Updated: May 25, 2020
In the words of the great 19th century American educationist Horace Mann, Education is “the great equalizer of the conditions of men”. No phrase could be more relevant in these rapidly changing times. The advent of major discoveries in Bio-medicine, AI and Robotics at a remarkable speed further justifies the central position of a sound and up to date education if one hoped to remain “equal” or “relevant" in these times. Whilst one clearly needs more than just “classic education” to truly succeed and be renowned, this fundamental principle holds true nevertheless. Many times, we hear and see testimonies of social mobility and inspiring stories of individuals coming out of poverty and obscurity, thanks to their desires to learn and educate themselves. From 1st generation college, Masters, MBA and PhD graduates going to become Professors, Captains of industry, CEOs and political Leaders, the evidence is indeed overwhelming.
For Nigeria, this pandemic has exposed a very unpleasant reality; We simply do not have the capacity and means to save ourselves. The efforts by well meaning Nigerians, companies and civil society organisations has no doubt helped but in terms of the preparedness of our healthcare institutions and biomedical research infrastructure, we are nowhere ready nor capable to mitigate this situation on our own. Several decades of bad policies, incoherent national developmental strategies, outright corruption and self-serving attitudes has left almost every sector of Nigeria's economy backwards, incompetent and underdeveloped. This is why efforts by the Likes of Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe and his myriad companies as well as Dr Abasi Ene-Obong of 54gene making giant strides to democratize the benefits of genomics for Africans is deeply appreciated. Their excellent work to reshape and bring global best practice into the Nigerian STEM space has to be celebrated, encouraged and emulated by all Nigerians at home and abroad. These individuals along with many more not mentioned share a deep passion for quality education, excellence and pride in hard, diligent and honest work, a spirit that has since faded in recent years with experts being labelled as “Know it alls" and hardly ever being heard. Even when consulted, the political class mostly only implements the policies that best serve their interests. Unfortunately, many young Nigerians have abandoned the notion of honest work and scholarly pursuits for quick and fast money. The so called “Yahoo boys" illicit money making model is trending to the point where an entire generation is at risk of being ill-educated. A society where hard work is often neglected whilst incompetence is celebrated surely leaves very little to be desired. What is to become the future of a society that does not value education? As someone rightly asked. “ na your Yahoo boyfriend wan develop the vaccine?”.
At this crucial point in history, the time to redirect our steps was probably 60 years ago but today is still not too late…. With all the pain, loss of lives and jobs that has visited the world, the covid-19 pandemic might just be the reset button (albeit unpleasant) that many Nigerians have been hoping for.
Our leaders should now prioritize investments in sustainable local research facilities at par with their international counterparts, Talents should be groomed, encouraged and motivated to remain or return home. A new national consciousness rooted in excellence and meritocracy now needs to prevail. I am hopeful when I see the public and often private effort being made by the likes of Dr Kelechukwu Onwukamike, Dr Babajide Milton Macaulay, Dr Rita Orji and my personal mentor Dr. Jacob Omajali who are relentless in supporting ambitious Nigerians to get the education they need through various extensive mentorship efforts and social enterprises they have developed. Surely, Nigeria will rise again.