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By Jonathan Olajide
I am writing this piece as a fledgling development interventionist, an indigene of Ogun State and a fan of Governor Dapo Abiodun. I am not writing this opinion as a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or a third force. So, this is not replete with political leanings for any fat cat.
Today, every sensitive Nigerian knows that the gap between the haves and the haves-not has widened; yet, the loads of promises by political leaders since 1999 to nip it in the bud have achieved nothing. A Nigerian today is either poor or rich; no more middle class. The country has defied the widely-held notion that diligent proletariats can crash into corps d’elite, and beyond doubt, she has rubbished some principles of development common sense. Whereas, old and fresh members of the core nations have done so much to close the canyon continually, my country is widening the disparity through misplaced priorities.
A good example of how Nigeria is widening the gap is the recent huge cash gift donations to Faith Odunsi and Oladimeji Shotunde for their rare academic exploits. While 15-year-old Odunsi, a pupil of the Ambassadors Schools in Ota, won the Global Open Mathematics Competition, Shotunde emerged the best graduating student of the Lagos State University. Both geniuses are Ogun natives. While my darling governor on Thursday launched an endowment fund for Odunsi with N5m with more donations expected to flow in from the private sector, Shotunde was spoilt with a two-bedroom estate and N2m. Frankly, these too should be celebrated for their exceeding feats, and I strongly believe that every sane person would do. They have brought our dear state into limelight, made their family proud and wowed us. Congratulations to them. The N5m cash and the three-bedroom duplex to Laycon, the winner of 2020 Big Brother Naija is still fresh.
However, I must say that this is not how to build a just society where every hardworking person (educated or uneducated) is given equal treatment by the political leaders. This rising trend of giving huge cash gifts to winners in educational or entertainment challenge portends grave threats the already bedevilled Nigerian society. Yes, Odunsi and Shotunde have done exploits, but I think that making them super humans and superior to their age mates through humongous financial gifts will create a bad impression in our budding craftsmen or artisans who are also thriving without notice. We have dropouts who are doing exploits as tailor, adire maker, artist, mechanic, mason, tiler, phone technician, farmer and plumber in our state. How many of them have been spotted in our mechanic villages, markets, shops and roadside for recognition?
Truth be told, Odunsi is a rare breed and her accomplishment is landmark. Her family is well-to-do. Her father, a surgeon, has a mansion in Ota. She attends a school that charges between N300,000 and N500,000 per term. That is over N1m a year; one of the most expensive in the land. She has a laptop and a study in her family estate. At a snap of fingers, the resources to do exploits in academics reach her with immediate alacrity. She is a fortunate child. She is more blessed now with the endowment funds. In few months’ time, the fund will balloon to tens of millions of naira because the private sector will impress Abiodun by donating handsomely. Honestly, I do not know much about Shotunde for now.
Arithmetically, my governor has given out N7m in cash and a house worth at least N3m. That is N10m for two citizens. God will continue to bless you, sir. As good as the gesture is, I regard it as misjudged altruism. He would have written his name in the sand of times if he had purchased desktop computer for selected primary and secondary schools across the state. At N50,000 each, 200 complete pieces of desktop computer would have been procured at Computer Village in Ikeja. There are no computers in many offices of principals and head teachers of our schools. The office of the principal of Methodist High School, Arigbajo, does not have a computer. Many primary schools in Ifo don’t have. N10m will cover secondary school certificate examination fees of hundreds of diligent students on recommendation of principals. Many brilliant students from poor homes have become artisans today because their parents could not pay for WASSCE. They are everywhere. They are not in the class of Odunsi in terms of wealth, not brain.
That is not how to build a just society that we desire in this part of the world. That is not how to develop education or motivate poor kids to attend school. Rather, it is a way of widening the gap and creating class. Thousands of poor kids will continue to drop out if this culture continues. The good ones who are always few will retire to learn a skill, but the majority will surely become touts. This is Nigeria. The government of today doesn’t see artisans and unemployed graduates; they embrace touts. That is not what Chief Obafemi Awolowo envisaged when he started building a classless western Nigeria through free education.
Unarguably, the ongoing renovation of one block of classrooms in some primary and secondary schools by the administration is commendable, but it is far less than what the state needs to recover her losses in the education sector. There is a need for speed in learning infrastructural development. Mr. Governor, what about using Odunsi Endowment Fund to cater for the poor indigent pupils. I believe that Fund will rise to over N10m, but use your good offices to channel it to assist poor pupils. By this Odunsi will affect more destinies than she would have done by spending.
Jonathan, a communication and media scholar, writes in from Ifo,Ogun State.