When I learnt that Nigeria signed a nuclear deal about two weeks ago with Russia to build power plants to the tune of $80 billion, my heart dropped from the top to the bottom of my stomach with a thud. Four nuclear plants are projected to be designed and constructed to the tune of $20 billion each by the Russian state-run nuclear group, Rosatam Corp.
What saddened me was why the authorities could be so disconnected from the aspirations of the people. Nuclear energy is far from our list of priorities as a country. The same nuclear energy that has been giving Iran a lot of trouble and hostility for years from the global nuclear cabal is what we just want to embark on. If Nigeria should be bothered about anything nuclear for now, it should not be more than the nuclear family.
Nuclear energy in a situation where many Nigerians lack education is a waiting disaster and looming genocide. There are at least 64 million Nigerian adults that are illiterate, according to the National Mass Education Commission. The Chairman of the Commission, Esther Udehi, said so in September last year. She added that “we all know that an illiterate is a danger, not only to himself, but to the society at large.”
As if that is not bad enough, the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EAGMR) says Nigeria has the record for having the highest number of out-of-school children. We have the largest chunk of the 12 countries (followed by Pakistan, Ethiopia, India, Philippines, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Kenya, Yemen, Mali and South Africa) that account for 47% of the entire world’s out-of-school children.
For the sake of our collective peace, let nuclear energy be out of the equation now. There are many sources of energy that we are yet to fully explore like hydro, solar, thermal, coal and so on. Why then expend such a prohibitive amount of money on such a venture when half of it can overhaul our education completely?
Let’s leave nuclear energy alone. What is urgently needed is to energise our education so that the good old days of the past will be restored. There was a time when primary school leavers from the nation’s primary schools could write letters in English and indigenous languages. There was a time when public secondary schools offered standard education.
What goes for education in many of our public schools is nothing more than elementary literacy. Education in its essence is lacking whereas the quality of a nation is directly proportional to the quality of education possessed by its citizens.
There are three urgent things to be done to revamp the ailing education sector especially at the basic level. The first is the infrastructural overhaul because most of the structures that house our primary and secondary schools are dilapidated. Some pupils receive lessons from underneath the trees while others are vulnerable to danger or death if the walls around, or the roofs above, them collapse.
Through investment in the infrastructure, the beauty of the learning environment would be good and this would positively impact on the learners. Environment attracts and repels. If the school environment is made how it should be, it would boost the productivity of the teachers and the learners. The same way political party secretariats were built in the various local governments of Nigeria at a point during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, let every local Government witness a revolutionary overhaul of all its public schools.
Then, teaching should be made more attractive than it is now through incentives and good salary to teachers. As pointed out by Adedeji and Olaniyan in their 2011 report, “Teachers in many African countries are working in challenging conditions that are aggravated by poor remuneration; delay in payment of salaries, allowances and promotions; scarce teaching and learning resources; and disrespect from government, parents and the community at large”.
When teaching at the primary and secondary school levels is left to those who are not good at any other thing, the society cannot have anything better than the quality of those teachers. This is why one way of making brilliant people to voluntarily take teaching as a profession is according teachers respect and paying them good salaries. A doctor cures the body; the teacher cures the soul.
Lastly, education should be made free and compulsory. With infrastructural facilities in place and quality and well-remunerated teachers in the classrooms, learners would learn better. This is the way to go, not the way to some nuclear phantom.