7th June, 2018
By Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò
It has been a while since last I contributed to the discussion of the idea of restructuring in Nigeria in the Nigerian press. [ [https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2016/08/11/time-call-question-biafra/][https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2016/06/16/want-federalism-fight/][http://staging.pmnewsnigeria.com/2016/08/11/time-to-call-the-question-of-biafra/][http://staging.pmnewsnigeria.com/2016/06/16/you-want-federalism-fight-for-it/]. Restructuring continues to sit atop the public discourse respecting how to move the country forward. What has become increasingly clear is that there is a lot of wisdom we can glean from the Yorùbá proverb that says: it is with the slivers in the folds of the wrap that we begin the business of eating òlèlè/móínmóín. In this series of articles, I take my cue from this wisdom. We need to begin with the small things that hold analogies with the big thing we desire to comprehend.
My basic argument is that everyone has been so focused on restructuring as if it were limited to only the grosser political sphere, there is barely any recognition that restructuring in other areas of our collective lives that would be considered minor has not only been proceeding apace. It has been characterized by remarkable, indisputable success that has redounded to our collective well-being and individual welfare. In this first part, we focus on two areas of our collective lives that have witnessed restructuring—one with a positive outcome; the other with a negative result—but both providing solid analogies for how better to understand the idea of restructuring. These are the entertainment industry and the education sector, respectively. In the second and final part, we explore the rarely discussed conceptual conundrums that underlie the phenomenon of restructuring especially where it concerns the exigencies of federalism.
Let us consider the entertainment industry. For those of us who grew up in the sixties of the last century, we are quite familiar with Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, DuroLadipo, Moses Adejumo, Akin Ogungbe, and OyinAdejobi, to mention a few. They were the giants of Nigerian theatre of Yorùbá inflection despite having no formal training beyond their basic education. But it is not their greatness or their sterling contributions to the development of theatre and the evolution of Nigeria’s booming movie industry that rivet us.
What calls for comment was the mode of operation that dominated the entertainment industry back then.
Here is a list of titans in another neck of the entertainment woods: Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, I.K. Dairo, Idowu Animashaun, Prince Adekunle, Dele Abiodun, Ojoge Daniel, to limit myself to Jùjú music.
Certainly, all these artistes fronted collectives that were their bands and troupes. But, one and all, the leaders were the composers, the choreographers, conductors, and so on, all rolled into one. I am sure that many of their band/troupe members contributed original ideas and helped in diverse ways to produce the artifacts by which their respective groups came to be known. Still, the leader was everything.
Now, no one would deny that the model worked and gave us the names we just reeled out above. Simultaneously, given what happened later, one can reasonably aver that that success was severely limited, that the model never really allowed for an economy of scale and, most importantly, many talented individuals with diverse capacities and abilities to shine in specific areas of their arts never had the chance to develop themselves and, by so doing, multiply the possibilities inherent in their respective industries and genres.
What’s all this got to do with restructuring? A lot, as we shall see presently. No doubt, it is hard to argue that the system that produced the titans of the arts mentioned above was a failure. And that is not my point. But, if we assimilate the legends to the center and their associates to the constituent units in a federal system, such was the dominance of the titans that only few of their subordinates made it on their own. Those who did only managed to do so through conflict and very rarely did they make it for as long as that system persisted. Think here, for those in the know, of the divergent careers of LerePaimo and Bob Aladeniyi. This is not to ignore the fact that Sunny Ade started out with Moses Adejumo and Ebenezer Obey had a stint with Fatai Rolling Dollar. But it is noteworthy that they left their leaders early and can never really be said to have become likely stars in their original band or troupe.
Fast forward to the eighties of the last century. Sunny Ade started crediting some of his bandmembers for co-writing songs with him. That is, he began to take seriously the importance of separating roles and allowing his band members to take due credit for their artistic personal contributions to the whole. From an orientation where the leader was an embodiment of the whole and the members were, practically, nothing except instruments of the leader, we began to witness the entry of one that took separation seriously and recognized the integrity of the parts/members and their autonomy. Songs were not just the leader’s, irrespective of what substantive contributions may have come from members—think of how solos are registered and attributed in jazz ensembles—some songs began to have more than one composer in Sunny Ade’s band, to continue with our example.
The real breakthrough, though, came from the video industry. The pioneers here, too, started out trying to be everything, especially when it came to casting, producing, and acting. Over time, the technological imperatives started asserting themselves. Lighting on stage is not the same as lighting in the open or in a forest; the demands of the small screen and the constraints of the videocassette led to separation of functions; and expertise in discrete domains became inescapable. The result is that the video industry began to undermine the solo-leader-centred model of making art in the performing arts. From the previous model of the leader uniting everything in himself—they were mostly male—the new model was marked by a palpable decentralization. Consequently, all those whose contributions used to be tucked into the success of the leader began to not only be recognized but also to be paid for their respective contributions to the making of their artistic objects. Separation and specialization heralded an exponential growth in the entertainment industry.
That is, the Nigerian entertainment industry restructured. No, there were no great debates. People just began to do their own thing and letting the market and those willing to risk funding them—the producers and marketers—decide their fortunes. Marquees began to emerge and the division of labour in arts and entertainment became highly sophisticated. From an era in which the leader did everything, we emerged into one in which we now have a panoply of different experts. We now have producers of sound and pictures, engineers, trainers, script writers and, a new category, script improvers, lyricists, songwriters, light designers, script editors, light technicians, sound editors, script editors, photographers, videographers; the list goes on. From an era when Art Alade was one of the few impresarios and comperes around, we now have an era in which MCs not only abound, they make good living on their presentation skills. I am leaving out the explosion in comedy which is even more noted for separation than the rest of the arts except for poetry.
What does all this mean? With the freeing up of the creative energies of the federating units of the republic of arts and entertainment, such was the explosion in the productivity of the sector that it vaulted Nigeria’s economy into the biggest in Africa. We must not forget that this was done despite the execrable efforts of Ibrahim Babangida to turn the Performing Musicians’ Association of Nigeria (PMAN) into a federal parastatal!
This is an example of restructuring that could even be dubbed anarchic. The stifling centralization of the arts and entertainment industry was subverted by a surreptitious but very effective restructuring that unleashed the energies of the federating units and prospered the world within and beyond Nigeria.But, as you may have noticed, I do not see any underside to the process of restructuring in the republic of the arts. The only underside to all this is the part that successive administrations ought to have taken care of: enacting and enforcing effective anti-piracy laws for the protection of intellectual property. This they have failed to do and the reason for that failure, too, may partly owe to the need for restructuring of the polity. This will be addressed in a later piece.
Let us now consider the education sector.The sphere of education is the exact reverse of what took place in the entertainment industry. In the first case, the industry expanded outwards; in the second, the sector constricted to the point of collapse.In the education sphere, a thriving structure fell victim to the crudities of unimaginative military rulers and their intellectual aiders and abettors, especially in the universities. The outcome is what we have now: a rigid, centralized structure run by equally unimaginative, power-hungry intellectuals afflicted with terminal cases of jobbery and time-serving. They are incapable of shame at presiding over an education system that consistently fails its beneficiaries [victims?] and the humanity they are trained to serve within and beyond Nigeria. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Again, I take us back to the sixties and seventies of the last century. There used to be what were called grant-aided schools founded by voluntary agencies. These were mostly mission and community-owned schools. The regional governments, then, were responsible for the salaries of the teachers in such schools. For the rest, the schools were funded from the fees paid by students and subventions from their sponsors. Then, there were federal and state-owned colleges. As well, local governments owned and ran teacher training and vocational and technical colleges. In short, a medley of schools and other training institutions owned by diverse agencies dotted the country’s landscape. Finally, there were schools owned by private proprietors who ran their schools as profit-making enterprises from primary to secondary levels.
The Inspectorate was the glue that held everything together back then where government participation was concerned. Yes, government, through the respective ministries of education had, as part of the bureaucracy, solid inspectorate divisions staffed by competent professionals doing due diligence overseeing teacher competence, effective administration, and overall quality of instruction given in the schools. The inspectorate resident in the ministries of education was complemented by equivalents within the voluntary agencies that ran schools. The Anglican Church, too, had its own inspectorate charged with quality control within its parochial school system. The entire system was marked by decentralization and each region managed its own affairs and the federal ministry of education was concerned solely with federal institutions, period. Local governments were responsible, for the most part, for primary education.
Each region had a coterie of technical/vocational schools, again established by governments and voluntary agencies, and colleges of technology and polytechnics were state affairs duly moderated and superintended by their respective ministries of education. Meanwhile, all secondary schools were superintended by their Boards of Governors, as they were styled then, made up of civic-minded citizens with differing levels of connection to the schools they served but motivated mostly by their interest in being associated with illustrious institutions turning out alumni/alumnae they could be proud of. It is important to point out that those who served on those boards bore fiduciary responsibilities for the institutions they superintended and state governments, too, were not the little gods that the military turned them into while military misrule lasted.
Higher education was not exempted. The federal government ran two universities, Ibadan and Lagos, respectively, and the Yaba College of Technology and a handful of colleges of education and technical education. There was a Higher Education Division within the Federal Ministry of Education that served as a clearing house for issues pertaining to those institutions. For the rest, their Governing Councils held sway over them. The regional universities, too, were under their governing councils which answered to the regional political authorities. Contemporary discussions of the problems facing higher education in Nigeria often refer to this period as a sort of golden age.
It seems as if many forget, especially many of my generation, that, thanks to this widespread decentralization of education and its governance across the country, it was an era marked by extreme competition amongst the many levels, institutions, regions, and models involved in the educational enterprise.
The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, under the inspiration of its principal sponsors—Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kingsley Mbadiwe, Nwafor Orizu, Mbonu Ojike, and others—borrowed from the American education system and pioneered the semester system, the Cumulative Grade Point Average right down to what the more stolid British-inflected University of Ibadan denizens derided as “grade inflation” with its grading system.
The north, through Ahmadu Bello University, pioneered the School of Basic Studies as a pre-matriculation preparatory step to full enrollment for students who would otherwise not be eligible for straight admission to the university. That did not stop many of its graduates becoming titans in their respective fields. And for a glorious while in the seventies, ABU had the top Architecture and Pharmacy programmes in the country.
The University of Ife was where the experiment in mother-tongue education at the primary level was pioneered to great acclaim. Its medical school introduced a two-part system under which all the students first earned a first degree in the basic health sciences, studying together and being trained as a team in simulation of how their real life professional engagements would unfold post-graduation before proceeding to their respective specialties. Ife’s Pharmacy school would later challenge ABU’s preeminence by incorporating the study of and research into indigenous herbal remedies into its instructional regime.
The military came in and the destruction began. The centralizing proclivities coded into the military’s DNA, coupled with the pragmatic exigencies of issuing and obeying orders in circumstances where simple mistakes can mean death for many, led it to begin the process, even if unwitting, of dismantling the decentralized mode of operation that had served well the federal system it inherited post-coup in 1966.
No, there was no inevitability to what followed. But it so happened that the military rulers drew to themselves intellectuals and political operators more attuned to saying yes to the military’s little thought-out schemes.In the name of a bastard unity that was badly tested by a bloody civil war, our intellectuals in and out of universities and in the political sphere were willing to go along with insane levels of centralization in all areas the horrible consequences of which is palpable in the virtual collapse and bankruptcy of the education system that we are all witnessing today.
First, it was the universities. Under the pretext of administrative convenience, the creation of new states in 1976 was the occasion for taking over regional universities. Certainly, federalizing them was not the only option or even the best one. Many other institutions, for example, the Odua Group of Companies, were left for the new states to figure out what to do with them. And the Interim Common Services Agency took care of northern outfits that used to be owned by the defunct Northern Region.
Soon the behemoth that is the National Universities Commission (NUC) was crafted from the old Higher Education Division of the Federal Ministry of Education and it kept adding powers that have no legal legs to stand on in a proper federal system. It morphed from a clearing house with advisory responsibilities to the omnipotent and omniscient institution it pretends to be today pronouncing on how many buildings a proprietor must have before being granted a licence to operate a university to determining benchmarks for post-graduate degree curricula for all degree-awarding institutions in Nigeria. Not even communist China allows such a monster to run its higher education! Unfortunately, it is hard convincing people, despite evidence palpable to all, that the more power accrued to the NUC the lower the university system has sunk. It is the poster child for the defects of centralization run amok!
The proliferation of unity schools deepened federal participation in retail education that is best left to local initiatives.
The creation of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) completed the unwarranted decimation of local control of and participation in the most basic of education retail: primary education.
If there is one area where participation by all and sundry is to be encouraged, it is the education sphere. As long as the federating units—local government, states, missions and individuals—were agitated by the fate of their children and exercised by what kind of education their wards were receiving and in what physical spaces, and they knew that they had primary responsibility for the state of both, they were engaged with their schools, knew the teachers personally and were probably fellow congregants in the same churches or mosques and were more inclined to contribute willingly to the cost of running the schools. Successful schools turning out successful pupils was a source of pride both for the schools and the teachers who run them, the communities in which they are located, and the people who live in them.
Beyond civic pride, the schools competed with one another and we who attended them proclaimed our loyalties and did all we could to fly their banners. This was truer of high schools where certain principals so put their personal stamp on their schools that we who attended such schools under their care and superintendence are all too happy to identify ourselves as their wards! Different schools birthed different traditions that formed their respective lore and they all took a thousand and one routes to attaining educational distinction for their graduates.
The education was comprehensive. Sports competitions became the subject of lore and certain cohorts marked their eras by who were the champion athletes, the best goalkeepers, the most accomplished bowlers, netballers, and so on. I can go on.
Manic centralization meant the levelling of differences, less participation by previously active constituencies, an apathy that reflected in the fact that people began to think that manna would always come from the federal heaven and all they need do is to be on the right side of the federal might. The creative diversity that used to mark the operation of all levels of education, especially the universities, fell victim to the puerile apparatchik mentalities of pretend geniuses that often helm an alphabet soup of federal parastatals: NUC, NUBTE, UBEC, JAMB, and so on. The irony is that the more centralization was foisted on the education sector, the more chaotic it became, and the less quality attended its products.
In this piece, we have seen how centralization gave way to the equivalent of federalism, properly construed, in the entertainment industry and there was nothing not to like in the outcome. And how, in the sphere of education, federalism succumbed to the false promise of centralization and it has been, on balance, an ill wind that blows no one any good.
Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A.