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June 12: Public mass education and democracy

Nigeria has had 63 years of experiment in statecraft and democritisation. But a country’s democracy is as robust as its public education system. This is why attention must go to basic education, especially in rural areas.
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Today is Nigeria’s Democracy Day – 30 years after the annulment of Nigeria’s presidential election with the largest voters turnout of 14 million. It is a day to pause, reflect upon and celebrate Africa’s most populous country’s 63-year-old democritisation process. The making of a government of the people, for the people and by the people, to use a well-known cliché.

For precision, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. This is tied to activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government.

From the foregoing, we can make five deductions, which will lead us to why public mass education reforms are important and how pedagogy needs to align with democritisation. That is, teaching and learning must create critical thinkers and doers who transform the society and sustain Nigeria’s democracy. Here are a few observations.

First, Nigeria’s 63-year-old experiment in democritisation has not yielded the best results for its citizens because politicians have not been transparent and accountable. Second, for a government to be of the people and for the people, a clear sense of ownership is required. Third, Nigeria’s electorate tends to vote for political leaders without understanding the issues at stake. Fourth, public mass education reforms develop and equip citizens with observation and critical thinking skills that would enable them to make better political choices. Fifth, an instrumentalised pedagogy is required to connect education to everyday living.

Nigeria’s 63-year-old democritisation process

In 1960 Nigeria gained political independence from Britain, with Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa leading a coalition government. But six years later, 1966 January, Balewa was killed in a coup and Maj-Gen Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi formed military a government.

However, the government lasted six months. In 1966 July, General Ironsi was killed in a counter-coup, Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon replaced him.

Nigeria plunged into the Biafran war in 1967 when three eastern states seceded as the Republic of Biafra, sparking three-year civil war, which ended in 1970.

Five years afterwards, 1975, Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohammed overthrew General Gowon and began the process of moving the federal capital to Abuja. Barely a year later, 1976, General Mohammed was assassinated in a failed coup attempt and Lt-General Olusegun Obasanjo, his deputy, replaced him and helped introduce the US-style presidential constitution.

Nineteen-seventy-nine elections brought Alhaji Shehu Shagari to power and he was reelected in 1983 amid accusations of irregularities. Three months after the elections, in December 1983, Maj-Gen Muhammad Buhari seized power in bloodless coup.

But Buhari’s government lasted for two years because Ibrahim Babangida seized power in bloodless coup, in 1985, and curtailed political activity.

It will take eight years, before elections would take place. This was the famous 1993 June 12 elections. It was an event many observers have described as the most significant in Nigeria’s post-independence political history. It is still viewed as the freest, fairest and most peaceful election ever held in Nigeria. But the military annulled the elections when preliminary results showed victory by Chief Moshood Abiola.

General Sani Abacha seized power, 1993 November and suppressed opposition. And in 1994, Moshood Abiola was arrested after proclaiming himself president. Abacha died in 1998 and was succeeded by Maj-Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar. Moshood Abiola died in custody the same year.

Africa’s most populous country would in 1999 hold parliamentary and presidential elections, Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as president. And in April 2003 Nigeria had its first civilian-run presidential elections since the end of military rule. Olusegun Obasanjo was elected for a second term despite EU observers reporting “serious irregularities”.

In April 2007 Umaru Yar’Adua of the ruling People’s Democratic Party won the presidential election but died May 2010 after a long illness. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, already acting in Yar’Adua’s stead, succeeded him.

The following year, March 2011, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan won presidential elections.

But lost in March 2015 to Muhammadu Buhari who won the presidential election, becoming the first opposition candidate to do so in Nigeria’s history. Four years later, in February of 2019 February, presidential elections were held after a last-minute delay of a week and Buhari was reelected.

And in February 2023, Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the presidential elections that is being contested in court as of the time of filing this editorial.

Read also: Tinubu’s omission of education in his inaugural address

Democracy and education

Democracy returned to Nigeria again in 1999 after 16 years of severe military rule, which were broken up by 82 days of civilian governance in 1993. Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar handed Olusegun Obasanjo, the victor of the national elections, the reins of power – May 29, 1999.

What’s the point of outlining Nigeria’s experiments in statecraft and democritisation process for an education focused media house such as Edugist?

The answer to this question is straightforward. A sense of history is important for nation building and a well rounded education is expected to provide this. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,”  George Santayana affirmed in ‘The Life of Reason,’ from the series Great Ideas of Western Man.

A robust democracy requires a well educated population, because it is based on majority rule. For the majority of a population to make enlightened and informed political choices at elections, a functional mass public education system is required.

Ensuring a well-informed citizenry is an essential purpose of our public education system. Students learn civics, governance, and the ideas and values that support democracy in classrooms all around the country. Nigerians must be informed about their roles in our democracy and their obligation to make decisions that affect the future of our country in order for our system of governance to survive. As future voters, our children must be made aware of the importance of their roles as citizens.

However, public education in Nigeria has been deteriorating in both rural and urban areas. Edugist’s recent undercover investigations public secondary schools at Ifo community, Ogun state shows a pitiful state of public schools. From an acute shortage of teachers, poor infrastructure, to a lack of discipline among students who roam the streets during school hours.

The number of out-of-school children has ballooned to about 20 million, according to UNESCO. And Adamu Adamu, the former minister of education confessed that he was unable to address the situation under his watch.

As new administrations at the federal and state levels assume office, it is important to pay close attention to public schools in rural areas. Without a robust public education system, fewer Nigerians will be educated and their will be mass illiteracy, which means a majority of Nigerians with dire consequences for democracy in Nigeria.

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