For some consecutive years, Nigeria's Southwest states have stuck out like a sore thumb in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WAEC) with their dismal performance. In this report, Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, examines why education in the region, once the bastion of high academic standards, is heading down.
In 2014, when the West African Examination Council released the results of the Senior School Certificate Examination, all the states in the Southwest were missing in the top-five list of states with the best performance.
That year, a state from the Southeast, Anambra, topped the list with Abia coming second. In the South-South, Edo (third), Rivers (fourth), Bayelsa (seventh) and Delta (eighth) displayed sterling performances. The Southwest states, usually synonymous with high education standards had lacklustre outing.
In the last three years, the dismal performances were repeated, signposting a persistent rot in the states' education system - at least, in secondary school education.
As a whole, in terms of education, Nigeria's Southwest states are fixated on the past, lost in the present and without vision for the future.
In 2015, Abia led the pack again with 63.94 per cent; Anambra came second with 61.18 per cent and Imo was fifth. Osun was 29th; Oyo, 26th; Ogun 19th; and Ondo 13th. Ekiti came 11th. Only Lagos made a good showing but did not make the top-five - it came sixth.
The quintet of Abia, Rivers, Edo, Imo and Bayelsa states emerged the best performing states in the 2016 WASSCE.
Abia came out strong at 81.54 per cent; Rivers, 78.59 per cent; Edo came third with 77.41 per cent; Imo had 76.46 per cent; Bayelsa, 74.38 per cent and Anambra, 71.83 per cent. Ondo came seventh with 68.43 per cent; and Lagos, ninth with 64.31 per cent; while Ekiti, Ogun, Osun and Oyo were 14th, 19th, 24th and 29th.
"The ranking is sent to states so that those who are already doing well will not rest on their oars," the Head, Public Affairs Unit of WAEC, Demianus Ojijeogu, noted. "And those who are not doing very well can look at what the states with best performing candidates are doing in order to improve. It is also to help states to implement their policies in terms of teaching and learning, pupils' attitude, teachers' training, among other things."
In other words, WAEC is telling states especially in the Southwest to invest more in teaching and learning. How can that be done? The example of Anambra and Edo states will illustrate.
In 2011, ex-Governor Peter Obi, returned 1,040 primary schools to the missions that established them. Thereafter, he awarded N6bn to the schools as grants. Out of this, public primary schools had N489 million; the rest went to secondary schools. The former governor also donated buses, laboratory equipment, transformers, generators, dispensary consumables, sports gears, computers and other tools to the schools.
Little wonder the World Bank recommended the school standard in Anambra as the model for Africa and other developing nations.
In Edo, the erstwhile Governor Adams Oshiomhole was a stickler for training and re-retraining of teachers and his legacy is seen in the performance of WASSCE candidates in that state.
As a matter of fact, since 1996, states like Imo, Anambra and Delta have been producing the highest number of candidates in the University Matriculation Examination (UME)
In 1999, Imo had 44,274 applicants; Delta, 36,375; and Anambra, 34,206, making them the top-three states.
In 2007, the top-five states with the highest number of candidates were Imo with 93,065; Anambra, 64,689; Delta, 61,580; Edo, 57,754; and Akwa Ibom, 47,928.
With most of the Southwest states hardly making a great showing in nationwide academic performances, not a few stakeholders have become nostalgic of an era when the region reigned supreme and the Southeast was playing a competitive catch-up.
And, rather than look to the future, the so-called civilised west may have to look to its glorious past.
In 1952, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of the old Western Region, comprising nine states, kicked off with the Universal Primary Education, committing not less than 40 per cent of the region's budget to education.
Awolowo was reported to have cut down on capital costs on school buildings, cancelled housing subsidy for civil servants and opted for mud blocks for classrooms when he was faced with the task of juggling the N10m estimate for the UPE, free health programme and the projected 1954 expenditure that was N5m.
By 1956, Grade 3 Teacher Training Colleges were established with 11,000 teachers trained between 1955 and 1958. How many teachers have been trained in the last four years in the Southwest?
Despite Awolowo's unprecedented and pragmatic approach to education and its many gains and enduring legacies, many beneficiaries who have become leaders in modern Nigeria - particularly governors - appear determined to bastardise the system.
Since the advent of democracy in 1999, education has been annexed to the political arena as few fanciful school buildings with exaggerated costs litter the western landscape; and many schools with classrooms that can only be fit for pigs found everywhere.
Teachers are hungry, ill motivated and harried because the governors will rather spend money on white elephant projects than on the future generation through provision of quality education.
It is not hyperbolic when the late Babatunde Fafunwa, an eminent professor of education, described Awolowo's education policy as "the boldest and perhaps, the most unprecedented educational scheme in Africa south of the Sahara."
Many education scholars note with worry that in spite of the fact that the region was the first in the country to receive Western education and was ahead in academic excellence, it is now struggling to catch up with restive region like the South-South and exhibiting results like ravaged states in the North.
In the past, the East and the West's academic excellence were personified by literary giants like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka; Nnamdi Azikiwe and Awolowo; University of Nigeria, Nsukka and University of Ibadan (UI. The rivalry was healthy and progressive.
The dangers of the present reality that governors and those directly involved in developing blueprints for academic excellence are oblivious of are that the region will likely end up sub-par in terms of development, service delivery and capacity to fill top positions in the region and at the centre.
A foremost educationist and former vice chancellor of UI, Prof. Ayo Banjo, said concerning the problem at hand, "The complaint that is regularly made today is that there are no funds. But I don't think this is a very strong reason for not continuing free education in the country. All it requires is giving education a priority in the budget. That's the way to fund education."
Many southwest governors scheming ahead of 2019 general elections, that priority may remain a mirage or at best a political jingle, with undisclosed war chest devoted to their do-or-die ambitions.
While the Southwest may have become the poster boy for dwindling fortunes in its education system, the country also has been struggling over the years to pay teachers - from primary, secondary to tertiary schools.
A survey of 30 countries by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development showed that the United States spends $809bn; Japan, $160bn; Germany, $154bn; Brazil, $146bn; France, $123bn; and the United Kingdom, $123bn each year on education. How much does Nigeria spend?
It cannot be over-emphasised that teachers in the Southwest must be adequately motivated, commensurately and promptly remunerated to revive the region's lost glory.
Education experts also charge the governors and leaders in the education ministry to resist the urge to treat teachers with disdain or contempt.
In countries like Finland, the Czech Republic, China, Japan and South Korea, teaching is a prized profession.
According to the OECD data, teachers are treated like royalty in Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Once, the affected states and Nigeria as a whole stop treating teachers like lepers and let their rewards be on earth, then the standards of education can improve beyond everyone's imagination.
While efforts to get the reaction of some of the affected states proved abortive, Oyo state government on its part faulted the performance chart saying it has surpassed its previous performance in the last 19 years, by moving from 21 percent to 54.18 percent.
The duo of the commissioner for education, Prof Adeniyi Olowofela and his information counterpart, Toye Arulogun said government last year enforced the policy of "no automatic promotion" for its students, which has started yielding positive results.
"The WAEC examination we did afterward is 2017 and we broke the jinx with a record performance of 54.18 percent pass. This is indicative of the fact that Oyo State students did not do poorly in the 2017 examinations conducted by WAEC comparatively. As a matter of fact this result is the best result by students in the State in the last 18 years.
To mention in passing, it is ironical to note that education has become one of the biggest and fast-rising businesses in the Southwest, with a large number of prestigious private schools springing up side by side with mushroom ones.
It will be a shame, education stakeholders in the region said, if the state governors continue to play deaf and blind to the woeful state of education. It will also be a shame if the students and their parents do not rise up to protest the ignominy and dire straits policy makers and political leaders have subjected education in their region to.
It remains to be seen whether there will be marked improvement when WAEC will make public the next analysis of performance in WASSCE.