Education in Nigeria: A State of Emergency

Worldwide, there is a general recognition of the role of education in shaping the future of a nation. In 2002, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said “…we have to exert maximum effort to train the necessary numbers of our people in all the fields required for the development, running and management of modern economies. This again must be a national effort in which we should consider the necessary expenditures not as a cost but as an investment in our future.”

It is against this backdrop that I ponder on four headlines in Nigerian newspapers in the past week. In the first of the headlines, the Director General, National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Abubakar Mohammed said that one of the reasons why Nigerian graduates were facing unemployment problem in the country is that they lacked marketable skills. On his part, the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Alhaji Lai Muhammed said poor level of education is the single militating factor against Nigeria. A career civil servant on the same page as politicians is a rarity in Nigeria’s polity. Does this however mean education will be better valued and given the resources it needs? I don’t think so. The NDE Director General went on to say the agency was being repositioned to impact global marketable skills in the youth for them to be relevant to the needs of the modern economy. Another sweet talk devoid of specifics that we heard too many times. Repositioning hmm or rebranding? Give me a break.

Education is both labor and resource intensive and we can not educate Nigeria’s leaders of tomorrow with outdated books and technology. This much was said by Mr. Segun Onilude, scribe of the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) when he identified lack of basic textbooks as being among the reasons for mass failure in the last NECO examination while reacting to the mass failure in English Language and Mathematics in the results of the senior secondary schools examination released by NECO last week Monday. In a scathing headline titled “Exam failure: Endless Shame of a Nation,” NECO’s Registrar and Chief Executive, Promise Okpala, was quoted as saying that about 870,305 candidates from a total of 1, 113,177 who sat for the examination failed to get credit passes in English. Broadly speaking, 79 per cent failure was recorded in the subject, while about 24 per cent or 838,031candidates’ inability to make impressive scores in Mathematics.This is more than a national shame; it is tragedy that demands a state of emergency.

In Nigeria, government funding for education is unstable and unpredictable, capital and recurrent funding since 1970 have remained only a very small fraction of the nation’s budget, and democratic structures now gulp a larger proportion of the GDP than health and education. With the burden of the salaries and frivolous allowances of elected official in the nation’s budget, one might begin to wonder if democracy has not turned to a curse in Nigeria.Mr. Onilude talked about the lack of basic textbooks. The incentive to write is driven by having knowledge to share, which in turn is driven by research. The number of researchers per 1000 of the working population is 0.00 in Nigeria compared with 0.71 in South Africa, 4.84 in Australia, 0.3 in Malaysia, and 2.77 in South Korea.

When tertiary institutions in Nigeria are viewed in global context, their rankings are abysmal. No Nigerian university is ranked in top 5000 universities in the world or top 50 in Africa lagging behind universities in poorer and less endowed countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana, Senegal, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Namibia, and even Rwanda and Somalia. The highest ranked Nigerian university, University of Ilorin is ranked 5484 in the world and 55 in Africa. Gone are those days when UCH was raked among the top five universities in the Commonwealth. Should we be surprised? I hear a loud NO. Since those glory days of the seventies, we have taken hundreds of steps backwards.One begins to wonder where the wheels fell off the carriage. The years of military rule during which defence received 40% of budgetary allocation when we were NOT at war are gone. Part of the perceived dividends of democracy is good education. We are yet to reap this dividend.

As a matter of urgency, the government needs to convene a national education summit to examine the current state of education and design measurable objectives which will ensure national, state, and local government accountability in conjunction with industry and civil society. In the words of President Mbeki, we should consider the necessary expenditures not as a cost but as an investment in the future of our children and our nation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.