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Goodluck to Oxford, bad luck to Nigerian universities

Goodluck sugarcoating failure

Former president Goodluck Jonathan spoke to the Oxford Union yesterday (Monday 24 October). This was as part of the “Transformation Agenda” project by Jonathan’s handlers to transform someone who was an intellectual pygmy in office into a statesman after his (s)election defeat last year.

While his successor Muhammadu Buhari’s incompetence and bumbling in office may be making some Nigerians see Jonathan’s rule with rose-tinted glasses, the fact is that if the latter was as good as the current spin, a dangerously flawed candidate such as Buhari would have lost his deposit in the (s)election.

Jonathan said in the speech that developing the capacity of the youth through education was a route towards creating wealth. Not many would dispute this. The real issue is what Jonathan actually did for education when he had a chance to make a difference. He was governor of Bayelsa State from December 2005, Vice President from May 2007, Acting President from February 2010 and President from May that year until May 2015. His record in education and everything else was a huge F for failure.

He claimed to “provide” infrastructure for the schools in Bayelsa State. He didn’t provide any evidence of this, but this report claimed that his old primary school in Otuoke is in serious disrepair, with pupils sitting on the bare floor.

Not much investment in developing the capacity of these children in Jonathan's old primary school
Not much investment in developing the capacity of these children in Jonathan’s old primary school

His next claim was that he started building two special secondary schools for gifted students and a programme to send other elite students to the best schools in the country. The argument against selective education is that every child deserves the opportunity to be educated in decent schools. There is evidence suggesting that while selective schools based on ability help their students, it has a negative effect on overall educational achievements and has a negative impact on the poorest children – the kids from the sort of background that Jonathan came from. The idea of sending the best students in his state to the best schools in the country is not really one that shows he made education “a top priority” as he claimed. Real value for education would have meant improving the standards of all schools in his state to ensure the best education was available to all children. He clearly did nothing of the sort.

As president, he claimed he started a scheme for First Class graduates in which 100-120 were provided with scholarships to gain further degrees abroad. Once again, this may be good for those chosen, but the country would have benefited more if Jonathan tried to drag Nigerian universities up to the standards of those abroad that those top students were sent to. That way, more Nigerian students would have been exposed to a first rate education and this would have had a multiplier effect on wealth generation, making it more widespread.

He also credited himself with establishing new universities. Nigeria definitely needs more universities to meet ever-growing demand. But standards and conditions are nothing near how it was when Jonathan was a student. He was, not surprisingly, silent about the decay in public universities in the country under his watch.

Jonathan then padded the rest of his speech with soundbites and unverifiable claims about achievements of his youth entrepreneurial schemes and his discredited “Transformation Agenda”, that was described as “transforming hot air”” in this piece:

Goodluck transforming hot air

He concluded claiming that his efforts led to “an era of unprecedented economic growth for Nigeria”. Not quite. The growth was fuelled by unprecedented high oil prices.

Jonathan was an unmitigated failure as a president and this is why many Nigerians were keen to see the back of him. He now seems to be putting in more work as a former president than he ever did as the top man, to spin failure as something else. He is playing on the intelligence of Nigerians. No amount of sugarcoating, even in the most hallowed institutions of higher learning, can turn a pile of manure into gold.

Jonathan should go and give a speech at a Nigerian public university, rather than Oxford, so that the world could contrast his lies about making education a top priority with the reality of his surroundings.

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