THE SECONDARY SCHOOL
A 'cheap' private secondary school in Nigeria's urban centres today, will charge at least N600,000 per child per year. Some charge like 10 times this, but most charge like twice that amount. The same family of three, assuming the low fees stated above, needs to pay secondary schools, for their three children, a clean sum of another N10,800,000 in school fees over the children's 6 years stint in secondary. This very average family is indeed just working class, not middle class. And it has spent N21,600,000 just paying school fees for three children up to secondary school – assuming no hitches and no upward review of fees (which is impossible) – and preparing for University. In private Universities, expenses take on a different life of its own. Triple what you spent in secondary, for starters.
The fact is that most families in Nigeria today, where one or both parents either have a fairly well-paying job in say telecoms, banking, media, oil and gas, public service, or where they are entrepreneurs, pay at least twice this amount (N43,200,000), or thrice if they are really upper class by virtue of their cash flows, legal or illegal (N64,800,000). Now that is a whole lot of money. How did we arrive at this point?
Let us consider the fact that children raised in this manner have expectations. Because we put the ideas in their heads. Summer abroad is nothing. Add winter abroad as well. They don't want to understand the meaning of hard work. We the parents live vicariously through them, and they know. Some send their children to certain expensive schools in the hope of making connections with the high and mighty. Sometimes it works, most times, it doesn't. They know that you use them as excuse to live large and they often make you pay for it. These are also children that we cannot step down from the posh schools they attend, into lesser profile schools because of the shame and fear of letting them know that we've been living unsustainable lives and not planning properly.
Yet, only 5% of us, or less, will be lucky enough to get that much unfettered cash-flow going for a consistent period of time. The remaining 95% will have hiccups somewhere along the lines. It's just a law of how society works. It does not help that we live in the age of motivational speaking where smooth-talkers try to convince us that bad things only happen to other people, not us. Good financial planning helps, but it all seems like a gamble now. A good financial planner, having saved up a tidy sum, may decide to increase the stakes and send the children to even more expensive schools, based on their reputation and the caliber of big men who send their children there, just like a gambler around a roulette table would up his wager. And then lose everything.
Remember that we would not send these children to school on empty stomachs. An average Nigerian family should expect to triple whatever amount it spends on school fees, to maintain the family – holidays, owambes, buying or building a house, carsssss, clothes, families and hangers-on, 'dash' here and there, and for the men, concubines, second, third and fourth wives! At the end of the day, an average working class family, without some of these excesses, needs a cash flow of at least N90,000,000 over a period of say 15 years. That is N6million per year. A true middle class nuclear family (that buffer between working and upper class), with three or four children, would need at least twice that amount (N180,000,000) or N12million yearly, over the same 15 years period. How will we not be desperate and corrupt?
I had written about this frightening phenomenon a few months ago, and titled the article “THE ORIGINS OF CORRUPTION”. In my view, if we were seeking any true cause of our desperation and corruption, in today's Nigeria, we should look no further. The emerging truth is that only public servants, with the advantage of job security, plus unlimited kickbacks and fronts, that I know, who can afford to pay these sums without batting an eyelid. But even they will soon have to struggle. Most of my friends in the private sector, but for the very few at the top, cannot begin to dream of how their children will attend these elite schools, home or abroad. It just doesn't come up. And for the top dogs in the private sector, I have seen several instances where something goes wrong – a fraud in the office, a layoff, a takeover, early retirement – and they fall into immediate crisis!
We killed our educational sector in the last two decades. Totally. Even under the military we still had an educational sector. Maybe we bit too much of the privatization apple than is good for our health. Today, Federal Colleges/Unity Schools which were attended by good students with high grades, have become uninhabitable. I think their teachers just returned from a strike and no one noticed. Our public universities are also being avoided like the plague. Those who can 'afford' these luxuries should not count themselves lucky. We are all sitting on a time bomb, evolving a society of desperate souls. The other end of the spectrum is total deprivation i.e while some are spending millions educating their children, the rest can hardly get any education. What a way to build a country!
What to do? I will suggest at some point, that we must strive to #bringbackourpublicschools. Government MUST do all it can to pump money back into those schools. They must become good again, and they must be fairly subsidized, at least up to Secondary level. Missionary schools must come back the way they were back in the day (Baptist Academy, Methodist Boys, Anglican Girls, Loyola College, Ansar U Deen College etc). Shame on today's 'missionary' schools who joined the bandwagon of filthy lucre! I propose we adopt the Peter Obi approach which has stood Anambra in good stead educationally. That state – Anambra – has come first in WAEC/NECO for three years consecutively.
I will also suggest that those of us who attended these public schools MUST now actively give back. For our own good. Even if our children do not attend the public schools, if gradually the children of our workers, our office assistants and so on, can attend the schools, we would soon feel the relief – from the constant clamour for higher pay. And crime may reduce in the society. We are currently breeding angry youth and the cases of attacks in hold-ups that I've heard in the last few days – especially in Lagos – leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Old Students Associations must come to the rescue and go beyond being an avenue to hold grand parties and display our good fortunes, but to seriously and constructively rescue our education and future in this country.
This process will be gradual, but will save us from this pit we have dug ourselves into. Gradually, the working class, and those of us who deceive ourselves that we are middle class, when we actually aren't, should be able to return our children to those schools where we don't have to slave to death just to keep up. This will defuse a great tension in society, and would reduce the irresistible pull towards corruption, crime and desperation in society. Hopefully the private schools may slow down on the increase in their fees. But if they don't, good luck to those who believe their children must go there.
I think it will also assist us to raise better, more patriotic children, not those totally disconnected from our societies, who cannot wait for the term to break so that they can skedaddle out of the country into neater, more plastic climes. Those ones get trained at the most expensive universities in the world, up to masters level, only to start careers as Deejays, Dancers, Photographers and so on. Yes, we really missed the bus! Our parents never had to go through this. We were all trained in cheap public schools and we are good for it. But perhaps through our lack of cooperation and a collective vision, we found each of us on his/her own. And the future beckons…
Failure to heed this, our children will not bother getting married again in the very near future. The boys will hardly be able to cope with further increasing expenses. Those who get married will have just one child or none at all. And divorce rates will spike, as women become disillusioned and 'disappointed' at their young husband's inability to foot the bill. Masculinity will reduce because that adrenaline rush of being able to cope with these expenses and being in control will not just be there. Same sex marriages will eventually get a foothold, even as same-sex relationships begin to blossom. We will be forced to repeal the anti-gay bill very soon. And maybe our hardcore feminists will get a taste of their 'heaven'.