Did Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State realize that, in his first official pronouncement on May 29, 2019 stopping the payment of N3,000 by school pupils, he had unwittingly provoked a strong ideological sentiment which had been bottled overtime? Discussions on this issue have polarized indigenes and residents along divides of ideology, class and beliefs.
My confession: I was very upset with the new governor at this pronouncement. Not strictly on the pedestal of ideology, I felt Makinde was merely playing to the gallery. Why would a governor stop the payment of a meager fee of N3,000, payable by parents and guardians in 365 days, approximating a little less than ten naira per day, an amount that has helped, no matter how insignificantly, in putting public education at whatever level it was in the state?
If there was one issue on which the ex-Governor of the state, Abiola Ajimobi, received ceaseless strictures in reviews of his 8-year tenure, the state of education and health was at its apogee. In the midst of this welter of criticisms, the former state helmsman however claimed that he performed to his optimal on these scores. He cited some model schools, some renovated schools and a few others as anchor of his performance. At campaign podia however, Makinde consistently attacked this Ajimobi optimum, claiming that there was the need to declare an emergency on education in Oyo. He gave graphic census of decaying school infrastructure, bludgeoning number of children per class, embarrassingly huge number of out-of-school children, disorientation of teachers due to governmental disincentive policies and the departure of the philosophy of academy in schools whose major preoccupation should be academics. But, was stopping the payment of N3,000 a logical anchor of this proposed reform?
Kudos, condemnations, in equal measure, poured for Makinde on this maiden pronouncement. I belonged to the category of those who erected the crucifix for him to mount. My averments were as follows: By it, Makinde merely worsened the indolence and irresponsibility of many a Yoruba parent who are gradually mimicking the irresponsible model of Northern Nigerian parenting where a horde of kids are brought to life and dumped on the laps of society. This irresponsible parenting is the bane of the social crises of violence and insurgency that Nigeria is grappling with at the moment. If a parent cannot afford to pay N10 per day for 365 days on a child he sired, he is not worthy of being the vehicle of birthing such a child to life, I believe. Awareness of giving education to kids is far more acute in Southern Nigeria today. We are ready to sell all we have in this regard. In the morning, you will see the driver shouldering his child on the way to the Nursery school. He is suddenly aware that the difference between you, his boss and him is not that you are more brilliant but your parents gave you education and his didn’t. He thus doesn’t want his child’s fate to be like his.
More significantly is that many of this same set of parents that Makinde’s spike of N3,000 fees is abetting “declare” drinks at beer parlours, spend sums in excess of this amount at Owambegigs but are reluctant to contribute to impacting their children to live meaningful lives. Also of note is the Yoruba ancient wise saying that a talisman put in phial that is not procured by the pain of monetary consideration idles away behind the fireplace in the kitchen. Parenting should come with some measure of pains – pains of birth, scampering hither thither at children’s infancy and raising the child. Parenting in leisure is un-enduring. I-Roy, Jamaican reggae star, once parodied the biblical maxim of man being made to suffer and woman created to feel the pains (on account of their children).
My second beef was Makinde’s ostensible haste that would not allow him to wait a little while to weigh the financial muscle of the state he had just been sworn in to govern before making this consequential pronouncement. At a discussion on the issue later however, someone told me that the governor had, in an interview he granted before his swearing in, summed up the number of pupils in the state at about 400,000 and approximating the amount accruable from the fee payment to government to be in the neighbourhood of N1.2billion. So, is N1.2billion that negligible and can’t be factored into Oyo’s lean resources? From what I gathered, Oyo’s IGR and monthly dole-out from FAAC oscillate around N7billion, with a wage bill of slightly above N5billion. If Governor Makinde will ultimately pay the N30,000 wage, the wage bill should shoot up to about N9billion, leaving monthly shortfall of close to N2billion. So, wouldn’t N100 million that a yearly N1.2billion from the N3000 fee will come to, help, no matter how tiny, in the financial straits that Makinde will confront?
Makinde’s reply to this criticism is said to hang on three prongs. The first is that his May 29 pronouncement was borne out of his commitment to fulfilling promises. The fee cancellation was a solemn promise he made on campaign podia to the people of Oyo State. Whether he should renege or fulfill this promise, he is said to have argued, is a matter of honour. Should Oyo have a honourable helmsman or one who breaks promises at his whim? Of importance is said to be Makinde’s belief that as elite, we are at liberty to disparage the difficulty of procuring N3,000 by a parent, our argument being that, it is too token, but that, if you go to Oyo hospitals and see indigent compatriots dying for not having N500 for hospital bills, you will realize that payment of the N3000 was one reason that jerked up the number of children, barely off their diapers, who sell sachet water on Oyo streets.
Second is said to be Makinde’s unofficial discovery, even before assuming office, that there were a number of willful, selfish bursting of Oyo State resource pipes by some avaricious officials of the exited government, pipes which were then redirected into local and foreign personal accounts. Since he had forswore to run a government that won’t tinker with Oyo people’s patrimony and being a very wealthy man from his private enterprise, Governor Makinde had no qualms dispensing with a negligible funding like N3,000 per annum which though looks insignificant but burrowed deep holes in the purses of the ordinary parent in the state. He is said to be of the opinion that, now that the leaked pipes that led to under-declaration of Oyo earnings will be mended by his chastity in government, Oyo will meet its social responsibilities to all sectors, including education. The Makinde school of thought is also of the opinion that his declaration in his inaugural to jerk up the budget of education to 10%, from a paltry 5% at the moment, with a yearly incremental adjustment to meet UNESCO recommendation by the time his 4-year tenure is over, is a further testimony of his abidance by the credo of changing the education landscape and coheres with his commitment to making a difference.
I still stand by my earlier averment that Makinde should not, by whatever mode he is bringing remedy to the sagging morale of the people of the state, indulge the people not to pay whatever is legitimately their role to contribute to the uplift of the state’s finances. Permit me to restate that wise-saying again, to wit that a phial of talisman not procured with cash is always tossed behind the fireplace. For the quality education that Western Nigeria got in the First Republic, the people paid through a properly modulated tax regime. It is on record that Mr S.L. Akintola’s decision as Premier in 1961 to reduce prices of cocoa - being the main export commodity in the Western Region – was one of the core issues that grounded his government.
On January 12, 1961, Mr Obafemi Awolowo had met Akintola to advise him against the reduction of prices mid-cocoa season, submitting that it would be a breach of faith. Though he promised the Leader he would not, Akintola went ahead to address a press conference on January 13, 1961 to announce new prices of cocoa for the rest of the season. What followed was an immense crisis. Even the Minister of Finance in the NCNC/NPC coalition, Mr Festus Okotie-Eboh, denounced the Akintola government as “not justified in reducing the price of cocoa paid to the producers…to save the Board’s (Marketing) reserve of surplus.”
Soon, the effects of this reduction began to be felt. On January 4, 1962, Akintola’s Western Regional Minister of Education, Mr Sanya Onabamiro, addressed a press conference increasing what was called Assumed Local Contributions in Western Nigeria’s Secondary Grammar Schools, school fees in short, to £75 per annum per pupil. The Tribuneand other newspapers began a series of attacks on this policy. In a two-part volley of sarcastic and acidic editorials entitled Indefensible, the newspaper derided Akintola’s plan. Even theDaily Express,edited by the irrepressible Aiyekoto, BisiOnabanjo,joined the fray with an editorial comment it entitled Slowing down progress, to deplore the Akintola policy, calling it “a dishonest piece of work lacking in logic and public good.” Due to these attacks, in a press conference addressed by the Premier himself on January 8, 1962 at the Ikeja VIP residency, the school fees policy was stopped.
I have no doubt in me that Makinde will outperform his predecessors. I also believe that his policies thus far – donation of his salaries, abridgment of the tenure of council heads, review of last-minute decisions of the last government and others were genuine decisions made to eliminate systemic gridlocks that can clog his avowal to resituate Oyo and delink it from the dross of the immediate past. His charge should be to spend the next 100 days erecting solid, visible and logical foundation, especially in education, health and wealth creation. It is then he will be able to totally convince us – the naysayers – that, abridging the payment of N3,000 in Oyo State schools was worth it after all.
June 12: When villains reap fruits of heroes’ struggle
Wednesday will be the 26th anniversary of the Nigerian June 12, 1993 elections. Borrowing the lingo of liberation crusaders, June 12’s portent is equal in audacity to the recently concocted epithet of O to gewhich Kwara State people devised to signify their resolve to discontinue the slavish queue behind the Saraki dynasty. In racial liberation, June 12is also akin to 42 year-old seamstress, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat for a white passenger in the Montgomery bus in Alabama on December 1, 1955. This stiff-necked decision of Parks, in a racially dominated system that demanded blacks to so do for the white, sparked off a boycott. This boycott threw Martin Luther King Jr. to global prominence and renown. In her refusal to give up her seat, Parks had uttered the famous sentence, “My feet are tired,” analogous to Kwarans’ O to ge but clearly verbalized 26 years ago by Nigerians’ denunciation of the military class.
In 26 years, June 12has morphed severally. This battle that was fought with the blood of several Nigerians led to the eventual handing over of power to civilians in 1999 and the incineration of military despotism in Nigeria. Stray bullets killed several compatriots; many died in detention; the Bagauda Kalthos got missing and have not been found ever since; Sergeant Rogers and his family of bloodless military killers secretly wiped many off. I remember Chiedu Ezeanah, poet and journalist, shot on Ring Road in Ibadan during this period and the several people eliminated by the Sani Abacha goons at Lifecare hospital, also in the capital of Oyo State. I also remember NADECO activist, Taiwo Akeju, Beko Ransome-Kuti and others locked up by Abacha. I remember how, when we got a whiff that our brand of journalism irked the despot, our Omega Weekly newspaper office on Ibadan’s Ring Road had to be relocated to my modest flat at Oke-Ayo Street, off Ring Road in 1997. Abacha’s goons would have made nice roast of our entrails if they had found us out! And sundry other recollections.
Ironically, 26 years after, the social and political issues we battled have metastasized into far more hydra-headed and cancerous cells. Life was far more live-able under the thieving Sani Abacha than it is today under his surrogate, Muhammadu Buhari. The social crises we confront today in a so-called democracy are far more benumbing and destructive than the ones of 1993. In my faintest imagination, I never believed that, 26 years after, travelling to my village of Ilu-Abo in Akure, Ondo State would be strung with fear and apprehension; a road which, under Abacha, posed no iota of danger. It is easier, cheaper and far likely for a Nigerian to die today than it was 26 years back. Many Nigerians who run away from the country through the sea make grisly confession that it is better for them to perish on the Mediterranean than be subjected to the wicked vagaries of life under a Buhari who is terribly insulated from the consuming crises in the country he rules.
Far more instructive is that the bulk of those who administer Nigeria today, who reap the fruits of that bloody and consuming battle for liberation of Nigeria, had nothing to do with the fight fought by the Ransome-Kutis, the Gani Fawehinmis, Bagauda Kalthos, the Taiwo Akejus and others in the trenches of the June 12battle. Beginning with Muhammadu Buhari himself – who was never attributed with any supportive intervention in that struggle, to Olusegun Obasanjo, who was even quoted to have made several Judas Iscariot-like abetments of the oppressors of the people – villains of June 12have been presiding over the booties of June 12.It is one way of providence that man cannot assess. It reminds me of that quote from an anonymous man, while assuaging a distraught son of his. He had asked the son – I paraphrase now – “my son, since you were born into this world, have you ever seen good repaid with good consistently, or evil recompensed with evil, consistently?” It is one inscrutable lesson of life and liberation struggles that I just can’t explain.
Our stinking Excellency
There are some obvious reasons why Nigeria is still locked up in the woods; some are tangible and some, intangible. One of the intangibles is our national hypocrisy, lack of rigour in national thinking and our collective amnesia. The latter is one of the cogent reasons why evil-doers escape from the barbs we erect against them whenever we discover their misdeeds. Give us a few weeks however, we forget – or choose to forget – all those.
That attitude is called the Roman mob syndrome. Ancient Rome was constituted by very powerful people who, as at that time, were over a million in number. They were a set of jobless, fickle-minded people who constituted the Roman electorate. They were the plebeians and held the political and governmental barometer of Rome which was the seat of world government. They ousted powerful emperors. Woe betided an emperor who elected not to keep the Roman mob happy. Once they are in a feat of riot, they were uncontrollable and could set alight the tinder of a hitherto peaceful community. They had, in this feat, murdered emperors and dethroned them ingloriously, only to append their riotous signatures on their preferred emperor. For instance, while they gathered after the assassination of Julius Caesar to listen to Brutus’ address, these mercurial plebeians were easily swayed when Brutus told them he slayed Caesar, their beloved emperor, because he (Brutus) loved Rome more than he did Caesar. To ram in the final nail on their fickle-minded coffin, Brutus said he killed Caesar so as to save Rome from his tyranny and set Rome free. After this manipulative statement, the Roman mob, rather than kill him for stabbing his friend, Caesar to death, suggested that a statute be erected for him while some others suggested that he be made Caesar in place of Julius Caesar – "let him be Caesar!” “Caesar's better parts shall be crown'd in Brutus.”
Sorry, I digressed. Like the Roman plebeians, Nigerians too act at the spur of the moment almost every time. Not basically because they are bribed to silence but due to an inherited culture of depthless scrutiny, the Nigerian media is at the vanguard of this self-imposed amnesia. Look at the heat that is generated each time the media unearths a misdemeanor, most times among political barons. It is celebrated with fanfare like a scientist who just discovered another planet. Give it one, two or maximum three weeks, the media relapses into its sleeping mode. And cleverly, the evil-doer slips off the handle and mends his broken image covertly. Most times, such evil-doer merely waits for a short while and launches into limelight again, so soon thereafter. Our amnesia abets him as he climbs up the ladder again.
In the same vein is our very vague and compromising resolve not to speak ill of the dead. It is one of those un-dignifying bequeathals from traditional African society anyway. I daresay that we should begin to speak ill of the dead from now. Many people have continued on their ruinous path of committing atrocities while alive, hiding under the banner of this shibboleth and believing that once they die, they have escaped our judgment. Perhaps if they know that when they die, we will erect the crucifix for their remains and un-bowel their smelly body for the world to cover its noses in disgust, they will do good while here on earth.
I just remembered that one of the dusts raised in the 2019 general elections were claims and counter-claims of misdeeds against some aspirants for political offices. Some were alleged not to possess the certificates they paraded; some were accused of forgery; some with non-possession of NYSC discharge certificates and some with abhorrent past. Many of them, in spite of these allegations, are in offices now. One of them, at the heat of the election, who claimed he had a degree certificate from the then University of Ife and another from an American university but could not produce any of the certificates, is governor of a Nigerian state at the moment. Even the honoris causadoctorate award he prefixed to his name during the campaign has suddenly disappeared now in his official portraits. And we are supposed to live happily ever after?
The truth is, if we uncritically continue in this mould, we will be missing a critical component of democratic governance which is openness, accountability and public disclosure. It may be an intangible aspect of governance but it constitutes a spiritual hub which undergirds governance in all mature democracies. Let us keep the tempo of public scrutiny alive, until judgment is served. We will, by so doing, scare potential malefactors from evil and keep our society free from their fangs.
Ogunseye: Pearl of the pen
Whenever and wherever the decline in journalism practice is at issue in Nigeria, one journalist whose uncommon example positively colours the discussion is Toyosi Ogunseye, head BBC West Africa and former editor of the Sunday Punch.Her geometric progression in a profession that has caved in, like other professions in an apparently sick country like Nigeria, is fast assuming the texture of a legend. About a week ago, Ogunseye was announced as the Vice President of the World Editors Forum (WEF). A couple of years or so ago too, she voluntarily hung her pen in the Punch’s newsroom where she had risen to become the newspaper’s editor, to take up the BBC job. In all these top-ladder jobs, her femininity and young age have not stood in the front of her burgeoning capability and brilliance.
Announcing her choice in Scotland last Saturday as WEF’s deputy to Warren Fernandez, editor of the Straits Timesand editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English, Malay and Tamil Media Group, Dave Callaway, outgoing WEF president, said: “Warren and Toyosi’s elections ensure WEF is in good hands as we encounter the challenges of the next two years. With media freedom under attack from all sides, a diverse, experienced leadership is what we need to help bring our industry together and take it forward.”
A multiple award winner, Ogunseye is no doubt one of Nigeria, indeed Africa’s most respected journalists, a respect she scooped from her about 15 years practice of the profession. When we lament how the virus of the downturn in leadership has thoroughly affected virtually every institution in Nigeria, and how journalism has also gone to the dogs like all other professions, the Ogunseyes give us hope that we could someday salvage the pen, caked by maggots and locusts, from where it is abandoned at the moment.
Here is wishing this pearl of the pen huge congratulations.