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Nigeria’s knowledge sector and its poor share of national budget

By Iyabo Lawal
23 November 2017   |   4:30 am
Perhaps, for the first time, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, has told President Muhammadu Buhari that the money allocated for the ministry is nothing to write home about.

Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu

Perhaps, for the first time, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, has told President Muhammadu Buhari that the money allocated for the ministry is nothing to write home about. In this piece, Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, examines the situation.

The sobriety of his countenance said it all. The initial grin on his face soon turned into a slight frown. Truth is bitter; and on this occasion it was impossible for him to tell the truth smiling. Or else, he would have risked not being taken seriously. With a dignified tone and measure, he addressed the president of the most populous black nation on earth, President Muhammadu Buhari.

The addressee was the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, under whose less-than-three-years watch, education in the country has witnessed significant blows right from the primary to the tertiary level. The decline seems unabated, if his grouse with the 2018 Appropriation Bill – the 2018 Budget of Consolidation – is anything to go by.

During an education retreat the presidency held recently at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Adamu called on Buhari to pay attention to education the way he is doing to insecurity and the economy.

The reason is obvious and timely: the Buhari administration in its 2018 Appropriation Bill allocated much lower than the 26 per cent of national budget recommended by the United Nations to the education sector.

The UN has recommended the budgetary benchmark to enable nations adequately cater for rising education demands.

But in the proposal presented to the National Assembly recently, the President allocated only 7.04 per cent of the N8.6tn 2018 budget to education.

The total sum allocated to the sector is N605.8bn, with N435.1bn for recurrent expenditure, N61.73bn for capital expenditure and N109.06bn for the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).

Without mincing words, the allocation is lower than the 7.4 per cent the government gave the education sector in the N7.4tn 2017 budget.

The breakdown of the N550bn allocated in 2017 was N398bn for recurrent expenditure, N56bn for capital expenditure and N95bn to UBEC.

Analysts, however, observed that the N605bn allocated to the sector in the 2018 budget is higher in naira terms than the N550bn allocated in 2017, there is a decrease in percentage terms, which does not augur well for meeting up with the UN recommendation.

Against this backdrop, Adamu stated that the education sector is under-funded compared to other sub-Saharan African countries’ budgets for the same sector.

Just as he would want the funding to be improved, Adamu will also want the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government to live up to its promises – he would want Buhari to meet the 13 campaign promises he made to Nigerians on education.

To be able to achieve that, according to the minister, the President needs to spend at least, one trillion naira yearly on the sector.

Concerning the proposed budget now before the National Assembly, Adamu stated, “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.”

Since 1999, the annual budgetary allocation to education in Nigeria has been between four and 10 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. 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 N1tn per annum, required to fulfill your 13 promises,” the minister added.

Despite the poor funding, the minister expressed some confidence.
Adamu argued, “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.”

Buhari’s reaction was predictable: the government will continue to do its best to support education in the country, lamenting that the sector has suffered serious neglect in the hands of successive administrations.

The President said, “Today, it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with the know-how that are leading the rest. We cannot afford to continue to lag behind. Education is our launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future.”

He noted further that “one of the primary roles of education is to build and sustain individual and society’s development” as it renews and improves the economic, social, political and cultural aspects of any nation.

While it is generally accepted that education is power, the Nigerian government has continued to allocate a sum of money, stakeholders consider too small to drive the needed development in that sector.

The Chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities, University of Lagos chapter, Dr. Laja Odukoya, and the Deputy Director, Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan, Prof. Oyesoji Aremu, complained about the 2017 budget allocation for education.

The proposed 2018 budgetary allocation for the sector will further stretch their patience.
In the 2017 budget, the government allocated the sum of N398bn to the Ministry of Education.

Reflecting on that financial figure, Odukoya thought it represented the level of disdain the present administration holds the education sector and foretells future crisis in the sector.

He had noted, “Clearly this government has a pathological hatred for knowledge and education. What other evidence do we need to confirm that the government is not willing, ready or capable of resolving the crisis in the education sector?
“A government in deficit to the tune of N800bn to universities for NEED assessment re-vitalisation funds and over N60bn as Earned Academic Allowances to lecturers, budgeting N398bn for the whole education sector should not be taken seriously. Am afraid, there is crisis ahead.”

While it does not appear the Buhari government wants any “head-on collision” with ASUU and other stakeholders in the sector, with its recent constitution of a committee to look into lingering issues between it and the academic union, the budgetary allocation for education will likely remain a sore thumb that sticks out.

On his own part, Aremu had unequivocally pointed out that the Nigerian government has never been able to meet the United Nations benchmark of 26 per cent of budgetary allocation to education.

He said, “Generally, education sector has not been receiving the desired budgetary allocation in Nigeria annually. As a matter of fact, it is always below the United Nations benchmark of 26 per cent. What this portends is that the sector is again, underfunded.

“While one would be somehow cautious on this, given the state of economy and the fallen crude oil price in the international market, the fact remains that education sector should be accorded greater attention in budgetary allocation as obtains in less privileged African countries.”

Aremu further asserted that the damage of such money set aside for education will be telling.

“It goes without saying therefore, that implications of the current budgetary allocation to the sector would rub up negatively in terms of overhead cost and infrastructural attention. Where these persist, it is the quality of education services `that would be compromised,” he added.

There is still much to be done by Buhari and his government in improving education, especially with the staggering fact that at least 11 million out of the 20 million out-of-school-kids are from Nigeria.

On paper, the Buhari administration is committed to promotion of education, research and development as illustrated in a draft of education reform plan tagged, ‘Education for change: A ministerial strategic plan (2015-2019)’ to stakeholders and development partners.

The document captures the challenges and issues facing the nation’s education system.

The document focuses attention on the issue of out-of-school children, basic education, teacher education, adult literacy, curriculum and policy matters on basic and secondary education, technical and vocational education, education data planning, library services and information and communication technology.
“Sixty per cent of the 11.4 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls. Only a fraction (17 per cent) of 3.1 million nomadic children of school age has access to basic education despite decades of intervention.

“Similarly, only a small proportion of the ministry’s 2010 estimate of 9.5 million almajiri children have access to any basic education and an increasing number of displaced children (about one million) are being forced out of school in the insurgency-stricken states,” the minister had said earlier in the year.

In defence of the Federal Government, the minister pointed out that the document had proposed strategies for engaging with state governments in addressing the problems of out-of-school children.

Government planned to raise the national Net Enrolment Rate (NET) by enrolling almost three million pupils annually for the next four years as well as renovate schools destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents and construct additional 71, 874 classrooms annually for the next four years.

In addition, the government said it will provide additional 71, 875 qualified teachers through the deployment of 14 per cent of the new teachers to be recruited annually and raise the enrolment of girls in basic education schools by 1.5 million annually for the next four years.

Concerning basic education, the minister said 15 years after the launch of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, pupils’ learning data remain unsatisfactory and mean scores in English, Mathematics, and life skills are low and generally not up to scratch.
For a nation just wriggling out of one of its worst economic recession, poor funding in the sector only means one thing: postponing the evil day.