Monday, December 2, 2013

Formal Education is NOT the Solution to the Nigerian Problem

Education is NOT the Solution to the Nigerian Problem
I’ll tell you why I do not believe that formal education is what Nigeria needs to prosper now or in the future.

By formal education here, I mean going to the typical four-year or five-year university. You may find it ironic and even hypocritical. After all, I have three degrees in Electrical Engineering. But after the “three degrees in Electrical Engineering,” I can tell you it is all nonsense. Well, let me qualify that. It is all nonsense if I cannot somehow apply my smarts to help develop Nigeria. The same applies to you reading this. Every time I have a conversation with an educated Nigerian here in the US, young or old, about how we can improve the situation in Nigeria, we usually end up talking about how it would be nice if the government was smart enough to hire us and bring us back to the country with really good packages. This is all well and good. Shoot! I’ve said the same. But I’m sitting here thinking, it is the same kind of thinking that has and will continue to tolerate Nigeria’s weak state. You know what else I’m thinking? We don’t need the government to hire us to fix anything. I am, like you are, worried about the risk of throwing myself at the mercy of zero-dollars-per-month syndrome when it is time to pay the rent or purchase a can of diesel for the generator or purchase liters of fuel for my car. Mehn! It is a whole lot worse than living paycheck to paycheck. However, the fact is that if no one is willing to take the risk to start something from scratch (and we would be starting from scratch), that country is most likely not going to improve. I don’t need hard data as evidence. The past few decades, even before our independence, support my point. Yet, we are some of the “most educated people in the world.” Smh, as the youngsters would say.

In primary school and secondary school, you learn the bulk of what you need to make yourself useful. I’ll summarize: Math (because just about everything you deal with in the world requires Math), English (because you need to communicate orally and verbally with the world), Science (because herein lies the answers to just about all our problems in Nigeria), Arts (because without a spirit of creativity you are the same as the person sitting beside you), and a traditional language (because God help you if you need to “finish” a foreigner and you have no idea how to do so except in his language). Frankly, at this second, I cannot think of any other subjects taught in secondary school. That probably means they would need to find themselves somewhere under these five (5) subjects. I have not included the History subject though I think it is just as important as these five subjects. I think the lack of “History” in the general secondary school curriculum is part of the reason for a lack of patriotism in our country compared to the West. That’s a topic of discussion for another day. Back to formal education, with the five (5) listed subjects, just a little bit more of learning (self-taught or through short courses) should present us with solutions to our problems. Not necessarily four or five years of organized and structured learning.

What are our problems exactly? I’m sure that you’ll have a whole lot more to list than me, but I’ll give you what I can think of presently. They are: electric power supply being much lower than demand, poor health (system), lack of good water filtration systems, low investment in agriculture and a lack of oil refineries. What proceeds from these are: lack of 24-hour lighting, lack of air-conditioning, rampant spread of diseases, high mother-baby mortality rates, fuel importation, hunger and thirst (for physical food, though I wish it was for righteousness as well), among others. If you dare mention electricity for watching TV, just pray I do not come there and whoop your behind. Television and entertainment are some of the reasons we are sitting in a puddle of mud right now. On the other hand, I must say it has presented quite an avenue for revenue generation in the country: from girls trying to look like Kim Kardashian (weaves, makeup and clothing industry) to girls trying to act like Kim Kardashian (movies and reality TV). By the way, I’m so glad that my email spell check paused on “Kardashian.” It has no idea what that is. Good!

So, let’s tackle a few of them. Power: it was a human being who sat down and found out that through magnetic induction, electricity can be generated and low voltage amp-ed up through a transformer, transmitted over long distances to substations for distribution and then to our houses. Those are human beings. It was also a human being that thought about harnessing power from the sun to produce electricity. We live in a country close to the Equator. We get lots of sunshine. Should it not be one of us coming up with solar power solution? This brings me to the other problem: air-conditioning. “Nah this heat wey go kill us o.” As my younger brother used to say when we were much younger, “anu mpam.” Should we not be the ones to come up with a solution for cooling with or without electricity since we suffer it the most? We learn about magnetism in secondary school, we learn about crop and animal diseases etc. from secondary school, we learn distillation in secondary school. What exactly are we going to the university to get Materials Engineering, Electrical Engineering, even Accounting and Finance degrees for? Four or five years of the government and professors chopping your money and spitting you out in an environment that needs to hire maybe less than 10% of you? I say “hire” because we have only so many industries and companies. And college, in general, teaches you to work for someone. How to design, co-ordinate, supervise, fix something that is already there. By the way, some of these companies hire top management and the serious paying positions from outside the country…

We are not the “white man.” Let’s stop living and schooling like them. We don’t have to do things the Western way to succeed. Look at us. We’ve been trying for years and have not mastered it. Yes! Learn what you can from them but I think it’s high time we paved our own way. I’m not being racist here. Not at all. I hope it doesn’t read that way but I just believe we are all different for a reason. I remember the JETS competitions we used to go for in secondary school. For some reason, I remember one experiment we did (with Mr. Ogbonna, the Science teacher), where we were supposed to use methane produced from our excreta to create a mini-gas cooker. I guess pun is intended here since that’s some serious “gas” if you know what I mean. That experiment worked. We dispose of so much garbage in the country on the side of the road, for goodness sake. Here is one solution to our problems: JUST LEARN TO BE CLEAN. Clean up your surroundings. The government does not have to do that for you. It’s YOUR own health! Imagine if we did a bit of research on using sewage gas for fuel: the methane is produced naturally right? We can figure out how to burn the gas in a clean way to reduce emissions and toxicity. You get my drift.

Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate, Singles and Marriage degrees are not going to get us out of our mini-hell. Our brains, ideas, creativity, experiments, labs, research will. So, if you have money (to our billionaires and all the other contrived ones rolling in our oil money), invest it here in the young ones. Encourage research at even a pre-college level and let’s produce our own solutions. Youngsters, go get technical skills and learn a specific skill (good mechanic work, building a refinery, generating electricity etc.) With the number of things we import, people, you and I could be millionaires just tomorrow from innovation and manufacturing. If you are very smart, creative and financially challenged, try and marry a rich guy or gal. LOL! He or she can supply you till you create the next big thing and become the rich guy or gal and supply your supplier. If mummy and daddy are rich, even better, use your brain. Let’s work together people. Yes. All the insults hammered here are also on me. I need to make good use of my brain to better my country.

I must note before I end that I believe marriage is an institution created by God. I would not teach or preach marriage for wealth. Marriage is deeper than we think. Carefully read Eph. 5: 22 – end. For you men, especially verse 25. My joke in the former paragraph was to emphasize that we need to work together to improve Nigeria, not with degrees, but with a mindset of starting and finishing impactful projects.

With best regards, please air your views in the comments box.

Urenna Onyewuchi, is the author, blogger and owner of Style As I See It (SAISI)


  1. What you wrote made a lot of sense

  2. I agree with many of these thoughts. Rather than focusing on higher education only, Nigerians need to learn hard work, innovative thinking and honest business practices. We can each only change the sphere in which we are, so let us not blame external sources for our conditions. Let us work hard to succeed.

  3. lovely wrte up!

  4. Hi,Urenna, i completely agree with you. We are the ones that will change the status quo. lets work towards the top and effect the necessary changes.