Education: Challenging Mindsets for Tomorrow’s Leaders   


If, therefore, we, as a country and a people desirous to re-write our story, and re-work our education for our technological and advancement and industrialization of our states, and also create more jobs and shut down the skills gap, we must return to the basics and redraw the map. The basic for me is to find out what we have done with all the Government Technical Colleges spread across Nigeria. When we do that, we then have to return to re-work the curriculum.

Lecture delivered by High Chief Obiora Okonkwo, Ph.D at a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria (CYON) held at the Shanahan Hall, Basilica of the Holy Trinity, Onitsha, Anambra State.


Thank you all for bringing me back to this historic hall named after one of the greatest missionaries that explored and helped build our Catholic faith, Bishop Joseph Shanahan. He was not only a Priest but also a great educationist and teacher who used education as a tool to challenge mindsets and prepare men and women for their future. I am also a bit nostalgic remembering my engagements with youths in this same hall in August 2019 when we rubbed minds over ‘Sustainable Millennium Goals and Its Impact on Youths’ during an event to mark the International Youth Day. So, engaging with youths on issues that help build their future is something I love to do. That is why I have decided to share my thoughts with you today on Education: Challenging Mindsets for Tomorrow’s Leaders. I settled for education because it is the bedrock of whatever we do. No matter the sector of the economy we decided to play in, we all must aspire to leadership either as political, business, religious, and sports etc. leaders. But as we shall see in the course of this paper, our education system needs to be reworked to deliver a new mix that combines vocational and skills acquisition with theoretical education to produce people well- equipped for leadership. That’s a more practical way to build leaders.

Education, according to online resource platform,, is the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university. Wikipedia says that education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. It also lists educational methods to include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research. Education is a liberating fact. It liberates peoples and societies. Education opens the floodgate to research, innovation and provision of solutions to questions that life asks of us.

Through education, humankind has been able to refine society taking it away from the state of nature where life is in Hobbesian thought “brutish, nasty and short”. Through education, mankind has found solutions to questions that arise in the course of living. Progress made in transportation, health, agriculture, science, technology etc. have all been possible because of education. It naturally follows that education liberates the mind. It makes one see, think and act differently. Education would enable one to go left when everyone is going right. Education opens the mind and allows the human person to develop capacities which are innate.

From the medieval times to the present, we have seen societies evolve on the backbone that education provides. On the other hand, we see the development, also, of human resources, through education, to drive development and create a society where all man is free to pursue happiness and make use of available resources to make better his condition. It was to make thing better that we now use the computer, progressing from the typewriter. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, did a lot of work outside school, to improve and advance the use of computers. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and other social media platforms, also did a lot to revolutionize the use of social media.

In our study of the greatest inventors, we note that for the inventor, what is most important is not his academic qualification but what he is able to bring into being to change society. It goes to say that education is not only about academic qualification but about know-how. Know-how could be natural. It could also be learned. It could be theoretical as much as it could be technical. We read at that Galileo Galilei invented the telescope. But before him, there was a Dutch named Hans Lippershay who was recorded as making magnification devices using glass before Galileo came. However, history record Galileo as inventing the telescope which he first used as a scientific instrument. We also know that James Watt invented the steam engine. However, Thomas Savery, an Englishman, patented the first steam engine design in 1698, which he used to remove water from coal mines. But as history notes, “Watt’s real innovation was designing the engine with a separate condenser, which made the whole process significantly more efficient”.

We also read that to solve the problem of elevation and accessing high rise building, Elisha Otis invented the elevator. Before Otis came, the world had a system of lifting people and items unto tall buildings. But with the industrial revolution, came taller buildings and the need to develop more efficient methods of lifting men and materials up faster and safer. The need arose because the earlier system, which was rope-based, often broke and led to injuries or death. So, in essence, what Otis did was to develop a more efficient system which stopped the elevator from breaking loose and crashing thereby causing losses and injuries. Satisfied with the new development, builders engaged in the building of taller houses.

You know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. But history notes that there were other forms of bulbs before Edison came. There are arguments that he only worked to improve on the existing designs such that they became commercially available by 1880. He did not invent the glass and did not invent the filament either. But his contribution leaves him with the credit of inventing the bulb. For instance, there are scholarly works that uphold the argument that Humphrey Davy invented the first electric light which he called the Arc-Lamp about 75 years before Edison. “The first electric light device, called an Arc-Lamp, was developed by Humphrey Davy about 78 years before that, but didn’t last long and was far too bright. In 1850, Joseph Swan found that carbonized paper was a much better material for a filament and used them to make light bulbs” writes

Then, there was Guglielmo Marconi and the Radio in about the year 1890. It is noted that though Nikola Tesla had the earliest patent for radio technology, the German scientist, Heinrich Hertz, was able to transmit and receive radio signals from his laboratory in Germany. Though he achieved that feat, he was stuck on the next line of action until Guglielmo Marconi came around and turned all he met on the ground into a commercial product. You have also heard of Henry Ford and the Ford range of cars. His first car design, Model-T, released in 1908 is recorded as the first car to gain mass-market appeal because at the time, many people still travelled by horse. What many did not know was that the Ford Car was powered by an internal combustion engine that was designed by Karl Benz earlier in 1885. In other words, car engines followed the initial work of Karl Benz in 1885. “What Ford achieved was to improve the production process of the machine. His assembly line improved production efficiency significantly, bringing down the cost of each unit to a price point where people could actually afford it”, writes

Then, there were the Wright brothers with the aeroplane which was the first practical scientific demonstration of defiance of gravity. Some scholars note that “George Cayley was the first person to move from designs involving flapping like birds to a “fixed-wing” design. Another engineer called Otto Lilienthal then used a lot of those designs to create actual gliders with fixed wings and testing them, produced a lot of data which the Wright Brothers would subsequently use. Additionally, the Wright Brothers were able to use another invention from the time: the internal combustion engine from automobiles. They were around at just the right time when this became available. Their true innovation was in their designs which allowed their plane to actually be steered and controlled. And the rest is history.”

History also tells us that Philo Farnsworth invented the television though he aggregated inventions by other scientists to make up the television. For instance, there is scientific literature that suggests that Farnsworth “was able to take the developments of the cathode ray tube (by Ferdinand Braun) and combine it with a way to scan images using electrons which he apparently began thinking of in high school. His design also outperformed the other competing TV technology at the time”.

Today, most of the world’s population uses the computer. Thanks to Bill Gates and his Graphical User Interface (GUI) though there are suggestions that GUI was first developed by Alan Kay at Xerox PARC ( GIU makes it possible for us to use a mouse and click on an object on the screen and tell it what to do and it does it (Wikipedia).  This was a deviation from the early computers which were “primarily command-line driven, meaning you needed to know all of the inputs to type into a keyboard to tell the machine what you wanted it to do.” A lot of developments have sprung up from there.

If you notice one thing in this narrative, none of the inventors that we listed here laid any emphasis on their academic qualifications. Get me right, I am not by this advocating abrogation of academic qualification. No! I have only stated the need to expand the horizons of education to ensure the building of the total man. The motto of the University of Nigeria Nsukka is “to restore the dignity of man”. To my mind, this encompasses all forms of education necessary in the formation of man including moral, physical, spiritual, formal and informal education.

This is well exemplified in the lives of Bill Gates and Zuckerberg. Nick Statt writes in that Zuckerberg returned to Harvard University for a degree 12 years after he dropped out.

“Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard dropout and CEO of a company worth nearly $400 billion, will be getting a college degree more than a decade after leaving his classes behind. The Facebook co-founder and chief executive left Harvard’s undergraduate computer science program in the fall of 2005 to devote himself full-time to building the young social network, which even then was seeing meteoric growth. Now, 12 years later, Zuckerberg will be giving the commencement address to Harvard’s class of 2017 and nabbing an honorary degree in the process”, Statt wrote.

Statt also wrote that “Bill Gates, a fellow Harvard dropout, also left school after just two years to co-find Microsoft with Paul Allen.”

Perhaps, the biggest challenge we face in our country today is how to transform our education to make it more technologically driven than theoretical such that our children will leave school knowing what they could do with their minds and hands; what they could develop and positively affect society with.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), there are about 20.9 million unemployed youths in Nigeria as of December 2018. On its website, NBS puts Nigeria’s youth unemployment and under-employment at 51.4 per cent. Added to this is information on that Nigerian universities graduate about 500,000 persons every year. In other words, 500,000 persons are added to the Nigerian job market every year from our universities alone. If you make a mental calculation of the additions from technical and vocational institutions, and also, those that drop out of secondary school, you would then imagine the problem that we face as a people.

Yomi Kazeem, writing in an article published on argues that about half of Nigerian university graduates cannot find jobs. Quoting a survey by Jobberman, Nigeria’s online employment agency, Kazeem writes: “According to the survey, taken by almost 90,000 people, 47% of the country’s university graduates are unemployable in Africa’s largest economy. By some estimates, Nigerian tertiary education institutions produce up to 500,000 graduates every year and there are also Nigerian graduates who study abroad who come home to compete for jobs.”

What is responsible for this high figure, you may ask: In an article published in the Nigerian Tribune of August 14, 2018, the Vice-Chancellor of Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Professor Biyi Daramola, was quoted as blaming the trend on lack of self-discipline and commitment to vigorous academic pursuit. In March 2017, Dr. Bongo Adi, a specialist in development economics and a World Bank consultant put the unemployability ratio of Nigerian graduates at 70 per cent. He spoke at an event organized by the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), tagged ‘Corporate Members’ Forum’, with the theme: “Nigerian Economy and Businesses in 2017: Challenges and Options”. According to Dr. Adi, the problem is with the lack of national seriousness in human capacity development. Hear him: “We are all aware of what is happening in the education sector, but nobody is doing anything about it. No serious nation jokes with investing in its human capacity building”.

In his views shared in an interview he granted The Guardian of July 19, 2018, Prof. Chris Onalo, who is President and Chief Executive Officer, Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management, expressed concern that about 95 per cent of the nation’s graduates are unemployable because they do not meet market demands. Onalo argued that “one thing with the labour market is that it keeps changing and you must have a brain that is well structured, one that recognizes the need for change and quickly moves ahead to create the change for things to function properly.”

Though he blamed the government for years of neglect of universities, he also said “the curriculums are obsolete and not in tune with the reality and this is because money is not there to facilitate research. The lecturers don’t have support both from the government and the private sector. You don’t expect students to fund research projects.”

For the Director-General of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, (SMEDAN), Dr. Umaru Radda, the problem is that of lack of adequate skill set necessary for the market. He said at Amawbia, Anambra state in November 2017 that “one of the major causes of unemployment is skill shortages occasioned by lack of skilled personnel and entrepreneurial competence, inadequate capacity of vocational skill centres and the non-orientation of the educational system to the production of vocational skills that are aligned to industry requirements.”

In my interactions with other employers of labour, I find that the most pressing problem is the availability of graduates with the skill-set required for the job market. I have come across university graduates, with good grades, who look lost when presented with accomplishable tasks. Often, one wonders what the curriculum in our universities is tailored to achieve. I have also seen situations where some state governors created what they called ‘finishing schools’ to prepare graduates with the necessary skill-set for the job market.

This, to my mind, is a misnomer. I believe that the university should prepare graduates with the necessary skill-set for the market. But there seems to be a disconnect which leaves graduates with certificates but without skills. In some circumstances, I have seen accounting technicians making more impact than those with bachelor’s degrees in accounting. In a recent study released in April 2018, the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), identified absence of what it called ‘Labour Market Information’ and, the ‘lack of performance tracking by tertiary institutions’ in the country, as major reasons for skills gaps in the labour market. What this suggests is that our tertiary institutions do not train students on the basis of market requirement. This accounts for reasons the country churns out graduates who can’t find a place in the market despite the gapping need for skilled manpower.

According to the ITF-UNIDO Skills Gap Assessment Report, despite the high unemployment rate in the country, vacancies still exist in professional trade areas. Director-General of the ITF, Sir Joseph Ari, also disclosed that those vacancies cannot be filled by Nigerian graduates because of the lack of the required skills. This information should be of concern to every Nigerian. While we have graduates still hoping to secure jobs in government ministries and agencies, we go back to the job market to find that even such important and high paying jobs as builders, tillers, painters, joinery experts, wood carving, sculptors, furniture makers, ironworks, building maintenance experts, mechanical engineers, welders, auto painters etc., are being farmed out to experts from neighbouring countries who throng into Nigeria because those jobs exist here.

The ITF-UNIDO Skills Gaps Assessment Report paints a more damning picture of our national reality. In its executive summary it states:

“A diagnostic study of Nigeria’s technical colleges concluded that the colleges encounter a number of serious challenges: The vocational and technical education subsector (the technical colleges) is unable to respond to the changing labour market requirements because of its present supply-driven orientation. Its curricula, instructional equipment, teaching methods, and evaluation techniques are outdated, leading to inappropriate low internal and external efficiencies”. In cases where curricula have been updated, the equipment and teaching aids required to teach the curricula are often missing.

“The polytechnics still use a content-driven approach with most examinations giving little attention to the practical application of the acquired knowledge. With few exceptions, they have no tradition of partnerships with private companies. This results in a deep gap between the competencies of the graduates and the needs and opportunities of the labour market.

“Skill shortages differ by occupation and pockets of shortages can be observed in nearly all the priority sectors. Plant operators and Technicians remain the most common occupation where skill shortages are encountered when employers recruit for these roles in Textiles, Housing and other goods. As of the date of the survey, Professionals and Managers were the next most challenged by shortages in available skills in housing and other goods. Vacancies in smaller establishments in housing and textiles were hard-o-fill. The same can be observed about vacancies in larger establishments in other, goods, services, petrochemical and automotive. By sector, the proportion of vacancies reported as hard‐to‐fill was highest in petrochemical, other goods and housing. It is in services, other goods, and steel where skills deficiencies when recruiting are most concentrated and persistent –these sectors reported the highest very‐difficult‐to‐fill vacancy density.

“Almost 15.7% of all hard‐to‐fill vacancies were ascribed to a lack of technical skills. The other skills listed as lacking are basic and advanced IT skills (11.8% and 9.2%, respectively). Generic or “softer” skills such as planning and organization skill, customer handling skills or team working skills were each cited in connection with between 9.7% and 7.5% of hard‐to‐fill vacancies.”

This verdict, to my mind, is the real issue we face in trying to re-order our education systems. It also calls attention to the need for more effort towards reworking the education system to focus also on technical and vocational education. As the notes reproduced here from the Skills Gap Assessment report suggest, polytechnic students find jobs faster than their counterparts from the universities. Yet, we have lived with a dichotomy that suggests that polytechnic education is inferior to university education with our discriminatory national policy of Hinger National Diploma and Bachelor’s Degree.

According to the ITF-UNIDO Skills Gap Assessment Report, skills gaps are most likely to be attributed to staff not receiving the appropriate training among Managers, Professionals and Plant Operators.

The report found that “80.9% of employers surveyed reported that skills gaps have a major impact on the performance of employees leading to loss of business. Similarly, a significant number of employers reported that skills gaps increase the workload for other staff, leading to higher cost.

Many employers of labour agree “that the skills that need improving, or updating, are technical, team working, problem-solving, customer handling, planning and organizational, strategic management, and basic IT skills”. 

My Proposition

We are already in a quagmire. But it is not such that we cannot work our way through. We go to the school that we may be able to find solutions to the problems caused by the fact of our living on this beautiful plane. The inventors listed above, worked hard to find solutions to problems of daily living during their time. Therefore, we also must find solutions to the problems we created and the best way we can find such solutions is through educating ourselves and our children to be able to solve problems that exist, be they mechanical, technological, architectural etc. We have to accept that these problems exist and therefore prioritize the solutions. This means that we must begin to see the possibilities of creating a generation that leaves school with the capacity to fill the skill-gap already identified.

The ITF-UNIDO report states that “people employed in what are traditionally described as unskilled or semi-skilled occupations have the highest need for improving their skills in the next 12 months. Up-skilling needs are especially prevalent among technicians, craft workers and plant operators. The majority of respondents also feel that a significant number of professionals also need to improve or update their skills.”

To resolve the problems that we now have with our education, we must begin to make serious and deliberate efforts to disconnect mindsets from stereotypes and connect them with reality. Our nation had created the situation where the mind is made to think that education acquired at the Polytechnic or technical and vocational college is inferior to one acquired from a regular university. To my mind, it is for this reason that we have witnessed more investments in private regular universities than we have seen in private polytechnics and universities of technology. In making business decisions, investors tend to settle for investments in universities rather than polytechnics and monotechnics because the former guarantees a quicker and greater return on investment.

Today, we have great technical fabrications and ironworks from the Project Development Institute (PRODA) Enugu. By the way, PRODA, according to information on its website, “was a creation of the defunct East Central State Government under Edict No. II of 1971. It was charged with the broad function of generating and catalyzing industrialization by carrying out industrial research from the laboratory stage to the pilot plant stage, and by rendering consultancy services to governments, industry and individuals. It is, therefore, one of the oldest research institutes in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST). When in 1976, East Central State was split into Anambra and Imo States, The Federal Government recognized the need not to balkanize PRODA by the emerging states and hence took it over as a Federal Government Research Institute under Decree No.5 of 1977; still retaining its acronym ‘PRODA’ and motto; ‘Industrialization Through Self-Reliance.’”

PRODA’s mandate is “to facilitate the development and deployment of science and technology apparatus to enhance the pace of socio-economic development of the country, through appropriate technological inputs into productive activities.” Looking back, is PRODA on course to achieving this? How many Nigerians prefer that their children undertake study at PRODA despite its proven expertise, and patents, in the development of agro-allied machines? Is education acquired at PRODA, for instance, inferior to one acquired at a university and in similar discipline?

If, therefore, we, as a country and a people desirous to re-write our story, and re-work our education for our technological and advancement and industrialization of our states, and also create more jobs and shut down the skills gap, we must return to the basics and redraw the map. The basic for me is to find out what we have done with all the Government Technical Colleges spread across Nigeria. When we do that, we then have to return to re-work the curriculum.

According to National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), which mission is “to promote the production of skilled technical and professional manpower for the development and sustenance of the National Economy”, Nigeria has a total of 117 approved and accredited technical colleges offering certificate courses in “bricklaying and concreting, carpentry and joinery, electrical installation works, fabricating and welding, mechanical and engineering craft practice, motor vehicle mechanic work, radio and television electronic work” among others. That the skills gap is still huge despite all these colleges suggests that some nuts are not properly fitted into their holes. Are these colleges equipped with the appropriate tools and manpower that would enable them to produce the required skilled manpower? I recall that the last time Innoson Motor Vehicle Company at Nnewi advertised to increase its workforce, it asked for 3000 skilled workers including welding engineers, automotive painters, plasterers and auto-electricians. I do not know if the company was able to satisfy this need. However, I prefer to look at our future and imagine the number of workers the company would need in the next 10 years for instance, given improved business climate which would create the need for expanded operations across the country and even beyond.

So, Nigeria is on a threshold. We must make haste now. In the next 15 to 20 years, Nigeria will be much more challenged for skilled labour. The little we have left is being lured away through visa lotteries to America and Canada. If we don’t find a way to fix the problem, we will watch while our neighbours dominate our skilled job market. I believe that the government must return with a deliberate policy that will encourage more investments in technical colleges and polytechnics. To achieve this, there must be a deliberate policy, by government, to destroy stereotypes and mindsets about technical and vocational education and their certifications as against what is obtained from regular universities. We must begin to envision our future through technical and vocational education too.

I believe that we need to make our children understand and, appreciate, through career guidance and counselling that education is not necessarily about a university degree. The next generation of Nigerians must be deliberately guided through a path that would make them appreciate technical and vocational education as necessary tools for industrialization and economic development. The next generation must also be made to see the opportunities that the education which enables them to become creators and inventors and business leaders offer them.

I agree with the recommendation of the ITF-UNIDO Skills Gap Assessment Report that “the skill levels of Nigeria’s workforce must be raised to improve competitiveness, growth rates, job prospects, and reduce poverty. This will require policies to modernize the Nigerian vocational education and training systems to make it world-class”.

The basic issue here is policy. Our education development policy must change to emphasize technical and vocational education as well as improve on skills acquisition through non-formal education systems which include the apprenticeship system. This may be a topic for another day, and I agree that the apprenticeship system, as practised in the southeast, has added great value towards closing the skills gap in Nigeria. In 2019, we shall have about 1.9 candidates writing the Joint Admissions Matriculation Examination (JAMB) says the examination board. These 1.9m candidates will be competing for space in a tertiary education system that may not accommodate more than 800,000. It means that about half that number will not proceed to university in the next academic season. Can some of these be absorbed by PRODA, for instance? I think it should.

As an investor in the entertainment industry, I come to terms with the reality of lack of skilled workers in this sector especially as it affects customer relations and hospitality management. In many instances, even professional cadre staff lack basic skills to sustain them on the job. This leaves a huge hole, in terms of the training cost, in the employer’s budget. We can close this gap by also emphasizing non-university training in this regard.

In all, we must appreciate the fact that any progress made by the government, or the private sector, is a consequence of the policies initiated and implemented by the government. If government policy works negatively in the development of skills needed in the labour market, it, therefore, logically follows that even the private sector will suffer the effect and the country will fail to achieve its mandate.

As leaders, therefore, we must work to ensure that those who become leaders of tomorrow, must be empowered with the necessary skills that will help them take charge.

Thank you,


Feb. 2020

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