As President Muhammadu Buhari settles down for the second lap of his opportunity to make his promise of change significant and meaningful, he needs to appreciate first the importance of robust investment and attention to education quality in the nation’s journey to stability, prosperity, and greatness. We cannot state this fact enough at this time and the reasons are evident from our many declarations on this subject – education quality and national development. No nation can reach the full height of its potentialities without a deliberate effort to promote a targeted enlightenment among its people. And it is well known that the Nigerian educational system has over the years fallen to an ignoble nadir because of an unwholesome combination of neglect and mismanagement at all levels of government.
A lot has been said in recent times about the state of the economy and the ravaging insecurity that threatens the country’s very existence. As serious as these challenges must be taken to be, however, the rapid decline in the value and standards of education all across the country is frankly just as tragic, and should be just as bemoaned, as the phenomena of extreme poverty, terrorism, and the general insecurity of lives and property.
No one, much less the president himself, can deny that at the heart of the collapse of the nation’s social security and structure is a terribly defective educational system. It is not difficult at all to see the link between, for example, the sheer multitude of young people who are out of school (both in the north and the so-called educated south) and the cheap effectiveness with which terrorism and irresponsible politics are being perpetrated across the country. The connection between worsening poverty and bad education is also not very evasive, given that the overwhelming majority of those who manage to go through school―even up to the tertiary level―are tagged “unemployable” by prospective employers. Certainly, the education curricula across platforms do not produce employable skills for the 21st century.
What is more, how many of the country’s uneducated or “unemployable” youths are involved today in one form of banditry or another? How many tragic stories have come out to scare the public space, of little boys and girls who, rather than being in school, have executed or attempted to execute a suicide bombing for terrorist organisations?
These are questions for President Buhari and his team, including the state governors, to ponder on as they decide via their actions or inactions on which side of history they are going to be placed by posterity. They must, however, come to terms with a poignant fact: what Nigeria is experiencing today―in terrorism, poverty and a general social anomie―is nothing but the advancement of the army of the ignorant. A host of Frankenstein’s monsters have, through dis-education, been created and released into the polity. And these monsters are now coming into their own. The souls of violent herders and Boko Haram terrorists may be beyond pedagogic redemption, but if the nation is to avoid slipping further into chaos in the future, Buhari and governors must now take mass education a lot more seriously than they did in the last four years.
Indeed, for a nation that continues to hold on doggedly to the once-deserved appellation of “The Giant of Africa,” it is a shame that such paltry attention and investment are geared towards the improvement of the one thing that can make it a true giant―education. The leaders of the country well understand the strategic and foundational place of education in the dynamics of economic transformation and global competition. They know, in other words, that in today’s world being daily shaped by forces of globalisation, information and data possession is key to both economic and political power. And so, this complex social force will only improve in direct proportion with improvement in educational quality.
Yet, what obtains in this country today is continued degradation of education at all levels. Reports the other day revealed the dilapidated state of primary and secondary schools across the country, matched also by a plague of unqualified teachers and mindless administrators who, in the bid to make up for the shortage of teachers, have begun to merge Primary 1 with 2 and 3 with 4. How in the world are these pupils going to develop into responsible and effective citizens?
Meanwhile, the universities, monotechnics and polytechnics are also nothing to write home about. Their lack of autonomy from a corrupt and self-serving government has ensured that these citadels of learning are also mired in the mud of mediocrity and inefficiency. It is a reproach that Nigeria is today not associated with research quality that can trigger innovative technologies in Africa and the Black race. Our leaders who are taking over and also continuing in office should reflect on the fact that our country’s global competitiveness can only emerge when our universities scale up their research and development orientation. The president and indeed our governors must, as a matter of urgency, see to the improvement of our education standards – beyond meretricious declaration of emergencies on education. Our leaders should know that most citizens are worried that the future of Nigeria is being toyed with by the current attitude to the education of its citizens. Where is a future for more than 14 million out-of-school children?
Therefore, the amelioration of the country’s educational system should not be a complicated task for a president and commander-in-chief who is prepared to do his job. Documents and policy suggestions and/or mandates abound, both locally and internationally, that point in the right way to go when it comes to the efficient organisation of national education. There is, for example, the National Policy on Education, which says substantially what needs to be done to make a great educational system. It spells out the aim, objectives, strategies and funding that need to be brought to bear on education in the nation. The president and his educational team are hereby implored to look into this document once again for direction.
President Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress, also has an interesting policy statement on education, couched right at the heart of its manifesto. It is curious, though, how much the ruling party has deviated from―or even ignored―its own brilliant conception of a properly effective educational policy and practice. However, this being a period of renewed hope, the expectation of many Nigerians is that their re-elected president and his policy makers will look again into the promises that they willingly made to Nigerians concerning education.
As this newspaper has repeatedly noted, robust funding is key to the progress and improvement of education. The APC’s manifesto promises a target of fifteen percent (15%) of annual budgets for education, but the proposed budget for 2019 sets aside only seven percent (7%) for what, in its manifesto, the ruling party regards as the “critical sector” of education. Again, this figure is highly unbefitting for a would-be “Giant of Africa,” unless of course the entity would like to admit herself as being a slow and blind giant. The president is advised to address this discrepancy between what his party has promised and what it has done for the past four years – for his name to be written in gold.
Finally, there is the pending issue of subsidiarity. It is one of the things that Muhammadu Buhari has promised to Nigerians, and it will be a tragedy for his legacy if this too gets to line up at the back of many other unkept promises. In practical terms, education can only be successfully managed of it can benefit from practice of true federalism as we have been reiterating. The lot of education was much better in those days as things were more efficiently and effectively managed.
Specifically, most of the best tertiary institutions including the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria were set up by the then (western, eastern and northern) regional governments before the disruptive and arbitrary takeover by the federal military government in 1975. No doubt, the takeover has ruined the mission and vision of the three regional universities that would have been part of the world’s best by now. There is still some architecture in the rubble of the seizure as proper restructuring can return the three universities to their organic owners.
But the lesson here is that education should be made competitive within the construct of public and private ownership in a way that will deliver quality services to the nation. Our leaders should note, in the main, Henry Peter Brougham counsel on this when he noted in 1928 that, ‘‘education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive, easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.’’ And so, the only way we will know that there is serious attention to national development from now is through the quality of attention and investment in education.
The Editorial was firstly published to The Guardian Newspaper