Thursday, 10 October 2013

Wetin Abroad Dey Cost Us.

Oh boy, Naija people dey suffer o. I would love to know GEJ’s reaction following the open letter to him in the Punch two days ago (Pg 57). The inequity Nigerians face abroad was frankly expressed in Comrade Patrick Soriwei’s emotional letter. For those who didn’t catch the story, Comrade Patrick Soriwei is the father of Late Gabriel Soriwei, a young Nigerian student of Cyprus International University who died on September 7, 2013 following complications from a car accident in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. The car was allegedly driven by a drunk Turkish female. Turkish police claim the driver was not under the influence of alcohol and only lost control of the car. Following several inquiries, the police further claimed the alleged drunk driver was detained for three days and released as the case was being investigated. The unproductive leads and maltreatment Mr Soriwei suffered led him to write an open letter to President Jonathan; soliciting his intervention for justice. This open letter has motivated me to put down some words.

Late Gabriel Soriwei was in coma for seven weeks before finally giving up. His corpse was also flown to his dad as ‘cargo’by Cyprus International University without his belongings. All through his stay in Nikosia, Turkish police ensured Patrick Soriwei never had any conversation or confrontation whatsoever with the suspected female driver. Nikosia General Hospital also had some questionable rules during Gabriel Soriwei’s admission. His father was allowed access to him for only five minutes, twice a week, while in coma. Since Gabriel Soriwei’s death, the Turkish Embassy, Cyprus International University or the alleged drunk female driver have not found it courteous enough to reach out to the Soriwei family or offer any form of condolences.

The Soriwei family is one of many Nigerian families who suffer irreplaceable loses from sending teenage children abroad to live and study. Sometime ago in Kaduna, a neighbour of mine was for 8 weeks trying to uncover the sudden disappearance of her child studying in Cairo. The teenage girl later initiated contact. She had decided to start another life (without her parents) with a newly found lover. Scary!

With the consistent strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU), the number of teenagers leaving this country is sure to increase. Tertiary education in Nigeria since the late 90s has been poor. In 2010, Nigerian students were estimated to have spent about N246 billion on tertiary institutions in the United Kingdom alone. This figure is more than 60 % of the Education sector budget for 2012.

Several reasons for leaving range from poor lecturer to students ratio, understaffed academic workers, poor research facilities, overstaffed support workers; infrastructural deficits etc. 80% of Nigerian Universities are grossly under-staffed and 78% rely heavily on part-time and visiting lecturers. Despite N426.5 billion set aside for Education in the 2013 budget, ASUU and the federal government have failed to reach an agreement which would put students back in school. Many parents have managed this unnecessary evil by sending their children to private universities locally. However, class, tradition, status quo and other relative reasons have many families in the likes of the Soriweis’, send children barely out of their teens to western tertiary institutions.

I intend not to argue how ethical, economical or socially unjustifiable it is for Nigeria as families continue sending wards to live and study in western environments. I would be morally impotent being in opposition to the norm; bearing fact that I’m a product of such pattern. However, truth be told, I’m not a stern believer in ‘western’ learning environments. I believe the outflow further promotes the ‘black man’ inferiority complex and suppresses our unique primitive system.

It’s not that I despise western learning environments; I just wouldn’t accept as totally true various rankings such as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013 in which no African university was seen qualified to make the first one hundred. Despite Africa’s infrastructural challenges, I’m convinced its human capital and social systems has various tertiary institutions capable of maintaining civilised standards, producing sound minds and creating world class learning environments. Right here in Nigeria, we are beginning to see such manifestation from the private sector.

To be described as educated or civilised is a product combination of two things – proper knowledge and character. There is no model in our world today the latter is best tutored through than an African setting. Nevertheless, it’s worthy to note that the present global society stylishly enforces signals which indicate 90% of present and future world leaders are products of ‘certain’ western university alumni. If Asia and Africa continue to build upon will and potential respectively, signals could soon change.

There are over 200 western university agents in our country from UK, USA, Canada, Cyprus, Ukraine, etc lobbying Nigerian teenagers and their parents to patronise universities abroad. Western societies are portrayed to be the messiahs to a successful life. Our inconsistent public educational system also guarantees these agencies increased sales and further exposes Nigerian teenagers to such danger suffered by Gabriel Soriwei and my neighbour’s daughter. Nevertheless, is the medical, welfare and police system of the Turkish republic of North Cyprus by law not meant to be favourable to foreign residents? Or did this mishap come as a result of the irresponsible perception of Nigeria?

Let’s do a quick comparison with a British national living in Lagos, attending British International School Lekki. Would Dr. Andrew Pocock not have made himself or a representative from his office available to welcome and address the parents of the victim right from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (if they weren’t residents of Lagos)? The inhuman treatment given to Nigerians abroad is largely derived from the picture Nigerian public officers and citizens (home and abroad) paint as regards our economic and social vices. The way we tell our story through economic complaints and social despair is how we are labelled.

Why is our educational system in such disarray? Who or what continually hinders development and successful reform?

Just recently, the former Education Minister, Prof. Ruqayat Rufai was sacked for not generating ideas in line with Mr. President’s 2015 agenda but the situation was publicized as a mere cabinet reshuffle. The eighteen months Prof. Rufai spent in office narrowed on four areas and showed pointers to a transformation process in Nigeria’s educational sector- (1) access and equity, (2) standards and quality assurance, (3) technical and vocational education and teacher training, and (4) funding and resource utilization. Well again, the dream has been cut short. Presently, she has resumed her position as a Professor of Curriculum Studies at the Bayero University Kano and her blueprint passed on to the Minister of State for Education, co-orchestrator of the Rivers state pandemonium and now acting Minister of Education, Nyesome Wike. We all know what the outcome would be. Arguably, the quest for power in our country seems to override efficient public service delivery.

We really need both our educational system and stereotype fixed. We need it to keep us safe, responsible and proud. We need the inferior stigma we continually protrude by sending our kids abroad wiped away. For every teenager that leaves Nigeria to study abroad, 100 foreigners are somewhat convinced beyond doubt they have a better society than ours in EVERY way. Yes, we have infrastructural deficits and poor economic managements but our dynamic nature, resilience, culture, complexities and diversities have so much to give.

I would like to read GEJ’s action following the circumstances surrounding Gabriel’s death and the disregard for a Nigerian life and international laws slammed on the face of his father. GEJ’s action would go a long way in revealing to Nigerians how important and responsible our government takes its citizens with regards to foreign relations.

During the January 2012 protests, I was rounding off a Masters Degree in England. Still, I added voice to the proposed extortion labelled as fuel subsidy removal. I knew I would be home in weeks and would feel the pain on every purchase despite the promising palliatives government had sold to us. So I had to say NO. And, I was right. Every cost now has doubled.

For over 5 hours, I co-led a peaceful demonstration in the blistering cold in front of Nigeria’s Embassy on Northumberland Avenue in London. As we chanted liberation songs over and over again and spoke with journalists, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida never for a second stepped out to address us. But, he ensured police officers were fully present during the peaceful protest.

We stood in protest for over five hours and he never for once came down. During our closure, some support staff from the Embassy came and addressed us briefly. Tafida occasionally peeped through his office window. Would President Jonathan also flip over the Soriwei story?

Jide Alara.

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