Postcards From Africa #13: “We Need More Brain Infrastructure!” By Senator Ben Murray Bruce

Education Quote Martin Luther KingAll the conspiracy theories about the Boko Haram uprising collapse when you consider the data painstakingly acquired by the Africa Health, Human & Social Development Information Service (Afri-Dev). I was just going through the data the other day and my thinking was that our chickens are coming home to roost. Nigeria has neglected education for so long and the grim statistics leave us no hiding place.

According to the data 52.4% of males in the Northeastern region of Nigeria have no formal Western education. This represents the highest level of illiteracy among men in the federation. It is therefore not surprising that the Northeast is also the most insecure part of Nigeria. 46.9 % of the adult male population of the Northwestern region have no formal Western education. Again, the pattern is consistent as the Northwest is the second most insecure region of Nigeria.

But it is not until you begin to look at the trend on a state by state basis that you see even more clearly the connection between illiteracy and insecurity. Yobe and Borno have the highest illiteracy levels in the country and the two states are precisely the states at the epicenter of insecurity in Nigeria. A whopping 83.3% of boys over 6 and adult men in Yobe state have no formal Western education. The figure for Borno which is number two on the list is 63.6%.

The data from Afri-Dev is proof positive that the only sustainable way to fight insecurity in Nigeria is through education not guns and bombs. Nowhere has this been more demonstrated than in Anambra state. Before the election of Peter Obi as governor of Anambra state, the state was notorious as the kidnap capital of Nigeria. It also featured prominently when other violent crimes were mentioned. But most telling was the fact that the state was considered backward in boy child education.

Now let us pause for a while and note that most violent crimes are committed by males. Now by 2013, according to the official results released by the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), Anambra state had the highest percentage of students who passed the examinations with a pas rate of 67.85%. This from a state that used to be at the bottom! If you thought that was a fluke one time occurrence, then consider that the state bettered that performance in 2014, again emerging the number one state with a pass mark of 65.92%. So, how did Peter Obi achieve the feat of turning an educationally backward state like Anambra to the front-runner amongt the most educated states?

Malala Education QuotesCareful study of the budgetary allocation of the Peter Obi administration will reveal the answer. During his years as governor, Obi ensured that education had the highest sectoral allocation. He also ensured that capital allocation consistently dwarfed recurrent expenditure which meant he spent more money building schools, roads and hospitals than he did paying salaries. For instance, in his last year as governor, Anambra’s budget was 140 billion Naira. 73% of that budget (100.29 billion Naira) was earmarked for capital expenditure, while only 27% (39.71 billion Naira) was earmarked for recurrent expenditure.

That year, as in subsequent years, Obi allocated the highest sectoral allocation to education (7.172 billion Naira). The secret to Obi’s success in education is increased spending on Capital projects and reduced spending on recurrent expenditure as well as giving education the highest sectoral allocation. It is worthy of note that those states that are poorer than Anambra and which actually suffer from high levels of insecurity budgeted more than the 7.172 billion Naira that Anambra budgeted on education for security!

For instance, in 2014, Ambassador Baba Jidda, the then Secretary to the Borno State Government revealed that Borno state had spent over 10 billion Naira on security! The facts are clear that when spending on education increases, insecurity will reduce within a year or two. However, when spending on security increases, there is no data that shows that insecurity also reduces. The facts are also clear that when education levels increase, crime and insecurity reduce. When education levels drop, crime and insecurity increase.

Another state which proves this is Kano. Kudos goes to the people of Kano and to their immediate past Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. What Kano achieved under Kwankwaso could qualify as a modern day miracle. The state used to be one of the most educationally backward states in the country which in itself was a big cause for concern bearing in mind that Kano has the highest population of any state in Nigeria. Faced with the startling reality before him, then governor Kwankwaso, through a number of agencies most notable of which is the Kano State Agency for Mass Education, set about to increase literacy levels to an ambitious 90%. Kwankwaso instituted the policy of free education for all Kano indigenes up to tertiary levels and began to give education the highest sectoral allocation.

For instance, in 2014, he budgeted 21 billion Naira for education. The Kano state government also set up 8,074 adult literacy classes in 484 electoral wards in the 44 local government councils of the state. They made it easy for people to access education. The end result of this proactive leadership is that literacy rates in Kano state have increased from 48.9 in 2010 (according to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO) to over 60% in 2015.

Now let us again pause and consider that although Boko Haram has been trying to make inroads into Kano state, they have never been able to gain a foot hold. This is pleasantly surprising when you consider that in previous decades, similar sects like Maitatsine had used Kano state as a launch pad for their nefarious activities.

What has changed between December 1980, when thousands were killed in Kano following an uprising by the Maitatsine sect and today? The change is that today, education levels in Kano are dramatically higher than they were in December 1980, thus, the conditions are not ripe for terrorism to flourish there.

What has happened in Kano and Anambra state proves white clearly that where there is the political will to improve education, education does improve. Nigeria is currently spending 72% of our income paying salaries and other recurrent expenditure with little or nothing left for capital expenditure. We are even at the point where we have to borrow to pay salaries because we prefer to use our wealth to fund an unsustainable fuel subsidy. We keep on giving our people this fuel subsidy fish instead of teaching them how to fish through education. If at all we must subsidize anything, shouldn’t it be education?

The people of the Northeast have been buying petrol at black market prices for decades. Of what use is fuel subsidy to them! Right now they are not benefiting from fuel subsidy or education subsidy and the result is that they have become vulnerable to the most violent form of terrorism on planet earth and they are not alone. That terrorism is spreading fast and we cannot recruit soldiers fast enough to combat it.

When a nation wastes the minds of her youth by not providing them access to education, those youths will waste that nation.
If a nation does not invest her wealth educating her youth, that nation will invest that same wealth fighting insecurity among those same youth. And when I say a nation, I do not just mean the nation-state called Nigeria. I refer to all of us who have capacity including individuals and corporate bodies.

Right there in Borno, where poverty and illiteracy in Western education is most abysmal, are some of the most expensive houses and villas in Nigeria. Maiduguri probably has more oil multi millionaires per square mile than any other state capital with the possible exception of Lagos state. What have these individuals done in their personal capacity to develop the educational capacity of children of the peasants around them? I am not from the East, but I admire the custom of our brothers from that part of the country to take community development as a core duty of any individual that has the means.

They do not wait for government to build schools or roads or hospitals or even airports. Men of means within their community pool resources and build these facilities and in that way the community is made more prosperous. And the more prosperous the community is, the more secure the men of means within that community are. I urge other communities across Nigeria to learn from this community spirit displayed by the South-easterners.

Let me give a modern-day parable of how care for society benefits the person who cares. A rich man was traveling in a convoy to his village. He had police escorts and they made his journey easier. About an hour to his destination, he met some traffic and his police escorts maneuvered his convoy through the traffic. He noticed that the traffic was caused by an accident involving two cars which blocked the road. He could have asked his police escorts to intervene, but he could not be bothered, after all they were ordinary people. Soon, this rich man got to his village and entered his mansion and began to make himself feel at home. And then suddenly, he had a heart attack.

His wife quickly called a doctor to rush down to the village to attend to him. And then the family waited and waited and waited. Eventually the man died. Ten minutes after he died, his doctor arrived. Enraged, the man’s family accosted him and asked why he had only just arrived. ‘Do you realize you could have saved my husband’s life if you had arrived just ten minutes earlier’ the man’s wife screamed.

The flustered doctor apologized and said ‘I would have arrived more than an hour ago but for some traffic I met on the way. The people told me that some police passed by and did not help them. If only the police had helped them I would have been here earlier’. You see, by not helping less privileged people in need, the rich man ended up escalating an incident that led to his own death.  Almost 100% of Nigeria’s elite achieved the success they have today because leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe ensured that they benefited from free education. Yet, after climbing up the education ladder, we have removed the ladder that got us there instead of perpetuating it!

I call on our elite to show more concern to their places of origin. Help to educate the less privileged in your village or community.
If you can build a school, then build one beside your mansion. Do not just wait until Ramadan or Christmas to give out food to the poor. Give them education and they will learn how to feed themselves.

If you cannot build schools, then buy books for the children of the less privileged. If you cannot buy books, why not volunteer to teach in the local primary school in your village whenever you are home? You will ‘oppress’ the people more when you impart knowledge into their kids than you would with your latest SUV! Yes, stomach infrastructure is necessary, but even more necessary is brain infrastructure. Why? Because education is key. A hungry man is hungry for one day but an uneducated man is hungry forever.

I just want to make common sense!

Ben Bruce Senator• Senator Ben Murray-Bruce is the Senator representing Bayelsa East in the National Assembly and is Chairman of the Silverbird Group


Postcards From Africa is a WWN Feature about creating a new, positive narrative of Africa by Africans. This is a movement about igniting an empowered citizenry to make a difference by bridging the integrity gap. It is about changing the status quo, from waiting passively for ‘leaders’, to our embracing a new paradigm that WE are the leaders we seek. WWN seeks to advance ideas, causes, projects that transform our communities for the better. We are committed to empowering and celebrating a new generation of Transformational, Ethical and Creative African leaders (T.E.C), who are actively engaged in nation-building, one idea, one person, one project and one community at a time!

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