OUR GIRLS…. OUR FUTURE -By OBIAGELI (OBY) EZEKWESILI

Thanks to the Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic community that have joined us today to discuss “Endangered Education” at this 2nd year tragic commemoration of the abduction of OUR #ChibokGirls. In today’s world of multiple threats, security has rightly been expanded beyond the militaristic sense of the word to the new concept of human security. A Secure society is therefore one in which national security is a composite of elements that in the past where treated in silos and never found deliberate convergence. For many countries, any talk about security now includes not just militarily  but also of the nation’s  values, interests and the freedom of its citizens across the dimensions of politics, economy and society. Nigeria is a good example of how only such expanded definition of security can help defeat terrorism and  rebuild lives and communities. At the heart of the rebuilding is education which today is endangered by the savagery of the forces of terrorism to whom education is abominable. We cannot however allow these forces of darkness to redefine our civilization for it is one which appreciates the all encompassing role that education places in building any modern society.

Oby Ezekwesili-OpinionNigeria

 

Nigeria has in the last decade especially, been grappling with multi- dimensional threats that have attained existential proportion. The severity of the effects of the destabilizing  forces have created worries about the long term sustainability of the nation of diverse people, cultures, ethnicities, religions, geographies, endowments and possibilities. At the heart of resetting the button is to prioritize the education and empowerment of our girls. A girl child soon becomes a women and where women go, a nation goes.  When we secure our girls and women, we secure our future. Indeed, our girls are our future!

These days more than any other time in history,  the economic health of a country depends upon the skills, knowledge, and capacities of its people. But not just economic for as many studies have shown the overall stability, prosperity and progress of any nation can be determined by how inclusively it runs. Since the population of each country is made up of males and females and number can therefore matter; it is only those countries that invest on and utilise both sexes in their development process that can quicker attain their development objective. By helping each citizen – male and female – to acquire these human assets of skills, knowledge and capacities a society secures itself and guarantees a stable future.

Education has proven itself as the bedrock of human progress. It improves the status of citizens of any society, providing each individual with the capacity to function and contribute to economic development with inter generational benefits that stabilize the future. Human development is therefore a key feature of stable societies. Little wonder that countries  with lower Human Development indicators tend to be more brittle and prone to conflict. The lower the human development score of society, the higher the level of poverty, and in a viciously cyclical way, widespread poverty becomes a causative factor itself for lower human development and a trigger for conflict and insecurity of all types.

The good news was that until the recent devastating impact of oil price shock on economic growth, the Nigerian economy had over the last decade and half shown resilience by growing and sustaining an average of 7% per annum. Even at that, the insufficiency of the economic growth story is that it has left majority of our populace still struggling to attain the human dignity that is core to human security.   It has thus spurned critical questions on the quality and composition of growth that (according to data by the National Bureau of Statistics poverty) leaves 61% of citizens poor in a country that generated by estimate of public budgets, more than $500 billion dollars in oil revenue alone in the last one decade alone?  With 60% of the poor in Nigeria estimated to be women and 70% estimated youths,  even if we continued to grow at 7% and not the latest lower rate of 2.8% recorded in 2015, we should urgently interrogate the growth structure that is failing to  maximize our country’s human capital- women and youths.

The overall unemployment (11%) and underemployment (18%) level is rising further. The the annual average level of unemployment and underemployment for the youthful segment of our population at 40% instructs the need for bolder actions. Consider that Nigeria is a youthful country with 63% of its population under the age of 25 and then consider that half of them are girls. That should immediately throw up a discussion on what the future of such a country would be without harnessing such large army of citizens who are not part of the productive process but especially not deliberating focusing on the girls as a key part of the inclusive development agenda. Extremely relevant to our conference today is that the face of exclusion from the success stories of economic growth is the young girl of 18 years in rural Nigeria with no education and no skills and hence no life prospects according to one of the studies conducted at the World Bank at the time I was in charge of its Africa Region operations.

A negligible change in the structure of the Nigerian economy since our independence in the 1960s has left us with the consequence that manufacturing remains below 15% of Gross Domestic Product even if at $530 Billion it is the largest on the continent. Such absence of structural economic transformation has thus meant a narrowing of opportunity for labor to be rapidly absorbed of even those among the excluded population of girls/women and youths that have received varying levels of education not to talk of the ones without any form of education or skills. The massive  unemployment thrives  because our indigenous private sector is underdeveloped compared to the countries of Asia and Latin America where small businesses account for more than 60 percent of the economy or 75% in America. The fact that these regions of the world also have higher Human Development Index scores than Africa suggest that it is a key factor in preparing citizens to lead economic change and the more that happens, the larger the opportunities created for more trained people to enter an expanding private sector.

Evidently,  human development is a driver of prosperity since it helps create the basis for economic and social mobility in a society. Where human development is however low, it becomes a driver of poverty. Nigeria’s Human development score stands at less than .5 out of a possible 1. It is certainly one of the major explanations for the disconnect between huge oil revenues and more than a hundred million poor citizens of Nigeria. Southern Nigeria has consistently higher scores for human development, gender development and empowerment. The North East has the lowest human development, followed by the North West Nigeria. The average poverty level in the three northern zones is 73.8% compared to an average of 63.3% in the South according to a report published by the British Council Nigeria, in 2012.

The number of girls with access to school and completing primary and secondary education in the South is higher than in the North and this is a major contributor to higher levels of poverty in the latter region of Nigeria. In a study, “Girl Child Education: Rising to the Challenge” by academics; Grace Nmadu, Solomon Avidime,  Olugbenga Oguntunde,  Binta Abdulkarim. and   Mairo Mandara,   published in the African Journal of Reproductive Health in 2010 found that: “Northern Nigeria‟s high gender inequity in education places the majority of young girls at a severe disadvantage.”

The cross-sectional study examined enrolment, dropout, and primary school completion rates in three communities in Kaduna State. It found that less  than half of young people (6 – 25 years) living in northern Nigeria are currently enrolled in school and the majority of students are males (60%). The analysis found that there are nearly twice as many boys graduating from primary school as girls, and the dropout rate for boys is just about half  (3%) of the dropout rate for girls (5.4%)”. As few as 20% of women in the north- west and northeast of the country are literate.

Inequality  and its root cause can be traced to unequal access to education. When it happens with girls it is worse because it has a double effect. The girls which are not educated are most sooner exposed to child marriage unprepared to raise children themselves being children also. Hence society multiplies the number of individuals without the skills to lead a good life each time a girl child falls through the cracks of an unconcerned society. The researchers concluded that “high level of out of school girls seen in this study has grave implications that are detrimental to the society as a whole and which can affect girls’ lives negatively in all ramifications.

Uneducated girls easily slip into the margins of societies; ending up less healthy, less skilled, with fewer choices, and remain ill-prepared to participate in the political, social and economic development of their communities. As undereducated women, they will remain at higher risk of poverty, maternal mortality, child mortality, HIV/ AIDS, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violence. Improving basic education, especially female education, has a powerful influence on both mortality and fertility. Indeed, the close relationship between education and demographic changes has clearly emerged in a number of recent empirical studies. A wide range of theoretical analyses from different disciplines confirms that education improves health and reduces fertility.”

Women with formal education are much more likely to use reliable family planning methods, delay marriage and childbearing, and have fewer (and healthier) babies than women with no formal education. The effect is particularly pronounced for secondary school. Women with a secondary school education tend to have better knowledge about health care practices, are less likely to become pregnant at a very young age, tend to have fewer, better-spaced pregnancies, and are more likely to seek antenatal care, postnatal care, and skilled attendance at deli- very. The effect is profound: for each additional year of schooling provided to young women, fertility declines by 10%. In fact, is has been estimated that one additional year of school for 1,000 women would avert two maternal deaths”.

The raison d’être of every government is to persistently raise the standard of living or quality of life of its people.  Successful countries are those that have developed and in so doing raised their citizens’ quality of life over the decades of its existence. That is why Singapore for example, is cited often as a model of some sort among countries like ours with which it gained independence in the 1960s. As you know already, whereas Singapore has managed to harness all its governance capabilities to produce an impressive nearly $60,000 annual income par capita for her citizens in 2014, Nigeria’s is some $2300. This is made more stark by the fact that at the beginning of their journey to national development, their income par capital were not that significantly different at just about $300 for Singapore and $100 for Nigeria.

Nigeria’s  legendary failure to realise its enormous potentials is associated with a diverse range of  factors. However, one key factor fundamental to different schools of explanation is that the failure of leadership and consequent poor governance of Nigeria over the last fifty five years are reasons for our country’s failure to achieve national greatness despite our potentials. This explains why scrutinising the reasons for how the two countries subsequently diverged and understanding the basis of the huge disparity in their achievements is a matter of strong academic research interest. This is relevant, considering that in the 1960s, the bet was that Nigeria would climb the Development ladder faster than countries like Singapore. However, besides the well known attribution of better quality leadership and governance of Singapore to explain the divergent outcomes, at a more micro level, it is actually the deep disparity in attention paid by the two countries to human development capabilities of their citizens that explains much of the monumental gap in progress. Simply put, Singapore did well to have adopted and focused on a Human Development led economic strategy.

So what exactly does a Human Capital Centred Economic Development Strategy mean? Well for me, it is simple. It is one that places the Citizens and their empowered capacities at the Centre of economic policies ensuring that from cradle to career; each citizen is accorded more premium than oil, copper, gold, platinum or diamond.  It is a development strategy that recognises that Africa’s greatest constraint to equitable, inclusive, broad based and shared growth is primarily the low productivity of the African citizens and the poor competitiveness of their countries.

The theory of Human Capital may have its limitations and criticisms but economic evidence throughout history has shown that nations which invested in and empowered their citizens as a matter of deliberate economic policies have performed better than those which approached development differently.

Nigeria does poorly in terms of education and health of the vast majority of its population. But even more problematic is that it is still behind the curve in terms of parity between girls and boys in the school. Parity is key to levelling inequality and developing a female base of the population that is capable of positively influencing better inter generational outcomes to secure the future. So, until equal numbers of girls and boys are in school, it will be impossible to build the knowledge necessary to eradicate poverty and hunger, combat disease and ensure environmental sustainability. Without all of these, it is impossible to secure the future. For a secure future,  It is extremely important that girls have access to an education. For every additional year girls go to school, they receive 20 percent higher wages and suffer 10 percent fewer child deaths.

Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care, ensure their children are immunised, be better informed about their children’s nutritional requirements, and adopt improved sanitation practices. As a result, their infants and children have higher survival rates and tend to be healthier and better nourished. According to The International Centre for Research on Women, the education that a girl receives is the strongest predictor of the age she will marry and is a critical factor in reducing the prevalence of child marriage. The World Bank estimates that an additional year of schooling for 1,000 women helps prevent two maternal deaths. Also, each additional year of formal education that a mother completes translates to her children staying in school an additional one-third to one-half of a year. So, not just the girl child but the entire society wins in a nation that empowers her!

Attempting to further scrutinize the divergence in the economic performance of Singapore and Nigeria, I read up on a recent poll by MasterCard Index of Women’s Advancement, which studied the socio-economic standing of women using three yardsticks. The metrics it measured were, capability, employment and leadership. The scores of Singapore compared to its neighboring countries makes so much sense that the former is reaping the benefits of empowering the girl child.

The “capability” component  of the MasterCard Poll compared the rates of male and female enrolment in secondary and tertiary institutions. Singapore earned 97.9 points, reflecting near gender parity in education.

The “employment” criterion compared the rates of workforce participation and regular employment among men and women. Singapore was ranked seventh. Although only 74.3 women are in the workforce there for every 100 men, women are more likely than men to be in regular employment, with 109.8 women for every 100 men in a regular job.

“Leadership” measured the ratio of women to men in business ownership and leadership, as well as political participation. Singapore was placed third in this category overall and first among developed Asian markets that also included Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Now, just try imagining what a similar poll on Nigeria will show considering our already known dismal scores on the empowerment of the girl child. If even the world did not know this, the recent words and actions of the Nigerian Lawmakers on all matters touching on the empowerment of girls and women has earned the country opprobrium in a world increasingly more open to gender equality.

I posit therefore the following key points that everyone of us must remember even after this conference:

1. Nigerians need to dialogue and forge the basic foundational consensus that we all agree that  Citizens are the Premium asset of our nation– not oil, not gas, not solid minerals, not agriculture. Where we to ever mobilize our public to demand for a new Social Contract from the governing and larger political elite on the centrality of human dignity of the Nigerian life, it would be impossible for the country to ever again be lackadaisical when any citizen is in harms way. A country that values the life of each citizen would not constantly be careless with the loss of any one of them. All through our history, Nigeria has almost become inured to such losses— the massive loss of over a million lives during the Biafra  civil war , loss of life in the Niger Delta, in Western Nigeria during its various political upheavals, the middle belt or the North Central killings and now the North East tragedy. In fact, there is more concern shown to the safety of the oil pipelines than shown to the Nigerian life.

2. The corollary to that consensus on the citizen would be the economic philosophy that educated citizenry is the corner stone of our development strategy and that we would at all times prioritise the necessary Education/Health investments required to produce world class human capital that can compete with the rest of the world.

3. Nigerians would as part of the consensus; define what each citizen represents for the nation. Regardless of how it is framed, it would be that each of our citizen would be capable of cognitive (mental) affective and motor skills and proficiency needed to be a contributor to economic, social and political development of Nigeria.

4. Any attempt to equate all citizens to mean “boys and men” while excluding girls and women as inextricable part of the “citizens are premium” development philosophy will continue to cost us the future. We could have already become a  great nation without the  dismal results we have had we placed  the girl child at the heart of our development agenda and process. Were we to have already done so,  showing empathy for and upholding the dignity of the human life of our 219 ChibokGirls and other citizens would have been spontaneous among our elite regardless of their political persuasion. But then, because humans lives – not the least that of girls and women – have no effect on the oil rent based competition for political control that consumes our political elite, our girls remain captives of terrorists two years after their abduction to the eternal shame of the two governments so far that have failed to rescue them since April 14, 2014.

In not securing them, we also fail to secure our future.

5. The latest policy of de-radicalisation as a strategy of rebuilding peaceful communities cannot be a successful solution in the long term without being founded on effectively designed large scale interventions to boost number of girls in school in the North especially.

What would it take to improve girls’ access to education? According to UNICEF, “experience  in scores of countries shows the importance, among other things, of:

Parental and community involvement — Families and communities must be important partners with schools in developing curriculum and managing children’s education.

Low-cost and flexible timetables — Basic education should be free or cost very little. Where possible, there should be stipends and scholarships to compensate families for the loss of girls’ household labour. Also, school hours should be flexible so children can help at home and still attend classes.

Schools close to home, with women teachers — Many parents worry about girls travelling long distances on their own. Many parents also prefer to have daughters taught by women.

Preparation for school — Girls do best when they receive early childhood care, which enhances their self-esteem and prepares them for school.

Relevant curricula — Learning materials should be relevant to the girl’s background and be in the local language.”

As our society wrestles to end the insurgency that has cost over ten thousand lives and led to the abduction of many a girl-child that should be in school, the urgent crisis of education in the North must be tackled head on. If even before the Terrorism scourge, as pointed out by aforementioned data, the girls child in the North was at the margin of human development and invariably economic attainment, imagine how deeper a gap the  unsafe conditions for education in that region has created. Since the unresolved tragedy of our 219 school girls of Chibok, it is reported that many more families are refusing to send their daughters to school.

What future then can the communities of the North and others in the South that keep girls away from school then have at a time in the world that individual survival is only possible for those with capacities that can be exchanged in the market place? The crisis of the further falling back of the girl child is an emergency that our Federal Government must lead the rest of state and local governments, the private sector and civil society to swiftly tackle. We are in an even worse emergency with a mandatory need to strategically and deliberately rebuild  the structure and pattern of inclusion of our girls in the development process.

Nigeria cannot afford to be continuously left behind. At no other time in the history of the world has discussion of the role of gender equality gained resonance as now. Although many are still trapped in the age old mythical  way of viewing the  role of women in society, the trend is more positive in the number of voices that call for inclusive opportunities for both men and women. More people across the world are lining up to uproot the entrenched inequality and the resultant loss to everyone that comes. Women and men, boys and girls are the full composite or every population of a country and each constitutes a human talent that need maximising for our  societies to grow.

Empirical evidence abounds that  nations that invest in girls‟ education enhance their economic productivity and growth and so are more likely to be peaceful and secure nations.  In fact, the World Bank has stated that there is no investment more effective for achieving development goals than educating girls. The smartest economics that our country can put into play is to ensure equality of opportunities for our boys and our girls by reducing the gender gaps in human capital especially stressing policies that address mortality and education.

Nigeria must become a girl child empowering nation if the trajectory and outcomes of our development process is to deliver the opposite of past and current dismal standards. The World Development Report of the World Bank concluded that  “Economic development is not enough to shrink all gender disparities-corrective policies that focus on persisting gender gaps are essential. The report points to four priority areas for policy going forward

First, reducing gender gaps in human capital-specifically those that address female mortality and education. Second, closing gender gaps in access to economic opportunities, earnings, and productivity. Third, shrinking gender differences in voice and agency within society. Fourth, limiting the reproduction of gender inequality across generations.” This fourth point holds the key to all the other points if our nation can act wisely starting from today. After all, today’s girl child is tomorrow‘s woman. For every girl child, the future starts today. Empower the girl child, for in her lies Nigeria’s greatness. It is reason that women like you and I must define the battle line for the protection and education of girls in our societies. In doing so, we must build coalitions with supportive allies among the men at different levels and segments of our countries.

A speech she presented at the #BringBackOurGirls Movement 2nd Year Commemoration of the Abduction of 219 #ChibokGirls. Workshop on “Endangered Education”.

 

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