President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to declare a state of emergency in education in Nigeria and to substantially increase government's investment in the sector.
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, made the appeal on Monday at a retreat the presidency held for ministers on education. The event was at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
According to Mr. Adamu, President Buhari should pay attention to education the way he has done to insecurity and the economy.
He said Nigeria is seriously underfunding education, even when compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, and warned that the federal government would have to spend significantly more, if it would achieve its goals as a change government.
According to the minister, to meet the 13 campaign promises he made to Nigerians on education, the president needs to spend at least one trillion naira yearly on the sector.
In the 2018 budget proposals he presented on Tuesday to the National Assembly, President Buhari allocated N605.8 billion, representing seven per cent of the budget, to the sector.
The minister said this is not adequate, as other countries at par with Nigeria allocate at least 20 per cent of their budgets to the sector.
"Mr. President, to achieve the desired change that education needs, there is the need for improved funding and a measure of political will in national governance.
"Such is the weight of the problems that beset our education and the deleterious effect it has had on our national development efforts that I believe that this Retreat should end with a declaration of a state of emergency in education so that we can face the challenges frontally and squarely," he said.
The minister noted that since 1999 when democratic governments returned, annual budgetary allocation to education in Nigeria has been between four per cent and ten per cent.
"None of the E9 or D8 countries other than Nigeria, allocates less than 20 per cent of its annual budget to education. Indeed even among sub-Saharan Africa countries, we are trailing far behind smaller and less endowed nations in terms of our investment in education," Mr. Adamu said.
He, therefore, urged Mr. Buhari for a major investment in education in the nation's interest.
He stressed that such investment, which requires about N1 trillion each year, would be in line with the president's as well as APC's campaign promises before the 2015 election.
"A clear guide, Your Excellency, is the costing of the APC campaign promises in education which shows that after four years, would be minimum of one trillion Naira per annum, required to fulfil your 13 promises," he said.
The minister noted that for education to be revived in Nigeria, the government should consider special incentives such as scholarships and automatic employment for education graduates.
"I am strongly persuaded that if we offer automatic scholarship to students who take education, and automatic employment and a preferential compensation package to those who take to teaching as a profession, our system will improve tremendously.
"If we give regulatory agencies the teeth to bite and do their work, mediocre teachers will soon disappear from our classrooms.
"If we insist on professionalism with appropriate deadlines set for those who teach, the situation will improve phenomenally. We can minimize and in due course eliminate mediocrity in the education sector," the minister said.
Speaking at the retreat, President Buhari pledged the commitment of his administration to revamping the sector.
Mr. Buhari lamented that education in Nigeria has suffered serious neglect by successive administrations.
He, however, said since he came into office, Nigeria's participation in all relevant international education fora and investment in education as well as collaboration with development partners were an indication of his administration's "high level of commitment towards ensuring that every capable Nigerian receives good quality education".
Mr. Buhari said all his efforts are justifiable "only to the extent that schooling is effective in promoting the realisation of national objectives, attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Education For All (EFA) by 2030."
He also said these targets are "happily, in harmony with the manifesto and the CHANGE agenda of our Party, the All Progressive Congress (APC).
"It is also in agreement with my campaign promises during the 2015 elections exercise and in pursuit of the yearnings and aspirations of the generality of Nigerian citizens."
The president said the retreat was significant because "We cannot progress beyond the level and standard of our education.
"Today, it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with practical know-how that are leading the rest.
"We cannot afford to continue lagging behind. Education is our launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future."
He said his government was committed to revitalising the country's education system and making it more responsive and globally competitive.
"One of the primary roles of education is to build and sustain individual and society's development. It renews and improves the economic, social, political and cultural aspects of any nation," he said.