Uchechukwu Ogah’s faux pas by Tony Ademiluyi

Many public office holders in Nigeria are fond of making gaffes when the raw opium of power intoxicates them. They make these gaffes with so much confidence and gusto that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh would go green with envy.

Recently, the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uchechukwu Ogah said that Nigeria doesn’t need grammar schools anymore that what we need are skill acquisition centres which will make the youths more self reliant and tackle the gargantuan scourge of youth unemployment.

I agree that the level of unemployment is extremely high in the country; in fact we are sitting on a demographic time bomb. The National Bureau of Statistics puts it at well over twenty percent and so it’s something that should give every right thinking individual great cause for concern.

However, I totally disagree that the way forward is flooding the place with skill acquisition centres. The best form of education a person can receive is that which makes the individual critically look inwards to discover his or her talents and the creation of the enabling environment for those gifts to flourish. William Shakespeare arguably the greatest dramatist in the world stopped his formal education at thirteen. He looked inwards and discovered his gifts for writing thought provoking and entertaining plays. Even though he died in 1616, his plays, poems and quotes are still very much alive all around the world. He immortalized himself through his oeuvres. Children and adults must read his plays all over the world in school. His works remain the most criticized by literary critics all over the globe. Scholars use his work to obtain their undergraduate and post graduate degrees. Charles Dickens possessed no university education but that didn’t stop him from being one of the world’s best writers. He became financially free before his 30th birthday. Alexander Pope was a Roman-Catholic and he lived in England during the bitterest time of the persecution of Catholics. Catholics weren’t allowed to reside in London and were not allowed to attend any University in the United Kingdom. This didn’t stop him from being a master satirist as no poet then could match his level of satire in their poems. He also translated the Iliad from Greek to English. By 32 despite all the challenges, he became financially free and he is the first writer in English history to become wealthy without the backing of any patron. He cashed in on the advent of the printing press which took his works far and wide without the need for him to be domiciled in London. Benjamin Zephaniah is the greatest black minority ethnic poet in the United Kingdom. He left school at thirteen as he was dyslexic and became a petty criminal and served as a guest of her Majesty. After his parole, he did an introspection of himself and discovered his poetic skills. He has gone on to perform his poems all over the world as well as write novels and short stories. So influential is he that the Queen of England offered him the Order of the British Empire title in 2001 which he famously turned down. Sir Richard Branson was also dyslexic and had to stop his formal education at 16. It didn’t stop him from setting up the Virgin Group of Companies with about four hundred companies under his management. The IT gurus like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell etc had no university degree. The sports stars like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, the Williams sisters, Rafael Nadal etc just possess a high school certificate. I can go on and on.

If they were unfortunate to be in Nigeria, the system would simply have told them to become artisans to barely eke a living. They would merely exist rather than live and their lives will be one hell of a mercantile drudgery.

Do not get me wrong; I am not looking down on the job of artisans as they are contributing their own quota to societal development and I also believe in the dignity of labour. However, I am against a system that doesn’t create the space for talents to blossom and that which confines people to a box. What is wrong with grammar schools? Is everyone cut out for a technical education? In this perilous time in Nigeria, we need critical thinkers who can formulate public policy for the good of all and that is what the grammar schools purport to do. How do we reason for God’s sake?

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka called this generation a wasted one. Shouldn’t we be thinking of how to get out of this debilitating mess? At a time when the concerns of most Nigerian youths is on following useless reality shows and spending all day watching vanities on social media, don’t we need thinkers who can come up with brilliant ideas to solve the nation’s problems?

Imagine if Bill Gates were a Nigerian! He may have been sent to a skill acquisition centre to become a roadside mechanic and the world would have been denied a genius. Think of the number of geniuses who are wasting away in the name of attending skill acquisition centres!

Nigeria needs public policy formulators who can churn out policies that will enable all Nigerians achieve their full potential and not surreptitiously turn all of us into hustlers in the name of putting food on the table.

Enough of this bunkum!

Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com

I am a writer with a bias for politics and foreign affairs. I am a Manchester United Fan and love to swim and analyze the news.