Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
If Nigeria had any problems as a nation, the solutions, in range and depth, available to her, should automatically make nonsense of such problems. So it is that at a time when the mood of the nation should be sullied from economic hardship, the report of some Nigerians studying in the United States who are excelling in their educational pursuits is a great cause for cheer. Not that the nation’s citizens have ever failed to hold Nigeria’s banner aloft with the emblem of excellence over the years, the latest reports are specially heartwarming against the background of on-going challenges and the predilection of the world to expect only the ‘fantastically’ bad from Nigeria . Although, conditions at home may be excruciatingly challenging, Nigerians are still making waves in many areas of human endeavour. And this should be seen as the beginning of the path to redemption.
According to reports, history was made at the recent Howard University 148th Commencement convocation in Washington, DC, where out of 96 graduating Doctor of Pharmacy candidates, 43 were Nigerians. And out of 27 merit awards winners, 16 were also Nigerians.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who delivered the keynote speech at the occasion, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree. He had the opportunity to lecture the young African-American graduates on the lessons he had learned on how to create change in their communities. He reportedly closed the lecture by evoking one of his signature campaign slogans, reminding the students, “Yes we can.”
A recent study reveals that second-generation immigrant students in the United States perform better than first-generation and even third-generation students. Second-generation immigrant students were found to outperform their first and third-generation peers on standardised tests.
Similarly, it has been found that U.S. public schools are increasingly being filled with black and Hispanic students but “gifted” children identified in those schools were mostly Asians. Of particular interest is the revelation that among the most prominent immigrant students are Nigerians.
Although, records show that Nigerians make less than one per cent of the immigrant population in the U.S., in 2013, it was found that one-quarter of black students were of Nigerian ancestry. Besides, over a quarter of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional qualification against 11 per cent for the white population.
The depressing conditions at home, which extend to educational institutions, may be responsible for a situation in which Nigerians do so well even in rarefied abroad while the same talent, acumen or brilliance is hardly ever noticed at home. Indeed, many of the high flying Nigerians in the Diaspora may not have made it at home as they would have fallen victim of a stifling bureaucracy and excellence-suffocating corruption.
That is the tragedy of Nigeria, a system that emasculates its own very best, rewards mediocrity and kills the spirit of excellence. Nigeria often carries on as though not structured for success with the youths, having had their hopes dashed and aspirations stunted, imbibing the wrong values.
In every part, there are great people with great minds who are brought down by the retrogressive system. In this system, the best minds are put down while dullards are put forward in pursuit of clannish sentiments. Self-actualisation is encumbered by the disincentive of the same system.
Knowledge is hardly translated to utility and productivity is near zero. Every year, as a result of a bastardised educational system, Nigerian universities turn out millions of half-baked and ill-prepared graduates who know little or nothing about how to improve themselves or their society. All of these simply have to change if Nigeria would ever make progress.
Today, cultism, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape and many untold vices are rife among students in institutions of learning. This is sad. It is worthwhile to remember the past when this same Nigerian system was great, universities were centres of academic excellence, students aspired to great heights while research and productivity were high and leaning was geared towards the betterment of the society.
Nigerian institutions ranked among the best in the world and the system was devoid of greed and those destructive tendencies that now reign. It is in Nigeria’s national interest to arrest the decline and re-invent this system.
What future is there for a country whose best brains and minds flourish in the Diaspora, contributing to the development of those societies? Nigerians should feel good about their compatriots who are doing well abroad. They must, however, reflect on this phenomenon and begin the work of making home a fertile ground for nurturing the same kind of excellence.
The time to begin rebuilding is now.