By Muyiwa Kayode
Okay, so cows invaded a state primary school in Edo State and the social media went crazy as the video went viral. One man even recorded his own video to express his views on the matter, calling on the state governor and asking him how he would feel if those primary school kids were his. Many condemned the cows, quite naturally, and of course their owners. Against the backdrop of the herdsmen controversy, a lot of people saw this as an opportunity to score a point. They see it as a perfect example of the excesses of the herdsmen, which it is. But for me, this is not the point.
Did anyone see that school? Did all these commentators see the broken windows and the collapsed ceiling? Seriously, does it look like a learning environment where we should send our kids in this 21st Century? I am shocked that this is not the question people are asking. Apparently the school has no fence to protect the poor kids from these kinds of invasion. Very sad and scandalous! In an age where schools with proper fences are being violated and kids are being kidnapped, we have state schools that do not even have ordinary fences. Yet, people are raving about herdsmen who probably never went to school to receive any formal education and who for all we know are suffering from the same poverty that afflicts the poor kids we see in this picture. I am sad and distraught that most people do not see the full picture but rather have jumped on the bandwagon of anti-herdsmen commentary.
I am shocked beyond words that this is the kind of learning environment we can still find in Edo State where we hope leaders of tomorrow can be groomed and bred. Truth is, that school is not even fit for those cows to live in. I was a visitor of former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar several years ago. He took us round his farm and cattle ranch. Where the cattle were kept was far better than this place they call a school. I had always believed that our northern states should have developed from herding cattle across hundreds of kilometers to building massive dairy farms with far greater economic benefits. If only what I saw in Minna had been replicated several times over, we wouldn’t have the socio-political challenge of the current herdsmen matter that we have today. The big shame of this whole episode for me, is that such a place is called a school and we actually have innocent kids being taken there every day to learn. The picture is sickening. Seriously, we must begin to insist our public officials send their children to public schools. Because some of them actually attended public schools when this country was being run by sane leaders. Why aren’t they ashamed to be presiding over this kind of rot?
Yet Edo State is a place I am fond of because of its history and culture. Benin holds some of the best aspects of our history as a people. As a secondary school student, I acted in the play Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, by legendary playwright Ola Rotimi. The play was directed by one of Ola Rotimi’s proteges at the then University of Ife. It was a transformational experience for me and the quality of performance was amazing considering that we were just secondary school students. That play opened my eyes to the incredible history of Benin City and the proud heritage of the ancient kingdom of Benin. We learnt about the great kings of ancient Benin and their incredible military prowess. We learnt about the treasures of the old Benin Kingdom, treasures so valuable the British looted them and still have some of the treasures with them till this day. Only three years ago, Dr. Mark Walker, great grandson of one of the British invaders of Benin returned two of the artifacts stolen 120 years ago. The history of Benin is so rich and inspiring but like much of our proud past, it has largely been submerged in the sea of corruption, profligacy and crass hooliganism which has characterized our political class in recent decades. The state’s leadership should rediscover this proud past and position Benin as the cultural icon of our nation. Edo State should have some of the greatest iconic monuments to be found in Nigeria based on its history. When it comes to art and craft Edo State stands head and shoulders above many other states. The government should think big and commission iconic monuments that will draw people from all over the world. Let’s take the Queen Idia mask, made popular by FESTAC 77. She was the powerful Queen Mother of Benin Kingdom in the 16th Century. Now imagine a 200 metre high monument of this mask, welcoming visitors to the city of Benin! This is the kind of cultural branding that can restore the lost glory of this great city.
For education, the state should do a lot better than that school invaded by the cows. In fact, the school looks like the ruins left by the British invasion of 120 years ago. The relatively young government of Obaseki has a lot of work to do indeed. Meanwhile Edo has as its slogan, “The Heartbeat of the Nation”. How is Edo the heartbeat of the nation? I cannot find any justification or rationale for this slogan. But in fairness to the governor, he actually pledged to make Edo State the heartbeat of the nation when he assumed office. He promised to create 200,000 jobs and develop the state based on comparative advantage in agriculture, agri-business and industrialization while promoting entrepreneurship and vocational skills. I hope he will give adequate attention to education in addition to vocational training. Because there is no development unless you develop the people. And with the type of school we see invaded by the cows, there is certainly a great deal of change required in the state’s primary education.
Said the governor last November, “The task is to bring change to Edo. To make Edo the state of our dream and the true heartbeat of Nigeria.”
I wish the governor every success in that difficult task. However, he should seek a different brand positioning for the state rather than seek to position it as The Heartbeat of the Nation. Because seriously, no other state can beat the FCT to that positioning. So, I think it would be more appropriate to label ABUJA the heartbeat of the nation, for two reasons. One, the shape of Abuja on the map actually resembles that of a heart, and it is right in the heart of our nation. Secondly, this is where our political class congregates to take decisions that give the rest of us irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure.