The Future By Us Education Summit – Rebuilding Nigeria’s Education Sector: Personal Reflection by Yinka-Alli Balogun

When the Executive Director of The World Changers Foundation, Gori Olusina Daniel said “The Future By Us movement does exactly what it says on the tin”, he was serious. This was not to be another government bashing session but an opportunity to see what we could do as ordinary (and in some cases extraordinary) people to have an impact on transforming the education system in Nigeria.

Regardless of the scale of the task and the wounds people had clearly suffered in the past, it would become more evident throughout the summit that people came with a genuine hope and the understanding that this was not another talk shop or one of many conferences. This was something different; people were here with a strong determination to create visible change.

When I entered the High Commission and walked up the stairs across the sparkling marble floors my mind went back to the last time I was in the building, a stark contrast to the smooth elegance before me. I couldn’t help but wonder who would be in attendance, what I would learn or even hope to contribute. By far, I received much more than I gave over the few days. I still wonder how I was so privileged to have even been invited to the summit, but I am truly grateful I did.

The “What Can We Do” ethos of the Summit resonated throughout and laid down a strong challenge to me personally and to everyone present. Listening to people speak brought back memories of some age-long ideas I have had and wondered what difference they could have made to the conversations that was going on, if I had kicked them off earlier. Also, there were new ideas flooding my mind; some outrageous and some reasonable.

“What is the point of Education?’ was the pressing question that was asked at the Summit. As much as it seemed obvious ‘to get educated’, it quickly became apparent that for Nigeria this was not really known. The lack of a clear vision for our education system and its finished products seemed to be at the heart of many of the problems identified. This was such a valuable lesson, that as well intentioned you are at providing solutions, if you have not got a firm grip of the problem you intend to solve and what that actually looks like you could end up becoming frustrated with your efforts.

Challenges

“I have to do something”

Comments made by the Hon. Minister struck home the fact that there was so much work to be done, both by the citizens as well as the public servants. How can we be so content with a system with a failure rate in the 90th percentile or at least not be ashamed enough to do something about it.

As much as it is easy to look and say ‘what is the point?’ which is exactly what I was told when I got home that very day, we must realise that nothing will change unless we are willing to put ourselves on the line. I was challenged and the most cliché point came to mind that if you are not part of the solution you simply are part of the problem. There is no neutral hiding place because if you allow things to persist, you are supporting the status quo and the people that are consistently under achieving and not even apologising for it that they appear justified in their actions. Even if it is only in a small way, if you are not saying NO you are saying YES.

The Education Minister called for help, which was somewhat unprecedented; bring your research, evidence and examples and we will listen! Although in my personal opinion, this statement is to be taken with a semi-lethal inject of salt, but the point is that people can hold him to account on that. In Nigerian terms that’s quite close to an open invitation!

The diversity of projects, ideas and areas of specialism was encouraging and even more so people’s passion. It was clear that this passion was more of a factor in pushing them to act than their direct education or training, which was music to the ears of the generalists or at least the professionally challenged like me. Areas ranged from advocacy, business regulation, legislation, mental reorientation to collective prosperity, stakeholder accountability measures to ensure power is not held in one place and jobs are delivered to high standard, training for teachers. And the list goes on…

As a person who has never even seen Nigeria with my own eyes, I was supremely uplifted by the enthusiasm to embrace the Diaspora.

Otunba Dele Ajayi Smith (President Nigerian Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) said “the Diaspora, whether born, schooled or relocated will play a leading role in changing Nigeria. The benefits of living in different societies can be utilised to developed good practise that will allow the country to propel its development, avoiding the pitfalls and learning the lessons from others”.

What a reminder that our unique background and experience, no matter how undesirable can become the very thing that allows us to make a difference where others cannot.  

The People

“Although we are few, we are surrounded by many”

As much as you believe good people and great examples exist, until you see or experience their work the illumination seems limited. This was so true for me because the stories and information generally about Nigeria can be so negative and the bitterly cynical attitude of people – which is not surprising given their direct and indirect experiences of suffering and for the older generation the witness of the crumbling and decay of something they had experiences as once being great.

Though I have only referred to a few examples, there were so many others mentioned and I believe so many others currently going unnoticed. The important point made about this issue was simply that even if the public do not notice what you are doing, those whose lives you touch do and that is the primary and most important impact anyone can have.

Beck International, Babs Ogunlola – “Can any good thing come from Oshodi”

When he spoke, there was just an injection of vitality. Sharing his desire to see others move forward was so striking. He told the story about how his teachers regularly told the children they would never amount to anything and that they were useless. Only 6 students passed their JAMB (pre-university examination) from the whole school. He decided in himself, that even if only one person should pass that exam it would be him, and if two it would be him and someone else. As we listened, everybody laughed but that was a true event. Instead of taking his own success and moving on, he began to teach at his school and help others to pass the exam. Today, not so long later, this small offer of assistance has become an education consultancy that literally transforms the lives and expected end of so many Nigerian youths. His passion and position to see the positive in every situation even if that is only the way you are going to improve it was an uplifting and empowering example to a appreciate and replicate. “The Nigerian I was born in will not be the Nigerian I will die in” …Amen to that.

Dr Moses, Primary and Secondary School Founder – “I went in to bridge a gap…I am looking at the poor”

He spoke in a simple manner but the points were no less power-filled. ‘We cannot afford not to lend to the poor because they will always be among us.’

Dr. Moses runs a school where he charges ONLY N3000 (£12) per student, per term for 5000 students. That’s incredible.

“Those who have enriched their pockets from the wealth of the nation turn around to build schools and steal from people again with exorbitant school fees. Their focus is on funds not the people which can be seen in the pitiful pay of teachers that have no correlation between the high fees each student pays.”

Dr Moses’ desire was to stimulate the government into action – “If I as an individual/family can have this impact, how much more the government with their vast resources.”

The simplicity of the solutions he advocated for and the motivation of his faith were both humbling and striking for me. When asked why he does what he does, he responded,

“I am a Christian…as long as God blesses me I will continue to be a blessing to others”.

Gori noted, “The point of Dr Moses’ amazing feat and story is not for us to stand up and clap for him but to learn…he has done it, so can you”

I just thought to myself, what more do we need? What is holding us back from making our faith relevant to ourselves and others? I thought about my reasons for not proactively leading change; ‘Maybe I don’t have the contacts or expertise to do anything. Or who am I to lead any change of valuable credibility? Isn’t it arrogant to think I can do anything?

What a list of excuses!!! What is really the difference between these people and me? Simple: persistence, courage and faith in the realisation of their goal. Impossible is simply nothing. Period.

It is always a great challenge to see true people of faith practising what they preach, defying the criticism and excuses, making the impossible possible and visible to all.

Highlights

Pitching ideas to the Media Aide of the Hon. Minister for Education – Blessed as I was to sit around the boardroom table on the final day with Dr Moses on one side and eventually the Media Aide of the Hon Minister for Education on the other. After asking about his job and successes, I asked about the possibility of giving media coverage to all the excellent work that was being done around the country just to encourage those involved and remind the nation that good things are going on, effort is not wasted and there is hope for the future. Although there was by no means any assurance or confirmation given that such a thing would be done, the process of challenging and scrutinising those elected to serve the people will one day become something of norm for all Nigerians and will massively change the face of politics therein for generations to come. As it was said, the government are the people, the people are the government so I believe I started governing and many more will follow.

Being in the presence of those at the vanguard of change – hearing them speak, seeing the joy and genuine pain when they articulated their achievements and hopes for the future. Watching what was aptly identified as the ‘silent revolution’ of change unfold before my eyes and seeing excellence in individuals like Gori who brought to focus the enduring value of soft skills of diplomacy and protocol that are so easy to downplay as natural. I observed him working the room with grace and poise in true diplomatic form. I smiled and realised that reaction can be just as important as action and being able to make this valuable takes real hard work and discipline to master. 

Seeing the work, the hard evidence – Seeing the work individuals and groups had done was a strong reminder that the desire for change was not born yesterday. The research, documents and living testimonies of the benefactors of people’s effort might have been questioned but not brought down by any amount of Government or individual denial. 

Introducing myself – As I sat down in the background of the boardroom, trying to fade into insignificance, I lightly said to the person next to me “I hope we don’t have to introduce ourselves because I don’t really have anything to say.”

Even before anyone spoke you could see their “Dr” status, their established organisations and groups. With the little research I had done, I knew this was serious business and then there was me! As the request came for introductions, they went around the table and people modestly introduced themselves as if they had achieved nothing. Then my turn came and passed.

Looking back on the day, it appeared I didn’t have much to talk about, but tomorrow I will. I surely will. I am now ever so confident that this change can happen, and I am so glad I am part of this historic awakening. Let’s make it happen, let’s step up and lead wherever we are. ACT WE MUST.

About Joseph Iregbu

I'm a writer, purpose guy, speaker and business consultant. My passion is to help people live with purpose and not waste their lives. I live in the UK with my wife, Temi and our gorgeous Isabel Juda. Let's connect on Twitter and Facebook.