in the wind, one thing is clear at the moment: there is an urgent need for us to agitate for funding of quality in our education. This means education that will enable us to deepen our understanding of the implications of docility when our leaders are not doing well enough to lift the country. There should be a full persuasion, yes understanding that there is no difference between the PDP and APC as political parties in Nigeria at the moment. It is not about them. Those who fail to understand what civil society activists stand for should note, for instance, that but for the steadfastness and resilience of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), promoters, the state would have long appealed to the parents of the 276Chibok girls (abducted in 2014) to forget about them. None would have been rescued, after all. In the same vein, there should be enough reasons to fear for Nigeria now: that tomorrow may be bleakif it comes with a band of sycophants who will continue to chant the slogan of let’s for the ruling party to perform under PMB. Or we may even be confronted with a far worse scenario of some noisy campaigns of “Bring Back Goodluck Jonathan”. This is why we need quality education that will enable the not-too-young-to-run activists to understand thatnation-building is not for the un-informed sycophants who feel that the best way to get rich and be in power is to hail the bad leaders of today so that the coast will be clear.
The Education We Need
That is why we all need the kind of “education’, which Henry Peter Brougham says,“makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave”. This is the kind of education we all need at the moment. This means a paradigm shift that can determine which education enables the perpetuation of diverse ways of life and the liberal democracy that accommodates our peculiar diversity. There should be some understanding that schools should teach democratic participatory skills and a minimal exposure to diversity – to enable citizens to participate in the democratic process of defining which cultural and religious practices the state should tolerate or prohibit through its laws. To advance this argument, some teachers have long noted that toleration is practised primarily between the democratic state and citizens rather than among citizens. It has been argued further that modern schools must teach mutual respect among citizens, citizens’ constitutional rights, democratic participatory skills, a basic understanding of other worldviews, and critical media skills.
It is evident now that we need to entrench democracy in our modern education curriculum because democracy is a necessary way of living together to protect the individual and maintain social equity. This module should be designed to promote a philosophy of education to meet the needs of a changing society, based on a social-interactionist theory of knowledge. Reason: it seems that most of our leaders of tomorrow, though not-too –young-to-run, lack depth to carry the weight of democratic demands in a complex society like ours.
Though our leaders in Abuja are demonizing democracy at the moment, democracy is still democracy.John Dewey, generally associated with seminal work on the nexus between democracy and education wrote a classic on the subject in which he noted, Modern life means democracy, democracy means freeing intelligence for independent effectiveness – the emancipation of the mind as an individual organ to do its work. We naturally associate democracy, to be sure with freedom and action. But freedom of action without free capacity of thought behind it only chaos. If external authority in action is given up, it must be because internal authority of truth, discovered and unknown to reason is substituted.
It is thus germane to ask how our schools here stand with reference this matter. Does today’s school as an accredited representative exhibit this trait of democracy as a spiritual force?Dewey could have been speaking for us long ago when he noted that he found the fundamental need of the school today dependent upon its limited recognition of the principle of freedom and intelligence.
Indeed, we need to put pressure on our leaders to show commitment to quality in education beyond establishment of more rickety instead of better universities, as our leaders in South West, Nigeria do now. It is inscrutable to see how a democracy can function adequately without an informed citizenry that can choose leaders intelligently and hold them to account. If the people are uneducated in a democracy, then the minority of educated people will pass laws and elect officials who promote their interest rather than public interest.
There is, however, a sense in which we can claim that there are many examples of societies with a well-educated citizenry that might not be very democratic, as well as of democratic societies with low levels of education. But on balance, let’s accept the positive that education can help people participate in democracy in a variety of ways, including providing them with literacy and other skills to enable them to take part in political discussions and access political information through the media.
Fittingly, as the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report showed, a country, which is managing to deliver quality skills training to its children and adolescents within its own borders will also find that those skills make a difference even in global context. If we are to solve global challenges such as climate change, we need even not-too-young to-know citizens who understand enough science and governance to recognize the problem and push their governments to act.
And so our leaders who underfund and devalue education in managing their priorities should learn from Professor Stephen Covey’s school on this this debate. According to the author ofThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the main value of education is not financial or occupational, but it is personal and spiritual and character building. He says you can become a better husband and father, wife and mother and citizen if you are a product of good education. He adds that, that way you can learn to think analytically and creatively. You learn how to read with discrimination. You develop a way of thinking about life and problems. Covey notes that your basic knowledge is deepened and expanded and your horizon lifted with good education. This is awesome.
It is clear from our attitude that good education that will enable us tothink analytically and creatively is still a bridge too far. That is why most of our people, including those who seek to pull down demonstrators and critics of bad and corrupt governance system see only the head of a government as a god of all solution, without looking at the massive systemic failure that has made the most populous black nation on earth a symbol of suffering and shame.
And the message here is: those who seek to lead us tomorrow should begin to develop today their actionable blueprint on how to restructure education that can produce not only employable skills, but also enlightened citizens that can recognize poor governance and leadership and tell the authorities to ask such leaders to change, do well, or get out. Certainly, we need a system of education that can produce more Charly Boys who can make us think critically and creatively about the state of the nation at all times.