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Awo’s free education at 66, the challenge of modern trends

By Ayodele Fagbohun

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“We are offering free education, so that, every man and woman can stand up to himself or herself and find the way for the good o f the society.”
-Chief Obafemi Awolowo to the youth of Nigeria in 1980 during the 25th Anniversary of the introduction of free education in Western Nigeria, the area which now constitute Delta, Edo, Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti States.
The late sage, former premier of old Western Region, a great visionary and “a man with plan” embarked upon free education project which was considered ambitions, colossal and unprecedented.
The unrival experiment boldly kick-started by Obafemi Awolowo led Action Group government in 1955, 66 years ago, had been the greatest single prime mover of educational development in Nigeria since the colonial administrator, Sir Lord Friederic Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern provinces in 1914.
This year January, 2021 marks the 66th anniversary of the momentous landmark scheme organized by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. The highlight of the anniversary, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on children. Indeed the theme was topical. It was equally diversionary from the import of free education scheme. It was mere academic exercise, a social jamboree; forlorn hope and far cry from the laudable social welfare scheme of enlightenment ever conceived and scrupulously executed by any government in this part of the globe.
Awo committed and expended a chunk of the region’s lean resources to free education which had beneficial multiplier effects on other facets of development and redounded to the progress of the people throughout Western Region. Awo constructed more primary schools, modern schools and teachers’ training colleges sprang up for the success of the gigantic scheme.
Besides, television house came into being in Ibadan, the capital town of Western Region which was first in Africa and Republic of France, an advanced nation.
In the drive for free education to be more accessible to all and sundry, the rural areas were connected with a sort of radio, a “magic box”, called rediffision in a local dialect. This box affixed to each house that could afford it on charge of token fee to complement the services of radio/TV in education, enlightening and informing the people.
Can the present government be sacrificial enough and counting the cost to pay for the luxuries, deploy expensive modern gadgets in science and technology to bolster free education even at affordable rate as practiced by some advanced nations of the world like the US, Great Britian, Canada, Germany to mention just a few.
While marking the 25th anniversary of free education at the height of administrations in the UPN controlled states in 1980, UPN national leader was obviously exited and authoritatively enthused that the frontiers of free education scheme in the next 25 years, in 2005 would accommodate nursery schools and that the education of younger generation listening to him from the cradle to the grave would surely become a communal social responsibility.
What was the rationale behind or that prompted this sort of soothsaying from the month of someone not in the corridor of power precincts?
Nonetheless, having stringently done his homework and relied on the findings of few intellectuals and scholars of proven worth and integrity to ascertain with much precision, the financial implications of free education, the available resources and painstakingly demonstrated with facts and figures the impracticability and otherwise of the scheme.
Awo clearly received assistance and encouragement from forward looking and progressive scholars in contrast to bunch of intellectual frauds and political knavery or both who indolently beat or bang the drum of non-feasibility of free education to government over the years.
With staunch political will, grace of God to find like minded with sterling, austere and impregnable qualities to excel, ardently believe in the fruition and flourish of free education project like S.O. Awokoya and M.A. Ajasin of illustrious pedigree, the coast was clear to launch free education in Western Region and throughout the federation in no distant time.
According to Awo, the purpose of education is to help a person to develop his natural talents to the fullest extent possible. No other means has been evolved to achieve the same goal. It goes without saying, therefore, that if a person with less natural endowments is educated, other things being equal, he will stand in an infinitely better position economically, politically and socially than another person with much greater natural talents, but without the opportunity of education.
“Lack of equal opportunity for all in education automatically leads to a good deal of social distortions and waste. It also leads to gross inequality of income and political status.”
Awo’s proposal was to provide equal opportunity for all the citizens of Nigeria inrespective of the circumstances of their birth, ethnic or tribal origin or religions affinity.
Any programme that is aimed at providing opportunity for employment, for education, and for health to a limited number of our citizens only must be regarded as a dangerous design, that is bound to entrench and sustain inequalities, greed with their attendant social upheavals and turmoil among our people.
In such circumstance, in the struggle for the limited opportunities so provided, only the fittest financially, politically and socially, together with their children will survive, thus making the rich richer, and the poor, poorer and permanently depressed, until an educated reformer or revolutionary comes forward to lead them to a complete reversal of the prevailing unnatural state of affairs, “Awolowo asserted.
Why for goodness sake, the visionary pronouncements well orchestrated and practicable plans and imperishable goals on education, Awolowo nurtured for the country have become unrealizable, unattainable proposition residing only on the imagination of the people?
First and foremost, government programmes and politics on education are crafted (not drawn) by scholars and intellectuals, not motivated by patriotic instincts but out to perpetuate the sordid status quo ante. This has been responsible for the policy somersault in our education especially the primary and post primary education. It is the hangover of protracted military dictatorship which the subsequent civilian rule fails to correct and make necessary, revolutionary amends to move the country forward.
However, rather out of ignorance, mischief making or both, the civilian regime wants to dance to the tune of their master, the outgone military which handed over power on the platter of gold. For he who pays the piper dictates the tune. To say the least, education policies and programmes are lopsided, uninspiring, completely wide off the mark; sound and fury of the people even at the basic level.
There is reckless misapplication, gross abuse of public fluids in the name of education which is the bane of national development.
It is dangerous and disheartening to lament and infinitum on the fate of our school age children whose staggering population only God, knows that drop out of school as government runs lazy and lackadaisical policy on education. Even at the basic education which ought to have been declared free and compulsory way back 2005 as envisaged by Awo.
Yet funds niggardly allocated to education in the annual budget both at federal and states cannot by any jolt drigger off exponential increase on the growth and development of youth education across the country.
Free education is supposed to be a national emergency to capture both the youth and adult, rich and poor, the vulnerable even including the so called notorious Fulani herdsmen and others roaming about the place on deadly and dangerous expeditions.
However, the executive director of Awolowo Foundation the amiable daughter of the late elder statesman, Dr (Mrs) Olatokunbo Ayoka Awolowo-Dosumu apparently quoted by proto the immortal sayings of her father on education. “Free education remains the veritable legacy the late saga handed over to Nigeria now suffering decay, rot, neglect and in comatose.”
The former Ambassador to Netherlands remarked: “The launch of free education in the Western Region then, was a historic move by the government of Western Region at the time. And the vision behind that time was a development that depends on humanity.
“According to papa, the characteristics of developed economy are inseparable and entirely human. So he believed, totally, in human development, even though it was almost 40 years later before the World Bank recommended it to all nations. Not only did papa Awolowo and his party, the Action Group (AG) propounded human development, that is what we need to examine today.” Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu said she rightly keyed into the ideology of papa on education.
Notwithstanding the anniversary was a congregation of erudite scholars and the elite not sufficiently tuned with the rare vision of the late sage, Awo.
For one of the resource persons, Professor Adesoji Adelaja, of Michigan State University, in his paper entitled “Rethinking Basic Education was and post-pandemic,” said the scholars would not be safe for kids for now until a vaccine is developed but noted that vaccines cost money which Nigeria has little of now.” That is fib, a mere academic exercise. The nation has more enough resources for free education and medical services than on less important, frivolous and elephant projects that consume and drain our national coffers.
There is no hide and seek game in the coronavirus a.k.a COVID-19 and the others in the offing. It is a sign of end-time and of the impending cataclysm predicted in the Holy Books, the Bible and the Quar’an and a few inspired men and women.
We cannot run away from the obvious. COVID-19 is a global phenomenon, that we as a nation must contend with and overcome via our own home grown clinical drugs manufactured on African initiatives.
Over and above it all to carry the fire of holy spirit is sine qua non for every human being who believes in the efficacy of prayers to Almighty God.
Our government should invest solidly on education of the people as right panacea for ills of poverty, disease and squalor that stare us in the face.
Nothing should intimidate or bamboozle us to capitulate.
All hands must be on deck and available resources mobilized and canalized towards profitable and judicious ends to achieve high standard of living via free education as obtains in advanced economies.
However, there is always silver living behind every dark cloud on the firmament. Another resource person, retired professor of History, Howard University, Professor Segun Gbadegesin impressed this writer for striking the right chord.
He spoke glowingly of the ideal and thought behind the free education policy of Awo. He lamented the willful and irresponsible departure from the ideal. He recommended strong commitment to public service and total development of human beings which drove the passion of the late sage, Awo and his team lacking in the present generation of our leaders to imbibe for better and purposeful governance.
“What is lacking now is what Awo and his team had. “The emphasis on free education is on the human being to have human personality fully developed. We have veered off,” Prof. Gbadegesin averred.
I sincerely hope the government and every stakeholders in the education sector are listening with rapt attention and wisdom to take decisive and urgent action to salvage the fallen flag of free education in Nigeria as espoused by Awo/Ajasin.

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Happy Celebrations of free education at 66.

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Awo’s free education at 66, the challenge of modern trends

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