Being a speech delivered by the National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) Comrade Hassan Taiwo Soweto on the occasion of an Education Summit organized by the Junior Chambers International (JCI) LASU Chapter on Saturday 6 December 2014 at the Lagos State University, Ojo.
All protocols duly observed
Great Nigerian students!
It gives me great joy to present this paper to this August gathering. The theme of this occasion which is the “Challenges facing education of our time and possible solution” is rather apt. This is because for all of the 16 years of democratic rule in Nigeria, the condition of public education has only gone from bad to worse. This 16-year period I have mentioned coincides with the period when Nigeria enjoyed an enormous upswing in the price of crude oil on the international market and a consequential windfall in oil revenue.
As you must know, the price of crude oil on the world market is right now in rapid decline raising the terrible possibility of implementation of austerity measures and other attempts by government to limit spending in a frantic effort to stabilize the economy. In this unfolding situation, we should expect that important social services like public education which enjoyed no concrete improvement when the economy was allegedly doing well would be the first to face budget cut. Of course the immediate repercussion would be sharp increases in fees and further decline in the condition of public education. Therefore you could not have chosen a more apt theme for this occasion.
Just imagine for a minute that if despite the over one decade of huge revenue from crude oil Nigeria ranked 142nd in health and basic education globally as well as 113th in higher education and training and was among the last 20 in the world, then how low do you think Nigeria would rank let say in the next one year on the basis of the decline in oil revenue and the cut in education budget that is being planned? I leave you to answer that question in your mind. But if you ask me I would say we are in for a real tough time ahead in the education sector and it would take the same spirit of solidarity and struggle students of this great University evoked in the over 6-month struggle against LASU fee hike to resist every attempt by government in the coming period to attack our right to education through austerity measures and other anti-poor policies.
My paper hopes to highlight the real roots of the crisis of the education sector in Nigeria and proffer the way forward. This is within the perspective of the roles that trade unions, students and working masses can play in the process of rescuing the education sector from the abyss.
Now it will be restating the obvious to state that the Nigeria’s education sector is in crisis. However, a statistical x-ray of all the levels of education in Nigeria would provide a deeper insight of the enormity of the crisis that education is entrapped in.
A. Basic education: Low enrolment and low quality of teachers
10.5 million Nigerian children of school-going age are not attending school – highest in the world (Source: Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2012). According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report Index, 2011-2012, Nigeria was ranked 140th out of 144 countries in primary education enrolment. Enrolment of children into schools is as low as 12.0% in some states. 6 million of 36 million girls out of school world-wide are Nigerians.
Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world that has had to launch a boy-child education campaign – launched by the Federal Government in the South-east in June 2012. In 2008, Kwara State tested 19,125 teachers in Primary Four Mathematics; only seven teachers attained the minimum benchmark for the test in Mathematics. Only one of 2,628 teachers with degree passed the test; 10 graduates scored zero. The literacy assessment recorded only 1.2 per cent pass.
B. Secondary education
Our public secondary schools have failed in their calling as the crucial stage preparatory to entering higher institutions. In the 2014 May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), over 60% failure was recorded with just 31.28% obtaining credits in five subjects. This came on the heels of similar dismal performances in the past two years. 36.57% and 38.81% had credits in five subjects respectfully in 2013 and 2012 editions of the same examination. Attempts are being made to dump the blame for this terrible failure on parents and teachers but the reality is that the fundamental cause of the failure is government anti-poor capitalist policy of underfunding education.
C. Universities and other tertiary institutions
The rot in this sector is reflected in the low quality of graduates. Nigeria’s university system is in a crisis of manpower. Instead of having no less than 80 per cent of the academics with Ph.Ds, only 43 per cent are Ph.D holders while the remaining 57 per cent are not. And instead of 75 per cent of the academics to be between Senior Lecturers and Professors, only about 44 per cent are within the bracket while the remaining 56 per cent are not. The staff mix in some universities is alarming. Kano State University; Wudil (established in 2001) has only one professor and 25 Ph.Ds.
“There is an average of 4 abandoned projects per university in Nigeria” – with negative consequences for classrooms, laboratories, students’ hostels, and staff accommodation. Poor infrastructure adversely affects teaching, research, learning and students’ health and safety. The polytechnics and colleges of education are no less better as they confront infrastructural problems and decay. Their products are equally subjected to inferiorization in the labour market. Also there is 56.9% shortfall in the academic staff of public Colleges of Education translating into a shortage of 14, 858 lecturers. In a similar vein, there is 56.9% shortfall in the academic staff of public polytechnics and monotechnics translating into a shortage of 17, 548 lecturers. (Shu’ara, J. (2010) Higher Education Statistics – Nigeria Experience in Data collection).
D. Underfunding, Commercialization and Fee Hike
The Federal Government has never met the 26 per cent annual budgetary allocations recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The highest the FG has allocated to the sector is 13 per cent. It would be recalled that the Academic Staff Union of Universities waged a year-long struggle in 2013 for proper funding of education which forced government to release N200billion into the University system. However, this has only spiraled into wave of attacks by local university administration on the access to education by students from poor background. For instance in Obafemi Awolowo University,Ile Ife, Osun State, the university made sharp increases in the fee regime in what was believed as a means of retrieving the gains of the struggle waged by ASUU. A similar dimension is developing in the University of Portharcourt in a move which belies a grand plan to introduce tuition into federal universities as tacitly reflected in the resolution of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors recently.
States controlled by the so-called “opposition” states are equally underfunding education thereby creating myriad of infrastructural decay and poor learning conditions. For instance, it took tenacious struggles of students and mass of working people in Lagos state to force Governor Babatunde Fashola to reverse the fee hike in Lagos State University. Ditto applies to Olabisi Onabanjo University and other institutions in some of these “opposition-controlled” states.
Is there an Alternative to Anti-Poor Education Policies?
Without hesitation, socialists and activists in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) will answer the question above with an affirmative yes! Both the PDP and APC have been in power at federal and state levels respectively since 1999, yet public education remains in a mess. For instance, the president Jonathan Federal Government claims to be carrying out a "transformation agenda" in the Nigeria's economy and public education sector since 2011, yet Nigeria's out-of-school children grew to 10.5 million over the same period. Out of this 10.5 million population of out-of-school children, 9.5 million are almajiris located in the North. Infact, 1.8 million of this is in Borno State alone making it the State with the highest concentration of out-of-school and homeless children. Little wonder then that Borno State is also the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency. The twin crises of lack of access to education and jobs will continue to be the triggers for insecurity and social explosion, not just in the North East, but everywhere.
In Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Ogun and Oyo States whose APC-led governments often lay claim to implement free education at the primary and secondary levels, no serious improvement in teaching and learning facilities are taking place. In comparison with other states whose public education systems have become completely dysfunctional, some pundits are quick to point out Lagos as a success story. The most genuine of these pundits forgets that Lagos is different from other states because of the relative development in infrastructures including school infrastructures inherited from the past. Secondly is that Lagos has a powerful and organized working class and an active civil society such that the government cannot afford the same scale of complete non-performance like other state governments without immediate consequence. Third is that if the alleged performance of the APC governments in Lagos State is placed side by side with the fact of their being in power for 16 years and the enormous multiple billions of naira they have had the chance to use within that same period for development, a serious commentator will realize that their performance actually falls short of expectations.
If after 16 years of a political party's unchallenged rule, public primary and secondary schools, especially away from the highbrow areas, in the working class dominated communities are in such conditions of overcrowding whereby two separate attendance registers are kept to fool the public aside cases of unsafe school environment, lack of quality laboratories and libraries, then we may need another definition for the word "performance".
In most cases, this opinion about Lagos is informed not by any real or concrete performance of the APC government but the need to settle for the "best available" or the "lesser evil". An October 2, 2014 report by the Punch newspaper had this to say about the alleged Lagos' performance: "Things may be relatively rosy at the Igbobi College (Governor Fashola's alma mater), but it is a different experience for many of the 2,000 schools belonging to the state. Despite claims of giving millions of naira directly to 620 junior and secondary schools for developmental projects, the neglect is still visible in leaking roofs and dilapidated classrooms across many schools. Three schools inside Abesan Estate, Ipaja, the biggest estate in the state, are groaning under the yoke of neglect. Abesan Primary School, Estate Primary School and Housing Primary School are what many would refer to as a study in the failure of governance. During a recent visit by our correspondent, teachers who spoke on the condition of anonymity complained of theft and indecent environment. The schools, which do not have signposts, however, have a small gate and an uncompleted fence in many sections of the large compound. One of the structures, which used to be a classroom, has caved in; while another block of classrooms looks ready to collapse. Beside the building, a pupil stepped out and stooped to urinate. Though a toilet facility is under construction, it was gathered that the three schools currently share a single latrine. In all the classrooms, large portions of the ceilings are missing, a factor that exposes the pupils to scorching heat. Whenever it rains, teaching stops automatically, even as the gust blows the heavy rain into the classrooms".
For is in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), we will only begin to believe that a government has performed in the area of education provision when public schools are well funded and facilities improved so much that the children of the political office holders can attend the same schools as the rest of the people. In the distant past, all the children of the capitalist ruling class elite attended public schools for the simple reason that the best schools available were public. The existence and increasing numbers of private schools at primary, secondary and tertiary levels is a continuous sign and evidence of the unresolved decay of public education.
1.0. STATEMENT OF SOLUTIONS
Having examined the problems bedeviling the education sector in Nigeria, this paper would move on to examine the solutions that is needed. However, it is the view of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) that the fundamental solution is to urgently put into power a working people’s government that will mobilize the enormous resources of Nigeria to provide free, functional and democratically-managed education at all levels.
1.1. ADEQUATE FUNDING OF EDUCATION
The abysmal low level of allocation to education must be reversed. According to the United Nations Education and Socio-Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 26 percent of the annual budgets should be allocated to the education sector. However, education in Nigeria is allocated less than 13 percent. ASUU fought a courageous struggle to force the hands of the Federal Government to commit more resources to the university system and the education sector. We need to build a powerful movement to force the hands of governments at all levels to commit resources to fund education. It is in this regard that the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is set to launch in the New Year a campaign for a one-day nationwide lecture boycott and mass protest of Nigerian students to begin to demand that government commits more money to the funding of public education.
1.2 AUTONOMY AND INTERNAL DEMOCRACY
Autonomy and internal democracy are essential to the University system. Unfortunately over the years government has interpreted the demand for University autonomy to mean that universities will also be responsible for their own funding. To make the University system operate without bureaucratic bottleneck and administrative curtailment, full autonomy must be granted to ensure that whilst Universities are funded by the State, they have enough independence in the election of their principal management officials and determination of other matters without undue interference by the State. At the same time however, management of Universities, polytechnics, monotechnics, colleges of education, teacher training institutes must be democratized in such a way that elected representatives of students, workers, parents and communities are allowed in the decision making organs instead of the current bureaucratic manner tertiary institutions are run.
1.3. INFRASTRUCTURAL REPAIR AND DEVELOPMENT
An urgent repair of critical infrastructure is needed at all levels of the education sector. This would mean providing latest facilities for learning based on latest technological advancement. For instance, information technology devices are now being used for primary and post-primary education and a serious programme of revamping education must take into cognizance these advancements.
1.4. REMUNERATION AND PENSIONS OF EDUCATION WORKERS
What has been the most recurring crisis in the education sector has been the poor remuneration of both teaching and non-teaching staff in the education sector. To retain the best brains and attract new hands into the education sector, a comprehensive policy of improved remuneration of the workers of the education sector and a genuine pension scheme are urgently needed. The current contributory pension scheme is exploitative. If ex-presidents most of whom looted the country’s finances have a favorable pension scheme, those who work their hands stiff daily to build this society deserves better. We demand a genuine pension scheme that ensures that workers are able to live a fruitful, healthy and fulfilled life after retirement.
1.4 POST - UTME
The Post - Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) was introduced few years ago by force by universities against the background of the corruption and failure of examination bodies like JAMB and WAEC. However the ERC feels that the additional cost of the Post - UTME cannot continue to be borne by students and parents. It is unfair! In many Universities, post - UTME has now become a means of raising Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to the detriment of students and their poor parents. We suggest that the cost of post - UTME should be borne by the Universities since it is a means by them to take care of the inadequacies of other recognized examination bodies.
1.5 HND AND B.Sc DICHOTOMY
The dichotomy between HND and B.Sc certificates is a false and artificial dichotomy which is being maintained by the government and private employers of labour in order to downgrade the skill of a section of the population so they can pay cheaply for it. This explains why HND certificates holders doing the same job as B.Sc holders are paid less and have less chance of ascending to the top of their career. It is also a reflection of a sick and imperialist-dominated economy that is focused on the export of raw materials and without any serious plan for industrialization. The ERC upholds the demand of Polytechnic workers and students for the elimination of this dichotomy.
1.6 A NATIONAL EMERGENCY ON EDUCATION
The crisis in the education sector is not only alarming, it is a disaster that will set back Nigeria’s human and economic development for decades thus mortgaging the future of generations’ unborn if it is unchecked now. However the ERC is convinced that on the basis of the material wealth of this country and the resourcefulness of its people that within a ten-year period much of these problems can be resolved and the education sector restored on a path of progress if clear people-centered policies are propounded and a vigorous drive for their implementation is set off.
This will require the implementation of a free education policy and the mobilization of all resources of society to accomplish this at all levels of education. To this end, the ERC supports the call for the declaration of a state of emergency on education and the adoption of the following steps to set the education sector on the path of revitalization within a period of ten years:
(1) Immediate increase in the allocation to education to 26% (with capital allocation taking nothing less than 60% of this) of annual budget.
(2) Declaration of free education at all levels. How will this be funded? We propose the following:
(a) For a drastic cut in the pay and emolument of all political office holders. All political office holders must be put on the same National Minimum Wage as the rest of the country’s workforce with other legitimate expenses paid on the basis of proven need. Any political office holder that cannot serve the country on the same pay package of civil servants should be asked to vacate the post for those who can. Establishing the principle that a politician is not more important than a school teacher is vital in the process of rejuvenating our education system and attracting the best to take up teaching appointments. The amount recovered from this cost-saving exercise should be added annually to the education budget.
(b) Tax the rich and wealthy corporations to fund public education. The huge profit locked in the vaults of multinational oil companies, telecommunication giants and industries if heavily taxed by government will go a long way to provide much of the needed resources to fund quality education. Much of this wealth is being wasted on advertisements and often by individual CEOs and their friends and relatives to finance obscene life styles anyway. The exponential growth of market for luxury goods like jets, fast cars, yachts in Nigeria while over 10.5 million children are out of school is the height of societal injustice. A first bold step in this direction should be to review the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFUND) from 5% of assessable profit of companies to a progressive education tax that starts from 5% as a baseline for small and medium scale companies and then rises progressively to as much as 25% depending on the assessable profits of local and multinational companies. Any multinational company that cannot do business in Nigeria on these terms should be nationalized and placed under democratic worker control and management.
(c) Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under workers democratic control and management. For as long as Nigeria’s economy is dominated by local and multinational companies whose preoccupation for engaging in production is to make profit, we will continue to lack the resources to invest in public education because the resources that should be invested are already being taken out of the economy by the private sector in the form of profit. Taxing the profit of these companies is just a temporary step; only outright public ownership can stop the millions hemorrhaging out of the economy as private profit.
Also crucial is the need to ensure accountability in the disbursement and utilization of the funding to education. Today, some of the most outrageous corruption and looting are going on in the corridors of school administration. This is why despite the billions of Naira sunk into the Universal Basic Education (UBE), the quality of primary and secondary schools has kept plunging. There is need for all schools and the entire education sector to be placed under the democratic control and management of workers, students, parents and communities. These are the people who stand to benefit from progress in education and who also will lose if money meant for projects are looted. They should have a role to play and a say in how money in each school are spent! This is elementary democracy but capitalism, a system run for the benefit of a few cannot allow this because it will stand in the way of the enrichment of a few.
Clearly fighting corruption is important and ending looting could deliver some improvements, but corruption is not the major issue holding Nigeria back. A key issue in Nigeria is that its economy is dominated by the imperialist powers and the local ruling class has no confidence to invest in an attempt to build competitors to the existing world monopolies. Yes, Dangote can invest in cement, others invest in food stuffs, but generally these local capitalists are aiming at the local (or African) market for basic day to day products, they do not see the point in investing to compete with the companies dominating world markets for advanced goods. This is quite unlike China or South Korea where, for different national and international reasons, the state backed economic development which was allowed to gain international markets. In a situation where the world economy has slowed down it will be even more complicated for new challengers to develop. While some Nigerian capitalists will co-operate with multinational companies to make or assemble products (usually mainly for the local markets), a large section of the Nigerian ruling class aim to make quick profits with limited investment. Most have a looting or a "take the money and run" approach.
Without breaking the yoke of imperialism by ending capitalism and placing under public democratic control and management the commanding heights of the economy, there is no way the economy can be made to work for the people and enough resources freed to fund public education, and of course other social services, on a long lasting basis. It is only through this that Nigeria's economy can be rescued from the stranglehold of imperialism and the local capitalist ruling class so that the proceeds from economic activity can go into providing education and other needs of society instead of swelling the bank accounts of individuals and corporations.
However by nationalization and public ownership, we do not mean a return to the era of the highly bureaucratized and mismanaged state-owned corporations like NITEL and NEPA. These corporations were owned by the capitalist State but were run in an undemocratic and bureaucratic manner such that they became ineffective after a few years. However as the power sector now clearly demonstrates, privatization is not a credible alternative. To avoid this kind of debacle is why Socialists call for public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy while at the same time stressing the need for their democratic control and management by the working people. This is necessary to prevent their bureaucratization as happened under NEPA and NITEL and also ensure that these nationalized corporations work for the needs of Nigerians.
The reality however is that every of the steps outlined above run into conflict with capitalism. The ruling class will not accept a pay cut willingly neither will they accept that the commanding heights of the economy be placed under public ownership and democratic control. To implement any of these steps will require the uprising of the working class, students and poor masses and a relentless struggle to end the capitalist system and establish in its place a democratic socialist system. The struggle for free education is therefore bound inexorably with the struggle to end capitalism in Nigeria. A successful revolution to end capitalism in Nigeria will act as a spark for workers' revolutions all over Africa thus posing the possibility of a Socialist confederation of Africa and ultimately a Socialist World.
Under a socialist plan of Nigeria's economy, not only public education would be free, it would also be possible as well to make healthcare free, ensure spacious and affordable housing, functioning and comfortable transport system and improve the living standards of vast majority of the people to levels hitherto unimagined.
The central task this poses is the urgent need for a mass workers party that can act as the political voice of the working class and youth and that can unite the oppressed together to fight to take political power. Otherwise elections will be no more than a regular ritual to determine which section of the capitalist ruling elite will exploit us for the next four years. Unfortunately the Labour Party (LP) formed by the trade unions has been handed over to the capitalist ruling elites and converted to their own platform. The trade union movement must either reclaim the LP or form a new political party that can stand for the interest of the working masses, youth and poor during and outside elections. Unfortunately this is not being done at the moment.
However a new initiative called the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) has been formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has currently terminated the party' registration process, a suit has been filed by the party's leadership in court challenging this undemocratic decision taken by INEC to frustrate the emergence of a genuine and independent political voice of the working class. The ERC stands with the SPN and calls on all those fighting for improved funding of education to unite with the SPN in order to fight for political power, end capitalist misrule and enthrone a democratic Socialist Nigeria that can ensure the provision of a free, functional and democratically-managed education at all levels.