Wither Education in Nigeria?

Education, universally, has evidently proven itself to be the sine qua non to the development, progress and advancement of a nation. As a result of this, it plays a pivotal role in the development, progress and advancement of all other sectors of the social, political and economic enclave of such a nation. Pathetically however, despite this indisputable fact, the story of education continues, day-in and day-out, to remain one of tragedy in Nigeria. Education, particularly (though not singularly) tertiary education, continually suffers from abject neglect by the Nigerian ruling class, which starves the tertiary institutions of funds. According to a UNESCO report, the average budgetary allocation to education in sub-Saharan Africa is 21%; Nigeria’s record is less than 9%! This compels the authorities of such institutions to charge the students all kinds of exorbitant and obnoxious fees.

The situation in the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, remains a tale of woe; the University Authority is consistently devising new and newer plans and “reasons” for charging students more and more fees. The latest plot that has just been hatched is the one titled “Teaching Charges”, otherwise known as, “Departmental Charges”. The charging of fees through this method is decentralized in nature. Each student is billed according to the whims and caprices of his/her departmental faculty. This creates the spectacle whereby a student of Agriculture pays a fee different and apart from that paid by a student of Law and so on. According to this plan, an individual student is charged as much as N15,000.00 (Faculty of Science and Technology), and even amounts as outrageous as N20,000.00 for students in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Pharmacy and Agriculture, etc, etc (New Age Newspapers, June 15 2004). The fact that this new increment is coming just after the heels of a previous astronomical increase in fees, (over 500 percent increment) last session, bothers not the minds of the inhabitants of the school’s administrative building nor those of the Aso Rock!

The situation in OAU is not an exception. It is a reflection of the pervading state of affairs on a national scale. All across Nigerian tertiary institutions it is now the norm to find ways (no matter how obnoxious and outrageous) of charging students more and more money. The recent students’ protest in March 2004 at the University of Ilorin, which led to the closure of the school for three months, was indirectly related to this extreme anti-poor policy. The students protested against bad welfare conditions (lack of water supply, amongst others) on the premise that; “we have paid a new regime of exorbitant fees, we must therefore be provided with commensurate services.” The list goes on and on with similar occurrences at UNILAG, OOU, UNIABUJA, UI, and scores of other federal higher institutions.

Contrary to what might be assumed, the other levels of education in Nigeria (Primary and Secondary) are not exempted but also assailed with this terrible situation. Although the large bulk of the Primary and Secondary schools in Nigeria are in private hands, the process of privatisation and commercialisation of education has reached a near- conclusive end with this sector. But in the instances where we have government-owned primary and secondary schools, we only see the dilapidation and degeneration of both superstructures and infrastructures and a consistent exorbitant increase in school fees.

The deliberate assault on University education by the ruling class is usually defended with the proposition that the government has no money to fund Universities. Therefore, there should be cost -sharing to fund Universities, in other words, University education should be commercialised as a basis for generating funds for the Universities.

Attractive as this line of argument might seem, it, in the real sense, lacks merit and genuinely is nothing but an attempt at hoodwinking the Nigerian working masses as regards the real state of affairs. Unless it is intended as a joke, and it is not a funny one, the suggestion that the government has no money cannot be credibly and rationally sustained in the light of the gargantuan waste, mismanagement and widespread corruption in all levels of government. For example, the N60 billion Education Tax Fund that grew wings and flew away, COJA (over N80 billion spent on Abuja stadium), CHOGM, etc, etc to mention just a few examples. It is also not new news that Nigeria is a stupendously rich nation, in both natural and human resources. Over $50 million is generated on a daily basis from the sales of crude oil alone! What of funds generated through all kinds of taxes billed the teeming population of over 120 million Nigerians, at least 30% of which are in the workforce? Also of importance is the foreign exchange earnings, tariffs, etc. The magnitude and enormity of loot from the treasury is incredible by both past and present rulers, like Babangida and Abacha, each of whom possesses assets which have been estimated to worth $6 billion (U.S dollars). At this point, the reader might object; but Nigeria was assessed by the international community as one of the poorest third world countries! The answer to this is that the enormous wealth of the Nigerian nation is not reflected in the lives of the majority of the Nigerian populace! Where the standard of living of the majority falls far, far below average, such a country could never be regarded as rich. Nigeria has enough money to satisfy the needs of all but not enough to satisfy the greed of the few in the wealthy minority.

On the issue of cost-sharing and commercialisation as a basis of generating funds for the Universities: the pertinent question that needs to be asked is this: from whom will the funds be generated? Is it the economically impotent students and their parents? In the year 2000, the same federal government announced that fees could not be introduced and charges could not be raised until most parents were economically empowered. Today, after widespread privatisation and commercialisation of social utilities and basic amenities, deregulation and other economic strangulations by the self-same government, most parents are economically worse off than they were in 2000. Despite this, the Federal government is mandating Universities to make more and more money from parents in order to survive. On December 1, 2003, President Obasanjo summoned all Vice-chancellors of Universities and other heads of tertiary institutions in Nigeria to Abuja and ordered them to begin immediately to charge a minimum of N10,000.00 per bed space in students’ hostels. Where does the civil servant, for example, who earns N5,500.00 (minimum wage) per month, which is not regularly paid, get the money to pay N10,000.00 for each of his three children in the University? Hmmm… the deeper the thought, the more appalling the scenario!

As a matter of fact, there is already the phenomenon of cost-sharing in the Universities. Even the government committee on the future of higher education in Nigeria attested to this fact when it stated in its report that parents bear 46% of the cost of maintaining a University student, although the appropriate figure is closer to 65%. In Western countries, which are touted as models and of which much noise is made, parents bear less than 10% of the cost. In Nigeria, the government’s idea of cost-sharing is essentially an abandonment of its responsibility to education and the imposition of additional burdens on the majority of its citizens who have no economic capability to pay the numerous increased charges and fees.

The privatisation and commercialisation of Universities as a chief source of funding will consequently lead to the abolition of public Universities. There are no public Universities which can survive functionally without a continuous massive influx of public funds. Funds generated through commercialisation cannot fund significant research and advanced laboratories and up-to-date equipment essential to learning. Moreover, in the real and pragmatic sense, the cost of maintaining a University is gargantuan. Obafemi Awolowo University, as a case study, pays N12 million to NEPA monthly for electricity alone. What if we include other germane utilities and services like water supply, hostel maintenance, lawn cutting, etc, paying regard also to the payment of workers’ salaries and wages? From all this, it is obvious that if OAU students and parents are to pay for the maintenance of the University, given the approximately 23,000 students, we should anticipate nothing less than N100 million from each student! Ultimately, the funding of the Universities has to be from the collective pool of the country’s resources. Adequate funding of education from the collectively owned enormous resources of the country is never an act of benevolence but rather, a act of social, political and economic responsibility.

Commercialisation does nothing but impose an additional unbearable burden on students and parents. The majority of students, who are from poor, working class, homes will drop out of the Universities, as charges soar in public Universities and private Universities will be out of reach. Commercialisation will deny the majority the right to education and make it the property of a privileged few. Besides, the consequences of a large population of idle, uneducated youth can only spell greater doom for the nation as a whole – increasing social insecurity, creating further economic burdens and political turbulence, among a host of other social ills.

The privatisation of our Universities, which is the targeted objective of the Federal government, will only make things worse for the nation generally, and particularly its poor citizenry. The privatisation of aspects of social services is already inimical to countries with a GDP of $30,000 per head, much more so in a nation like Nigeria with a GDP of about $300 per head.

This policy of essentially under funding education is part of a whole lot of other tyrannical policies dictated by the IMF/WORLD BANK, which have been pursued by the obsequious Obasanjo government since 1999. These policies have achieved nothing significant except generating much misery for the majority of Nigerians. Apart from the attack on education, they have failed to develop social services for the people – health, housing, transportation and other public utilities and amenities. They have been unable to generate employment. A huge proportion of Nigerians are unemployed (over 50% increase) and the number is soaring higher and higher by the day. It has passed increasing costs to the people: high school fees, petroleum price increases by over 500%, the infamous fuel tax, etc., etc. Protesting citizens are assaulted and detained or shot. Civil liberties are in jeopardy. Justice is not a priority, and corruption is the norm.

Nevertheless, appalling as the situation of education is, there is a way out. And the way out is the joint and active collaboration of not only of students, but also of all oppressed people of Nigerian society – that is to say the working class and its organisations along with the other poor strata of society jointly fighting for the right of all and sundry to education. We have to shout the slogan, “Education is our right and not a privilege!” at the top of our voices, and put on our revolutionary banners the watchword, “for a functional and qualitative education system”.

However, the only everlasting panacea to the malady of the under funding of education and other attacks on the livelihood of the Nigerian masses in general lies, not exclusively with the mounting of pressure on the government of the day but in a total change of the social, economic and political system of capitalism.

The capitalist world is a world based ultimately on individual greed and personal profit, in other words, an individual struggle for existence. It is a world where the destiny of humanity is controlled by the terrifying and seemingly invisible “market forces”, the same irrational forces that presently condemn millions of people to unemployment. The wealth of society is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, despite all the demagogic nonsense about a “property-owning democracy.” We are supposed to live in a democracy. Yet, a handful of people decide the fate of millions. In Third World countries like Nigeria, institutions of imperialism like the IMF and the WORLD BANK dictate the affairs and policies of the government towards greater and even greater cuts of government spending on social welfare, basic amenities and public utilities. Education is just one example.

The crisis of capitalism pervades all levels of life. It is not merely an economic phenomenon. It is reflected in crime, mindless violence, and indifference to the suffering of others, all-pervasive egotism and the rest. The evidence of its decay is present on all sides. The attack on education, amongst others, is symptomatic of the blind alley of the social, political and economic system of capitalism.

We need to fight for the replacement of capitalism with a planned form of production whereby the resources of the society is nationalised and employed for the need of all and not the greed of a few. The development of the productive forces: industry, agriculture, science and technique, which are the fundamental driving force of all human progress, will be for the common good and not individual profit. It is only a conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, which can lift humanity to its true height.

The name of that planned form of production is socialism. Not its caricature: the bureaucratic monstrosity of Stalinism, which existed for several years in the USSR before its collapse in 1989, and still exist today in the so-called socialist countries like Cuba, China, North Korea, etc, but genuine socialism.

Under socialism, we shall not only enjoy a functional and qualitative education, which will be a right for all and a privilege to none, but also a free education from below primary right up till tertiary and beyond.

July 2004

[Published in the July-August 2004 edition of the Workers’ Alternative]

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