This speech was delivered at the Assembly Hall of Zaria Government College on 16th of September 1963. Culled from the book, ‘Work and Worship: Selected speeches of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto,’ compiled by Stephen Amune.
“The theme of my speech today, is the urgent need for higher academic achievement and a higher moral tone, in all secondary schools and institutions of higher learning in the region.
In other words, my government is not satisfied with the standards set by you. This is not meant to belittle your past achievements which were quite good. But when you pause and compare the steep rise in the number of secondary schools with the number of boys and girls of Northern origin who have gained admission into universities, you will agree with me that your recent achievements are not good enough for Northern Nigeria. There has been a remarkable development in secondary education since 1952. In 1952, when the ministerial system of government was introduced, there were only two secondary schools in the region. Now there are 53 at different stages of growth. In view of this remarkable growth can you sincerely say that your academic achievement, during the past ten years has been proportional to this development? No doubt, one or two schools can rightly answer these questions in the affirmative but that is only a small minority. I note with deep regret, that one of those schools which have failed to rise to the occasion and set the pace and standard of high academic attainment, is my alma mater. Last year, fifty percent of the boys of this college, who took the West African school certificate examinations failed. If I may ask you, staff and boys of government college Zaria, why must you lag behind? You have a great history behind you. Many of the leaders of this country are old boys of this college. You must wake up from your slumber and pull your weight. This reprimand is equally applicable to many of our secondary schools. You have wonderful opportunities. You must take them. If you let them pass, you will never have them again. You may wonder why I should say that you have wonderful opportunities and that if you let them pass you will never have them again. The explanation is simple. The demand for boys and girls who have completed secondary education has been absorbed in the public service. The great demand as you are no doubt aware, has been caused by the implementation of the Northernisation policy of my government. Every boy and every girl who had that qualification has either been absorbed in the public service of the region, or been offered a scholarship for higher education. This great demand for secondary schools leavers will not continue indefinitely. There will come a time when secondary educational qualification will not be enough to gain you a good job. Perhaps by the time the lowest forms pass out of school, they may be faced with very fierce competition for well-paid jobs. Perhaps by that time most, if not all the executive grades and the intermediate grades in the public service, would have been filled. And all well-paid jobs require high academic and professional qualifications. There will be no room for idlers and carefree passengers in our schools, who have no ambition and no intention to be ambitious. I hope you do now appreciate what I mean when I say you have wonderful opportunities. If you fail to take full advantage of your education now, you may live to regret it for the rest of your lives. I have been told that little effort is being exerted by some boys and girls in schools and that teachers are somehow failing to get the maximum effort from their pupils. But I would like to make a distinction between students who are slow at their work and those who fail through idleness to develop their natural talents. My government is considering a proposal to transfer the boys of the former category, who have shown little promise, to institutions which provide practical training. As regards the latter category, the lazy and indolent ones, I see little point in government giving further financial assistance to their education. With the growing interest in education in the region and the resulting fierce competition for places in secondary schools, they can be expelled and substitutes found without difficulty. My government has been, for some time now reluctant to expel boys from schools. That is the reason why there is no ‘weeding out’ at secondary II. But if the result of government leniency is to remove incentive to work, then we must consider a drastic measure to deal with boys who waste the money of the country. Idleness and indolence go hand-in-hand with indiscipline. I have been told of many cases of indiscipline, of bad and disgraceful behavior in the towns which are visited by students at will, regardless of school rules, and about neglect of religious observances. This country cannot tolerate such cases of indiscipline and indolence. As future leaders of this country you must be prepared to learn how to obey.”