Underfunding, strikes, deplorable infrastructure drag education under Buhari
As President Muhammadu Buhari hands over power on May 29, his promise to revitalise the education sector during his eight-year tenure has failed to manifest.
The president, at the 2017 retreat attended by stakeholders and seasoned educationists, said education was Nigeria’s launch pad to a more productive and prosperous future and assured of his administration’s commitment to make it more responsive and globally competitive.
Nigeria’s education system is characterised by incessant strikes under Buhari’s leadership, students spent most of their time roaming the streets rather than in the classrooms.
Currently, primary education has continued to struggle, much as secondary education, and only recently, the tertiary education sub-sector was thrown into a huge crisis following incessant strikes from various university unions. The system is still afflicted by deplorable facilities, inadequate funding, lack of research and poor staff remuneration, among others.
Nigerian universities are poorly rated in global ranking systems, according to the Times Higher Education (THE) World University rankings for 2022, the best two Nigerian universities- University of Ibadan and University of Lagos were ranked in the 501–600 range of the more than 1,600 universities across 99 countries and territories, which by far, is not a way of being globally competitive.
The rankings were conducted based on 13 performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.
The commitment of a government to a sector is gauged by the financial contribution it makes to that sector in its budget. In 2017, N550 billion (7.38 percent) was allocated to education out of the N7.29 trillion total budget.
In the budget, the ministry of education was allocated N398.01 billion meant for recurrent expenditure. The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) got N95 billion while education for N56 billion for capital expenditure respectively.
Buhari subsequently reduced allocation to the sector from 7.1 percent in 2019 to 6.9 percent in 2020. The allocation to the sector rose from 7.9 percent in 2022 to 8.8 percent in 2023.
For his two terms in office, the president did not attain up to 15 per cent of the yearly budget allocation for education, which is seen as a critical unit of the economy, nor did he make substantial investments in the training of teachers at all levels of the system.
Lack of infrastructure, poor welfare and inadequate staffing are part of the challenges the sector continues to face across primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
Globally, children are entitled to free and quality basic education, yet the number of out-of-school children in the country is on the rise. According to the World Bank, Nigeria, in 2022, had about 20 million out-of-school children between ages six and 15. This figure represents one in 12 of all out-of-school children globally, and 22 per cent of all children in the age group in Nigeria.
Out-of-school children in Nigeria, according to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), include girl-child in northern Nigeria, boy-child dropouts in the south-south and south-east regions, internally displaced children and the Almajiri Quranic and itinerant children, who are predominantly found in northern part of the country.
Insecurity across the different geopolitical zones is an exacerbating factor as school infrastructures have been destroyed and schools forced to close down. Kidnapping of pupils is responsible for low enrollment, especially in regions prone to terrorist attacks, thus increasing the number of children out of formal learning.
Stakeholders such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), and College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), have embarked on several strike actions in protest against the deplorable education system and need to improve funding of the sector.
More universities, others approved
There are currently 50 federal universities, 59 state universities, and 111 private universities in the country. Similarly, the country boasts of 40 federal polytechnics, 49 state polytechnics, and 76 private polytechnics.
Besides, there are 22 federal colleges of education, 47 state colleges of education, and 76 private colleges of education in the country.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) said it approved and licensed 75 universities in the last eight years of the outgoing administration, as part of the Federal Government’s policy to ensure access to university education.
Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, who disclosed this, said 10 federal, 15 states and 50 private universities were approved during the period.
Rasheed affirmed that there are currently 220 universities in the country, while many more licenses are being processed.
New policies and decisions
Some of the decisions taken by the government in the last eight years include the removal of sex education from the curriculum, use of mother tongue for teaching at basic school level, and the school feeding programme.
The government also registered two unions, the Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) as a trade union and the Nigerian University Academics (CONUA).
Meanwhile, the president is yet to sign the Students Loan Bill passed by the National Assembly in November.
When signed into law, the Act will create the Nigerian Education Bank, which will have the power to award student loans.
President Buhari also promised to enhance teachers’ remuneration, increase their retirement age from 60 to 65, and service years from 35 to 40. He also announced plans to pay undergraduates studying education courses in universities and colleges of education.
The Federal Government also launched Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) initiative in 17 states to tackle the problem of out-of-school children. 40 per cent of Nigerian children aged six to 11 do not attend any primary school with the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls.
In his bid to reposition secondary education, Buhari transmitted the National Senior Secondary School Education Commission Bill to the National Assembly for consideration and passage into law.
The bill seeks to enforce standards and provide Federal Government’s intervention toward the repositioning of senior secondary education in the country. However, eight years down the line, nothing has been heard about the bill.
The growth of the institutions notwithstanding, stakeholders noted that most of the challenges confronting the sector, including poor funding, failed promises, non-implementation of policies, shortage of qualified teachers, poor teaching and learning infrastructure, non-payment of salaries, industrial unrest, cultism, examination malpractice, corruption and maladministration, are still prevalent.
They also lamented that billions of naira allocated to the sector at different tiers of government hardly trickled down to the classrooms, where it could positively impact pupils in terms of quality outcome.
An educationist, Olubunmi Senuga, said one of the major challenges confronting the sector is the burden of over 20 million out-of-school children. Though she said there were some positive developments in the sector in the last eight years, Senuga lamented that they had not translated to significant developments expected in the sector.
She lamented that the poor state of education in the country has been made worse by the growing insecurity, noting that attacks on schools and kidnapping of students for ransom have led to the closure of many schools in some northern parts of the country.
A professor of Food Science, Prof Adebayo Adeyemi, said while President Buhari recorded some model achievements in the sector in the last eight years, his inability to end the frequent strikes by academic staff in public universities, has left a big dent on the Nigerian university system, which has equally encouraged more Nigerian youths to seek learning outside the shores of Nigeria, and worse still, is the exodus of lecturers and professors to seek greener pastures in foreign countries.
Adeyemi added that Buhari’s poor handling of the out-of-school children crisis, and the Safe School Initiatives (SSI), aimed at creating a safe learning environment have been adversely affected by insurgencies and kidnapping across the entire country, most especially in the North East.
He said failure of the outgoing administration to give the deserved attention to nomadic education might have contributed partly to the increase in the number of out-of-school children.
He said: “One of the sectors the outgoing president promised to reform when he came on board eight years ago was education. There is no doubt that President Buhari recorded some model achievements in the area of funding which has enabled the government finance various educational programmes, including the Universal Basic Education (UBE), Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID).
“The National School Feeding Programme (NSFP), said to have resulted in increase in school attendance and enrollment, and reduction in malnutrition rates among pupils due to provision of free meals during lunch, establishment of more universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, among others, are some of the achievements of the outgoing administration,” Adeyemi said.
A lecturer at the University of Ado-Ekiti, Prof Ojo Oyeniran, said if the President and his Ministers of Education and Labour were objective, they would admit that they failed woefully.
“With regard to the university or tertiary education sector, there was no fresh initiative. Indeed, there was a great setback in terms of massive disruption of the academic calendar, and an unprecedented hostile, contemptuous and punitive disposition towards both the staff and student unions.
He said the president and his Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, who was retained for eight years, were aloof, indifferent and nonchalant when the institutions were on strike without engaging with them, adding that when the minister agreed to meet with student leaders in the wake of ASUU strike, he walked out on them for being uncivil.
“What the minister could not tolerate for an hour, we have spent our entire working lives managing without coming to blows. Under Buhari’s eight-year rule, workers’ wages in the sector remained poor in the face of galloping inflation, rising costs of living and insecurity. The budget for Education remained low and ineffectual. TETFund, a brainchild of ASUU, was the only flickering light in the darkness, but the funds came from the private sector. Even so, its disbursement often appears patchy,” Oyeniran added.
An educationist, Dr Tony Lawrence, said the Buhari administration failed in its promises regarding the sector. He noted that under the outgoing administration, lecturers went on strike for many months without any solution proffered to the lingering issues. The administration even used hunger as a weapon to fight the lecturers, yet the issues remain.
“Since 2015, President Buhari has failed to make any difference; though he had portrayed himself as someone who had the magic wand to address the problems in the sector.
ASUU National President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, described Buhari’s administration as the worst in Nigeria’s political history.
Osodeke said as far as ASUU is concerned, Buhari’s government is a disaster, especially with regard to public education, adding that the union wished that Nigeria and its people never witnessed a repeat of such an administration.
He said even though things had been bad in the sector over the years, Buhari’s government is the worst of them all.
The ASUU chief blamed both the outgoing federal and state governments for the poor record, saying they failed to give priority attention to the sector.
For instance, Osodeke said budgetary allocations to the sector under the outgoing government are not only small, but also reducing each year.
Prior to Buhari’s assumption of office,, budgetary allocation to the sector was in the region of nine to 10 per cent of total budget, but the figure has reduced drastically under the outgoing administration.
Besides, he noted that a government that allowed ASUU to go on strike for eight months without addressing the fundamentals that led to the action even with less than a month to exit, is anti-people.
He said it is also during his government that lecturers and other staff unions are owed salaries of between five to 20 months.
While declaring that public education at all levels is no longer attractive to parents, Osodeke said a situation where pupils sit on bare floors to learn, without instructional materials, is unacceptable.
He tasked the incoming administration of Bola Tinubu to declare a state of emergency in the sector and repair the massive destruction done to the sector, particularly under the outgoing administration.