After the civil war, our new nation was awash with petrodollars. There was money to be spent, the government allocated a significant portion of Nigeria's budget to education for a few intervening years. By the mid 1970s, enrollment jumped significantly due to increased awareness and appreciation for Western education. Meanwhile, Nigeria retained its high fertility rate of 5.53 births per woman; a holdover from its agrarian and feudal past where subsistent agrarian economy necessitated large families. Apart from the need for farm labor, large families proved a hedge against high mortality rate caused by preventable diseases. By the mid 1970s most of these diseases like smallpox, polio, guinea worm, cholera etc have either been eradicated or controlled by access to modern medicine, portable water and improved hygiene as a direct consequence of better education. After the Udoji awards, materialism became the new stupid standard. We developed complicated taste for foreign goods and consumption of imports skyrocketed. When General Muritala Mohammed became head of state; he opened the floodgates to imports. Rice, fish, chicken and even frozen beef were brought in freely to satiate our growing appetite.
By 1978, the bills were pilling up, General Obasanjo through the then Colonel Ahmadu Ali (Education Minister) slashed funding for Universities senselessly in an action akin to decapitation as a cure for headache. The cuts precipitated the "Ali Must Go" crisis, and orchestrated the beginning of the decline in the University educational system. He it was, who set the stage for the era of anti-intellectualism that crystallized during the Babangida era and created the brain drain phenom that eventually shaped Nigerian education tragically. I must state that Obasanjo in his second coming as civilian president revised teachers salaries upward but his action seemed a day late and a dollar short. Extensive damage was already done, his action seemed more of a placebo than a cure. History will record General Ibrahim Babangida as the man who nailed the coffin on education, public morality and values in Nigeria.
Any analysis of Nigeria's southward trajectory in education will be incomplete without addressing the issue of poor funding. The government was unprepared for the surge in population growth. Its lethargic response to education was predicated on national census figures that has never been accurate. The basis for forecasting was and still eternally flawed; cultural, ethnic and political considerations skewed census figures on which forecasting data can be derived. At the same time, the corruption virus was beginning to multiply. The stage for conversion, diversion, embezzlement and grand theft of public funds was set. With lack of preparation and sprouting corruption as enablers, it was not surprising that projected population growth in school age enrollment was not matched with funding. Since sufficient funding is essential to the success of any endeavor, education floundered. The planners either did not know or refused to understand, that resource allocation to education is a necessary condition for sustainable development of Nigeria and its manpower. As a result of their overwhelming shortsightedness, the government was unable to plan or execute any worthwhile or forward looking project on education, other than creating Universities they never intend to fund. Existing teaching facilities were given no upgrade, there was no expansion of learning facilities and infrastructure especially at the primary and secondary school levels. Teacher renumeration and condition of service languished across board as a legitimate fallout of the dysfunction.
The 1980s came with its own constraints. Within a decade, Nigeria went from being young and wealthy, to young and poor. Effect of recession on developed economies reverberated through the economies of developing countries and Nigeria's fiscal constraints grew. Since a greater part of these years were spent under military rule, defence spending outpaced funding for education. Year over year, there were fiscal increases in spending on education but in real terms funding for education as a percentage of the national budget and Gross National Product (GNP) declined steadily. In common speak, this means the budgetary increase on education at all tiers of government only reflects the rate of inflation. While population is growing at an average annualized rate of over 3 percent, funding for education stagnated.
It is common knowledge that Nigeria as a country is an infrastructural wasteland. Can education be an exception? Decaying and outdated infrastructure is the story of education in Nigeria. The physical and special provisions needed to enhance teaching and learning in schools were not considered pivotal to our national development by our administrators. No one seem to understand the importance, need and relevance of infrastructure towards educating the country. According to a Yoruba proverb - The bearded cleric got burnt in a fiery inferno and you are asking after his beard? What was the accelerant for the fire? The neglect in education is systemic, the rot in each segment feeds the other in a vicious cycle. Many of the schools we have today were built when our population was under 60million. Not only were the existing structures not maintained, there were fewer expansion of existing facilities and insignificant investment in new schools relative to population growth. The Nigerian military thinly veiled disdain for intellectual pursuits turned logic on its head. There was no measurable investment in critical inputs necessary for attainment of educational goals at all levels like updated or new classrooms, libraries, science laboratories, classroom furniture, sporting equipment, and instructional materials. The libraries became dated, classrooms were overcrowded, reagents and scientific apparatuses can only go round a fraction of the student body. Results started coming in, on our many missteps and gaps. Those missteps and gaps led us into our education conundrum.
Public schools in Nigeria are nothing to be proud of. Few if any, of the public schools can boast of good infrastructure. The class I sat in 1970, still has few desks with holes for Quink inkwells and grooves for nib pens! Decaying infrastructure is a recurring theme in all public schools. In the Southwest, some schools built by the regional government of Western Nigeria has never had a single classroom added. Most of these schools are in serious disrepair with their doors and windows half eaten by termites. Classes are frequently taught under trees with class size ranging between 40-70. Justin W. van Fleet in his research for the Brookings Institution described our education woes aptly: "If you want a glimpse into Africa’s education crisis there is no better vantage point than the town of Bodinga, located in the impoverished Savannah region of Sokoto state in northwestern Nigeria. Drop into one of the local primary schools and you’ll typically find more than 50 students crammed into a class. Just a few will have textbooks. If the teacher is there, and they are often absent, the children will be on the receiving end of a monotone recitation geared towards rote learning." 80 percent of Sokoto’s Grade 3 pupils cannot read a single word. Over half of the Sokoto state’s primary school-age children are out of school – and Sokoto has some of the world’s biggest gender gaps in education.
In the secondary school I attended and graduated from over three decades ago, has the same Microscope is still in use, the beakers and prisms are scratched and cracked from repeated use, water no longer run from the faucets. Chemistry experiments looked like some voodoo ritual, with students running to fetch water from buckets and contributing funds to buy sulphuric acid from the streets. In some places, the facilities are not there any anymore. I attended my secondary school inter house sports last year and I was ashamed. Games like hurdles, hockey or games requiring any form of equipment are no longer listed because they do not have the equipment. Sports for most schools now means track events only. Lack of maintenance is the open sore of our nation, it festers for everyone to see. The culture of maintenance and renovation is vestigial. Usually, the pomp and ceremony ends the day a school building or any structure is commissioned after which every other thing about the structure is promptly forgotten. The structure falls into disrepair in a few years without any maintenance or renovation. How can a student from Iyanfoworogi secondary school in rural Nigeria with these built in disadvantages compete with a student from the elite Grange in Ikeja or Day Waterman in Abeokuta? What performance outcomes do we expect from a student who does not have access to a one tenth of what he or she needs to excel? This is the story of how our journey into miseducation started.
We are a nation held hostage by greed and avarice. A nation ruled and led by psychopaths whose only ambition is to loot us prostrate. The decline in education started with my generation, got progressively worse and no one cares. Instead, custodians of our trust set out to profit from it by establishing their own schools. Currently, affluent Nigerians can access world class primary education for their wards within and outside Nigeria, the poor can't unfortunately. The obligate parasites we have as leaders have decimated the system. Access to good education has become stratified by socio-economic class. No matter how brilliant you are in today's Nigeria, if your mum sells pepper, you will receive pepper sellers education. If you father taps crude illegally, has an oil block or steals our joint patrimony by virtue of his position of trust, you will be educated in the best traditions. No one gives gifted children of the poor any glance. No one cares who falls through the cracks. Aren't we all falling through the cracks one way or another? As it is in today's Nigeria, children in elite private schools can compete anywhere in the world. At what cost? It's like don't ask, don't tell. At these schools, early childhood education costs about N1.5m a year. Elite private secondary schools where two children share a single washing machine among other conveniences costs about N4.5million a year. These schools are privately funded with first class infrastructure. Their students have excellent diction, are well read, enjoy a healthy mix of academic and co-curricular activities, travel to exotic places for field trips and excursions and are generally taught to international standards. Most of these schools have their students sit for international examinations and they excel easily. WASC, NECO OR JAMB are considered alternatives. How many people can afford these schools exorbitant tuition? Why should the dichotomy be so huge? What hope for the poor? The same country that breeds these well heeled youngsters who score high on SAT also bred University graduates who cannot write passable English for lack of good foundation, training, opportunity, ethics and role models in that order. Even by our ingrained execrable standards, education has fallen. In the concluding part, I will present the stark statistics of increasing poor student performance and my recommendations. We are sitting on our hands as the dumbing of Nigeria unfolds.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters