By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It was memorable and engraved in my heart till today. I, therefore, still remember it as if it happened yesterday. I was joyous and savouring the euphoria of my excellent performance in my junior secondary school examination. And then came the first day of resumption as a senior secondary student. I had arrived in the company of my classmates, all looking hearty and gay, as we marched to the school and converged in an empty classroom, which had a very bold inscription SS1 hanging on top of the door.
That class, we believed, would house us as new students of the senior class, which we all gained by the virtue of resounding successes recorded in the last examination. We all moved in like a swarm of bees, without waiting for any directive or approval, we needed no prompting from any instituted or constituted authority to make the best of our new abode.
As we got busy chatting away like birds in summer, a young girl decked in the uniform of National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) walked in and introduced herself to us – not by name but as the one who will teach us Economics for the session.
We greeted this development with mixed feelings and weighed the situation in circumspect terms for two reasons. First, as we were now ‘’Big Boys,’’ we were not ready for any serious academic exercise so soon and, if any, we expected someone older to handle us. Instead of this teenager-like lady, we felt an experienced teacher would better suit our new status.
Secondly, we had not been welcomed officially by the school authority. We had expected to be formally introduced as the newest senior students in the school.
However, apparently oblivion of the mood, or nonplussed by it, our new teacher simply proceeded on her mission and, without casting a glance at our faces, she picked some chalk from the teacher’s table and made her way to the blackboard.
But then, she did the unthinkable: She decided not to observe any teaching methodology or chronology in her presentation. Our unheralded Economics teacher began to address her bewildered ‘ audience’ who would rather see themselves as an emergency gathering (because, to our understanding, we had not been allotted to any class).
Hers was not a mission to placate us as she simply went theoretical and told us that every conventional economy usually has three strata – lower, middle and upper classes.
This teaching method triggered an open murmuring among us, as we got bold and suddenly found our voices, which rained out a torrent of questions. What is the economy? What is Economics? ‘What is what is…’ rented the air. Everyone was eager to know everything at the same time. Her reaction to the barrage of questions was loaded with disdain. It was evident she was offended by the cacophony of voices and she responded furiously: “These foolish riff-raffs have no respect,” and she walked out of the class leaving us bemused.
That was back in the days.
However, each time I ruminate over our democratic experience in the past two decades-with particular emphasis on recent political, ethnic and socioeconomic challenges in the country, memories of my encounter with the corper come flooding. While many may describe this account as old and unnecessary, it has in my estimation become prophecy that foretold the present happenings in the country.
As the subsequent paragraphs will reveal, not only did the above narrative disclose how terrible effects of bad planning and inadequate political will affect sensitive sectors such as education and others, it specifically demonstrates how successive administrations failed to engage the best minds in our country to help get the answers and deploy the resources we need to move into the future.
Of course there is nothing out of ordinary about democracy, but one of the basic distinctions to make is that ;apart from its demand of open flow of information both to and, more important, from the citizenry, every decision in a democratic exercise would be placed to a vote for a supreme level of control. And every branch of the government and each community must agree on the process. If the people receive from the government responses that seem to be substantive but actually are not, citizens’ begin to feel as if they are being manipulated. And if the messages from the media feed this growing cynicism, the decline of democracy can be accelerated.
Comparatively, just the way the young Corp member called us ‘foolish riff-raffs that have no respect,” because we asked a question, so the attitude, policies, actions and inactions of our political office holders speak volume. Their rash attitudes/responses to the masses have not in any way helped the nation; deepen information dissemination, enrich democracy and promote peace and unity among Nigerians; Or helped inculcate and reinforce positive political, cultural, social attitudes among the citizenries-as well as create a mood in which people become keen to acquire, skills and disciplines of developed nations.
These are just but a few examples of government’s failings, failures and misdeeds. And explains why Nigerians are feeling manipulated-with our democracy that neither underwrites social justice nor promotes social mobility.
At fundamental levels, if objective analysis can replace emotional discussion in analyzing the government’s course of actions when addressing a given problem or interrelated set of problems, one thing will definitely stand out;
They not only lack the key policy-making process- definition of the problem, the goals to be achieved, and the instrument or means chose to address the problem and achieve the goals, but creates conditions that render such policies as ‘self-undermining; devoid of people’s priority and in non- conformity with the will/opinion of the people.
As an illustration, neither logic nor morality was sufficient to dispel the belief among Nigerians that policy such as; border closure, Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, and the hate speech bill, were made in the best interest of Nigerians. And it is by no means unique to his three. Rather, they probably did more than anything else to convince Nigerians to look differently at the out of ordered situation in the country.
Particularly, in spite of reasons articulated by the government to defend the obnoxious content/proposition of the Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bil, what really made the bill enjoy more burden than goodwill is its introduction at a time world leaders are encouraging dependence on the social media-Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc, as it’s potentials have a liberating force that permits people to gain information, connect with others who have similar concerns and provide direct feedback to the government.
Going by the above, one may be tempted to ask; why must Nigerian government regulates acclaimed platforms that permit people to gain information, connect with others who have similar concerns and provide direct feedback to the government?
As we await the answer(s) to the above and end the above corp/student relationship in our political sphere, Nigeria has a ‘choice to restructure its leadership style which in my opinion will be collaborative, systematic, and redesign Nigeria while keeping it whole.
Jerome-Mario Utomi (firstname.lastname@example.org), writes from Lagos