Nigeria’s problem more of followership than leadership – Ikenna Ugwu, founder, Inspire Education Initiative

Meet Ikenna Ugwu, founder, Inspire Education Initiative (IEI). With meagre budgetary allocation, dearth of facilities and about 16 million school-age children out of school, the educational sector—unarguably the fulcrum of sustainable development—has been anything but abysmal in Nigeria.

However, the likes of Ikenna and other non-profit and civil society organisations are bracing the odds to champion inclusive education in the country, while also mobilising youths for societal change.

In this chat with CRISPNG, the founder of IEI talks about the organisation’s quest to achieve quality education in Nigeria and how the youths can push for meaningful change in the country’s political and socio-economic landscape.

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Tell us about yourself

My name is Ikenna Ugwu. I’m passionate about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with particular interest in goal number 4 which seeks to “ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. So, I’m an social entrepreneur. I lead a social impact organisation called Inspire Education Initiative (IEI), a non-profit foundation that promote access to quality education in rural communities

What are the core objectives IEI?

At IEI, we work to: Inspire children to reach for the star through quality education, provide learning opportunities for children in under-served communities, empower students with sustainability and global citizenship education as well as support and train teachers to deliver the promises of education.

You’ve been passionate about using education as a tool for achieving societal change. How do you think Nigeria can achieve development through education?

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I would like to add that the concept of “development” has since been modified by Bruntland Commission (1987). So, we speak of “sustainable development”, the sort of development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs”. With Nigeria in focus, achieving national sustainable development would mean, first understanding education as a critical factor in the development trend puzzle.

Second, deliberate investment in the sector. It is no longer a debate that education policy is much more important than every other policy. This is because every development index is measured by education. Thomas Piketty, writing in “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” remarked: “In the long run, the best way to reduce inequalities with respect to labor as well as to increase the average productivity of the labor force and the overall growth of the economy is surely to invest in education”.

This is true because it takes education to unlock human capacities and potential. Again, government and all stakeholders must revisit what we know as the promises of education. Why do the nation educate its citizens? Every successful nation must see education as a human right that it is. This because it highlights its role as safeguard for human dignity and a foundation for freedom, justice and peace. Education has the capacity to improve individual’s economic opportunity. More so, Nigeria must remain committed to its signature with other member nations of the UN to achieve sustainable development goals – which includes education – by 2030 by effectively engaging relevant stakeholders especially the youth. Finally, government must create a sustainable framework that will allow industries to participate in process that build the pool of resources from which they draw. Industries should be part of schools curriculum design process that will allow a robust and inclusive curriculum design. The ideas recommended in the curriculum to be taught to students must be such that are industry-relevant.

Finally finally, laughs. Teachers are essential and indispensable stakeholders in education sector and their role must not be taken for granted. There’s a place for incentives and motivation in personnel management. They must be adequately motivated with fair salary structure and better working conditions. Even the most passionate teacher may need motivation to put in his/her best. Training that equip teacher with best practice pedagogy and ideology is necessary so teachers may understand, as Paolo Freire puts it, that “to teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge”.

Every successful nation must see education as a human right that it is.

As a youth, you must have heard of several arguments that the youths are the quick fix to the nation’s leadership problem. What is your take on this?

As far as am concerned, there’s no quick fix to Nigeria’s leadership challenges. It will take time to fix and that means process. I believe that young people are failing in standing up for what they want or believe. All we know how to do is criticize, wail and complain. Read history, there is no where in the world where power is given. No. You demand it and take it. For so long we have disengaged ourselves from politics and allowed the “leaders” to do whatever they please. We must do more – be part of the process, engage them and demand the change we desire – if we want any change to happen. But am happy about the rising of many civil society organizations expanding the shrinking civil space. Yes, I do share the opinion that youths can be instrumental in addressing Nigeria’s leadership challenges. But I doubt that we have adequate capacity now and that it can be a “quick fix”.

I believe that young people are failing in standing up for what they want or believe. All we know how to do is criticize, wail and complain.

What do you think is Nigeria’s biggest problem presently?

Most people believe that Nigeria’s biggest problem is leadership. I see the situation from a different perspective. I think that we have not all done well as followers. Have you noticed how docile and useless the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been as an opposition? The civil society is even more guilty. What we have is a smug society that only knows how to criticize, wail and complain. If we want accountability from the leaders, we must unite so strong enough to generate sustained pressure on government to ensure the democratic institutions are available and effective. This way, there’s no limit to what we can achieve. But most young people prefer to cut their own ” cake” when they have a slight opportunity than to fight to establish institutions that represents the interest of all. The democratic ideals have been eroded. But it is not just a leadership failure. It is more, a follower-ship failure.

Going forward, what do you think the country can do to achieve the desired change?

The citizens must be interested in their own country. They must own up and take responsibility. But what do you have? An average Nigerian is seeking opportunity to leave the country for good. If we all run away who will fix the mess as we have now. We must all determine to take action in our little ways to make things right. I don’t always believe that the leaders are the problem, as mentioned earlier. In some ways, we all conspire to destroy the nation we should be building. Check, even America, as you have it now is not a product of government effort. Citizens, individuals who believed in the country took the pain at some point and decided to do something for their nation. No wonder John F. Kennedy said, “Do not ask what your country will do for you, ask what you will do for your country “.

Yes, I do share the opinion that youths can be instrumental in addressing Nigeria’s leadership challenges. But I doubt that we have adequate capacity now and that it can be a “quick fix”.

How do you think the youths can get more involved in issues affecting the nation?

Get involved. Its a challenge when young people do not take responsibility but believe that “some people” somewhere are responsible for making the country what they want it to be. Young people must transcend from going to school because they believe that school is for jobs. They must become creative and innovative in transforming themselves and by extension the country. Again, young people must get more political. Some people say they are not political and so do not care whatever happens in politics. But they forget that its the politicians that make decisions about transport, food production, schools etc. When the wrong candidate is elected or selected as we always see, all they can do at that point is to complain, which never change anything. Young people must see themselves as key stakeholders in nation building and act accordingly.

Young people must transcend from going to school because they believe that school is for jobs. They must become creative and innovative in transforming themselves and by extension the country.

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