Let my people go

This is a 2019 piece which is repeated in the light of the events of the last one week – another mass kidnapping, fuel price hike and its denials; NSA’s bombshell and the attempt to help him deny what he said.

IT was by chance that I  stumbled on Gambia TV a few days back and I stayed glued to it for the next one hour as Mr Bardara Joof, the country’s  Minister for Higher Education, Research and Technology was addressing critical stakeholders on the decision of the government to introduce robotics, artificial intelligence and stem cells into the curriculum of schools.

I was so fascinated by Joof’s presentation as he was full of knowledge, gut, passion and conviction evident in the rapt attention from his audience. I immediately had to look up this round peg in a round hole who was not just interested in awarding contracts and having cuts like some people you see around here.

What I found out shames our country where appointments are about patronage and not tied to competence and excellence.

Joof was a student at Armitage High School and trained as a teacher himself at Yundum Teachers’ College. He holds a  bachelor of education degree from the University of Bristol, a master’s degree in English literature from the University  of London, and a master’s degree in development economics from the University of Bath. Joof began his career as a  qualified teacher, teaching English at The Gambia College.

He was then head of the department of languages and  literature at Nusrat High School. He was the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education for many years.  He  worked as the World Bank Liaison Officer to The Gambia. [In this role, he assisted higher education minister Mariama  Sarr-Ceesay in introducing a new education policy to the Gambia.

He has led a World Bank project, Support to NGO Network Tango, which had a budget of $220,000 and lasted from 2010 to 2013, the stated purpose of which was “to  enhance the efficiency and accountability of Non- Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) in delivering basic services to  the poor in the member country.”

[In 2013, Joof visited various project sites in the Gambia along with Ministry of  Agriculture officials in order to gain a better understanding of various challenges they faced. In 2014, Joof was  appointed as an Education Specialist in Dakar, Senegal to the World Bank.

For such a small country to be so focused  in  picking such a proper and fit person as its education minister shames a big country like Nigeria that places little  premium on knowledge acquisition and could appoint a carpenter to run its knowledge industry.

Joof spoke about the  need to introduce Robotics at secondary school level so they could raise young people who in 15 years time should be  leaders in their fields as the Gambia would not join developed world without a cutting edge in Science and Technology.

It  was with pride he recalled how the Gambia, Niger, Chad and Rwanda were picked to represent Africa recently at a  global Robotics competition . I was deeply touched when he said: “We are small country but we can surprise the world if  we mobilised our intellectual resources to find our space. We can no longer be teaching only Physics, Chemistry,  Geography etc. We need to join the world where it is.”

Ordinary The Gambia is aiming higher while Nigeria has just  recorded a major breakthrough in having History restored to its curriculum. Apart from a few universities, mostly  private, offering courses in Robotics Education in Nigeria, there is no one thinking of making millions of our young people to be part of the great potential unlocked by marrying human creativity with powerful machines.

Nigeria’s destiny is not tied to development. It is mired in underdevelopment as its conversation is all around “revenue sharing.” A  country with a backward agenda does not need to activate the thinking part of its youths. It needs only their brawn while the elite send their own children abroad to harvest knowledge.

Thousands of youth were engaged in Kogi and  Bayelsa yesterday for the best career backward elites can offer them: ballot snatching and A-class thuggery. This is the national tragedy running Nigeria as a unitary country has bequeathed. It was not like this when we ran a federal country and each section of the country was allowed to dream its own dreams. The University of Ife was established in  1962 with an Atomic Energy Centre.

Nigeria took over the university in 1975 and destroyed all that dream.  A nuclear physicist trained in MIT returned to Nigeria years back and headed for Ife. The gentleman took a job in Ife without knowing that Nigeria does not need thinkers of his hue but those who can cookbooks and manipulate the system.

After many years of wandering in the wilderness of an under-developing country, I was told the nuclear physicist is now a  Pastor with a Cherubim and Seraphim Church! All conversations around us lead to a regrettable conclusion: Nigeria has no mission and vision and it is not likely going to develop one and there is nothing anybody can do about it.

But it has to give up the only assignment it has given itself: holding down the destiny of those who have a dream. Nigeria, lose your grip and let my people go! Constituent units must demand federalism or perish under Nigeria.



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