Chidi Oguamanam

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An Educational System fit for Africa's Largest Economy

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on June 6, 2014 at 10:15 PM

By Chidi Oguamanam

Beyond a bragging right, what are the implications of Nigeria’s recent claim to being Africa’s largest economy through the so-called re-based GDP? This question is not posed as an attempt to rehearse the criticisms and scepticisms that have since trailed that claim. Rather, it is a kind of exercise in hair-scratching over how we could possibly rise to the challenges of Africa’s largest economy. First, let me start on a positive note that shines a ray of light on Nigeria’s ever darkling socio-economic plain: Nollywood.

Hate it or like it, Nollywood is Nigeria’s success story. It continues to be a subject of academic study from various disciplines across the globe. Nollywood is a symbol of Nigeria’s cultural renaissance and its export flagship, for which all stakeholders are entitled to a bragging right. In fact, it is a site for cultural bridging among Africans across the globe. Nollywood is not like Nigeria’s oil for which no one in their right senses should take the credit. In oil lies no hard work or merit but only a sense of entitlement. Nollywood is a product of Nigerian individual and collective creativity, a grassroots phenomenon of sort that feeds on private enterprise. There is little, if any, public investment in Nollywood; little if any public interference. I often shudder when a few Nollywood stakeholders push for one form of government ‘support’ (read intervention) or another. A prominent Nollywood stakeholder even called for a ministry to be created for Nollywood! My response is that such folks should be careful what they ask for. Nollywood would die the very instant the government takes it over in whatever form. That moment, Nigeria would infest it with corruption, lousy bureaucracy, quota system, embezzlement, religious bigotry and all other companions of our national malaise.

But to be fair, it is not entirely true that public investment in Nollywood is zero. Most of Nollywood stars, directors, technicians, and practitioners of all sorts are products of mainly second generation Nigerian public universities, especially in the liberal arts or humanities. There is something to be said for the contributions of those institutions in the making of Nollywood. In a way, Nollywood is, but not quite an accident. The Nollywood-led cultural, creative and entertainment sector is one of the key sectors of the Nigeria’s re-based GDP and its new economic profile. Certainly, a positive convergence of factors resulted in Nollywood. That in itself is a subject of inquiry I have explored elsewhere. But it bears wondering, why is the Nollywood experience not being replicated in all other trade, professions and quasi-professions in the Nigerian productive and service economy?

For too long, Nigeria has been short-changed in the trades and cognate sectors. Bureaucracy and public policy myopia has foisted a narrow educational policy and outcome in Nigeria. It is no longer worthy of headline to hear educational policy technocrats boldly, if not shamelessly, claim that Nigerian graduates are unemployable. Everybody is racing to obtain a degree, paper degree, that is! The tradition of supporting trade and skills education has long been politicized, with polytechnics and other forms of mid-level community technology or technical colleges seeking an upgrade to degree awarding status, as an end, while abandoning their mandate. In the rush for degrees, building effective workshops, laboratories and other forms of creative curriculum designs that could make their graduates become responsive to the twenty-first century economy in which Nigeria has found itself hardly occupies anybody’s imagination. The argument is that there is a discriminatory pathway in absolving of graduates of specialist mid-level or tertiary level trade colleges into the public service in relation to their counterparts from conventional universities. And what is the solution? Level them all up by every means possible! The assumption here is that the public service is the only destination for all manner of graduates. Not many consider that graduates of trade colleges and their equivalents in most educational systems across the globe are trained mostly to be service-oriented; and, as such, they are most likely to be self-employed and entrepreneurial. Already, there is faint signal of this outcome in some isolated sectors; including agriculture is some parts of the country.

Since the return of democracy and double-digit economic growth in Nigeria, the real estate and general construction sectors have remained hot. But a critical inquiry into the inner workings of these and related economic sectors shows that there is a dearth of locally-trained Nigerian artisanal and cognate manpower to service those industrial sub-sectors of the economy. A bulk of the tradespersons such as masons, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians are sourced from neighbouring countries. As most of these trades are now highly technology-intensive and competitive, requiring expertise in the deployment of latest component technologies, craft and aesthetics, most job owners complain that Nigerians are not competitive enough. The Chinese, Indians, Koreans and Philippinos and other foreigners have since inevitably entered into the competition to the delight of Nigeria’s superrich elite, foreign corporations and various owners of capital. As a consequence, able-bodied Nigerian youths are increasingly marginalized in the local job market.

One recalls in the 1990s, when fairly used automatic transmission vehicles were imported en- mass into Nigeria as tokumbos. Some car owners were forced to ‘convert’ or downgrade such cars into manual transmission engines. Essentially, the auto mechanics then (and now still) were neither trained nor prepared to handle the ever-increasing technological sophistication of the automobile industry. Nigeria was frozen in time while the world moved forward. It is not as if Nigerians are not among the smartest in the world. Save perhaps in the area of ICTs, the problem is that we have yet to build an educational system that is meant for the present century. Who gets to be auto mechanic or auto body technicians in Nigeria, for example? Who trains them? Who certifies them? Do they have a continuing training program to be abreast with new technologies? The same can be asked of dental or pharmacy technicians or assistants, tourist guides, painters, landscape artists, florists, carpenters, morticians, etc.

The opportunity provided by the rise of private ownership of tertiary educational institutions, including universities, has hardly been deployed for the needs of the twenty-first century economy. The imperative for private universities has been hijacked out of the pressing needs of the economy into status symbols to massage the egos of retired generals, politicians and religious organizations. A closer look into some of these institutions shows an entrenched culture of corruption through “accreditation by staging” and doctoring of the books. Most of these universities are in the degree-chasing race for profiteering. They are hardly tasked by accrediting authorities to justify their contribution to the nation’s needs. Through public and private university channels, Nigeria continues to roll out paper graduates from its educational factory lines. For no fault of theirs, most of these products are congenitally defective and constitute a misfit for an economy that pretends to be the largest in Africa.

We are missing an opportunity to train graduates in the most critical areas of need to sustain our economic growth under a private sector, free market service and production-driven enterprise. These de-educated graduates are supposed to be the much needed missing link and catalysts for the transfer of various technologies required to reposition Nigeria’s middle class for fair income re-distribution and sustainable poverty eradication. As late Ken Saro Wiwa would say in Bassey and Company, ‘if you want to be a millionaire, think like a millionaire’. To be Africa’s largest economy is not reconcilable with having Africa’s largest army of unemployed and unemployable graduates. If we want to be Africa’s largest economy, we must revisit our educational system and put the youths to productive work. Nollywood speaks louder than a re-based GDP.


This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Friday June 6 under the title: Looking to Nollywood for Africa's Largest Economy

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