Nigeria: Social and Spiritual Capitals of Private Schools

Social investors in private schools in Nigeria especially at the primary and secondary levels are the most hated, vilified, yet they remain superlatively indispensable and formidably strategic for national prosperity. Private contribution in education in Nigeria is not new: it is as old as the history of modern Nigeria.

Indeed, it was a private organisation that started the first educational facility in Nigeria. Just like the colonial masters were dodging the education of their conquered peoples, the independent country of Nigeria also maintained a placid stance in the education of their citizens. Going by the 1999 Constitution in Chapter two (18) section 3(a-d), we exposed to the hypocrisy of the constitution on the very important subject of education in Nigeria.

For instance, government's objective for education is the direction of its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. Adequacy of policy is not a problem as it is not difficult to 'fabricate' policies. What about the implementation, provisions of education facilities- human and material? As far as I am concerned and from abundant evidence available in Nigeria, governments from colonial era to the present have not taken the education of its citizens very seriously. Think about over ten million out-of-school children and an unknown number of non-capital adults that are thoroughly illiterate. Void of the COVID-19 intervention, all tertiary students would have been sleeping at home and their teachers consigned only to libraries and laboratories while the government displays an attitude of non-challancy. Today, my feeling is that government is taking alibi in COVID-19 pandemic to keep schools permanently closed while doing some spiritual feeding of ghost children.

Would it not be considered criminal to insert in our constitution such clause as "government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy, and to this end (sic) government shall as and when practicable provide ... ?". The provoking criminal clause is "shall as and when practicable provide ". Who controls or directs the practicability time for government to provide education? Within proper logical calculation, this is an artful dodger's clause that should be expunged. Government must and should provide education to its citizens at all times and of all ages. By UN charter for which Nigeria is a signatory, it is the fundamental human right of every citizen to be educated. There is therefore a contradistinction between the Nigerian constitution and UN's clause as it relates to education.

A huge gap does exist between what the constitution contains, the alibi in the constitution in favour of whatever government is in power vi-a-vis the ideal educational situation for the country.This is what the private 'investors' in education saw early enough to burrow into the industry. These crop of people, organisations, and individuals discovered this yawning gap and launched out to intervene. From child-friendly environment, to provisions of quality infrastructure to competent facilitators, the private sector has beaten the government hands down in the delivery of quality education in Nigeria. It is therefore a contradiction, that rather than encourage the private sector's contribution to the education of Nigerian children, we see overt repudiation, vilification and hatred to genuine school operators.

This piece is to etch out just two areas of great contribution of the private sector to education.

It is an undeniable fact that the three tiers of government do not compete with anyone in educational provisions and this orientation breeds lackadaisical attitude to what governments do to the education of their citizens. On the other hand, a private concern in education is conscious, ab initio, that they are going in for a steep competition, hence quality will not be compromised in order to stay afloat. This, of course, buttresses the assertion that government has no business in business. Education and educating are a serious business with great deployment of capital. To say the least, private concerns in education invest wisely by endowing a school or university with good teachers, relevant and current books, thus swelling the funds of knowledge and skills. Social capital can be squandered through subsidising indolence, poor remuneration and allowances, over-burdened teachers, the areas a private investor will never compromise. At the tertiary level, can Ahmadu Bello University or University of Ibadan be compared with Covenant University that was established just 17 years ago in University Ranking?

The negative testimony of 10.5 million out- of-school children and the abandoned almajiris that litter the streets of Nigeria, show the betrayal of trust on the part of governments (present and past) of their citizens. Government's risk bearing barometer should be increased and provoked. Indeed, it's time to criminalise rotten infrastructure in Nigerian schools; it is time sir. For once I have heard Dr Oby Ezekwesili used the word clients. That was it. Schools should have clients which are parents and guardians who send their children and wards to school.

Human capital, according to Schultz, "is the body of skilled and educated people." By this definition, we can confidently say that a herder, an okada rider, a petty trader and such groups of people are not human capital. They are liabilities. For instance, an okada rider that disobeys traffic rules is skilled but not educated. There are many skilled people in Nigeria that are illiterate. Some are even in the parliament.

Private school owners usually entrust themselves to greater powers through worship and prayer because they are in business. In addition, they adopt the discipline and humility that come from religion in their daily activities, thereby making them account for their failings and to deal honestly with parents, learners, and even the staffers. Since business exposes one to criticisms, risk-bearing, debts of responsibility and accountability, the private school owner craves for a far more robust and serious morality needed to excel than a comfortable bureaucracy devoid of competition. If the aim of education is to shape the human character which in turn transforms our experiences, then spiritual capital should be underscored in education.

To a sincere investor in education, profit is not the number one goal. The first goal is how to ensure that the hundreds of innocent souls put in his or her care are properly educated for the community and the nation.

Can any tiers of government in Nigeria beat their chests that they have provided the best of education to Nigerians? Something you can be proud of is the cornerstone of a sincere private school investor because there is the moral conviction to contribute to national growth and business success all wrapped in one goal. I will end this piece by asserting that the wrong notion that private investors in education are out mainly for profit should be demolished and replaced with a positive notion of principle of public- private partnership for the good of Nigerian children, national growth and prosperity.

Alex A. Maiyanga Ph.D, Director, Eagles Academy, Aso Pada

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