Friday 9 November 2012

Will the 2013 budget lift education out of decadence?

Press statement 
On October 10, 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan presented the 2013 budget proposal to a joint session of the National Assembly. A total sum of N426.53 billion was proposed as allocation to the education sector. This is 8.7% of the budget but only a small portion of it, a mere N60 billion (14%) is for capital projects as the rest is for overhead. What this means is that Nigeria is so far away from meeting the UNESCO recommendation of 26%.
For us in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), this allocation is too little to resolve the multitude of problems afflicting the education sector which ranges from lack of basic teaching and learning infrastructures, collapsing school buildings, inadequate teaching and non-teaching staff, inadequate number of schools to accommodate increasing numbers of applicants, an underpaid workforce, brain drain, mass failure, over 40% illiteracy rate etc.
We therefore call on the National Assembly to increase the 2013 budgetary allocation to education to 26% of the total budget as recommended by UNESCO. This should not be the end but rather the starting point of government's efforts to provide free and universal public education at all levels as enshrined in the constitution.
We must note that since the presentation of the budget, several individuals and groups, most of whom are mere habitual government praise - singers, have gone to town claiming that the budget proposal accords the education sector the highest share of allocations and that this is evidence of government's commitment to repositioning public education in Nigeria. To start with, this is a malicious lie! In the same budget, about 12% is to go to debt servicing!
Chief among the motley crew of praise - singers is the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS)- a platform which used to be at the forefront of the campaign for adequate funding of education. In a recent press statement signed by its President, Dauda Muhammed, the association was full of praises and adoration for the Federal government. According to the NANS "the Present commitment of the President Jonathan administration can be seen as a step in the right direction towards the attainment of our age-long agitation for the actualization of the 26%  minimum allocation to education as recommended by UNESCO" Daily Trust (Abuja) 12/10/12.
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) disagrees with this kind of uncritical and highly jaundiced view of the 2013 budget proposal. This statement shows how completely degenerate and increasingly pro-government the national leadership of NANS has become over the years.
In any case, the ERC does not believe the 2013 budget reflects any commitment whatsoever on the part of the government towards improving the fortunes of the education sector. Instead, considering the 2013 budget proposal whose size is a whopping N4.92 trillion is about 5 percent bigger than the 2012 budget, this allocation to education reflects completely the opposite.
Allocation to education only increased marginally from 8.43% last year to 8.7% in the 2013 budget. Meanwhile the President in his budget speech admitted that the 2013 appropriation bill is 5% bigger than the 2012 budget. Of course by the time the National Assembly finishes work on it which is really about inflating its own perks of office, the budget should be expected to be way bigger than this and the percentage allocation to education will drop further.
Indeed at this rate, NANS' hope that the 2013 budget proposal is "a step in the right direction towards the attainment of our age-long agitation for the actualization of the 26% minimum allocation to education as recommended by UNESCO" will most certainly never be realised either now or in the foreseeable future.
As experience has shown, as fiscal outlays (budget size) increases so also does the share of the education sector and other key sectors that directly impacts on the lives of ordinary Nigerians decrease. This is because the priority allocation in budgets often goes to security, debt servicing and the perks of office of the presidency, national assembly members and the government bureaucracy. For instance in the same budget, a sum of N1.12 billion is apportioned as money to purchase two new helicopters for the Presidential air fleet, N1.5 billion for the 'welfare' of the presidency and N5.5 billion for past heads of state and their deputies.
However another point which government praise singers have overlooked in their haste to label President Jonathan as education-friendly is the fact that the Federal government recently established about 9 new Federal Universities which are being built right from the scratch. Against this background, allocation to education should naturally be expected to double or triple over last year's with a huge portion voted for capital projects.
Unfortunately this is not the case which means government is expecting to pay for the building of infrastructures in the new universities by charging sky-rocketing fees. Already fees have been hiked in some federal and state universities with many students facing the bleak prospect of dropping out.
In actual fact, disbursements to each tertiary and non-tertiary institutions as well as departments and agencies may not even increase at all or only marginally given that there are now 9 additional responsibilities. Moreso only N60 billion of this allocation is for capital project. How many modern libraries or science laboratories would this be able to build? How many standard lecture theatres or students' hostels can it build? This amount will not even be enough to provide adequate infrastructures in the 9 new federal universities not to talk of the existing tertiary institutions in the country that are in different state of abject disrepair. So the big question therefore is where exactly is the justification for NANS' effusive commendation of the President?
8.7% is a marginal and imperceptible increase considering the frightening levels of decay in the sector. A country such as Ghana allocates about 30% of its annual budget to education and its economy is not half as big and fast-growing as Nigeria's. Today, thousands of Nigerian students are studying in Ghana and Benin Republic due to the horrendous collapse of facilities and quality in our own Universities. This is aside many more in Europe.
Meanwhile less than 50 years ago, the University of Ibadan was adjudged the best on the AfrIcan continent and among the top best in the world. It was a citadel of learning, just as many of the first generation universities were then, to students and academics from all over the world due to its facilities, quality and standard. Today, this same university occupies a shameful 40th position in the comity of Unversities in Africa according to the latest Webometric ranking of Universities. The only University that made it to the top 20 was the University of Lagos (UNILAG) trailing behind Universities from South Africa and Ghana.
It is not possible to turn back the fortunes of our collapsed education sector by mere piece-meal reforms or meagre percentage point increments in allocations. What is needed is a state-funded emergency crash programme that will include massive investment in the education sector, building more schools to expand access, renovation of teaching infrastructures like lecture theatres, classrooms, modern libraries and science laboratories, restoration of research as components of tertiary education, improvement in the pay and condition of staff, an aggressive policy to employ at least 30, 000 additional academic staff for universities with similar measures for polytechnics, colleges of education and also primary and secondary schools, cancellation of fees to ensure everyone is able to go to school, etc.
Compared to what needs to be done, N426.53 billion is not just too little, it is completely inadequate and will not make any noticeable difference in the condition of education over the next one year. For the government to get started at all, at least the sum of N1.28 trillion being 26% of the proposed budget would be needed annually over the next 10 years at least to begin to turn around the fortunes public education.
However, while we in the ERC demands adequate funding of education, we also recognise the fact that unless corruption is tackled, more money would not necessary resolve anything. There are already too many cases of mismanagement and corruption in the education sector with some Vice Chancellors, rectors and provosts practically looting the accounts of their institutions with impunity.
This is why we are always quick to stress the demand that all educational institutions (Universities, polytechnics, montechnics, colleges of education, primary and secondary schools) must be put under the democratic control and management of elected committees of representatives of management officials, staff and students. In this way, it will be possible to ensure that funds allocated to education are judiciously utilized to carry out the needed turn around. This is also the best way to avoid looting or mismanagement of these resources by a few appointed management officials.
Now, members of Nigeria's capitalist ruling class and their apologists are always quick to argue that government cannot be solely in charge of the funding of education and that therefore our demands for adequate funding of education is at best impracticable. However we in the ERC do not make this demand for nothing, it is because we know that Nigeria has colossal wealth, which, if rescued from the grip of private ownership by the 1% and looting by political office holders, can have great effect in adequately funding education but also providing free public education at all levels and turning around the horrendous state of public infrastructures and the lives of the vast majority of Nigerians.
To mobilize sufficient funds needed to improve funding of education up to 26% as the starting point of provision of public education as a free and universal right of all Nigerians, the ERC demands the following steps to be taken by the Federal and state governments:
(1) Immediate reduction in the salaries and allowances of political office holders and the savings ploughed into funding of public education and other social services. No political office holder should receive wage higher than that of the highest paid civil servant.
(2) Reduction of the bulging bureaucracy of government which consists of numerous ministries, agencies and departments with overlapping and duplicated functions, retinues of assistants, special and senior assistants and hangers-on all on the payroll. For agencies, departments, ministries and functionaries of government at federal, state and local government level to be reduced to the barest and most essential ones.
(2) An additional 8% education tax on all multinational companies doing business in Nigeria as well as big indigenous big companies. This is in addition to the 2% education tax already being paid by all registered companies in Nigeria according to the Tertiary Education Tax Fund law. The big multinational companies such as those in the telecommunication sector spending billions on advertorials and promotions need to be adequately taxed to augment funding of public education.
(3) Judicious use of the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFund) by workers, parents and students to provide teaching and research facilities in schools through full democratization of the TETFund Board of Trustees to include representatives of the students and staff unions so as to ensure that these funds are not looted.
(4) Public ownership and democratic control and management by the working masses of the commanding heights of the economy, including the oil sector and banks, to ensure that Nigeria's economy is rescued from the private ownership and profit-interest of the 1% and can now be made to begin to serve the interest of the people.

Hassan Taiwo Soweto
National Coordinator

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