By Ganiyat Fawehinmi
Democracy is the opportunity given to the citizens of a nation to choose a leader who is also expected to be educated on the needs of the people of that nation. The most important sector and ministry in any nation is the education sector.
In Nigeria, among those who appreciated the importance of education and the supervising ministry were Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN of blessed memory who as a minister of finance spent approximately 55 per cent of the national budget on education; my late husband, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN and (Senior Associate of the Masses, SAM) who was a strong advocate for free education at all levels, and late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola who had the best plan for industrialisation, education and a unique market economy for Nigeria and who was a strong beneficiary of qualitative education.
These three sages who all vied for the presidency and were denied the opportunity of ruling this country, had one thing in common: They emerged from the pangs of poverty through the acquisition of qualitative education. However, the most painful of them all was Bashorun Abiola who was voted for by about 80 per cent of the populace and was denied the presidency by the so-called evil genius, General Ibrahim Babangida [retd] who wickedly annulled the election.
That election was the first proper indication of a true democracy in Nigeria when the electorate at that time were fully educated about the intentions of Abiola and the whole country agreed with him and voted en masse for him. Today, we celebrate June 12 as it is still the freest and the fairest election held in this country. In my capacity as a human rights advocate and the widow of late Chief Fawehinmi, a strong supporter of Bashorun Abiola, I christen today ‘June 12 MKO Abiola Day’. As a citizen of this country guaranteed by Section 25 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [as amended], I call on the National Assembly to propose a bill to the President to make 12th of June every year MKO Abiola Day.
It is unfortunate that the educational system in Nigeria today has nosedived tremendously. Education allows for an individual to develop not just intellectually, mentally or physically but allows for and enhances the productivity of not just an individual or a tribe, but all ethnic communities, institutions, industries, or any special group however described in all nations of the world. This is because the knowledge procured and developed would be improved in such a way that the profitability quotient would be obvious and would be of immense benefit to many rather than a few, without any prejudice.
In regards to Nigeria specifically, I have watched keenly the policies of the federal government on education since its inception; and I can tell you by 2015 that there would be nothing left to build on because the educational system would have collapsed if proper reforms were not put in place. There was a time when graduates received two or three employment letters and they had the choice of which one suited them most. Now our brilliant graduates are roaming the streets without any gainful employment. This is very sad.
Nigeria as it stands today is so insecure, such that it has resulted in preventable deaths of innocent and unsuspecting Nigerians.
If Abiola were alive and had been sworn in as president, Nigeria would not be suffering from the hands of the dreaded Boko Haram sect or the threats of MEND. As a captain of industry and a well respected statesman, he would have set a unique precedent and any government coming after him would understand and appreciate how Nigerians, the Nigerian state and economy should be treated. Probably plane crashes would have been a thing of the past. And if there was a plane crash there might have been a reduction in casualties and we would be able to read the black box in Nigeria.
It would have even been possible for millions of jobs to be ready and waiting for every graduate and food definitely would have been surplus. I recall his campaign statement, which states that: “if I am elected President no Nigerian would go to bed on an empty stomach.” Our health system, I know for sure would have been one of the best in the world as it was when I gave birth to my first five children in this country at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idiaraba.
The greatness of Nigeria is gradually being taken away from us and I pray that with constant damage we are seeing day by day, we are still able to salvage what is left of this nation. Although we are the most prayerful nation, prayer alone would not solve the problem. We must be proactive. We must be equipped with the most necessary and fundamental applicable practical knowledge to solve problems and create opportunities.
I would like to see a government in Nigeria, which would run its affairs like these three late sages, Awolowo, Gani and Abiola who predicated their professional, political and democratic practices on three things: Sourcing of knowledge; reappraisal and enhancement of that knowledge and the practical use and enhancement of knowledge for the betterment of the nation.
Last May 29, a day that should have been labelled 'Democracy Day', the President proposed that the name University of Lagos be changed to Moshood Abiola University. I would take it that the President was ill advised and I suggest he should have a rethink. The Nigerian tertiary institutions need infrastructural upgrade to be able to compete globally with their counterparts such as Oxford University, Cambridge University, University of London [all in the UK], Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT, USA], University of Heidelberg (Germany), University of Tokyo, Osaka University and Kyoto University [all in Japan] and University of Provence [France] to name a few.
I would recommend that he should rather rename the date June 12, MKO Abiola Day and upgrade Moshood Abiola Polytechnic to a federal university with every single meaningful facility of a first-class university like University of Lagos so that it grows like some of the first generation universities in Nigeria.
No doubt, late Abiola was a unique individual and a president Nigeria deserved to have. He built and improved lives with his wealth while he was alive. He built several businesses and gave out several scholarships to indigent students, some of who are rich men and women today. We should not allow President Goodluck Jonathan to trivialise his memory and his impeccable reputation sustained while he was alive.
I hope that the President would listen to the voice of our students, by retracting the statement of naming a 50-year-old brand institution like the University of Lagos, Moshood Abiola University.
(Excerpts of Mrs. Fawehinmi’s message to commemorate the June 12, 1993 annulled election.)