I want to, first of all, thank the University’s management for inviting me to speak at this convocation ceremony..
Secondly, let me congratulate the students who are graduating into a new phase of life. But let me quickly remind you that this is just one lap in the race of life which everyone is expected to run.
I must acknowledge all parents and guardians who are here today to honour their sons, daughters and wards. I cannot fail to appreciate our faculty members. I reckon that it must be a daunting task to be an academic in a Nigerian university today. You do not need to look further than objectively examine some of the issues in contention whenever the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarks on strike.
Let me make a second confession. I was intrigued by the choice of the topic given to me ‘
Many questions agitated my mind as to why the University would be interested in this topic in the first instance. What does the university management stand to gain from having these issues examined in a public sphere?
If you Google the word “moral”, you will find the following synonyms associated with it — to be ethical, honest, decent or honorable. “Decay”, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means to ‘deteriorate, rot or decompose; or fall into disrepair’. Consequently, in the context of the subject matter of our discourse, we could say that a season of economic and moral decay would, among other things, connote declining quality of life, shrinking economic opportunities and our society’s retreat from what is ethical, right, honest, decent and honorable.
Reflecting on the education sector in a state of economic and moral decay, I would like to recall the thought-provoking summation of John U. Nwalor, to jump-start our discussion. Hear him: “the educational system today has to contend with examination malpractices of various types, admissions racketeering, and records falsification and misrepresentation as well as other vices that threaten its survival. From all this, most sadly, has evolved a culture of aspiring to that which the individual is not qualified for.”
Departure from Core Values of our Society
Let me begin with the Biblical injunction that ‘the truth will set us free.’ I personally believe that it is only in telling ourselves a few home truths and accepting the reality of our situation that we can commence the journey of true healing and redemption for the nation.
I want to suggest that at the heart of the economic and moral decay in our society is the steady but unmitigated departure from what we used to stand for as a people. We used to pride ourselves as a hardworking, honest and caring people who prefer our good name to ill-gotten wealth. We used to believe in what is right, what is fair and what is just and reasonable. But not anymore!
I did commend the parents/guardians for their sacrifices in investing in the education of their children, which makes our gathering here today possible. They deserve that commendation. But if truth must be told, investing in the education of our children is probably the easy piece. This,to most parents, only requires making financial contributions. In my view, educating a child takes more than paying fees. This is one job without retirement. The more arduous and enduring task is to commit to inculcate the right values in our children. The Holy Book enjoins us in Proverbs 22: 6 to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”. In this regard, permit me to say that some parents may have abandoned their number one responsibility, and inadvertently set these young ones up for failure in life. These days, what you see or hear some parents do is not just mind boggling, it is plainly unconscionable.
Many parents go to any length to circumvent all rules and decency to make their children get ahead. What moral authority do we have over children for whom we have to influence their admission, pay someone to sit for their examinations and or bribe and intimidate lecturers to award undeserved grades to them?
The saddest part is that we do these things with so much ease and sense of normalcy that we no longer feel any shame. I suppose that I have been lucky in life in this regard. My parents set very clear expectations of what was right or wrong. They scrutinized everything we had and some may consider it ridiculous that even as a graduate worker, and with my father as pensioner, he would refuse to accept a N3000 gift from me as he considered it above my income. This was in 1987. When I explained to him that, as the Administrative/Protocol officer attached to the Governor in the State Liaison office in Lagos, it was not unusual to have tips from the Governor whenever he visited; he resorted to querying what sub-head the Governor will charge such expenses to. I wonder how many sub-heads he would be looking for across our Ministries, Departments and Agencies today. My father had retired as an accomplished civil servant, having risen to the pinnacle of hiscareer as a Permanent Secretary. That is why, when he died, it was very easy for us to have as his epitaph the following; ‘here lies a man of faith and servant of God, he stood for what was right even if it meant standing alone’.
Let me be very clear — this is not about self-righteousness; it is about accepting the reality of our situation. No society can ever make progress on the foundation of fraud and deceit. As a people, we cannot be any different!
How do our teachers fare? Many teachers are not ennobling examples in setting the moral compass for their students and society. The culture of “sorting”, a new lingo which means financial inducement for unmerited grades and sexual harassment of students, is alien to our core values and sets the foundation for the decay in our society. If hard work no longer counts in achieving excellent results, what signals are we sending to these students? I wonder how many lecturers today will award a failed grade to their good friends or the children of their good friends who do not do well in their courses so that they would have to retake those courses. That is what my Commercial law lecturer, a good friend, did to me. His decision did not in any way affect our relationship. Instead, he taught me a valuable lesson and almost 30 years later, he still has my highest regards.
Some lecturers have destroyed the lives of many students who refuse to give in to their demands. I recently met this woman, who now resides in Germany. When she realized that I was from Akwa Ibom State, she narrated to me her experience when she studied in this school many years ago. She was brazenly harassed by one of her lecturers and eventually had to withdraw from school. Though she is today successful, there is no doubt that she still carries that pain and the memories of her ordeal. I wonder how that lecturer would feel if their paths were to cross today. This practice must stop.
I however understand that the current regime in UNIUYO has done a lot to stem this malaise and through a fair hearing process, erring lecturers and administrative staff have been sanctioned. However, I advocate that we go beyond internal discipline of offenders. The culprits should be prosecuted in a court of law while the mainstream and online media should help raise public consciousness so that we can rid it off from our campuses. There should be a process to ensure that such morally depraved lecturers who are dismissed from one university are not employed in other universities
For the managers of our education sector, can we say with a straight face that the funds allocated for the improvement of infrastructure are judiciously used? If it is, why do we have the state of absolute squalor in our educational institutions? Why do uncompleted buildings litter our campuses? Why are our libraries not stocked with up-to-date books and reference materials? Why are the students cramped in very unsuitable and inhospitable hostels?
For the government officials who allocate and release budgets, can we also vouch that all the allocations meant for education are released for educational purposes? A few years ago, there were instances of bribe-for-budgets allegations and some senior government officials lost thei jobs.
For the students themselves, do we make judicious use of the resources provided for us? Do we treat our university as if it is ‘our house’? What about the wanton destruction of infrastructure and resources that occurred in this university on June 12, 2013 when even students’ academic records and other vital and irreplaceable resources meant for the accreditation of courses were burnt?
What about places of worship? The situation is so bad that even the place of worship which ought to pass on the right values to our children is now the butt of jokes by comedians. A preacher is recognized not so much by the number of souls transformed but by the number of jets in his fleet of private jets. Worshippers are recognized not by acts of piety but by how much money they donate to places of worship. It matters not that the money may be stolen. The craze for wealth and ostentatious lifestyle among the messengers of salvation is such that, at times, the message is lost, and God’s name is dragged in the mud!
What am I saying? My point is that we are all guilty. The critical institutions of society (the home, the school and the church) that should help to set the right moral compass for society have failed! Need we wonder why evil is walking tall in our society today and why everything is in a state of decay? Usman Dan Fodio, the founder of the Sokoto caliphate, once said that ‘the crown of a leader is his integrity, his stronghold is his impartiality; and his wealth is the prosperity of his people.” If he was to be around today, I am certain he would not recognize the society he left behind.
The President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, got it right when he noted during the 2014 National Honours’ Award Ceremony, that “A nation is void and soulless if she does not have those sacred values it holds dear and individuals who project them. It is in such men and women that you find the authentic inheritance of the generations and their nurturing. That is why a nation is poor that is not rich in people who carry noble values that are transferred from generation to generation.”
It is very easy to continue to complain that Nigeria is not working. However, if every one of us does a deep introspection, and if we are willing to admit the truth, we will recognize what I would refer to as “collective culpability” in the problems facing us today, either by our act of commission or omission. We must not fail to recognize that if each of us plays his/her role — by doing what is right always — things will change for the better.
THE CELEBRATION OF A CULTURE OF LAWLESSNESS AND IMPUNITY
I have also observed that the promotion of a culture of lawlessness and impunity is one other factor responsible for the economic and moral decay in our society. In this country, in my own lifetime, I have witnessed where the guilty was punished and the honest one celebrated. We had some norms in the society where a person who went against acceptable standards of behaviour was punished to send a message to other members of the society. The whole idea behind ‘trial by ordeal’, where law breakers were publicly named, paraded and shamed, although no longer acceptable in modern society, was meant to demonstrate society’s total abhorrence for of such practices as stealing, murder, rape and other vices in our society. Today, sadly, although we have many laws against criminal conducts such
as stealing, corruption, murder, etc., hardly does anyone get punished for committing any crime. The bane of our society and the reason for the economic backwardness of our dear nation has been traced to corruption in high and low places.
Corruption is so pervasive that there is hardly any stratum of society that is immune to it. To obtain a simple thing such as an academic transcript from most universities, one has to pay a bribe to officials in the Records Office responsible for issuing the document.
There is so much stealing in the land that one may be forgiven if one thinks that stealing has been legitimized. Yet, despite setting up institutions to fish out and punish the corrupt, such institutions are highly compromised while corruption has become endemic. People kill and maim others with reckless abandon without being brought to book. How many unsolved murders have we witnessed in our life time? It is not that the killers or those who loot the common patrimony are unknown. They are those being celebrated and given chieftaincy titles and national honours today.
There is a reason why the woman in the statue of justice is veiled. Justice is supposed to be blind. The judge is expected to discharge justice without fear or favour, not minding who is before it. In our dear country, the veil on the statue of justice has been pierced; criminal elements who appear before our courts can actually buy justice. Have you not observed some uncanny attempts to escape justice in this country? You will see a man or woman being hailed as a success story. He or she will enjoy all the accolades and limelight. However, immediately the person is declared wanted for committing one crime or the other, you will start to hear that the person is suffering from all kinds of sicknesses. Once such persons are released, that certainly would be the end of the case or some will be ferried to the hospitals and from there negotiate their way to freedom in what is today termed as “soft landing”, that is, a deal where most of the loots are retained, while the culprit walks free. As a people, we must return to the practice of punishing and correcting those who violate the laws of the land. It will not only send the message that society abhors such conducts, it will also deter similarly inclined individuals. I dare say that until we do so, we will only be sowing the seeds of insecurity and anarchy in our society.
How do we save the Education Sector?
Let me say that the education sector is one in which I have always taken a keen interest. I know that most of you do too. In a bid to provide recognition for, and support to Akwa Ibom State public secondary school teachers in science subjects, English language, Mathematics, History and Economics, we set up the Inoyo Toro Foundation (www.Inoyotorofoundation.org
) about seven years ago. Working with other similarly minded professionals, the best students in over 30 secondary schools have so far been adopted for life time role modeling and mentoring with a view to building leaders of tomorrow
. We believe that no child should be left behind.
I think we need to acknowledge how we are positioned relative to other countries. While we pride ourselves as the giant of Africa, it is a sad commentary to see that there is no Nigerian university listed in the first 1,000 universities in the world and also none listed among the top 10 in Africa. This speaks volumes of where we stand. It should create a sense of urgency on the part of Government and the authorities to do something. If, as at 2013, we had 124 universities in the country (of which 50 are privately owned) and none is in this competitive bracket, why are the authorities still establishing new ones? How diligent is the accreditation process and what needs to be done to create a competitive edge?
Instability in Policy Direction/Administration
It is the responsibility of government to set policy direction for the sector. A situation where we witness policy summersaults in the sector does not bode well for sustainability and set the ground for decline. We need some stability with sound policy drivers. From May 1999 till date (a period of 15 years), there have been 18 ministers of education. Most of them served for fewer than 12 months. Such high turnover does not promote policy continuity.
We also need people appointed not on the basis of political patronage but on core professionalism in order to rejuvenate the sector. A situation where people of doubtful pedigree are appointed to superintend over this sector is an eloquent testimony of the lack of importance we attach to it. My experience is that Nigeria is not lacking in studies, blue prints and roadmaps. What we lack are flawless execution and sustainability. Inadequate Funding
In my opinion, education is the most important sector and deserves urgent attention in this country today. It was late President Nelson Mandela who reminded us that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. However, if the annual budgetary allocation is anything to go by, we do not seem to attach much importance to this sector. But if the truth must be told, Nigeria will not make any meaningful headway without significant investments in the education sector, assuming the managers of this sector will not embezzle the funds allocated to the sector.
As a country, we are still far off the mark, given the UNESCO recommendation that 26% of a country’s total budget must be dedicated to education. According to World Bank statistics, our GDP has grown in quantum leaps from $67.7Billion in 2003 to $522.6Billion in 2013 (672% growth). This is a reflection that our economy is improving but it is clear that funds allocation and utilization in the Education sector has not seen any significant growth. In 2012, it was N400.15bn or 8.43% of the total budget; in 2013, it was N426.5bn or 8.7% of the total budget and in 2014, it was N495.2bn or 9.9% of the total budget. I recognize that there are conflicting demands but Government needs to get its priorities right because if we continue at this rate, we will not be out of the woods for a long time to come.
Being an abridged format of an address delivered by Mr Udom Inoyo, Executive Director of Mobil Producing Nigeria at the 19th Convocation of the University of Uyo, on November 21, 2014.