By Tunde Odesola
Bold, brilliant and handsome, Arthur is an inquisitive mind illimitable by ethnicity and religion in a wobbly country. At the age of 22, the Ika native of Delta State graduated in 1981 after studying Medicine and Surgery at the premier university located in the city of rust and gold. Ten years after swearing to the Hippocratic Oath at the illustrious University of Ibadan, Dr Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa hung his stethoscope and scrub for a more fanciful piece of clothe called the agbada, a popular wear among the Yoruba. The agbada is also popular among the Hausa, who call it the babanriga. The agbada isn’t a work clothe. Why Nigeria’s elected elite prefers it to other smarter work clothes raises the eyebrow. The agbada is regal, I agree. But did our politicians, while canvassing for votes, not promise to be our servants? Why are our politicians so attracted to the work-inhibiting agbada?
Is it because they do nothing in the 4+4 years available to the executive or the 4 x X years available in the legislature? Well, just wondering aloud how uneasy would it be for Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State to move from one refuse site to another in an agbada, directly supervising the evacuation of the mountains of garbage eclipsing sunshine in the Sunshine state. Besides the agbada being lavish, its bottomless pocket could be the secret behind why politicians crave to wear it. I will ask the next politician I see why is the agbada the most popular clothe among this special breed of servants, who have the power to install and remove paramount kings at the drop of a hat. Ha! It’s saddening that Nigerian elections and election reruns have become rerun,another name for calamity among the Yoruba.
Clad in a fitting, brown-color uniform, and spoiling for war, seven-year-old Success Adegor shot into limelight on her way to school when she defiantly expressed her determination to storm her school and face the authorities, who had hitherto caned her, ostensibly, for not paying her examination levy. In a video gone viral, Success ate fire and brimstone, vowing to show her teachers the difference between khaki and leather. She declared in Pidgin English I never pay o, (but) no be say I no go pay o; dem go dey pursue person instead of dem to flog person, dem go dey pursue person. Dem go flog me (today), dia cane go tire, dem go tire for flogging. As dem say dem stubborn, I go tell dem say I stubborn pass dem… Success’s outburst was an outrage against the new normal indignity in the nation’s education sector, an issue I will come back to in a jiffy.
What moved Nigerians to open the floodgates of goodies to Success was her unbounded Nigerian spirit that defied fear, oppression, humiliation and threat. In her outburst, Nigerians found a common voice against their insincere governments, heartless landlords, shylock transporters, soulless traders, profiteering food sellers and callous bosses. But we must not lose sight of the Delta State Government’s dereliction of duty and shameful buck passing in the whole matter.
One man’s meat is another man’s poison, goes a popular saying. While donations, promises, scholarships and words of encouragement from Nigerians caught up with Success on the road to her Okotie-Eboh Primary School 1, Sapele, a deluge of questions from Nigerians hit the Governor’s Office, Asaba, inquiring why money was demanded from pupils in a state which claims to be running a free and ‘fair’ education. Not one to be caught on the wrong foot, Okowa, speaking through his Commissioner for Education, Chiedu Ebie, suspended the head teacher of the school, last Monday, saying that primary and secondary education was free in the state. In the wake of Success’ viral video, several other school heads were suspended by the state government for allegedly collecting examination levy from pupils across the state. But, in a sane clime, a serious government cannot claim to be ignorant of schoolchildren being taxed examination levies.
The claim by the Okowa-led state government to be unaware of the levy until the video came out means the government had no idea about what was going on in its primary and secondary schools. This reveals that the government had for long left the pupils open to extortion and manipulation from wolves in teachers’ clothing. This is the highest form of disservice the government can bequeath to our future leaders. Sincerely, I have an unshakable belief that the state government was aware of the levy collection because as it is most unlikely that the state Ministry of Education and the local government authorities were not aware of the levy collection.
The suspension of the head teachers by the state government was a mere face-saving smokescreen aimed at breathing life into a non-existent free education in the state. A state that ‘massively’ returned Okowa for a second term in office on Saturday cannot claim not to have an effective feedback mechanism for regularly feeling the pulse of the masses. If it takes the outbreak of scandals for the Delta State government to be alive to its responsibilities, then something is terribly wrong somewhere.
I’m not saying education must be free at all costs, my children never benefited from government’s free education policy. But government should be sincere enough to acknowledge the limitations of the education it provides with a view to improving it and making it qualitative because there could be nothing qualitative in the education being given at that godforsaken Sapele primary school, which had no roof, no ceiling, no windows, no light, no life! The picture of the school which accompanied a story about the Adegor family in Saturday PUNCH shows that the school isn’t fit for an incinerator. The state of the school is an unforgiveable sacrilege to the memory of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, a First Republic Minister of Finance, who was felled by mutineers’ bullets alongside Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in Nigeria’s first coup on January 15, 1966.
Standing the risk of being accused of overgeneralisation, it won’t be far-fetched to say that no state in Nigeria practices free education in the real sense of the word. The teachers and the products of the nation’s free education policies are evidence of why no child of any topnotch political leader across the country attends a public school in Nigeria.
Success’ defiance also undercuts the use of flogging as an effective means of instilling discipline in children. Her outburst gives credence to the school of thought, which canvasses the use of moral suasion and ‘acceptable force’ as a means of instilling discipline in children. Despite frowning on physical assault, states in the US still approve of paddling, which is ‘hitting a child on the bottom with a short, wide piece of wood as punishment’. But the paddling must not inflict an open injury, otherwise, you’re on the way to jail.
Personally, I go with the combination of moral suasion, paddling and prayer as a means of correcting children. The greatest book of all, the Holy Bible, warns parents and guardians in Proverbs 23:13, saying, “Don’t hesitate to discipline children. A good spanking won’t kill them.”
There’s no gainsaying the fact that the generality of our leaders today was trained with iron fist by their good parents. Why then has a good number of them turned into vicious killers, prodigal sons and daughters of easy virtue? I think the solution lies in getting the message of love and respect to the heart of the child, and not forcing a horse to the river. By that way, Nigeria, probably, won’t have to suffer the shame of having its leaders arrested and jailed abroad for corruption like it happened to James Onanefe Ibori the great.