Of Wike's Impulsive Scholarship Award and other Related Issues
On May 29th 2014, the Federal Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike was at an event in Abuja. During the event, a ten-year old performance poet gave a performance so exceptional the minister immediately announced a Six Million Naira scholarship for the young poet. On the face of it, this looks like a welcome development, an encouraging gesture from an otherwise lacklustre minister. In fact, when I first heard of it, I was happy for the boy. But just try to probe beyond the shiny surface and you will discover that this scholarship award typifies all that is wrong with us as a people. How did we get to a stage where a federal minister can just award a scholarship on the spot without any procedure whatsoever?
Another question is; how altruistic is this move? The writer Okechukwu Ofili in his article on the scholarship writes: ''This is the Federal Minister of Education that happened to hear a poetry performance at an event and was so moved by it that he called the President of Nigeria, who approved the scholarship almost immediately! The same two people who have been dragging their feet on the ASUP strike for months!
The same people in charge of shitty dorms and hostels that pester our universities the same people that are in the midst of student protests from school fee increase in OAU... Where is this N 6,000,000 coming from?''
Not only has this administration shown a consistent disdain for educational development, it has also failed to display a significant interest in the promotion of literature. Only recently, the federal government slammed an unprecedented and obnoxious tariff regime on book importation, an action that drew condemnations from writers, publishers and readers. This particular minister himself cannot be described as a genuine lover of education; his conduct during the last ASUU strike and his indifference towards the plight of our polytechnics and colleges of education have illustrated his unadulterated nonchalance towards the promotion of quality education. So where does this sudden interest in poetry stem from?
Impulsive actions have always been the way of our leaders, and the sad thing is that many of us are merely waiting for our turn to benefit from this, especially whenever we invite political office holders to our events. Everyday we see office holders dip their hands into the state coffer to donate to a private cause. Governor X attends a book launch and gleefully 'launches' the book with a ridiculous amount of money at taxpayers' expense. The author of the book, who may also be a 'good governance' advocate, will not be interested in knowing where the money he's getting from Mr Governor springs from. Everyone claps and laughs, a standing ovation is accorded the great man, and brown-enveloped journalists go on to report the incident as yet another show of Mr Governor's deep love for the written word. That's the way we roll. Unfortunately.
Deji Toye in a comment made on my Facebook post on the issue mentioned another example of this sort of unproductive impulsiveness:
''It happens fairly regularly. A few years ago, Chief Ojo Maduekwe then minister of Culture, suddenly announced a National Creativity Award with a prize tag of N1million. The first time (and also the last) anybody heard about the prize was when it was awarded to Prof. Chinua Achebe. No calls for nomination, board of trustees, panel of assessors or whatever, just the announcement. And that was the last National Creativity Award. That must be one award that did not add a significant feather to Achebe's much decorated cap.'' So I ask, when are we going to stop this kind of jamboree? Are there no better ways to go about it?
In a private conversation, a friend challenged me to suggest a better way the minister could have explored to demonstrate his appreciation for the prodigious talent of the young poet. What about instituting a National Poetry Competition for Kids? The minister can and should probably do this since he wants us to believe he loves poetry. This should be properly budgeted for and thoroughly planned. The advantage of this is that the nation will discover and come to appreciate some of its hitherto hidden talents. Instead of rewarding just a poet, we can reward a whole generation of poets from diverse backgrounds and give them something to aspire to and encourage them to pursue their dreams. This alternative may be more capital-intensive, but it will in both the short and long terms be a far more productive initiative. As a beneficiary of a similar programme in the past, I believe that a scholarship award with testable and publicly declared criteria is far better than one that is a product of the mere instinct and tastes of one man, even if the man is a federal minister.
*Alabi was a finalist at the 2009 National Youth Essay Competition. He tweets @SodiqAlabi1