Nigeria: 52 years after independence, education in shambles
While the Asian Tigers, many of whom started out on the journey of development at the same time as Nigeria, are busy taming the moon and befriending Mars, Nigeria tramps on in poverty, disease and illiteracy. It has been saddening in the last 52 years to watch Nigeria slide down hill in virtually every sector. The economy is in shambles and still sinking fast in spite of the so-called measures put in place to halt the downward slope. Insecurity has attained its most terrifying loftiness; power supply has remained as erratic as the country itself while the decay of social infrastructure has reached unbearable proportions. Indeed, confidence and national pride have become very low in Nigeria.
Many continue to wonder why the country continues to experience backwardness on a daily basis despite the abundant resources, plentiful brainpower and the overflowing brawn of its citizens. The answer is very conspicuous: as long as our leaders continued to pay lip service to the development of the education sector, the country will never emerge from this insulation of penury.
Whether our political leaders accept it or not, the fact remains that education is a basic social need. It is an indispensable ingredient in the nation’s developmental calculus. Based upon this premise, the palpable neglect of the needs of this all-important aspect of our national life is too curious to be overlooked. The state of the educational sector in Nigeria today is nothing short of a national tragedy. All around us, we are assaulted by a morass of decayed infrastructure, poor staff, administrative high-handedness, plummeting standards of learning and research, and general low input. All of which are borne out of government’s massive under-funding of education.
It would be recalled that the first major attack on education took place in 1978, when the then Obasanjo military regime increased tuition and feeding fees in universities as part of economic austerity measures. Of course, students responded with nation-wide ‘Ali must go’ protests. In 1984, the Buhari military junta phased out the subsidized feeding system in the higher institutions.
Increasingly, the trend has been for the government to have a hands-off approach to education, and to privatise and commercialise it with devastating consequences on the education of children and youth from poor working class families. Reprehensibly, since the inception of the present civilian administration, budgeting allocation to education has been relentlessly on the decline. The Federal Government has refuse to implement the agreement it reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), while the allocation to education in the 2012 Appropriation Act is 10 per cent (N400.15 billion) as against the recommendation of the agreement.
As a result of the miserly 2012 budget provision, fees are skyrocketing beyond the means of average and poor working class parents. As I write, fee increments are sweeping across the length and breadth of Nigerian campuses like a raging fire. How can a country develop in the midst of monumental examination failures that are being recorded annually in the O-level external examinations? A report showed that out of the 1,672,224 candidates who sat for this year’s May/June exams, only 649,156 (38.81 per cent) obtained credit in five subjects, including English and Mathematics. And according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2011 Report, Nigeria has an illiteracy rate of 28 per cent and claims 142nd position on the world literacy ranking, behind less developed countries like Algeria, Malawi, and war-torn countries like Iraq.
The questions that have been asked and which continue to beg for an answer are:
- would the president be in a celebratory mood if his children were among the millions of Nigerian children that will live with the scar of their inability to realise their academic dreams due to their parents inability to meet up with the astronomic school fees that are being charged by our higher institutions?
- Will the governors be in celebratory mood if their children had any stake in the rottenness of the educational system?
- Will our rich senators and honourables jubilate if their children were part of the over one million Nigerian children that failed this year’s exams?
In the past few years there have been monumental failures in the WAEC, NECO and UTME exams and the immediate future is not promising either because of starvation of funding by the government. The government’s refusal to adequately fund education has created the basis for the authorities of various institutions to impose various obnoxious charges and fees on the students. This has been making education the exclusive preserve of children of the rich. Moreover, the state of institutions, from the primary to the tertiary, is not a concern to the government since members of the capitalist ruling class can afford to send their wards to private schools or abroad to acquire sound education.
This is further buttressed by the fact that while government claims there is no money and the education institutions at all levels are left to decay, public officials live fabulous and ostentatious lifestyles with fat salaries and allowances, while billions of naira are being looted on a daily basis on frivolous activities that do not fundamentally have a direct or indirect effect on the living conditions of the working people.
Apparently, it is not a case of non-affordability, but lack of political will. Therefore, to shoot these elephants and save the country from the obvious shame of backwardness, it has become imperative for those who identify with mass struggle for a better living to start strategizing on how to fight for a better economic system that is democratic, pro-poor and anti-imperialistic.
This is a system that would defend proper funding of social services, and promote genuine people’s democracy. To do this, power must be taken away from the present set of self-serving capitalist politicians and put into the hands of the working people who are the direct victims of the system. Therefore, human right activists, pro-democracy activists, socialists, etc must be ready to join forces with the sole aim of joining a workers’ party that will lead workers, students, police, army, peasants, and the oppressed in general in the struggle for attaining political power in order to establish an egalitarian socialist society where the needs and welfare of the people will be the basis of production, distribution and governance against the existing capitalist system in which the interests of the rich few are supreme. The Nigerian situation is between revolution and barbarism.