Sunday, December 5, 2021 10:00 am
By Kingsley Obom-Egbulem
It is easy to understand how your mind affects your environment when you move into a new apartment and realise how much damage the former occupants have done to the space. When you see broken tiles and ceilings, smashed windows and disused sinks and water heaters, dirty walls, burnt kitchen cabinets, dead rats and cockroaches lying all over the place, something tells you “the guys who just moved out of this apartment were either sick people or the place was some settlement for internally displaced persons, a concentration camp or a prison”.
Some of us have also moved into apartments where the former occupants stayed for several years, and you didn’t have to bother about doing any major renovation besides simply changing the colour of the paints on the wall just for taste and aesthetics.
That is the effect of a mindset; minds that have been shaped by different environments, which in turn are now shaping other environments.
What we call environment is actually the influence of various minds on a geographical space, or better still physical interactions with minds-great or small. If you’ve ever fallen in love with any physical location, what you are actually saying is that you love the MINDS that have shaped and influenced that location. When people leave Nigeria for Canada, they are not necessarily leaving a geographical location and running to another geographical location, they’re trying to reject a certain way of doing things, for what they consider a preferred mindset.
The mind is a powerful thing to toy with. That is why we should be mourning the discovery of 22,000 unqualified teachers in Kaduna state. These guys have reproduced themselves numerous times over in people. They have shaped various kids. And what we are actually looking at are over 500, 000 unqualified minds; assuming each teacher has taught just 30 children. It’s not just teachers, we also have 22,000 unqualified imams, 22,000 unqualified pastors, 22,000 unqualified lecturers, 22,000 unqualified parents and 22,000 unqualified political leaders, doctors, lawyers shaping our collective environments and our lives.
I think one of the errors we can make as a people is to underestimate the extent of damage an environment can do to one’s mind, ones thinking and by implication one’s life. Our operating environment in Nigeria today is one of the most toxic and destructive to a man’s psyche and personal values, such that rising above it would seem like climbing a steep mountain with an SUV on your head.
Take for instance the amount of effort it takes for some people to obey traffic lights. See how much efforts it takes to create something as simple as a WhatsApp group and insist on people obeying basic ground rules that one needs to comply with to have sane, robust and fruitful conversations. Rules as simple as “do not post your pastor’s prophecies, prayer points…or funny pictures and videos.”
The moment you put up these rules, people are unable to post stuff on the group because in their mind WhatsApp groups are extra platforms to share mundane contents that must be circulated to as many people as possible. That is, if they don’t continue to violate the ground rules.
This article is really not about WhatsApp groups, but just for us to appreciate how toxic our operating environment is and the extent of work needed to detoxify it and set the stage for the kind of development some of us have been dreaming of. And part of this detoxification requires good education (and it doesn’t only happen in school).
Just yesterday, we read that Infosys Co-founder Nandan Nilekani and His wife had to pledge $1.7 Billion for philanthropy. The couple were responding to the giving pledge launched by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. By the way, $1.7B is about N600 Billion naira. And why did I have to bring this to your knowledge? Simple: the same amount someone is giving away from his personal earnings is what someone is aspiring to STEAL (or already stealing) from government coffers in another clime. What does that tell you about our operating environment? It’s toxic and requires intentional and sustained detoxification, one sector at a time.
But I think for anyone aspiring to change Nigeria, the discovery of 22,000 unqualified teachers paints a graphic picture of the work that needs to be done, which is that of engendering or catalysing a shift in culture.
That is the real work!
Everything would fall behind it.
Where do we need this shift? In the way we live and do things. In setting standards and taking it higher and higher…while penalising anyone who tries to bring down the standards we’ve set for ourselves. Simple!
We need to replace warped thinking like:
“I will have to develop my village first when I get there before others”.
“The last person who occupied this office built 10 houses and bought 10 cars, I have to beat him to it”.
“I love his ideas, but why is he not from Akure or Kafanchan?”
“He didn’t steal as much as the other man, so why are we shouting?”
“It is their turn to rule so let them nominate anybody, let’s accept him even if he’s not qualified”.
These are the thinking that has shaped our operating environment. I think the leadership that we require now is one that guarantees sustainable development based on its ability to catalyse a new way of thinking. And that leadership can only succeed by changing this toxic thinking, otherwise we have another 4 years of misery to contend with. And that’s because, in Nigeria, we only change the driver every four years. The vehicle is still faulty. And you don’t fix a car and hoping it would fly just by simply charging the driver.
So, let’s fill our glasses with wine and toast to Kaduna State…as they take the bull by the horns to redefine the kind of education they deserve.
This article was written in 2017,shortly after Kaduna state discovered it has 22,000 unqualified teachers in its educational system. Governor El-Rufai had threatened to sack all of them, thus incurring the wrath of the state’s NUT executives. The state recently announced its decision to sack about 233 teachers working with fake certificates allegedly obtained from the National Teacher’s Institute (NTI).
Kingsley Obom-Egbulem is author of the critically acclaimed book #WhenFishesClimbTrees