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Echoes of K.O. Mbadiwe, Dan Agbese

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Senate President Ahmad Lawan, has raised an issue that appears to have escaped us as we labour to explain to ourselves why our country has sunk to a level of insecurity that begs to be believed in a modern nation. He fingered our poor standard of education, for which read, increasing illiteracy in the African nation with the highest number of universities, as a contributing factor to the worsening insecurity in the land. He told the matriculating students of the National Institute for Legislative Studies, University of Benin, September 6, that “insecurity, rising criminality, anti-social behaviour and high number of unemployable youths” were some of the consequences of the problems our educational system had been contending with for as long as anyone can remember.

            He said: “You are well aware of some of the challenges and deficits in this sector, including limited funding, lack of infrastructure and teaching aids, poorly-trained personnel and low level of commitment among others. These have adversely affected the productivity and output of our schools and centres of learning.” In breeding half-educated young people, we breed potential criminals because they are both ready and potential recruits for professional criminals.

            Lawan touched on something which has more than anything else held our national development hostage: our badly broken educational system and its myriads of problems that impose on us the irony of an African nation with the highest number of public and private universities and yet the least educated young people able to bake their own breed. Pretend as we may, none of us can shake off the fact of our collective contributions, actively or otherwise, that systematically turned our educational system into what it is today: a sorry victim of policies that took our country up only to sink it into the murk of outright ambivalence. Professor Charles Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, once said that 80 per cent of our graduates were unemployable. I see no evidence that this has changed despite federal and private universities planted in every corner of the country.

Our institutions are not producing educated young people able to put their training into good use. In the circumstances, it can do no more than turn them into dependent young people, forced to pound the streets in search of government jobs frozen in the arctic winter of an economy with narrowed opportunities. We have progressively replaced education with paper qualifications. Our young people know that this is what matters and they do everything, including offering sexual favours to their unscrupulous teachers to obtain paper qualifications that are entirely false to the content of their brains and their acquired knowledge.

            The problem is not that anyone is unaware of the problems of our education. The problem is that no one cares strongly enough to want to fix the system and set it on a clear path as the only agent for social, economic, industrial and political development. At his inauguration as president on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari said that “for the longer term we have to improve the standards of our education.” Two years later at a retreat organised by the federal ministry of education, he rightly said that “to get it right, we must get our education right.” 

His record so far in this sector bears no witness to getting our education right. The president has presented no coherent plan on what should be done to get it right. He has done nothing dramatic to reposition our educational system. The education share in the annual federal budget remains sorrowfully poor. With so little by way of funding, we expect to truck with other African countries in terms of social and economic development. It is a shame that this  country lags far behind other African countries in responding to the UNESCO recommendation that they commit 28 per cent of their annual budgets to education.

Under Buhari’s watch, it is still a paltry four or six per cent of the annual budget. I expected him to dramatically half-empty the streets of the 14 million children out of school. He has not. They are still there on the streets with begging bowls; their numbers are ballooning with the current insecurity in primary and secondary schools in the north-west and the reign of Boko Haram insurgents in the north-east. 

The current emphasis on higher education is at the expense of strengthening the foundation of our education. The primary school constitutes that foundation. It has collapsed in many of the states with unpaid and hungry teachers teaching children in the open and under the shades of trees. And this, in Nigeria in the 21st century? Makes you want to weep.

To be fair, what has dramatically changed under Buhari is his questionable wisdom in establishing universities of doubtful socio-economic value and relevance to our national development: army university, air force university and transportation university. This is not an improvement “in our standard of education;” it is the unconscionable burdening of an over-burdened system crumbling under the weight of its neglect by the Nigerian state. I fear that the president would leave the system much worse than he found it. His gleaming new universities would change nothing. Our young people would go in there and return home with untrained minds and brains that do not equip or position them for the rigours of life and leadership in politics, the economy and the professions as the proverbial leaders of tomorrow. 

In our struggle for independence from British colonial rule, the only man who, to my mind, offered an original logical reason why the British must leave, was the inimitable K.O. Mbadiwe. He said that the colonial authorities were no longer welcome in our country because they imposed on us what he called “puny education.” Whatever might have been the fault of the puny education, it still produced great Nigerian scholars courted by higher institutions elsewhere. It attracted great scholars from various parts of the world who came to help build strong and respectable institutions of higher learning in our country. 

Well, it has been 61 years since the British respected our wish to be left alone to our devices. Still, we have infused no new creative thoughts into our education to serve our needs as a modern nation; except of course the foolhardiness that we can stand natural law on its head and build an educational edifice on the rickety foundation made of planks that the worms have since eaten. 

The fault, obviously, was not in the puny education. It was in puny men, puny thinking and the puny attitude towards making Nigeria great. The system stinks, forcing the important men and women to hold their noises. What you do not smell, does not smell. Simple logic. 

None of us can pretend not to know that our educational system has been put through wrenching difficulties over the years under our khaki-clad politicians who saw the many dedicated university teachers as enemies rather than partners in the tough task of building a new nation we could be proud of. Frequent strikes by university teachers in pursuit of their basic benefits subjected the system to injuries from which it has still not recovered. We are paying a stiff price for what we have done to our education by producing recruits for criminal elements making life hell for the rulers and the ruled alike.

I had hoped that Buhari needed no one to convince him that if he did not clean up the rot in the system, it would be difficult for the country to make the desired leap as a modern nation. I had hoped he would convene a national summit on education at which the sons and the daughters of the soil would proffer informed views on how best to clean up the system, rescue it from its puniness, stop our higher institutions from being certificate mills and re-tailor the system to serve our social and economic developmental needs; make our young people truly worthy of their degree certificates and make the world once more respect our institutions of higher learning as true citadels for the development of the mind, the brains and the body of our young people.

In his memo to Buhari dated September 22, 2016, Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State wrote: “In the days when we were growing up, public schools were attended by the children both of the high and low. Today, the exact opposite is the situation. The danger of this current state of affairs is that we are inadvertently creating successive generations of poorer, barely educated, unskilled, hopeless and angry children of the poor, side by side with increasingly richer, privately educated, skilled and optimistic children of the privileged. It is a demographic and social time bomb waiting to explode as the poor and hopeless youths are easy recruits of insurgents, violent politicians and criminals. Only you, Mr President will appreciate this danger and do something about it with the urgency it deserves.”I need  say not more.

Email: [email protected]


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Wada Maida’s touch on journalism, Oche Echeija Egwa

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On Thursday, September 16, 2021, headquarters of News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) in Abuja was formally renamed Wada Maida House, a befitting honour to a veteran journalist, who worked most of his life for the agency. Until his death, August 17, 2020, Malam Wada Abdullahi Maida, 70, was the Chairman of the NAN Board.

Before then, Wada, as he was popularly and preferably known, was Managing Director of the news agency for eight years, after working as Editor-In-Chief. The former Editor-In-Chief, who was a pioneer staff in 1978 with eight others, following the establishment of NAN in 1976, also served variously as Zonal Editor, Kaduna, in charge of Western States, Political Editor and Western Europe Correspondent, London.

Wada’s career trajectory reflects the history of NAN in its 45 years of existence. For the period of his appointment as Chief Press Secretary to then military Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari in 1984, and retirement to start a private media business of consulting and publishing a newspaper, Peoples’ Daily, Wada’s his image continued to looms large. He influenced many appointments and recruitments, facilitated access to government, states and federal, and used his international network to the advantage of NAN.

To Wada’s credit, his predecessors and successors, NAN remains the most webbed media institution in Nigeria, with a reputation for accuracy and balance in reporting. NAN has hundreds of reporters across 30 states and a metro office in Lagos, many district offices covering major towns and villages, and foreign offices, that until recently, were active as European Office in London, North American and UN Office, New York, West African Bureau, Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, North Africa, African Union Office, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and South African Office, Johannesburg.

Wada played a major role in the structuring and sustenance of the agency’s global spread to gather news to enrich the content of bulletins and increase subscribers, which include almost all media houses in Nigeria, partnerships and exchange agreements with Reuters, AFP, Xinhua Chinese News Agency, DPA of Germany, Pan African News Agency and Rossiya Segnodya of Russia.

Among some significant milestones and legacies, the former Managing Director ensured that the agency owns its operational buildings in New York, Johannesburg and Abidjan and a five-storey marble edifice in Abuja, which he supervised completion and upgrade of working tools. President Muhammadu Buhari approved the naming of the headquarters after the former Chairman on November 26, 2020.

Conveying the approval, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said it was in recognition of the immense contributions of Wada to the growth of the agency.

“I write to convey my approval for the naming of the NAN headquarters building after the late Wada Maida, who served the agency in many capacities, including Foreign Correspondent, Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director.

“It is my sincere belief that the decision to honour the late Wada Maida is well thought out and that he deserves such a great honour, considering his immense contributions to the development of NAN,” he said.

At the ceremony, Mohammed commended management and staff of NAN for immortalizing Wada. “Wada played a strong role in NAN. The man who built this edifice deserves to be immortalised.’’

“He believed journalism served a higher purpose for peace, harmony and development. If a country goes down everything goes down, with it,’’ Mohammed said. “I appeal to media houses to put Nigeria first. Yes, we have challenges but this administration is working.’’

Wada’s love for journalism started in Secondary School, says his longtime friend and colleague, Sen. Ibrahim Ida. Ida disclosed that the former Managing Director was named Abdullahi Maida at birth, and only got Wada as a pet name while growing up. Wada, taken from “Wadata’’ meant influence and affluence.

The Guest of Honour and Katsina State Governor, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, said the naming of the NAN House after Wada was well deserved, considering his contribution to the development of journalism in the country and penchant for helping others.

“You can live for 120 years in this world, but what matters is the courage you brought to life and how many people you touched. With this naming, Wada’s life will continue to the end of time.

“That’s a life worth living. He lived for others. Anytime he visited me it was because of the needs of others and his community, not for personal reasons,’’ he said.

Masari noted that the former Managing Director of NAN contributed to the emergence of many media houses, both print and broadcast, in the country, particularly in the Northern part, adding that “the whole of Katsina remains proud of his achievements and many would have made it to Abuja for the ceremony, if they were informed.’’

Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, described Wada as “an elder brother, mentor and a facilitator.”

“He lived a life of patience & integrity. We should learn to be patient. Good things will come as we wait. Wada thought us not to rush the story; to be thorough. I recall, as editors, we will always wait for the NAN bulletin before our newspapers will go to bed.’’

The passion for reporting, editing, publishing and Public Relations saw Wada through trainings in London School of journalism, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Aberdeen College of Technology and University of Salford, Manchester and Nigerian Institute of Journalism. He was once President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, and later became a Fellow of the guild.

He was a member of other associations like the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Commonwealth Press Union, Amnesty International, Executive Director of International Press Institute and Chairman of Pan African News Agency (PANA) and Katsina State Broadcasting Corporation.

Wada’s contemporaries in the newsroom, who are also veterans in journalism, his mentees, some former administrators in NAN and other media houses across the country, traditional rulers and political leaders, friends and family were all at the renaming event.

The Managing Director of NAN, Mr Buki Ponle, affirmed that Wada’s leadership guided him to get a first degree and a Master’s degree while working and the former pioneer staff also encouraged him to get a Ph.D, if he wanted.

Ponle said the agency had suffered financial hardship over some years, forcing it to scale down some operations and dream projects for expansion, while thanking Wada’s vision for the progress recorded.

Wada’s family led by his wife, Hajiya Amina and son, Dr Aminu Maida, joined in unveiling the signage, and received a plaque from Governor Masari.

Aminu, witty, reticent and unassuming like his father, thanked President Buhari and the Federal Government for the honour done to his father, telling everyone that the entire family remains grateful to NAN.

 “NAN will continue to be part of our family, and we will always be part of NAN,’’ he said.

Like the Wada Maida House in Central Area, the former Managing Director of NAN continues to stand tall in our memory and a physical structure.

Oche Echeija Egwa, Senior Editor, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and Chief Information Officer, Office of the Special Adviser to the President, Media and Publicity.


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2023: The North must let go, by Dan Agbese

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The season is virtually upon us. The politicians are sharpening their knives for 2023. The sound is becoming jarringly louder. Prayer warriors are being pressed into service just like the eyes and the ears of the gods. It is always good to seek the assurances and the support of God and the gods in the battle for political power in our country. It is a battle no one takes lightly. 

But the fate of our country in 2023 is not in the hands of God and the gods. It is in the hands of those who play god, to wit, the party moguls whose bounden duty it is to dispense favours to godsons and god-daughters, even at the expense of peace, unity, a sense of belonging and cohesion in our badly fractured republic. It is our duty as fellow citizens not to allow them to be trapped in their faux pas only for us to blame God and the gods at the end of the day. 

This is the time for the rest of us to put our views across on what should be done to set our country back on the path of oneness. Politics, as the wag said, is too serious to be left to politicians. 2023 presents us with some peculiar but critical challenges, not the least of which is that the crass mismanagement of our diversities under the current dispensation has widened our traditional fault lines and opened some other fissures. This is the time to recognise them, appreciate them and factor them into the permutations for the locus of power at the centre in 2023.

The two major political parties, APC and PDP, are beset with internal problems and wrangling. They have fractured national executive committees and both are engaged in patching things up by constituting reconciliation committees to appease their members who feel aggrieved by the endemic problem of our political parties: the absence of internal democracy. The committees will reconcile them and thus help to staunch the toing and froing from one party to another and back again that instantly changes the fortunes of political parties and their members. These movements are merely an opportunistic exploration of accommodation in a rival political with seemingly greener grass under its feet. Its deleterious effect is the inability of the political parties to build themselves into steady and strong parties able to drive, through their policies and programmes, our national development. Weak and unsteady political parties are afflictions on our democracy.

The first order of business for the political parties is the choice of a national chairman in each case. This is no ordinary choice. It is critical to the political parties because everything else rides on the section of the country that produces the national chairman of each party. In their tradition, the section that produces the national chairman cannot produce the party’s presidential candidate – all thing being equal, of course. 

The real question is not who but which section of the country, north and south should produce the next president in 2023. The fortunes or the misfortunes of each party will depend on its answer to the question. Perhaps, we should lend them a helping hand in the absence of a guiding principle through which the locus of power at the centre is determined at the regular election intervals. In 1983, NPN mooted the idea of a rotational presidency between the north and the south. Its purpose was to ensure that politics being a game of numbers, number alone would militate against equity, fairness and justice. Its new formula was to be put to the test in 1987. It never was because after four years, the generals returned from the political Siberia to service their political fortunes. 

This was later renamed power shift. Different semantics, same  primary purpose. It was the rallying cry by the south in Babangida’s transition to civil rule programme; the argument being that the north appeared bent on domiciling the presidency to the permanent disadvantage of the south, given the number of northerners who had held the levers of power since independence. It was no way to build the nation and unite the people. It was time, the south strenuously argued, for power to shift from the north to the south to make the latter an equal partner in the Nigeria project. That would be the right way to build the nation and unite the people.

Quite a bit of water has passed through the River Niger to the creeks. Power shifted to the south in 1999 and 2011. Still, 2023 presents the country with the same unsettled issue and challenges. The late head of state, General Sani Abacha, introduced the geo-political zoning system as the basis for managing our ethno-political and other interests. It is the formula for sharing or allocating elective and appointive political offices at the centre. It has virtually become an important tradition in both the management and mismanagement of our diversities. Can we use this as the basis for inclusive governments in which every part has a chance to both hold and milk the cow?

It still rankles those who, while recognising zoning as necessary in other cases, appear allergic to using it as the basis for choosing a party’s presidential candidate on the grounds that it would be a cynical abbreviation of individual political ambition. I think we are dealing with some sophistry here. Political parties are constitutional creations by tradition and that is why you find neither APC nor PDP in the constitution. By constitutional tradition they are the platforms on which people seek elective political offices. More importantly, political parties determine independent ways and means of managing power and growing  the  national economy without recourse to the national constitution. Each political party has its own constitution by which it runs its affairs. That zoning is not in the constitution does not prevent a political party from using it as a basis for determining the locus of political power at the centre provided it is satisfied that it makes for equity, fairness and justice and does not offend the letter and the spirit of the supreme law of the land. 

It is the constitutional right of a political party to find ways and means of managing the affairs of a nation. That which it chooses to do does not become unconstitutional by reason of its not being in the constitution. Sophistry is a red herring across the path of serious and rational thinking on managing our nation and its myriads of diversities in a manner that makes Nigeria our Nigeria all of the time, not some of the time. 

The south sees the north and its so-called greed for power as the nation’s main problem. In the next few months as the debate on the locus of power at the centre heats up, copious evidence would be provided to show that the north has used its sheer number to dominate power in the country since independence to the discomfiture of the south. This evidence cannot be rationally contested. So long as the south feels marginalised by the north, so long will our country continue to be a patch work of ethno-religious interests masquerading as government of the people; so long as the south feels that it is not an equal partner with the north in the Nigeria project, so long will our country remain an atomistic nation in perpetual conflict with itself; and so long as our political leaders are given to the luxury of paying lip service to equity, justice and fairness sans a commitment to those ideals, so long will the simple formula for building a nation and uniting the people elude us.

Let us quit pretending about this. Buhari’s successor will inherit a fractured republic and a divided people. It behoves our political leaders to appreciate this and take steps now that will de-fracture the republic and unite the people and make our country peaceful. It is time for the north to recognise that it has a moral duty to share and share power equally with the south. Political power is not essentially about merit. It is about what is right for a country at a particular point in time. There are potentially great leaders in every part of the country. To recruit them, we must ventilate the system and end power hoarding.

To move forward, we must take two urgent steps. The first is to accept and formalise power rotation or power shift between the north and the south and cast it in marble. Let us ride on what happened in 2019. APC and PDP zoned the presidency to the north. Two northerners slugged it out. We can do the same in 2023. Power must shift to the south and the two political parties must choose their presidential candidates from there and let them slug it out as to who wears the presidential sash. 

The second step is to accept the zoning arrangement as a means of perfecting the power shift. It is not enough to broadly rotate power between the north and the south; power must also rotate among the zones in the north and the south so that no zone dominates and leaves other zones in the cold.We can emerge from the current crucibles as an enviable republic and a united people. But we must set aside sentiments and face the challenge of nation building with the courage to use political power as an instrument for the good of the nation and its people. I am not naïve enough to believe that this would be easy but I believe we have enough patriotic Nigerians who wish to see our nation pull itself up from the murk of its failed promises, shed its toga of a potentially great country and put on the new toga as a great nation. Then we can to ourselves what President Barack Obama said to his fellow Americans: yes, we can. Yes, we can unite the people and build a great nation.

Email: [email protected]


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Campaign for the return of Benin Bronzes and other significant objects taken in colonial era

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Benin bronzes are a collection of more than 3,000 figures and other decorative pieces looted by the British in 1897. Today they are housed in over 160 public and private collections around the world. These objects were created from the 13th century onwards by the Bini people and include portrait busts in brass and bronze. Some were made using the sophisticated lost wax method of casting which was once thought to be an exclusively European invention.

The Benin Bronzes or rather Benin objects, because not all of them are made of metal; some are made from ivory or wood, are objects originating from the Kingdom of Benin.

Ill-gotten Gains

On January 2, 1897, James Philips, a British official set out for the coast of Nigeria to visit the Oba of Benin Kingdom. Historical reports have it that he took a handful of colleagues with him, and it is assumed he went to persuade the Oba to put a stop to the interruptions to British trade.

When Philips was told that the Oba would not see him because a sacred festival was taking place, he went anyway. He never made it back. For the Benin Kingdom, the killing of Philips and most of his party had huge repercussions. Within a month, the British sent 1,200 soldiers to take revenge. On February 18, the British Army took Benin in a violent raid. All the valuables found in the king’s palace and surrounding houses were looted. Within a month, much of the bounty was in England. The artifacts were given to museums or sold at auctions or kept by soldiers for their mantel pieces.

Campaign for the return of our objects

Nigeria has been calling for the return of its artifacts for decades. Some pieces stolen in the raid have found their way back to the country. This happened when the British museum sold several plaques to Nigeria in the 1950s when the Lagos museum was being established. Others, it sold in the open market. But these were not free and it is the full-scale return of our objects that is being called for now.

A key moment came in the 1970s when organizers of the major Festival of Black Arts and Culture; FESTAC ’77, asked the British Museum for one prized item: a 16th century ivory mask of an Oba’s mother {now widely known as the FESTAC head}. The organizers wanted to borrow the work to serve as a centerpiece of the 1977 event, but the British Museum said it was too fragile and therefore would not release it. This incident remains fresh more than 40 years later.

Almost since their looting, demands for the return of our artifacts have been made by Nigeria and other African states. Now with the intense interest in colonial loot, the focus has returned to them. Central to this shift in interest was the announcement by the French President, Emmanuel Macron in 2017 in Ouagadougou to return colonial loot from the French colonial museums and to commission a groundbreaking report by Senegalese writer, Felwine Sarr and French art historian, Benedicte Savoy that ultimately supported his decision.

For the last decade, a consortium known as Benin Dialogue Group with cooperation from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments has been working to repatriate some of these Benin bronzes and establish a permanent display in Benin City.

Obstacles to the repatriation

The British Museum holds about 900 objects arguably the largest collection so far and with the support of the government has denied restitution. This lies within a larger debate about taking responsibility for colonialism as a crime against humanity. Furthermore, the British Museum is currently prevented from returning their loot by the British Museum Act of 1963 and National Heritage Act of 1983.

Those in charge of museums, in the early quest for the repatriation of these artifacts, were initially unaware of the problem of colonial loot. When pressure mounted, they downplayed the critique, ridiculed the critics and even defamed them.

Another pressing question by most museums/governments is what happens to the artifacts upon its return to their home country. Frankly however, this should not be their concern. What the rightful owners do with their art is their decision and this should not delay restitution.

There are many objects in private hands and museums. Appealing to such persons to return them might prove difficult because some are just not willing to do so and there are no laws compelling them.

Many western countries have laws ensuring the return of Nazi-looted art, this approach has not been extended to art stolen from Africa and other parts of the world.

Changing attitudes to repatriation by international museums

Germany’s Minister for Culture aptly captures the changing realities for most international museum institutions. ‘‘We face a historic and moral responsibility to shine a light on Germany’s colonial past. We would like to contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of people who were robbed of their cultural treasures during the colonial era.”

Asmau Hussain-Braimah,
National Museums, Abuja


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