Vanguard (Lagos)

13 November 2012

Nigeria: Will the 2013 Budget Lift Education Out of Decadence?(2)

analysis

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 nine 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 nine 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?

Note that 8.7 percent is a marginal and imperceptible increase considering the frightening levels of decay in the sector. A country such as Ghana allocates about 30 percent 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 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 percent of the proposed budget would be needed annually over the next 10 years at least to begin to turn around the fortunes of public education.

However, while we in the ERC demand adequate funding of education, we also recognise the fact that unless corruption is tackled, more money would not necessarily 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, monotechnics, 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 one per cent and looting by political office holders, can have great effect in adequately funding education and 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.

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

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