On Saturday, November 14, the American University of Nigeria, AUN, celebrated its 10th annual Founder’s Day in honor of HE Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, its founder, and the Turaki of Adamawa State. At the event, the AUN Founder gave a keynote speech, which centered on education and the Boko Haram insurgency. He made quite a number of key observations concerning the effects of the Boko Haram crisis and the task of reconciliation that lies ahead of Nigeria when the storm is over. However, one of the things that stood out in Atiku’s speech was his insight on the importance of education in solving the country's many problems.
After 55 years of independence, having a vast reserve of natural resources, and a population that is so big it is becoming a problem, Nigeria is still considered by the world as a third world nation. One wonders what can be blamed for this. Is it that the country has failed to gainfully utilize proceeds from its sundry mineral resources? Or could it be that 55 years are not enough time for Nigeria as a nation to grow? There is one factor, however, that many Nigerians agree has had a lot to do with the country's shortcomings, and that is its failure to harness its enormously gifted human resources.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. But regrettably, instead of this being an advantage, it is a curse! The country's population is its curse because millions of Nigerian youth are unemployed, thus making them a liability to the nation’s economy. In his speech, Atiku described education as “the key to unlocking opportunity, prosperity, and progress.”This is true for every country in the world. The most developed countries in the world are those that have prioritized quality education for their citizens. The state of the education sector in Nigeria is far from being up to standards. Public schools are populated beyond their capacity; teachers are de-motivated and mostly unqualified, and facilities are decrepit. The few good schools are privately owned and, therefore, too expensive for the majority of Nigerian youth to afford. The country's education system, from basic to tertiary, has largely failed the Nigerian youth.
This not only hinders the youth from making any significant contributions to the economy, but it also makes them to constitute nuisances to the society. It is a truism that uneducated youth often end up unemployed, and the Nigerian economy rarely reward the educated ones with good jobs. As a result, the Nigerian youth are veritable candidates for thuggery, armed robbery, and other forms of criminal activity. The youth rob other residents of the country, resort to fraud, and become a thorn in the side of the society. For instance, the Boko Haram terrorists are known to recruit unemployed and frustrated youth who believe they have nothing to lose.
The American University of Nigeria, founded by Atiku some 10 years ago, is known to provide quality education through inspired teaching and research, community service and other co-curricular r activities. But the problem here is that all Nigerian youth cannot go to AUN, especially given that it is rather elitist. Yet, the mass of the Nigerian population lives below or on the edge of the poverty line. Thus, government-owned schools are the only hope for the average Nigerian child. It is high time, therefore, the Nigerian government prioritized efforts to make its different levels of schools comparable to schools like AUN and the AUN Academy.
The importance of quality education cannot be overemphasized. It is the means by which Nigeria can compete with other countries in the world. The western education which Boko Haram so vehemently stands against is the country's only hope in its aspiration to catch up with the rest of the world.
Nigeria's education system desperately needs a drastic reform. Teachers in the primary and secondary school need to be properly screened before being hired to ascertain that they were well trained. As Atiku rightly said, "…we must encourage government and the private sector to give public universities the leeway, and the ways and means to catch up with their international peers.”The onus is, therefore, on the different tiers of the Nigerian government to improve upon the facilities currently available in their schools. These facilities are, among other things, well-equipped libraries, laboratories, and technical workshops.
According to the AUN Founder, “our youth are our most valuable resource, and…education is the best way to mobilize and empower this resource to sustain economic, cultural, social, and political development.”This is a most astute observation and Nigeria cannot afford to ignore such thoughts. Providing the Nigerian youth with quality education is an investment in the country’s future. Nigeria cannot afford to let a select few of its massive youth have an undue advantage over the rest simply because they can afford private schooling. If Nigeria is to live up to its development potentials, therefore, as Atiku said, no youth must be left behind.
By Zamiyat Abubakar