HME Prof. Tahir Mamman

The Honourable Minister of Education (HME), Professor Tahir Mamman, SAN, OON, and the Acting Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Mr. Chris Maiyaki, were among the high-profile dignitaries that participated at the 3rd Democracy Dialogue hosted by the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Foundation, which took place penultimate Thursday, at the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub, Observer Building, Benin City, Edo State.

The theme of the dialogue was “Functional Education and Effective Leadership as a Panacea to Africa’s Growth and Development,” which was  aimed at facilitating discussions on the pivotal role of functional education in cultivating effective political leadership, thus fostering sustainable growth and development across the African Continent.

The annual event is a key component of the Foundation’s mission to promote democratic accountability, bolster governance, and instil a leadership culture characterised by transparency and conducive to the peaceful transfer of power. Setting the pace for the day’s event, the Executive Director of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, Ms. Ann Iyonu extended a warm welcome to all participants that graced the Democracy Dialogue. She noted that the programme was the third in the series and the first time it was being held outside Bayelsa State.

Ms. Iyonu expressed gratitude to everyone for accepting the invitation, stressing that a healthy democracy hinged on quality education for the electorate, enabling them to make informed decisions in selecting representatives who could effectively deliver the dividends of democracy, as well as for the elected ones to discharge their responsibilities in office creditably.

While welcoming Guests as the Chief Host, the Executive Governor of Edo State,  His Excellency, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, appreciated the foundation for organising the programme in Edo state. He described former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as a distinguished statesman, with a global recognition as an agent of peace, who did well to stabilise Nigeria’s democracy when a few others would  rather prefer to create crisis than quit leadership in the African setting. 

In his remarks, the Chairman of the occasion and former President of Kenya, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyata, said he was humbled to be invited by his friend the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan, to participate and Chair this year’s programme titled functional education and effective political leadership as a panacea to Africa’s Growth and Development. He stated that education remained a lifeline for all Africa’s children to sustain themselves lifelong and enjoined leaders at different levels to strive to ensure better education for the people they govern.

In his goodwill message, the Honourable Minister of Education (HME), Professor Tahir Mamman SAN, OON, highlighted the government’s proactive steps towards revamping the education sector. These initiatives are encompassed within a comprehensive policy framework known as DOTS, representing Data Repository, Out-of-School Children Education, Teacher Training & Development, and Skill Development & Acquisition. Under the Data Repository aspect, efforts were under way to address the lack of coordinated and accurate data across the education sector.

A thorough census is being conducted to catalogue all schools, teachers, and students in Nigeria, which include detailed information on school conditions, teacher qualifications, and student demographics, while a dedicated portal has been established to disseminate this information in real-time to federal, state, and local government entities.

According to him, the out-of-school-children Education initiative is aimed at enhancing the education and training of children who are currently not enrolled in school. Policies targeting this group are being implemented, with approximately two million beneficiaries already involved in these initiatives.

For Teacher Training & Development, a focus is placed on improving teacher quality through digital skills training, while the integration of technology into classrooms is expected to enhance teaching and learning experiences across all educational levels. He said regarding Skill Development & Acquisition,a National Skills Framework has been approved to equip students with the necessary skills to meet the demands of the global economy.

This framework was targeting at addressing skill-gap and enhance the overall quality of education, ultimately reducing unemployment by providing students with relevant skills alongside general knowledge. Overall, these National Skills Framework interventions were designed to empower generations of Nigerians with the aptitude required for the evolving needs of the global economy in the 21st century. It was also meant to address concerns such as skill gaps, the quality of education, and unemployment, ensuring that students acquired the appropriate skill sets to thrive in diverse career paths.

The Special Guest, former Governor of Anambra State, His Excellency, Mr. Peter Obi, in his goodwill message said, education remained the most fundamental component for the development of any society.

The Acting Executive Secretary, NUC, Mr. Maiyaki,  who addressed questions on standards, degrees, the philosophy behind curriculum reform, and the creation of mass universities in Nigeria, emphasized that the dialogue was timely given the current push for re-imagining and reinventing education.

He enumerated the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s contributions to access and equity in Nigerian universities, noting that the former President established 12 universities and launched two scholarship schemes: the Presidential Scholarship for Innovation and Development (PRESSID) and the NYSC Scholarship, designed for  first-class students to study at the world’s top 25 universities.

The Acting ES underscored the critical role of education in creating opportunities, stressing the importance of investment in education and the intellectual quality of leaders. He mentioned that the NUC recently revamped the curriculum for Nigerian universities by introducing the Core Curriculum and Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS), which aims to equip students with practical skills, entrepreneurship, and leadership qualities.

He explained that the curriculum allowed universities 30% flexibility to tailor their programmes, fostering a sense of ownership, adding that the Commission recently launched the Transnational Education guideline (TNE) Policy which encouraged reputable foreign investors to enter the Nigerian university sector and aimed at widening access to higher education and promote international collaborations and knowledge sharing. TNE, he said, would enhance the internationalisation of the Nigerian University System (NUS), crucial for developing future leaders by exposing students and faculty to diverse perspectives and best practices globally.

The NUC Boss stated that establishing more universities in Nigeria is essential due to the country’s under subscription to university relative to its population. With a population explosion, there is a significant gap between university admission demand and supply, with only between 500,000 and 700,000 students gaining admission out of over 2 million applicants annually.

The NUC is working to broaden access without compromising quality, viewing the Nigerian university system as currently in an incubation period. He concluded by emphasizing the need for Africa to select leaders who can effectively serve the region and called for experts of African decent in the Diaspora to share their knowledge and expertise.

In his keynote address, Chief Academic Officer of Maarifa Education Holding and Chairman of the University Council at Cavendish University, Uganda,  Professor Olubiyi Olubayi, asserted that Africa must establish highly selective, world-class schools and top universities to foster effective leadership, innovation, technology, growth, and development. He emphasized that education is the most powerful tool to change the world, as no country can truly develop without educating its citizens, stating that functional education equips students with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, ambitions, and habits necessary to make impactful contributions to the society.

Those who receive functional education possess the capability and desire to lead and make positive differences in various fields, including business, politics, science, arts, and technology.

Professor Olubayi pointed out that African countries are currently lacking in both functional education and effective political leadership, relying heavily on foreign companies for infrastructure, resource extraction, and technology. He urged Africa to adopt best practices from developed nations by establishing and sustaining a few highly selective, world-class schools and universities.

These institution, he stated, should coexist with existing schools and universities, forming a symbiotic relationship that would elevate the overall quality of education. He said such institutions would become centres of excellence, driving the nation’s functional education system and producing top-quality talents necessary for leadership and innovation.

He pointed out that if Africans had achieved world-class success in metallurgy centuries ago, they could similarly succeed in functional education, technology, innovation, and development today. According to him, the historical knowledge gap, which facilitated European colonization, persists and would remain until African countries establish world-class universities. Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, China, and India have closed this gap by emulating successful educational models from the USA, UK, and Europe, he said.

Professor Olubayi explained that a successful education system must follow the Pareto principle of 80/20, where education catered for both the average 80% of the population and the exceptionally gifted 20%. He stressed that the highly gifted should not be educated in the same classrooms as the average, as they required more challenging environments, citing the UK’s long-standing implementation of this strategy as an example for African countries to follow.

He questioned how countries like India, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Israel, which were as poor as African nations 60 years ago, managed to use educational strategies to foster leadership, research, innovation, industrialization, and development.

He noted the necessity of well-qualified teachers in foundational subjects like mathematics, even from the earliest grades.

Professor Olubayi emphasized that the gifted 20% come from all social classes, not just the wealthy, calling  for every town or city in Africa to establish at least one highly selective world-class primary and secondary school for the free education of the most gifted 20% of children and a well stock library for research purposes.

Similarly, he proposed that each African country or state should establish at least one highly selective world-class university. These institutions should provide free education based on merit, ensuring inclusivity regardless of background, religion, or ethnicity.

 Professor Olubayi urged Africans to ensure functional education within their regions and countries for the future of the continent.

 He called on individuals to mobilize resources to establish these centers of excellence and ensure that each African nation has at least one world-class university to catalyze effective leadership, innovation, technology, growth, and development.

While appreciating guests, the former President and Founder of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who particularly thanked the keynote speaker for the outstanding presentation, encouraged the HME to present the Paper by Professor Olubayi Olubayi for discussion at the next National Council of Education (NCE) meeting.

He emphasised its importance and a need to potentially domesticate same in Nigeria,  promising to make the paper available to the Honourable Minister.

Dr. Jonathan also highlighted his advocacy for specialized schools for exceptionally talented individuals, which inspired his approval of PRESSID Scholarship for first class students that enabled Nigeria’s brightest minds to study at the top 25 universities worldwide. He noted that if similar policies were implemented over a certain period, the initiative would have further created a critical mass of experts in various fields. He, however, encouraged governments across Africa to establish these special schools to nurture exceptionally gifted children for future development.

Other goodwill messages were delivered by the representatives of the Governors of Bayelsa  Delta and Bauchi states; former President of Benin Republic, His Excellency Thomas Boni Yayi; the Oba of Benin, Omo n’ Oba nedo, Oba Eware II, represented by his daughter Princess Barr Aimwho; and former Vice-President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Arc. Namadi Sambo.

There was also a panel session moderated by  Professor Adebayo Olukoshi, with participants such as former Vice-President of the Republic of Zambia, His Excellency Dr. Nevers Sekwali Mumba; the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, His Excellency Shri G. Balasubramanian; The founder and CEO of Susue Women Finance, Ms. Naasu Genevieve Fofanah;   Director of the UNDP Sub-regional Hub for West and Central Africa (UNDP WACA), Mr. Njoya Tikum.  

The highlight of the event was the signing of a memorandum of understanding by the Executive Director of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, Ms. Ann Iyonu, and Director of the UNDP Sub-regional Hub for West and Central Africa, H.E. Njoya Tikum, on behalf of their respective organizations.