I’ve just finished watching the Super Eagles reception. It was great fun watching our leaders pander to the footballers they had nearly abandoned. On a personal note, I couldn’t help wondering if the leaders would give that much time of day to the ordinary footballer on the street trying to make it. Even more to the point, Sunday Mba was just another struggling footballer three weeks ago – do the many struggling sports men and women in our country occupy any little patch of thought in the minds of our leaders, especially people whose jobs it is to administer the institutions of sports in Nigeria.
Let’s get it straight – I am not against the awards. Darn it, the boys made the nation proud, and united us all, albeit for a few heady hours. They deserve all they get. However, the question must be asked: have we built the foundations that are needed to produce more winning teams? All the little boys in the villages painting “MBA” on their green jerseys of all shapes and sizes, do they have the facilities to play on in order to become competitive? Does the Nigerian Football Federation have a program that allows these newly inspired children to be discovered and groomed for the future?
We keep failing when we hop on to reward one-off results, neglecting the building of foundations and institutions.
Worse still, we are in danger of painting a very bad picture of what really deserves rewarding in our country.
Awards. How many teachers have we honored nationally? How many engineers or doctors, doing brave things everyday in the face of harsh operational conditions get mentions at national level? When will we reward Mathematics teachers to make them feel valued, so kids see and want to become maths teachers too? The grassroots coaches who brought Mba up, they will never be on national TV, and that is a problem.
If we do not build institutions and a clear progression path for education at all levels, including sports, and reward the people who build those institutional pathways, we will continue to have sporadic results. Sadly, however the institution and foundation gap is widening.
Boko Haram is a clear result of the education gap, along with poverty and social inequality. Militancy and oil thievery in the Niger Delta is also a result of that education gap.
But the trouble with education problems is that you can’t just turn a tap on education and knowledge just flows. Education thrives on systematic planning and nurturing. The fruits do not come immediately. Fruits one wants to see in 15 years, the seeds must be sown today.
So one must ask the question: are we too late? Is the time frame within which we should have built a proper education system for the future expired? Maybe not, but certainly we have gone where past where we could have done it easily; when teachers were heroes, and Youth Corps members could go everywhere.
These days teachers are being hunted by terrorists for being Haram, and young graduates are too afraid to go teach in remote villages where they could wake up a pile of ashes for daring to do exactly what their country expects of them. In sports, in football, the people who should be building foundations have found that their bread is better buttered in Glass Houses and have no incentive to slave in inhuman conditions training kids for long term development.
So the time we could have fixed education easily passed a while back. But we have no options but try still. To rescue the little hope that remains of the future of Nigeria, we really must try to fix education. If it means arming teachers with guns, as well as chalks, so be it. But by all means, our education problem must be solved. If we can’t, the consequences are too horrible to imagine.