Vanguard (Lagos)

12 November 2012

Nigeria: Will the 2013 Budget Lift Education Out of Decadence?

opinion

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 8.7percent of the budget but only a small portion of it; a mere N60 billion (14 percent) 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 percent.

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 percent illiteracy rate, etc.

We therefore call on the National Assembly to increase the 2013 budgetary allocation to education to 26 percent 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 percent 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 percent minimum allocation to education as recommended by UNESCO"(Daily Trust, 12/10/12).

The 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 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 percent last year to 8.7 percent in the 2013 budget. Meanwhile, the President in his budget speech admitted that the 2013 appropriation bill is 5 percent 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 percent 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 nine 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.

Mr. HASSAN SOWETO, a social critic, wrote from Lagos.

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