Nigeria’s Education System in Perilous Times

Nigeria’s Education System in Perilous Times

By ‘Kunle Adebajo

To start with…

On the fourteenth day of the forth month in 2014, a horrible crime was committed; one not only against persons who are innocent members of the society, but poor girls studying silently within the sacred walls of the Ivory Tower. It was barely two weeks away from April Fools ’ Day, but this was no joke. Two hundred and seventy-six children, enough to form a prosperous village, were abducted by Boko Haram from the Government Secondary School in Chibok.  Till today, 195 of these innocents remain, at best, in captivity.

Speaking at the 2015 Geneva Summit of Human Rights and Democracy, Saa described how she and her colleagues were rounded up in the dead of the night, how their school was burnt down along with their books and belongings, and how they were cramped inside a large truck on the “long walk” to oppression.  Luckily, she escaped. Without doubt, before the incident of April 14, the Chibok girls were savouring only a half loaf of education. But with the tragic episode, even that half has been snatched from their longing lips.

Agents of insecurity have education under bondage, through burning of schools, maiming of children and their benefactors, and a relentless campaign of fear. If this was the only problem education in Nigeria is facing, however, perhaps we would still have something for which to be thankful. But with the thick cloud of economic recession hovering also above us, the Pierian Spring has clearly become a Pierian wasteland to the man on the street. Classrooms are either razed to the ground, or standing but buried 6 feet under sands of silence. Lecturers are constantly protesting the non-payment of their wages. Parents are sweating day and night, getting indebted left and right, just so they can keep their children in uniform. Pupils are unusually resuming new academic sessions with no textbooks in hand.  And most saddening of all, youths are dropping out of school for lack of means.

Economic Recession and Education

We will only be fishing from the vast ocean of banality if we say Nigerian education is struggling when compared to others, not only in the celebrated Ivy League, but right here in Africa. We will only be repeating the obvious if we say the system is aching silently, a shadow of its former self, or perhaps even an embarrassment to history. We would only have tapped the same drum of dirge beaten to wear by others decades ago if we said the country’s cranium is in utter abandon, and that our Ivory Tower has been reduced to a muddy bungalow without roofing. It was terrible yesterday when our only problem was bad leadership and money was on the table. One can only imagine what the situation is today when there is no money on the table, none on the floor, yet we still have bad leaders.

Thanks to economic recession, our education sector has been ferried from frying pan to raging fire. Our universities are suffocating, unable to carry out sufficient capital projects. They are unable to fund research as they should. They are unable to sponsor quality training programmes for their staff. And even the realisation of recurrent expenses has become a thing of great worry; they are unable to pay workers’ salaries on time as government’s subvention keeps nose-diving by the year. Ladoke Akintola University of Technology’s just-ended 8-month shutdown is testimony to this.

Many schools have decided to suffer in silence for fear of sanction. But even if we do not hear their lamentation, we see it in their in bid to increase school fees in order to make up for shortfalls. We see it in their desperation to make more money through Internally Generated Revenue systems. We see it in the increasing number of abandoned projects littering our campuses. And we see it on the sullen faces of unpaid and half-paid lecturers.

Last year, the acting Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Anthony Elujoba, cried out about the adverse effect of economic downturn on the university’s effective running.  Likewise, Professor Debo Adeyewa of Redeemer’s University has said we have reached a time when private universities increasingly engage the services of marketers to get students, contemplate the payment of fees in up to six instalments and even the reduction of their tuition to court patronage.  Even University of Ibadan, on the 12th of May 2016, announced through the Registrar that hard copies of the University Bulletin will no longer be produced “owing to paucity of funds and in order to save cost.” The institution’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Idowu Olayinka, also confirmed in a recent interview that “the massive underfunding that the university is experiencing because of the economic recession has been the major pain in the neck.”

In order to survive, some schools have had to lay off teachers, cut extracurricular activities, cut subjects not required for graduation, cut instructional programmes and professional development for staff, all of which are crucial for the attainment of a 21st-century educational model.  But school administrations are not the only academic stakeholders out of depth and in need of bail out; students have also had to bear much of the brunt. The on-going recession has forced many parents to compromise the future of their children due to untold financial hardship. Massive withdrawal of students has hit several local schools, private ones especially.  Even Nigerian students abroad are not spared as many of them are also seeking to transfer back home.

The United Nations reported in 2016 that, with 10.5 million children not enrolled in school, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.   One can only imagine how much this figure would have surged in this session of recession. A step beyond numb numbers, however, stands Chidinma, a 14-year-old who stopped schooling in 2015 because her dad could not afford the fees.  Similarly, Chinoye (14) stopped receiving formal education after ₦7,000 was added to her school fees.  And Shayo (12), who was always beaten and driven away for non-payment of school fees, also had to eventually withdraw when she was only in J.S.S. 1 because she could not afford ₦8,000.

Insecurity and Education

As adversity pins education to the floor with the left hand of recession, so does it not relent in administering heavy blows with its right hand of insecurity. Nigeria is not as peaceful as it used to be and this has taken a toll upon her citadels of learning. The cliché “silence, lecture is on-going” teaches us one important thing – learning cannot take place in an atmosphere of disquiet. We cannot learn effectively where there is the slightest distraction. And what could be more distracting than a persistent threat to life and property?

Though considerable progress has been recorded in the war against terrorism, the scar inflicted on our soil by the Boko Haram fighters is healing no time soon. Innocent lives and billions-worth of properties are not the only things snatched away by them. They have also made sure that the springs which satisfy our thirst for knowledge have either run dry or we have become too afraid to approach them.

As revealed by the United Nations, by the start of 2016 as many as 952,029 children of school age were displaced as a result of insurgency.  It has also been established that more than 910 schools have been destroyed and at least 1,500 have had to close down since the menace was birthed.  There is no gainsaying the fact that no genuine learning can take place in an environment where teachers are killed, schools are set on fire and students are kidnapped without check. Students who muster courage to attend classes do so thinking each lesson may be their last. And parents who allow their children to go to school have dramatically become the foolish ones while those who keep theirs at home are the prides of evolutionary wisdom. Consequently, an entire generation of youth in the Northeast is missing out on the right to education.

In Borno state for instance, all levels of schools in 22 out of 27 local government areas were closed for more than two years. Public secondary schools in the state capital only reopened in February 2016 after Internally Displaced Persons housed in the schools were relocated.  Even the University of Maiduguri, known initially for turning down students to prevent overcrowding, now seeks for students cap-in-hand through different media outreach.

Besides the direct effects of insecurity on the education sector, it should be noted too that the massive slice of our budgetary pie earmarked for defence each year automatically means less money for other matters including the schools. Thus, with the return of general peace and stability, citadels of learning will naturally receive more financial attention.


Children-in-poor-schools Nigeria’s Education System in Perilous Times

Emergency Exit from the Doldrums

Kofi Annan, addressing the World Bank Conference in 1997, asserted, “Knowledge is power; information is liberating; education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”  And he is right. The most successful persons and the most flourishing civilisations in history are more often than not those who place an uncompromising premium on brainpower. If Nigeria continues on this path of intellectual mediocrity, we may not only be labelled as a failing nation, we will in no time graduate to overtake Somalia as the most failed state of the world.  To prevent this, we have to first realise that though economic recession and insecurity are bad by themselves, their intercourse is breeding an even greater evil – the ignorance of our people.

While it is true that the root of all evil is money (or the love of it), it is equally true that the root of all good is nothing but money. Many of our politicians send their kids to Ivy League universities without asking why they are way better than local ones. They seem not to understand that adequate funding is a major contributor. The endowment of Harvard University alone for example, $37.6 billion, is almost double Nigeria’s 2017 Budget of Recovery and Growth.

It is no coincidence that countries with the highest literacy rates often perform excellently according to other positive indices. For instance, 15 out of the 20 countries with the best education systems in the world  are equally among the 20 countries ranked highest on the 2014 Human Development Index.  Eight of out of these same countries are among the top 20 nations in the world with the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If we want to be where these countries are, then we have to do what they did – take education seriously. The UNESCO benchmark of 26% budgetary allocation to the education sector should be upheld religiously. We should consolidate on our progress in the anti-terrorism fight. Schools, especially in the North, should have their security thickened.

Furthermore, the heartrending stories of withdrawal and non-enrolment of children in schools must be rewritten. Children like Chidinma, Chinoye and 12-year-old Shayo should never be placed in a situation where the only door open to them is the school’s exit. As former U.S. President, Barack Obama, put it, “We have an obligation and a responsibility to be investing in our students and our schools. We must make sure that people who have the grades, the desire and the will, but not the money, can still get the best education possible.”

The good news is not only will the defeat of terrorism and the knockout of recession help elevate the state of education, an elevation of the state of education will also contribute to the maintenance of peace and economic prosperity. It is a two-way street; and this is because an educated mind is often sane and potent enough to eschew bigotry and recklessness. What we call evil, as Henry Ford remarked, is simply ignorance bumping its head in the dark.  So while we cry for the government to “bring back our girls,” let us also not forget to remind them with equal vigour to bring back the quality education, the lack of which enabled them to be kidnapped in the first place.

It is not however only the government’s place to resuscitate our learning institutions. The institutions themselves must buckle their seatbelt and get hold of the wheels of their destinies. In the words of Omole, “To be the chief executive of the university, you must be very creative. You have to put on your thinking cap every second… You have to move out; go to philanthropists, friends of the university, go to everywhere. A vice-chancellor of the 21st century, especially in Nigeria, if you want to be successful, you are not better than a beggar.”

Schools should not only find independent means of reinforcing their security, they need to also discover ways of diversifying their revenue generation. Like their western counterparts, it is high time they started engaging in fundraising for endowments and involving their alumni network more actively to contribute to essential projects. They should do more of paid consultancies, patenting of inventions, sales, and investments into laudable ideas. The days of spoon-feeding and waiting on government are long gone.

We have to recognise that Nigeria was carried to independence on the shoulders of educated heroes past, and only the continued education of her citizenry can ensure that their labour was not in vain. We are free because of education. We are suffering because of an inadequacy of it. And we can only be saved through a salvation of it.

In Closing

On the last day of May 1889, the United States of America played host to a disaster so terrible it has been outmatched in history only by the event of September 2001. The South Fork Dam owned by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club had broken down after several years of dire predictions and an unprecedented heavy rainfall. The owners were blinded by the pleasure of sailing and ice boating which the dam afforded. And so they made matters worse through poor maintenance and by erecting fish screens across the mouth of the spillway, which got clogged with debris and restricted the flow of water. Sadly, by the time the following flood washed through nearby Johnstown, it took with it nearly 2,200 souls.

The Nigeria of today is like the Johnstown of the 19th century. Our government is like the club. And our ailing education sector is like the South Fork Dam. Over and over, time and again, many have warned. Alas, the elites are too busy having a good time to bother. But as we stand on the brink of collapse, let the wise continue to proclaim and the writers continue to counsel: to save the nation, we must first save the nation’s education. If care is not taken, our May 31 shall also come, the heavy rainfall of fate shall pour, the cracks in our schools shall reach their breaking point, and the rest will be history. For the sake of all of us, may care be taken.


‘Kunle Adebajo is a final-year apprentice of Law from the University of Ibadan. He may be reached via his email address:

  • Children-in-poor-schools Nigeria’s Education System in Perilous Times

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