A few days ago, Nigeria would marked her 60th independence anniversary following the end of British colonialism in 1960.
The independence journey has so far ushered in an opportunity for the development of the educational sector as well as the challenges.
When Nigeria gained her independence on October 1 1960, the nationalists had invested heavily in qualitative education which brought about great impact on the nation in the early years preceding the independence.
Schools at that time were well funded with the university education enjoying qualitative and basic infrastructure as students were motivated by the government through various scholarships. However, 60 years down the line, the position of Nigeria’s education system has continued to be a concerned to many.
The sector, just as it has recorded some achievement, is faced with multiple challenges that need urgent attention. Even though one can agree that it has evolved over the years especially, in terms of the fast growing number of institutions, the challenges of funding, incessant strikes by relevant unions and the volume of out-of-school children remain worrisome.
In 1960 that Nigeria became independent the country had about five universities. Today,however, Nigeria has over 174 universities with a population of over two million students.
Sadly, Nigerian universities which were considered the best in Africa during that time now shared a reversed situation as the nation’s tertiary institutions are no longer reckoned with high standard despite the saying that the quality of higher education is critical to the economic development of any nation.
Stakeholders who spoke to LEADERSHIP lamented that the country is still grappling with issues bordering on incessant strike by staff unions over welfare packages, out-of-school children and low budgetary allocation which had failed to meet UNESCO’s 26% benchmark for funding of education from the national budget or six percent of the Gross Domestic Product.
Since 1999 after the return to democracy, ASUU has continued to embark on strikes in demanding the rights of university workers against opposition governments. Cumulatively, Nigerian universities have been on strike for a period of more than three years over funding of universities, better working conditions, among others.
The government’s refusal to meet the union’s demands since 1999 has, however, been the basic reason ASUU has been going on strike almost every year. And with the strike still in progress, the hope of tertiary education students returning to classrooms after COVID-19 may still suffer setback due to current strike which ASUU embarked on March 23 over government failure to pay their members that defied the order to enroll in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPIS).
Again, Nigeria has failed to consummate the growing rate of out of school children. Before the pandemic, Nigeria was estimated to have over 11 million children who were not going to school, one of the highest rates in the world.
It is also on record that the budgetary allocation for education sector beginning from 1960 has not gotten up to half amount requested by UNESCO. The previous years for instance, has recorded10.7% (2016), 6% (2017), 7.4% (2018), 7.05% (2019) and the 2020 budget constituted just 6.7 %.
Experts also stressed that the standard of education that the schools were known for is no more as Nigerian university graduates lack the proper knowledge and skills to acquire employment, emphasizing on the need for political leaders invest in education and human development.
In one of such, a senior lecturer with Baze University and former chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Abuja, Dr Sam Amadi, said the period preceding independence built strong foundation as the university system was very strong and comparable to any in the world.
He noted that the first onslaught against education in Nigeria was actually the emergence of military rule as the military dictators refused to lay down much structure for education, destroying the integrity of university education while their administrators appointed whoever they wanted and forced university administrators to give admission to the unqualified.
He said, “We had a strong and expanding public education in primary, basic and secondary. Of court, the missionaries did a great job in providing missionary schools. So Anglicans, Pentecostals and Catholics were competing to set up schools and the idea is that we had a standing infrastructure, quality education, quality teaching, and quality environment.
“I think clearly, Nigeria like most newly independent countries in Africa invested in the early part of independence in quality education so that saw the establishment of the University College Ibadan and then after independence from 1963 up to 1966 we saw intensification as post-colonial leaders, particularly Awo and Zik, who worked very hard for the establishment of the University of Ife and then of course the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, under the Western and Eastern regions. We now saw ABU and then those are the first generation universities and UNILAG of course. And then we saw a second level when universities like Benin, Calabar and others sprang up.
“Basically, the idea was that newly developed countries needed high manpower and quality university education was to driving that. And one fact was that many of these universities most of their facilities were European Americans so they were comparable to any university in the world. So that showed the degree of the quality of university education in Nigeria and of course, not surprising some of the graduates of these schools became leading academics, leading professionals and leading politicians all over the world.
“Of course, there was also expansion of primary and secondary education. We saw particularly, in Western Nigeria where the Premier then, (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo through the Action Group’s free education policy activated quickly primary, basic and secondary education as critical drivers of economic development.
“So we had great surplus of manpower and that is reflected in the fact that, unknown to us many Nigerians were permanent secretaries, judges in places like Botswana and some other newly developed African countries. So Nigerians had a surplus of manpower arising from strategic and well coordinated policy on education both primary and secondary. At the Micheal Opkara administration of Eastern Nigeria, he did a first time public library.
“The best from each of these people were selected so Nigeria was a meritocratic society in that first and second republics. The military stepped in and destroyed meritocracy and built patronage as the basis of selection to universities. It was synonymous with the destruction of the civil service in Nigeria when the military themselves started sacking civil servants and reappointed and promoted whoever they wanted. So we saw total breakdown in value system and that breakdown under military rule led to the destruction of universities, the policy of taking over mission schools in the guise of national unity and we saw fast dissolution in the quality of education.
“And so even now we have returned to democracy, nobody puts serious attention on university education anymore. The states are opening schools they don’t care about them they don’t provide facilities, they are more concerned with political investment, political expenditure whether it is in campaign or self enrichment. So basically there’s no university today in Nigeria that worth the name in anyway whether it is federal university whatever they are they are not competitive in Africa.”
Amadi lamented that university education has been totally bastardized, destroyed, saying that it is just there and one evidence that shows clearly is that in the 1980s and early 1990s perhaps Nigeria saw a crop of Nigerian academics especially, in the art they won a lot of literally prizes all over the world.
To him, our greatest whether Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, or other great novelists, dramatists, scholars came from Nigerian universities so Nigeria’s greatest intellectuals, artists, writers came from Nigerian universities.
Speaking further, he said the incessant strikes by staff unions coupled with the low budgetary allocation for education over the years has tremendously dealt a blow on the development of education sector in Nigeria.
“Take for example budgeting it is part of disinvestment in education, it is part of the military crisis, the value crisis because the political leaders don’t reckon with education that’s why I told you that at the beginning of independence, the post-independence leaders located human capital development as critical to transformation so the Investment in education was natural but today the political leaders are more concerned with being in power with no agenda driving them.”
He added that the lack of funding to education is a result of the lack of commitment to education as a driver of development, saying that ASUU strike is born out of the same crisis. “ASUU is striking over poor working conditions. This sector is poor compared to other sectors because the leaders don’t have confidence in education as a driver of development.
“In places like Singapore teachers earn more than others. Why? Because the easiest way to be wealthy, the easiest way to be a person of power in Singapore is to be a top class student. So education is the point of selection. So there will be no need for striking, teachers are paid well better than other civil servants, better than politicians. But here education is nothing. the commission for power there’s nowhere education feature there so leaders are not ready to fund education and ASUU keep striking.
“Secondly, ASUU themselves are not even committed to the education per excellence. ASUU’s strategy is to ask for more money; they don’t even care about the quality of education going on, they don’t even care about the fact that some of their teachers are barely capable. They are not even proposing ethical control management. So ASUU itself is a victim and also a violator. All these are fruits of the crisis that started with military rule and continued afterward.”
He stressed that the only way to regain the dignity of Nigerian institutions is to first of all recover the value of work and merit base system. He said as long as we have people access benefit power in Nigeria without working for it then we are not going to have that.
“We need to rebuild our ethical values and start with being a productive state. Now when the oil hopefully dries they will come to productive economy. What I mean is that we shall now understand the importance of education back again and then we reinvest education with value and then people will now go back to process and so we don’t have people in government determining who get admitted.
“The universities themselves will compete on knowledge and production so that the best schools will be open for the best students primarily because money from the government business will go to the schools that are running well and students will go to schools that are running well so the idea of standardizing mediocrity in Nigeria should be over.
He noted that there shouldn’t be a society where people who have no capabilities take over the system so they de emphasis the value of education. “So today, Nigerians have no respect for quality education because they have seen those who have not acquired quality education take charge of the economy and governance.
“So the answer to the crisis is to reset the country in a way that it will become a productive society and therefore, being a productive society were established excellence and quality and then the schools that are providing excellence access funding. We shouldn’t be funding schools that are badly run, government shouldn’t be wasting time giving everybody same money,” he added.
Another official at Federal Ministry of Education who does not want his name in print said government needs to address the issue of funding and incessant strike in the education sector will not compete at a global level.
According to him, “More work needed to be done to overcome the challenges confronting education delivery in Nigeria. First, it is sad to note that Nigeria currently has the highest rate of children who are not going to school while education budget still remain below UNESCO’s recommendation.
“We know that these are trying times for every country in the world but it is our hope that after the pandemic everything will be back on track.”