In the 7th century BC, a Chinese reformer, Kuan Chung, declared: “If your plan is for a year, plant a seed. If it’s for ten years, plant a tree. If it’s for a hundred years, educate your children.” This statement gives credence to the pivotal role of education in the sustainable growth and development of any country. To ensure the propagation of education, several international conferences have been held, where issues pertaining to education were discussed.
On July 26, President Mohammadu Buhari left Nigeria for the United Kingdom, where he joined world leaders to participate in the Global Education Summit on financing Global Partnership for Education (GPE) 2021–2025. At the summit which focused on topical issues including Education’s Reset, Transforming the Child’s Learning Journey, Gender Equality In and Through Education, Ripple Effect, Financing for Impact, President Buhari pledged to increase the budget for the education sector in Nigeria by as much as 50 per cent over the next two years.
Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari as saying: “We commit to progressively increase our annual domestic education expenditure by 50 per cent over the next two years, and up to 100 per cent by 2025 beyond the 20 per cent global benchmark.” (Vanguard, 14 Aug 2021).
As laudable as the pledge sounds, the reaction that erupted echoed the scepticism of many Nigerians who alleged that the President spoke with a forked tongue, and has no intention of fulfilling his promise. The dubiety may not be unconnected with the backlog of this administration’s unfulfilled promises. Despite the President’s similar pledge at the 2019 convocation ceremony of the University of Ibadan to invest in education, the share of the national budget allotted to the education sector decreased from 7.05 per cent in 2019 to 6.7 per cent in 2020 (Guardian, 03 Dec 2019). Lack of accountability in the education sector has also corroded public hope for an improvement in the sector. Several funds meant for the improvement of the sector has been misappropriated. Recently, Nigeria received a credit facility of $611 million and a loan of $500 million from the World Bank to support Universal Basic Education (UBE) and drive the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) programme respectively (Guardian, 21 Mar 2021). Yet, the embarrassing condition of the education sector has remained status quo. This has amplified concerns that even if the President redeemed his pledge of increasing our annual domestic expenditure, some corrupt officials and politicians might misappropriate and embezzle the money, resulting in little or no improvement in the education sector.
A horrifying report by Transparency International revealed that 66 per cent of the money allocated to education by the Nigerian government is stolen by corrupt officials (PremiumTimes, 15 May 2019). Such a fiendish act of wickedness! Nigeria’s Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, while speaking to channels tv disclosed that Nigeria is expected to receive the sum of $125 million to boost the education sector. The money forms part of funds being disbursed to countries at the Education Summit. While Nigerians are pleased about this development, the corrupt and malevolent officials are rubbing their hands with glee while anticipating more funds to be stolen. The unpatriotic activities of these unscrupulous officials have been encouraged by the country’s lack of an effective punishment system. Some even boast that they won’t be punished even when found culpable.
From a mathematical point of view, it seems like the pledge mouthed by the President was hasty and not well-thought-out. The allocation to the education sector in the 2021 budget stood at 5.6 per cent. Increasing our annual domestic education expenditure by 50 per cent over the next two years and increasing it further to 100 per cent by 2025 would take this figure to 11.2 per cent of the national budget. This is below the 20 per cent global benchmark. President Buhari’s claim that this increment would take our annual domestic education expenditure beyond the 20 per cent benchmark by 2025 is misleading, as the figures obtained do not agree.
A proper understanding of how the education sector has fared under President Buhari will help to explain the hullabaloo surrounding the pledge. Before the emergence of this administration, Nigeria witnessed a steady, albeit insufficient, increase in the share of the federal budget invested in education. Information seen on Statista reveals that the education sector was allotted 9.86 per cent of the national budget in 2012. This increased from 10.15 per cent in 2013 to 10.54 per cent in 2014. PremiumTimes reports that the education sector received its highest share of 10.7 per cent in the 2015 budget which was proposed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
Contrastingly, President Buhari’s administration has overseen a drastic decline in the percentage of our National budget apportioned to the education sector. In 2016, the education sector was allotted 7.9 per cent of the total budget. This decreased from 7.4 per cent in 2017 to 7.04 per cent in 2018. While Nigerians were ruing the ill-treatment melted out to education, the percentage further dropped from 7.05 per cent in 2019 to 6.7 per cent in the 2020 appropriation bill (PremiumTimes, 24 Oct 2020). The attitude of the government towards the perennially underfunded sector reached its lowest ebb when a meagre 5.6 per cent of the total budget was allotted to the education sector in 2021. This is way below the 15–20 per cent benchmark set by UNESCO. Due to the perceived marginalization of the education sector, many Nigerians have questioned the plausibility of the pledge made by the President, while adding that it was simply a subtle approach to score cheap and undeserved political points on the international stage.
The disposition of the Nigerian government towards education has culminated in incessant strike actions by academic staff, a deplorable state of learning centres, and ineffective learning. A report by Guardian.ng shows that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, underwent a nine-month-old strike that was called off on the 23rd of December 2020. Reports of our public schools in the throes of poor infrastructure and learning facilities have been a recurring decimal. Typifying the condition of our public school, a report showed that “at LGEA School, Wuseli Central of Plateau state, the classrooms are old, dilapidated and overcrowded. The desks and chairs are not enough. There is no library or even a desktop computer, and there are no toilets or facilities for recreation and extra-curricular activities. The pupils defecate openly in a bush around the school as their teachers have exclusive use of its only pit latrine” (PremiumTimes, 14 Aug 2019). Learning cannot be effective under such awful conditions. Aside from the health sector, no other sector suffered the impact of COVID-19 like the education sector. While many countries have easily adapted and switched to virtual classes, Nigeria is still dependent on physical classes for learning. This is due to the lack of facilities necessary to operate virtual classes, poor provision of the internet network, unstable power supply, high cost of mobile internet data, and other challenges.
In a recent remark, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, lamented the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. He stated, “…with an estimated 10,193,918 out-of-school children, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in Sub-Saharan Africa.” (Guardian, 21 Mar 2021). Many children, due to poverty, have dropped out of school because their parents could not shoulder the financial burden of their education. This is understandable, as statistics from the World Bank shows that 40 per cent of the total population live below the country’s poverty line. Having dropped out of school, these children are left to roam the streets where they are exposed to social vices such as prostitution, drug abuse, cultism, kidnapping, thuggery, and other criminal tendencies. The heightened insecurity that has bedevilled the country can be attributed to the poor attitude of the government towards education. A report by UNICEF shows that 69 per cent of Nigeria’s out-of-school children are in the North (PremiumTimes, 11 Oct 2018). This could be why cases of insecurity and insurgency are prevalent in that part of the country.
Although there are diverse views and reactions to the President’s pledge, one cannot gainsay that Nigeria’s education sector is in dire need of increased funding. Hence, the President’s pledge is a step in the right direction. With increased funding and effective appropriation of the funds, most of the problems in our education sector can be solved. This is because poor funding has been adjudged as the major problem of education in Nigeria. Quality education is impossible without adequate funding. The importance of quality education cannot be over-emphasised, and it is unarguably the bedrock of the socio-political and economic development of any nation. Studies have revealed that an increase in national income and per capita income is a function of education, and it hinges more on human capital than physical capital.
Advantageously, President Buhari’s pledge has portrayed Nigeria as a country that is committed to improving the education sector. Thus, many international bodies will be willing to assist Nigeria in driving her education development goals. The $125 million reported to be received by Nigeria to boost education is one of many funds a country like Nigeria stands to receive when perceived as education-oriented.
If the President’s pledge is implemented and the funds are judiciously utilized, our dilapidated education centres will be refurbished, new and improved classrooms will be built and equipped with relevant learning aids, and the welfare of the students will be taken care of. This will help in reducing the poverty rate as well as balancing the social and economic injustice by providing the underprivileged resources and opportunities for upward social mobility and social inclusion.
Having already established the nexus between insecurity and lack of education, making education attractive through increased funding can help curb social vices and insecurity in the country. When this is achieved, monies that were meant for combating insurgency would be used for more meaningful purposes. Aside from that, a reduction in insecurity will booster economic growth by attracting investors.
With increased funding, students will be equipped with the requisite skill to be independent. This will reduce the rate of unemployment and reliance on the government for jobs. Moreover, our teachers will be promptly and adequately remunerated such that they will be motivated to give their best. Cases of non-payment of teachers’ salaries and incessant strike actions will be reduced.
However, there are several impediments to the fulfilment of this projected action. The federal government must make workable plans to circumvent these obstacles and ensure that our education sector is revived. The generation of funds has always been an issue. Nigeria’s economy is struggling, and the global economic downturn has worsened the country’s finances. In February 2021, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced that Nigeria exited its second recession in five years by a slight increase of 0.11 per cent (TheCable, 03 Apr 2021). Consequently, Nigeria has been borrowing a lot, and we are gradually teetering on the edge. Statistics from Debt Management Office (DMO) revealed that Nigeria’s debt portfolio has increased from 12.12 trillion naira as of 30 June 2015, to 33.10 trillion naira in the first quarter of 2021 (ThisDay, 17 Jul 2021). This explains why President Buhari on 13 June 2021, while speaking at the 49th convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, stated that the Federal government cannot afford the funding needed to revive the educational system (Independent, 13 Jun 2021). Many Nigerians have wondered if our dwindling economy can sustain the financial implication of increased funding of education. Furthermore, it remains to be seen if our lawmakers would react favourably to such adjustments on our National budget.
One important question is, does the Federal government really want an educated and enlightened Nigeria? Poverty and poor education have been adjudged as the greatest weapons employed by the government to keep the citizens at bay, leaving them to be dependent on the government for survival. No wonder, poverty and illiteracy of the masses are usually preyed on by the government during elections. The inability of the government (both past and present) to ameliorate our education sector, despite being aware of its importance, suggests that the deplorable condition of the sector could be a deliberate ploy by the government to militate against the emancipation of the citizens from illiteracy and poverty. Strange as it sounds, plans of improving our education sector irk some people in positions of power, and would do anything to forestall such improvement.
For education to be effective, the academic environment should be serene and conducive to learning. The insecurity incidents in the country indicate that the Federal government cannot guarantee an enabling environment for students in Nigeria. The spate of abduction of school children in Nigeria is alarming. The infamous kidnapping of 276 Chibok girls in Borno state, the kidnapping of 300 Kankara boys by armed men in Katsina state, the abduction of 27 Kagara students from the Government Science Secondary School in Niger state, the abduction of 30 students from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in Kaduna state, are proofs of the high level of insecurity ravaging the country. Therefore, If the plan to increase funding is not intertwined with a corresponding plan to combat insecurity in Nigeria, it will be business as usual for bandits, kidnappers, and terrorists. Thus, the increased funding would be a futile initiative as the objectives would be defeated.
Furthermore, It is noteworthy that increasing the allocation to the education sector alone cannot remedy the sector. I strongly believe that a paradigm shift in education will be the most effective approach. We must take deliberate steps to enable a shift in the consciousness of Nigerians by properly sensitizing them on the importance of education as well as the adverse effects of illiteracy both on the individual and the country.
There should be a regulatory body in the education sector that ensures that officials and politicians in education are held accountable. Corrupt officials who embezzle monies meant for the education of our children and youths must be prosecuted and severely punished to dissuade others from such unpatriotic acts.
I also support the opinion of the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, that the enactment of a law banning children of public officials from studying abroad would bring about desired and positive change in the education sector.
A committee should be inaugurated and charged with the responsibility of identifying cultures and practices that militate against the proper education of Nigerians. Practices such as early/child marriage and street hawking during school hours should be abolished. The committee should also ensure that traditional and religious beliefs that are inimical to education are corrected. Such practices include the teaching of the Holy Quran, that once a girl has her first monthly flow in her father’s house, the second one should be in her husband’s home. Families that observe this teaching send their children into early marriage, making education impossible for the girl-child (Vanguard, 07 Jun 2012).
Lack of qualified teachers has also been identified as one of the problems bedeviling our education sector. The employment of teachers should be strictly on merit, qualifications, and competence. Nepotism, ethnic and religious bias, and all forms of prejudice should be eschewed in the recruitment of teachers.
The government must take adequate measures to ensure that the menace of insecurity is reduced to the barest minimum, if not checkmated. The government must find alternative means of generating more funds to reduce the reliance on crude oil. We can also employ some of the strategies which some African countries, like Ghana and South Africa, have used to increase funding of their education sector.
In summary, there is a need for increased and adequate funding of the education sector. The dereliction of this sector has adversely affected our country. For the betterment of the country, education should be given priority. As earlier explained, the benefits of quality education, not like what is obtainable in the country, are enormous and cut across all areas of society. We must remember that the duty of reviving our education does not rest on the shoulders of the government alone. When all hands are on deck, an improvement in our education sector is inevitable. Then, we can boldly answer our famous sobriquet, “The giant of Africa”.
Michael Ogbonnaya is a graduate of mechanical engineering from the Federal University of Technology Owerri. He is a creative writer who tries to tackle societal problems with his writing and can be reached via email@example.com