In 1999, democracy returned to Nigeria after a sixteen year military interregnum. At the time I was a senior secondary school student of the prestigious Kings College Lagos.
Michael Orimobi, Kodilinye Acholonu and I felt it was necessary to spread the ideals of democracy to the rest of the students. Our collective vision led to the formation of the Democrats Club. Acholonu was the pioneer President, Orimobi, the Secretary and my humble self, the public relations officer.
In order to equip myself fully for the challenge of recruiting members from other more established clubs, I decided to read the autobiography of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe: My odyssey. I was so fascinated by his life that I started the day after doing my morning devotional by chanting Zik of Africa. I was obsessed to the point of hysteria by his philosophical, political and economic ideology.
This got me into trouble with my now late paternal grandmother who wanted me to adopt Chief Obafemi Awolowo as my role model. I didn’t blame her as my paternal grandfather served in his government as the Western Region Minister of Agriculture so the emotional bias for Awo was naturally expected.
She always regaled me with the tales of how his free education policy greatly helped the Yoruba race advance educationally. However I have always been a questioning individual right from when I can remember.
I asked her a question: ‘Grandma, why didn’t grandpa send daddy and my uncles to the free schools?’ She would always give me the ‘common go and play outside look.’
As time went out, I got to find out that none of Awolowo’s offspring went to those schools. Oluwole, his second son was sent to England at the age of thirteen. None of his cabinet members sent their children to those schools and I always wondered why since they espoused the progressive ideology which I believed was supposed to create a more equal society. My callow mind was troubled with the myriad of questions that seemed not to get any answers.
Many die-hard supporters of Awo used to scream ‘Thank God Zik never became the Premier of the Western Region otherwise we would never have benefited from Papa’s free education scheme.’
Even in my naivety at the time, I knew there was no free lunch anywhere in the world. The age-long cliché rings true ‘There is no free lunch in Freetown.’
Why did Awo nurse his law ambition for a decade and finally raised the funds for it in 1944 at 35, leaving his then young family behind to go the UK and then instituted a free education scheme? Was it out of love? I have trained my instincts to be wary of any free gifts.
Zik also had an interest in education as well. In fact, he wanted to set up a university in Nigeria as far back as in 1934 when his academic sojourn in Uncle Sam came to an end. He embarked on an aggressive fund raising campaign but what he raised was so miniscule that he was forced to return it back to the donors. He was an instructor in political science in Lincoln University and even had more degrees than Awo so why didn’t he want his people to have access to free education when he was the Premier of the Eastern region?
There is the old saying of spare the rod and spoil the child and a warning to parents not to spoon feed their children. Free education is one of the worst legacies that Awo bequeathed to the Yoruba race. It has made many Yorubas mentally lazy and develop an entitlement mentality. What is free is not valued. It is just a normal human trait that you only place value or premium on what you pay for. A scholarship is not free because you have to have high academic grades to get it coupled with the fact that you have to maintain those grades consistently so that you don’t lose it. Asides that, someone living or dead is picking the tab and so it is highly treasured.
When I finished my NYSC, myself and Odunayo Adebayo, an erstwhile coursemate were concerned about the poor standard of education in the Lagos State Public Schools and so we decided to go to two adopted schools to teach these kids some life skills. We noticed majority of them had no internally driven motivation to learn. Many of their parents were not involved since the government even went as far as paying for their WAEC fees. They felt that there was no need to get involved in their children’s education.
None of the then ACN leaders as the party was then called had their kids in these schools. They were paying through their nose to send their kids to highly priced private schools. The widening gap between these two categories of students gave us serious cause for concern.
With the benefit of hindsight, Zik’s policy of subsided rather than free education has been of immense benefit to the Igbos. It has made them highly entrepreneurial and adventurous. There is no where that an Igbo person can’t go to and not only survive but flourish. In fact there is a joke that if you go to any country in the world and you don’t find an Igbo then there is something really wrong somewhere.
Look at how they quickly recovered economically after the civil war and the giant strides they have made in all endeavours of life. It is no surprise that two Igbos – Tony Nwulu and Rita Orji are in the Federal House of Representatives from Lagos – an APC conclave. Their grit and tenacity was sharpened by Zik’s visionary policy.
The agberos or area boys in Lagos is fallout of the freebie by a supposed sage. The entitlement mindset is a fallout of the lack of zeal to continue in a free scheme. Today, the so called progressives turn a blind eye to the menace that these urchins unleash on hardworking bus drivers.
When you consider the shocking statement credited to Awolowo that ‘starvation was a legitimate weapon of warfare’, one is inclined to suspect that the free education scheme was a well thought scheme to create a perpetually dependent class among his people.
It is no wonder that things have metamorphosed from ‘All Progressive Congress’ to ‘All Promises Cancelled.’ It is no wonder that when Dr. Kayode Fayemi was the Governor of Ekiti State, he preferred to give the aged a mere five thousand Naira – money not sufficient for his domestic pet rather than promote pro-people policies that would massively empower the youths to take better care of their parents. Can any aged person especially those battling with a myriad of ailments like on five thousand Naira a month? I am not surprised that the Federal Government mulled the idea of giving some unemployed youths five thousand Naira instead of creating the enabling environment for them to be financially free.
The wickedness unleashed on hapless Nigerians by the current APC government had its roots in the sinister seed planted by Awolowo in 1955.
Wise Nigerians must see through the veneer and reject charity in favour of empowerment.