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Between the pen and pan

By Bayo Fasuwon

Nigeria is a country filled with ironies and idiocy, so our lives according to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti ‘dey roll like one yeye ball dem play for one yeye corner’. Daily we are faced with absurdities that question the intelligence of leadership and the sincerity towards development and growth expected of a 21st Century nation. From policy somersault to policy inconsistencies and then dovetailing into unnecessary policies, we keep rotating on our axis of mediocrity and movements without progress. At a time, we had a Commissioner for Happiness, now we have Special Assistant on single women, and once we had a man as Commissioner for Women Affairs. Nigeria we hail thee. To write on the abnormal behaviours of leadership would require more than an encyclopedia. Today, my focus will be on the need by our youths to choose between a pen and a pan.
The pen, which is said to be mightier than the sword in this write up, is a metaphor for education, while the pan, a resemblance of those used by masons, and is a metaphorical representation of all labour that brings money to the labourer. Gradually, the schools are re-opening, starting with the exit classes. It is expected that by October, all other students would resume classes. However, there is the question as to how many students would not return to the classrooms. On a monitored news item, some students were seen during the lockdown engaged in various tasks that fetched them money. Some boasted that they make close to a thousand and five hundred naira per day from their efforts. Also trending on the social media is the fact that some secondary school students have returned to school to write their final year exams in exotic cars and phones, being products of their hustles. For some females, the bulging tummies, explains their pan for the season.
Education has been touted as the key to success for many generations. However the reality that stares the youth in the face in these times is the vanity of education. The youth have seen their parents, siblings, extended family members who though educated are roaming unemployed.
For some who are lucky to find a place to work, their meager earning discourages those who are in school. In a discussion with a young man in his forties, with a first degree, he disclosed that he earns about five hundred thousand naira monthly as an employee of a firm, and yours truly told him that even Professors in Nigeria do earn up to that. Another met with me in church, having concluded his Masters programme and wished to obtain a form for his PhD. in order to become a researcher and lecturer in the university. He changed his mind. By happenstance, he saw the pay slip of a PhD holder and Lecturer 1 researcher employed in one of the universities, and was taken aghast. The pay was too painful for him to consider a career in that field. Added to this are government policies that make life difficult for the educated in Nigeria. Furthermore, government even discourages education with the high cost attached to its attainment. The environment of studies, learning aids, textbooks and modern technologies that would make learning attractive and desirable are either absent or obsolete. Thus, education is repelled.
In the days when education was given the value it deserved, apprenticeship was reserved for those who could not cope with its rigour and discipline and hence have had to drop out of school. These learn trades and later become servants of those who schooled. However, the narratives have changed. The Nigerian tertiary education system now beats its chest with pride at the introduction of entrepreneurial studies in its curriculum. The idea behind this ‘innovation’ is government have accepted their inability to think through at creation of industries, and or enabling environments that could accommodate her graduates, so they need to learn a skill to fend for themselves thereafter. Thus graduates learn carpentry, welding, groceries, photography and the likes. This is a reversal of the status quo. Thus, he who winks at education, and perceives it as a waste of time, becomes at par with those who burnt the midnight candle. In most cases, drop outs become the teachers of the tutored.
In politics, those who went for the pan early in life, often times have the means to pursue their political goals. Those who do not have the educational qualifications but have the means through industry become godfathers to the educated. Given the high cost of politics, the meager earnings of the educated, political power is often skewed to the advantage of the pan subscribers. Even when the educated clinches power, they become pawns in the hands of the less educated. In addition, given the least educational qualifications required to hold positions in Nigeria, education has also been dealt a sucker punch.
The desire for more educational attainment by those who seek political position is thereby crucified on the altar of mediocrity. Furthermore, the uneducated political thugs are equipped to frustrate even the educated when it comes to the exercise of their franchise during elections. Given that these thugs are paid from the table of political office holders, they pride themselves in their hooliganism and protectionism, casting disdain on the cultured and the educated. In Nigeria therefore, the nation have had the misfortune of being governed by those with less educational attainment. How does one therefore expect that these would appreciate need for funding of education in the country? For this cause, ASUU had always been on strike, the NUT had seemingly accepted their fate since the implosion and creation of ASSUS.
Those who seek for the Pan would also have observed that they are able to change the prices of their goods to adapt with ‘current economic situations’. Thus, increase in the price of petrol, COVID 19 lockdown, scarcity of consumer goods and increase in tariffs does not necessarily affect their profits negatively as they always adjust immediately. However, for the educated, and employed, the case is not the same. While cost of living increases, their salaries remain the same, or courtesy of IPPIS and insane taxation, salaries are grossly reduced. This is outside the reality of unpaid salaries, strict and restricted promotions. It is laughable that the new minimum wage, given the price of goods and exchange rate is even less in value than the former minimum wage. The educated have therefore in the long run become endangered species in the hands of insensitive leaders who place less value on the importance of education.
When COVID 19 ends, government and parents would be faced with the herculean tasks of getting pupils, who have been exposed to the Pan, back to schools. Rather than waste monies on frivolous campaigns on the value of education, government by its humane and appreciative attitude towards the educated and their institutions would go a long way in encouraging the uneducated to drop immediate gains and pursue knowledge, which in the long run would salvage this country. Any action short of this would validate the perception in many quarters that government deliberately seeks to abrogate education in Nigeria in order to subject the populace to perpetual servitude. Let us however know that the death of education is the birth of slavery and backwardness in any nation of the world.

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