NIGERIAN EDUCATION: TIME FOR A BAIL-OUT

Education Sept

Nigerian tertiary education is in its death throes. From its Olympian heights in the 1960s and 1970s when we competed with the best in the world in terms of quality of infrastructure, academic excellence and world-class opportunities, our university, polytechnic and vocational education brand has been brought to its knees by a combination of forces that has likewise devalued the Nigeria nation brand from one of pride to that of painful embarrassment. This is no thanks, in particular, to several governments’ scant, sometimes apathetic, attention to this critical and catalytic industry.

Education is the bedrock of any society. It is the platform of modern civilization. Nations invest heavily in their education sector to galvanize and hasten development and create platforms for great socio-economic brands. Countries, especially the developing nations, are expected to invest even more in order to accelerate development and catch up with the advanced world. UNESCO prescribes that nations should ascribe not less than 26 percent of their annual budget to the education sector. This investment is expected to yield dividends when the institutions conduct research and provide manpower needed to implement policies and theories formulated.

Developing countries such as Morocco, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates, spend 26.4, 18.5 and 22.5 percent of their respective annual budgets on education while Iran, despite her security challenges commits about 17.7 of her annual budget to her education sector.

Despite the clamour since 14 years of sustained democracy for Nigerian governments to invest more in education, the highest budgetary allocation for education has fallen below 9 percent. Stakeholders in the education sector have continued to be at loggerheads with the various governments over the vexed issue of competitive remuneration of varsity staff and funding of tertiary institutions. Most Nigerian higher institutions lack the basic necessities for impartation of knowledge. The response by the academic community has been the unending resort to strike actions.

These strikes have however exacerbated the problems as students are forced to go through haphazard academic calendar with long unpredictable breaks making some 4-year courses stretch to as much as 7 years in some instances. This has made a bad case become even worse as students now do not know whether to blame the government or their lecturers for their agonies.

Though their strike actions have so far not helped in resolving the issues, it appears it is the only way our tertiary institutions can get the attention of the government. Recently, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP) suspended its strike which lasted over 80 days! Their demands were not met but there appeared to be some sort of agreement between the union and the federal government. Just as the polytechnics were getting back to work, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) took the baton.

ASUU president, Dr. Nadir Isa Fagge insists that government should honour the agreement they had with the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2009. The agreement which is believed to be worth about N500 billion is seen as a solution to the problem of remuneration and lack of facilities in Nigerian universities in the short term. The union also complained that it is tired of churning out unemployable graduates.

The government on its part is calling for negotiation; claiming it lacks the financial muscle to honour the agreement it entered with ASUU in 2009. With both parties at different ends of a broken bridge, hapless students and their parents are left in trauma as they have no inkling when this will end. As the Nigerian education sector has become a comical spectacle and theatre of the absurd, those who can afford it now send their children abroad, including to poorer West African countries. These are mostly children of politicians and privileged civil servants.

This state of affairs has devalued our education system and led to debilitating effect on the developmental aspirations of Nigerian citizens and the nation. It is hard to believe that this is the same Nigeria which in the 70s and 80s scoffed at Indian medical certificates saying that they were not acceptable in Nigeria, but today, Nigerians throng to India for medical life-saving treatments.

Most embarrassing is the way our graduates end up mostly half-baked and far removed from the world they claim to have studied. Many of them are exposed to theories without appropriate exposure to real-world applications and scenarios. Few, if any, of our tertiary institutions can boast of a validated research capable of contributing to national or global development as research requires funding. How can we therefore survive in an increasingly competitive world?

All hope is not lost though. The Nigerian education sector cannot be divorced from the over-all nation-building challenges being faced by other critical sectors. Our education sector needs bail-out funding. Our political leaders and bureaucrats need to reduce the alarming rate of corruption in the country so that we can dedicate a larger chunk of resources to the critical areas of human and socio-economic development for which they were elected and employed respectively to realize. We agree with the CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that a special fund needs be created to fund research in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Lecturers and administrators of tertiary institutions must equally be prepared to give their all and sacrifice to make their citadels the envy of all while students must shun cultism, materialism and laziness to ensure that together we can bring back our lost glory. This shame must be cleansed sooner rather than later.

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