Monday, April 23, 2018
12.33PM / Feyi Fawehinmi
I regret to inform you that president Buhari has done
it again. Just over two years ago, I had cause to defend the constituency of which I am a part when
he made remarks in London during a newspaper interview implying that Nigerians
abroad have a single story of criminality. A few days ago during a Commonwealth
Business Forum session, in London yet again (what is it about London that
triggers the president one wonders), he made comments that kicked up an almighty firestormamong young Nigerians.
His supporters will try to say it was a slip, but it’s a slip he keeps making.
In answering, or trying to answer, questions about
Nigeria’s troubled north east, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA)—which
Nigeria pulled out of signing at the last minute—and Nigeria’s economy in
general, he delivered a broadside at Nigeria’s young population saying they
were lazy and entitled and perhaps deluded.
More than 60% of the population is below 30, a lot of them haven’t been
to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country,
therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare,
What was most amusing, for lack of a better word, was
not whether young Nigerians are deluded. It was the idea that a Nigerian
government has any of the above gifts in its power to dispense.
It is the president’s comments about education that
are most painful and downright cruel. It is impossible to exaggerate the damage
that has been done to Nigerian education over many years. Routinely, at every
stage, it fails young Nigerians and then delivers them into the job market with
no skills or preparation to take on the world and make a success of their
lives. And they are the lucky ones—UNICEF
estimates that Nigeria has 10.5 million children of school age
who do not get into school at all, the highest in the world.
Following the journey of children through the Nigerian
education system, and the federal funding that follows them, is a traumatic
exercise. At the primary school level (the responsibility of cash-strapped and
hapless state governments) and secondary levels (where the federal government
steps in with a relatively minor role), funding for education is terribly
squeezed or even non-existent. Though many millions will drop off along the
way, for the students who manage to make it to higher education the federal
government then turns on the funding tap.
In the proposed 2018 budget (pdf, pg 1228) the federal
government proposes to spend a total of 606 billion naira ($1.7 billion) on
education. About 400 billion naira of this total (65%) goes directly to higher
education. The federal government’s contribution to basic education gets 114
billion naira (96% of which goes to salaries) via the Universal Basic Education
Commission (UBEC). The over 100 secondary schools the federal government is
responsible for, collectively known as ‘unity schools’, get a total of 32
billion naira to share among themselves, 8% of what goes to universities.
How Nigeria came to neglect and debase primary and
secondary education and then dedicate the biggest chunk of its budget to
tertiary education has many reasons but two in particular stand out.
First, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)
is easily one of the most effective unions in Nigeria in terms of getting the
government to bend to its will. It is impossible to write Nigeria’s history
since 1978 when the union was formed without documenting the numerous strikes
they have embarked on. As a victim of Nigerian universities myself, one year
was added to my university education by ASUU strikes and I can be considered
lucky, many others had more than a year added.
These strikes and ASUU’s relationship with the
government are almost comical to observe. They demand money, government ignores
them, they go on strike, the government agrees to their (impossible) demands,
they go back to work. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief waiting for the
inevitable accusations from ASUU that the government has reneged on its
agreement. Most recently it claimed the government owes universities 800 billion naira,
more than double what they are to receive in this year’s budget. At some point
in the near future they will go on strike again and the government will pay up
in some form.
The second reason explains why ASUU’s strikes are so
effective. As a result of the government absconding from the lower levels of
education, more children are being educated privately at primary and secondary
levels than in the public school system. A 2014 report by the World Bank
(pdf, pg 9) showed
that registered and unregistered private schools accounted for 75% of all
school enrollment in Lagos state, the country’s most populous.
Tying these two reasons together, a simple power
dynamic emerges. The Nigerian middle class and the politically powerful elite
who can cause the government a great deal of discomfort have long abandoned
public education at the primary and secondary levels. Were primary and secondary
teaching unions to go on strike demanding more money like ASUU, they might not
make the news at all. But public universities continue to educate the vast
majority of higher education students in the country. For the rich and
powerful, the other options are the handful of private universities or sending
their kids abroad (like president Buhari does). Both options are currently
exercised by a minority of people, albeit a growing one. Thus, any hostage
taking via strikes is very effective at getting the government to capitulate.
This power dynamic is best illustrated with the
Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). In 1993, a decree, by the then
military government, established the Education Tax Fund (ETF) which mandated a
2% tax on the profits of all companies in Nigeria. The fund was to help
supplement government funding for all levels of education in Nigeria. Half of
the ETF went to primary (30%) and secondary (20%) with universities getting
25%. Polytechnics and colleges of education got 12.5 percent each. But in 2011,
ASUU successfully lobbied and forced the government to change the law which
transformed the ETF into TETFUND. Today, the 2 % tax on companies only funds
higher education with universities getting 50% and polytechnics and colleges of
education getting 25% each. Primary and secondary education has been kicked out
University lecturers in particular have since turned
TETFUND into another source of funding for themselves. They now apply to the
fund for grants to study abroad for masters and PhD programs (while they
continue to earn their full pay). An official report by TETFUND for September 2017
that it approved funding for a total of 449 masters and PhDs in that month
alone 106 of them outside Nigeria. It also approved 283 conference attendances
for that month, 66 of them abroad. The most recent available audit of TETFUND in 2013
that it received 366 billion naira between 2007 and 2011, the last year before
it was exclusively taken over by higher education. The report shows that a
significant chunk of the money was going to state primary education boards
where Nigeria’s education system is currently failing the most.
If young Nigerians “haven’t been to school” as the
president said, it is no accident—it is the outcome of a system designed to do
just that. Over many decades, the government has abdicated its most basic
responsibility to set up children with a basic education at primary and
secondary levels. Only by the time it is far too late does it then respond to
hostage takers by handing over the chunk of its budget to them.
President Buhari has not shown even the slightest sign
that he has thought about these problems let alone proffer solutions to them.
He appointed a most disinterested minister of education who was hardly seen nor
heard for the first two years of his government. There is no sign that the
government recognizes that the nation is in the grip of an education crisis at
all levels. It simply carries on as normal and, as the president even said at
the Commonwealth Business Forum, it thinks it deserves some accolades for some
imaginary achievements it has had.
About The Author
Feyi Fawehinmi is an accountant and
has worked in the UK’s financial services for the past 10 years. His experience
covers investment banking, private equity, asset management and
insurance. He is an amateur photographer in his spare time. He lives
in the United Kingdom with his family. He blogs regularly
on Nigeria and economic policies on aguntasolo.com and is a contributor
to a number of leading Nigerian publications including
can be reached via @DoubleEph on