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October 15, 2010


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Friday, October 15, 2010

Remember me as somebody who promotes use of mother tongue in schools —Fafunwa
By Segun Olugbile
Wednesday, 13 Oct 2010


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Babatunde Fafunwa
This interview, conducted by SEGUN Olugbile, is believed to be the last Prof. Babatunde Fafunwa granted on September 30 this year. It is being repeated here in honour of the former education minister, who died on Monday, October 11.

On whether Nigeria has a reason to celebrate 50th anniversary.

Yes, we have reasons to celebrate when you consider the fact that as a nation, we are still one. In spite of our challenges we have managed to survive up till now and this makes you to want to believe the joke that God is a Nigerian. If you look at it from this perspective, you will discover that the anniversary is worth celebrating. However, we should not do anything grandiose while celebrating, our celebration should be done soberly, we should do an agonising self-appraisal of our situation so as to determine what we should be doing after October 1, 2010.

Assessement of the education sector.

That’s a tough call, but I’ll try. You should be mindful of this fact that when you are dealing with a small number of students with surplus facilities and well-motivated cum quality teachers, quality will be guaranteed and so there will be a big gap in quality when doing the same with a huge number of students in a crowded classroom, using inadequate and obsolete equipment and with disillusioned teachers. Before and shortly after independence facilities were superb, we had fewer number of students, teachers’ welfare was adequate and the general environment was good. We had large classes with fewer pupils and I think this made us to forget that a classroom is not expandable and there would be need to build more classes and train more quality teachers. In 1960 the total number of pupils we had in primary schools was less than five million while the number of secondary school pupils was less than a million. But by the time the Universal Primary Education was introduced, population of primary school pupils increased to 15 million while those in secondary schools rose to over two million. This is a sizeable increment but quality was lacking.

The same yardstick could be used for universities because in 1960 we had one university and that is the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and not the University of Ibadan as a lot of people believe. Though UI had been in existence since 1948, it was just a college under the University of London; it was not until 1962 that it became autonomous. The Ashby Commission had recommended the establishment of four universities at Lagos, Zaria, Ibadan and Ife but before then late Dr. Nmamdi Azikiwe had set up UNN as a regional university in 1958 and the institution admitted its pioneer students in 1960. As at that time, UI still remained a college of the University of London. But like I said earlier, the university system expanded to five universities in 1962 and remained so until 1970. But shortly after the military came in, some other universities were created.

How private universities started.

In 1979, higher education was put under the concurrent list and due to this, state governments and the private sector were encouraged to start universities. So, many mushroom universities with lecture rooms in garages were set up particularly in the eastern region. Most of these substandard universities were scrapped by the military again in 1983. Seven years later, I became the Minister of Education, I revisited the issue of private universities and to raise the standard, we set up the Longe Commission to look at the function of higher education. To discourage unserious people from setting up private universities, we said interested applicants should put N200m in a fixed deposit, should have 200 acres of land for the permanent site among other stringent conditions. It took seven years before one of the applicants, Chief Igbinedion could start.

So, between 1960 and 1990 we had over 70 universities owned by the public and private sectors. But between 1999 and 2010 we established another 73 that is at the rate of six per year. That is fantastic, but our politicians are good at building edifices which people will see and clap for them but they will not provide the most important facilities and equipment to drive these universities.

In essence, we have done well in quantity but when you look at the quality, you will be shocked particularly in public universities. Many laboratories in most of these public universities have outlived their usefulness; a lab set up for 100 students is now being used by over 600 students. That is why I said that as a nation we have grown the sector in quantity but we are very short in quality. And at the root of this mess is corruption. Name any problem we have in this country and I will tell you that corruption is the root cause. If there is a plane crash, car crash, bad road, poor health facilities, bad economy, insecurity, bad education, corruption is at the bottom of all these challenges and we must kill corruption before it kills us.

On what he would love to be remembered for.

I will like to be remembered as a man who try to make every Nigerian literate and numerate in his or her mother tongue and in English as a second language.

On the dangers of policy somersaults.

Concerning the policy inconsistency, I experienced it as a minister. Before I became a minister under Babangida, government had proscribed the Academic Staff Union of Universities. So, when I came in, I met the president on why we should lift the ban on ASUU. As I mentioned it, IBB, Abacha and Aikhomu said I should go ahead. They did not even allow me to present my argument. Afterwards, I called the leadership of ASUU to a meeting and what they told me was shocking. They said that Nigerian lecturers were the least paid in the whole of Africa. I said no. But when I did my findings, I discovered that it was true.

The present INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, was the President of ASUU then. That man was so brilliant and articulate such that if you are not on your guard, he would argue a bad case and convince you. So, we set up a committee and at the end of the day, we reached an agreement with the lecturers in September 1992. But we could not start the implementation of the part of agreement that had financial implication until January 1993 because of budgetary constraint. But shortly afterwards, I was removed as the minister and another person was picked. On the handing over day and in the full glare of television, the new minister said that the agreement we reached with the lecturers was not binding and that it was illegal. I thought he would not get away with it but he did. I was surprised. If the agreement had been respected, the industrial disharmony that we had till July 2009 in the university system would not have been there. That kind of attitude has been a major problem not just to the development of the education sector but all sectors of the national economy.

If we must grow as a nation, we must stop this idea whereby a minister comes in or another government comes in and abandon a policy designed by his predecessor. Our system of succession is bad. We must build institutions on policy and whoever comes in must be forced to follow through on policies and regulations.

We should also redefine our education policy most especially at the primary and secondary education level. It is not right for a Federal Government to saddle itself with primary and secondary education. The local and the state governments should be left to cater for education at this level, though the Federal Government can intervene in form of grant and aids. A minister of education should not be reduced to admission officer to unity schools. The Federal Government has no business with unity schools. At least, the central government of the US did not have a single university let alone a primary school.

His rating of education sector.

Well, there are but if I were to award mark, I will give us 49 per cent for achievement and 51 per cent for failure. It’s painful when you see a nation like ours with the wherewithal to progress, but we are crawling. Mention any profession, you will find Nigerians making waves all over the world. Is it in law, medicine, accountancy or journalism, our people are there but we have allowed mediocrity to take over governance. We keep our professionals out of leadership and now mediocrity has taken over, corruption has overwhelmed transparency while hard work has been sacrificed. There is also this problem of uncertainty of sanction and this gives looters of the economy the confidence to steal and run away with it. But I tell you that Americans are not any better than Nigerians but the difference is that in America, nobody is above the law. If we are able to fight corruption and embrace the rule of law, all sectors of the economy including education will experience positive change.

For education, our language policy must change. We must use our mother tongue to teach our children if we must experience growth in our search for technological advancement. Nations like China, Japan, Spain, Germany and India are examples of nations that have experienced development as a result of this.

Comments :

* Thank you Baba, may ur soul rest in peace. I am 100% with u on mother tongue and Im waiting for a courageuos leader that will call a debate on this and I will give the nation million reason why development is tied to language. “Literacy is ability to speak, read and write most especially in your mother tongue”. But honestly God is not a Nigerian and will never be. Baba You have done your very best.
Posted by: Wole Oyewo , on Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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* Great talk form the late Prof who is an educationist to the core. I wish the present government will look into this interview and get wisdom on how to move forward as far as education is concern and more importantly as nation. I pray that Prof. Fafunwa Babatunde gentle soul R.I.P
Posted by: Makinwa Oluwole , on Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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* i believed the past ex head of state / president should read late professor Fafunwa’s interview on the nation education system and see where they have derailed the nation education system.pls the present government schld try and normalised it.
Posted by: raheem , on Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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