By Adewale Stephen,
Member, Education Rights Campaign (ERC)
Ilesa, Osun State.
As another day of Nigeria’s independence anniversary draws near, it is obvious that all is not well with the country’s educational sector. The portrait of independent Nigeria, after 52 years of its existence is disquieting. While the Asian Tigers, many of whom started out on the journey of development at the same time with Nigeria, are busy taming the moon and befriending Mars, Nigeria tramps on in poverty, disease and illiteracy.
It has been saddening in the last fifty-two years watching 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 continued to wonder why the country will continue to experience backwardness on a daily basis despite the abundant resources, plentiful brain and the overflowing brawn of its citizens. The answer is very conspicuous: as long as our leaders continue 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 highhandedness, 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'. 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 hands off education, and to privatize and commercialize 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, budgetary allocation to education has been relentlessly on the decline. The Federal Government has refused to fully 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% (N400.15 billion) as against the recommendation of the agreement. As a result of the 2012 miserly budget provision, fees are skyrocketing beyond the means of average and poor working class parents. As I write, fee increment is sweeping across the length and breadth of Nigerian campuses like a raging harmattan fire.
Or how can a country develop in the midst of monumental examination failures that are being recorded annually in the O-level external examinations? The report that was given by the WAEC Zonal Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Alozie, showed that out of the 1,672,224 candidates who sat for this year’s May/June WASSCE in Nigeria, 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 percent and claims 142nd position on the world literacy ranking behind less developed countries like Algeria, Malawi, and war-torn countries like Iraq etc.
The questions that have been asked and which continue to beg for answer is: would the president be in a celebration mood if his children were among the millions of Nigerian children that will live with the scar of their inability to realize their academic dream 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 celebration 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 1million Nigerian children that failed this year WAEC? The past years have witnessed monumental scales of failure in the WAEC, NECO and UTME exams. Yet, the immediate future is not promising primarily as starvation of fund by the government remains a common feature of the educational system.
The government’s refusal to adequately fund education has created perfect excuses for the authorities of various institutions to impose obnoxious charges and fees on the students. This is fast making education the exclusive preserve of children of the few rich, the privileged and treasury looters. Moreover, the moribund state of our institutions, from the primary to tertiary, is not a concern to the governments since members of the capitalist ruling class can afford to send their wards to private schools in Nigeria, and as often is now the case, 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 (elected/unelected) live fabulous and ostentatious lifestyles with fat salaries and allowances with a coterie of aides, special advisers, special assistants, and hangers-on, while billions of naira are being looted on a daily basis, squandered and wasted on frivolous activities that do not fundamentally have direct or indirect effect on the living conditions of the working people for the better. Apparently, it is not a case of non-affordability but lack of sincerity, political will and sensitivity to the welfare of the citizen.
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 such as the Students’ Unions of various institutions to start strategizing on how to mobilize and fight for adequate education funding and reversal of all hiked fees. Ultimately, adequate funding of education and an all-encompassing socio-economic development can only be guaranteed under a democratic socialist economic system governed by a workers and people’s government and not the current capitalist economic system driven by profit. Such a system will be able to provide free and functional education at all levels by nationalizing the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people.
To do this, power must be taken away from the present set of self-serving capitalist politicians and put into the hands of the teeming working and toiling people who are the direct victims of the exploitative capitalist system. Therefore workers, youth, the poor and change-seeking activists must be ready to join forces with the sole aim of building 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 need and welfare of the people will be the basis of production, distribution and governance against the existing capitalist system in which interests of the rich few is supreme. No ifs or buts, the Nigerian situation is between revolution and a rapid descent into barbarism.