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Thoughts on funding private education in modern Nigeria

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Tony Afejuku

Preamble
The letter inviting me to give this keynote address stated clearly that I should focus on the theme of “Funding Private Education in Nigeria: Issues, Problems and Prospects.” I have no iota of objection to this topic. But I have used my freedom or liberty of critical judgment and selection to re-create my given topic to “Thoughts on Funding Private Education in Modern Nigeria.” The reason for this will be obvious as this keynote address progresses. It should be noted, however, at the outset that the keywords of “issues, problems and prospects” contained in my invitation letter are encapsulated in my thoughts which I hereby present.

But I must, before I do so, pay heed, pay due regard, to protocol that this occasion demands. I stand on the existing etiquette and code of this ceremony, with the permission of the chairperson, understanding of the eminent and distinguished members of the high and low tables, to give profuse thanks to the illustrious members of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) and organizers of this 2017 NAPPS Day in Asaba, for asking me to come share my thoughts on the above-stated subject with diverse “highly placed personages in our midst” today.

In this keynote address I shall address the questions of modern education in contemporary Nigeria from the perspectives of their benevolent, benign and malignant natures and characteristics and relate them, in varying degrees, to the issues, problems and prospects of “funding private education” in our country.

Any discussion of education anywhere in the world cannot be divorced or separated from the social system which education is meant to serve. In fact, the social system in which and for which education is produced provides the crucial key to open the gate to the house of education. How benevolent, benign or malignant a social system is determines a system of education that exists.

Benevolent Education
Without sentiments, I must state straightaway, with a little reflection and excursion into an aspect of the past of our country that members of my schooling generation knew and enjoyed benevolent education. In Western Nigeria of the fifties and sixties, Western Nigeria which stretched from Ibadan to Asaba, and which covered all the current political states of Yoruba land and the current political states of Edo and Delta respectively, our political leaders led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo gave us benevolent education. This benevolent education, which we can also call redemptive education, has gone down in our lexicon of schooling and politics as “free education” which enabled many, many members of my generation to get quality education – quality education we got without paying a penny. And we got books freely. Of course, Obafemi Awolowo’s free education policy was confined to the primary schools but it liberated everybody, including children of the poor, from the life of abject illiteracy. Many were rescued, without discrimination, from miserable farm-life in the forests and forlorn fishing expeditions in the seas, rivers and streams. Those whose parents were too poor to climb to college made do with private studies to further their respective ambitions in life. Obafemi Awolowo benevolently opened their minds. In many cases as well scholarships were given to indigent bright pupils and students. At the time in question the majority of the schools were government-owned and government-funded. Then education was meaningful and not chaotic as it is today. Then, also, there was no association of proprietors of private schools. Every proprietor of a private institution either owned by an individual or a religious organization knew that the existence of the institution depended on the ‘correct’ or ‘right’ education it gave to society through the pupils and students of the institution.

Let me give an example. The late Chief Festus Samuel Okotie-Eboh, formidable Minister of Finance in the first Republic, had three institutions in Sapele. They were a primary school, Academy Primary School, and two secondary schools, Zik Academy (a co-education college devoted then to mainly commercial subjects) and Academy Grammar School, respectively. All these institutions still exist in Sapele, although the latter secondary school is now rightly named after Okotie-Eboh after his demise. The other two still bear the name of his political leader, Nnamdi Azikiwe of the National Council of Nigeria and Citizens (NCNC). But my point is that proprietors of private schools, proprietors such as the highly selfless and patriotic Chief Okotie-Eboh, established ‘correct’ institutions which placed premium on correct education of quality. The great man made sure that his children attended his schools. In fact, he compelled one of his children who were in the government primary school I attended to enrol in Academy primary school on the grounds that the famous Council Primary School was not in any way better than his school which he funded fully. The great man had the financial wherewithal and political clout to send his said son (and other children) abroad to study, but he did not. Why? His schools in every respect were as good as any anywhere. Furthermore, I wish to note that when the Awolowo benevolent education policy came into effect, proprietors like Chief Okotie-Eboh benevolently complied with that policy.

How many proprietors of private institutions in modern Nigeria compel their children to be pupils and students of their institutions? Clearly, present proprietors of private institutions in contemporary Nigeria are not or cannot be said to be benevolent – or are not as benevolent as private proprietors of schools in the mold of the progressive Chief Okotie-Eboh who without a speck of doubt was socially, economically, financially and politically committed to giving the right education to Nigerians of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. This was a sacred duty to Okotie-Eboh and company. Two of his teachers/principals later followed his worthy example to found their respective secondary schools, Chude Girls’ Grammar School and Eziafa High School, both in Sapele. And some pupils/students who attended Chief Okotie-Eboh’s established schools, and became worthy citizens of our state and country include Chief. Tom Amioku (a former Commissioner of Works, Delta State), Chief Ighoyota Amori (a former Commissioner of Education, Delta State), Cmdr. John Okitikpi ( late), late Hon. Vincent Jemide (Third Republic Member of Parliament), Prof. Victor Omozuwa ( Professor of Linguistics and current Dean, School of Post-Graduate Studies, University of Benin), Prof. Emmanuel Onookome Okome ( Professor of Film Studies, University of Alberta, Canada), all of whom are products of Academy (Okotie-Eboh) Grammar School. Others who attended Zik Academy who have equally become worthy citizens of our state and country include General Paul Omu (rtd.), Mr. Ejiko (a former librarian, Delta State University, Abraka), Dr. (Mrs) Dere Awosika (Okotie-Eboh daughter who was a Director General in the Federal Civil Service), Mr. Henry Agbebire (a highly successful Lagos-based entrepreneur), and Prof. Hope Eghagha of the University of Lagos and a former Commissioner of Higher Education, Delta State.

Benign Education
Indeed, private proprietors of schools of modern Nigeria appear to me to be benign proprietors of institutions. They are not gallant, selfless founders and establishers of schools even though they are seemingly committed to halting the deterioration of education in today’s Nigeria. If a researcher committed to improving the technical efficiency of education in Nigeria today goes to conduct interviews with them, he or she is bound to have vague and diverse opinions about the kind of education they want, and why they established their institutions. But what the discerning researcher will discover, ultimately, is that the proprietors want education for Nigerians not as an avenue or aid to the acquirement of wisdom as such, but in order to improve their economic or financial circumstances and social status. This is one reason why many of them charge school fees that discourage and disadvantage those from less fortunate homes, even though their main intention was not to make malignant profits. Indeed, religious personages who are proprietors of schools charge fees that many members of their congregations cannot pay, no matter how hard they try to afford the school fees. But we must acknowledge that these proprietors are benign in their vision to establish the institutions that they have established. For them they must help the nation to produce educated persons the nation needs in order to further the eternal progress of Nigeria and in order to get the better of other nations. In this wise the progress of education for the individual and for the nation can be said to be a benign drift or a benign push for better life. This is why education must “mean more money, or more power over others, or a better social position, or at least a steady, and respectable job,” to borrow the truthful words of T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), British poet, dramatist and critic, born in the United States. Maybe this is the reason also one may aver that several private proprietors of schools charge the kind of school fees they charge.

Malignant Education
This way of looking at education, modern education, in modern Nigeria, is half of the truth: and it leads us to the malignant version of education in modern Nigeria. Actually, it is the most pervasive and insidious. It is typified by our public schools, by schools owned and run by government. Our government tells us that it is committed to giving Nigerians progressive education, but as a matter of fact it treats teachers with disrespect, disdain and scorn. In many instances, teachers at all levels are poorly paid, and even the poor salaries are not paid as and when due. Also, retired teachers at all levels are owed pensions and gratuities. Simply, our government pays lip-service to quality education. Indeed, the government, in the name of politics, appoints low quality people into government institutions and positions, again, in the name of politics, headed by low quality persons. And when we say low quality persons we mean people of low education, uneducated man and woman with an empty mind, who cannot give good example, and is of no sustainable example to others, including our impressionable youths.

In India, teachers (and medical doctors) are next to God and are so worshipped and respected, but this is not the case in our country. Why? Those who lead us politically are, in varying degrees, malignant in their thoughts and visions – if they have any – and their bearings are on more ultimate alerts that will fetch them questionable money and wealth. Those who are not knowledgeable preside over the affairs of those who are knowledgeable who they dominate. What an irony and paradox of modern Nigeria ruled by greedy, corrupt people. Recently, specifically, on Saturday, September 30, 2017, The Guardian on page 6 reported the sack of a Permanent Secretary and suspension of three other civil servants “for padding the budget for the conduct of primary school examination to the tune of N283 million.” This was in Edo State where I have been a resident since 1980. The actual amount used to conduct the said examination was N30 million. Of course, we do not know what had been going on in the Ministry of Education of Edo State before this discovery. The point here, however, is that malignant bearings of the runners of our education (and other sectors) cannot but be problematic to our education. The corrupt motive of such officers would never allow them to help fund properly and adequately our education. Your guess is as good as mine if, for instance, the Edo State Branch of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools requested the Edo State government through its Education Ministry to fund aspects of the association’s education programmes.

The Punch of Wednesday, October 4, 2017 reported on page 4 a case similar to what happened in Edo State. A former Director General of the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Ibadan was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment without an option of fine “for mismanaging funds meant for the payment of salaries and execution of projects in the school.” He and two others at the accounts section of the school were convicted for “diverting N177 million out of a subvention of N600 million released by the federal government for the school.” The convicts claimed in their defence that they used part of the diverted money to “bribe members of House of Representatives and some workers of the Federal Ministry of Finance who facilitated the release of the fund for the research institute.”

What a malignant action that cannot but have malignant consequences for our education. Even our foremost academic administrators and legislators constitute the malignant cabal destroying our education. If gold should rust, what will iron do? The money exists in the coffers to fund quality education in all our schools if only the malignant-hearted people in our respective institutions in the names of legislative assemblies, civil service and colleges will allow it.
Clearly, it is not by accident that our public education institutions are what they are today. The irony of our situation is that our government says it is committed to quality education, but its functionaries do the opposite of what our government says it is committed to with respect to education. A tragic paradox of our situation is seen, for instance, in government’s attitude to private institutions. Every now and then operational licences are given to private proprietors to run schools, yet government does not seem to pay heed to the question, to the issue of quality in the granting of the licences it grants the beneficiaries. The Guardian of Monday, October 2, 2017 on page 7 reported that the Delta State Branch of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) “has threatened a showdown with the state government” following the “approval granted by it to over 2,000 private schools, which the association said were sub-standard.” I am in full agreement with the position of the association. It is a remarkable example of commitment to dedicated responsibility. The malignant hearts of “some corrupt officials [who have] infiltrated the system to facilitate the approval of the illegal schools” must be resisted and forced to ascend and re-ascend to the state of origins that will benefit benign education, if not benevolent education, of modern Nigeria through the right bearings of education functionaries of Delta State, our dear State. Our State Governor should radically investigate the allegation and delete the said officials from service if they are found wanting.

Myth of Distinction between Public and Private Schools
When we mention public schools, what we picture is the picture of government-established schools funded solely by government. Schools established and funded by religious organizations and communities don’t enter our thoughts and perspectives. Of course, schools established and funded by individuals DO NOT feature in our current thinking and perspectives. But the distinction we draw between government-established and funded institutions and non-government owned ones does not clearly exist. It is a myth. All schools, all institutions are controlled by government that stipulates conditions under which they exist. Government regulates and audits their culture of existence. And those who seek admission to the respective institutions to which they are admitted are not demarcated as public and private pupils and students. Those who are financially and economically buoyant enough to pay the fees charged in institutions funded by non-government persons and bodies are individuals who try to structure and restructure the reality of their existence in our country through the value of the quality and excellent education their money or better their parents’ or sponsors’ money can give them. But, again, we can call the distinction value for money that private schools provide and the non-value for money that government schools give, a myth. In modern Nigeria, we produce students in larger and larger numbers and what we call value gets “subsumed in proliferation and increased productivity.” If schools run by private proprietors in today’s Nigeria were non-existent the situation of our education would have been dire indeed. And the discourse of our policy and politics would have descended to the level and realm of unfathomably malignant irresponsibility.

What this perspective amounts to is that government should help non-government schools at all levels to fund some of their programmes.

Funding Prospects of Non-Government Schools
Let me state without qualms at this point that to request government, at federal or state level, to fund what we wrongly perceive as private education engaged in or provided by non-government institutions is pure fantasy, if not a myth. Our big men in government are too narrow-minded, too self-centred, too greedy, too selfish, to think of positive and big education dreams for our country. Or how should we interpret our president’s total lack of reference to education in his last October 1st address to the nation? His deliberate silence on the current state of education in modern Nigeria spoke loud volumes. And we must bear it in mind that our universities just suspended a strike it embarked on as a result of government’s incessant failures to keep agreements it freely entered with our universities’ unions.

To say what I have said above does not mean or imply that proprietors of non-governmental schools must keep quiet and refrain from requesting government to assist them in funding aspects of their programmes. In Delta State, for instance, government can provide a pool of vehicles to take pupils and students to schools, and to take them back to their homes at designated routes as is the case in other places (US, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc) where education is truly cherished. Government can give necessary stipends and grants to proprietors of non-governmental schools, including non-government universities, to support or maintain their facilities. The proprietors must keep on their momentum of requests until we get an education messiah who will give unique thought to the question of education in our time.

But the proprietors must understand that when the messianic figure appears they must be ready to accept him. If he requires them to give account of any or all final assistances to them to run their schools, they must not grumble and accuse government of interference in their schools’ affairs. The proprietors must live above board and transparently do so. One way to do and prove this is to allow their schools to form trade unions in order to prove or demonstrate that their employees are not animals with whom they don’t share fraternity or proximity of humans. They must also allow trade unions in order to demonstrate that their calling as proprietors is a sacred one. They must let us see that they are not cement or sand or block proprietors. As builders of human beings they must be radical enough to disavow imperial thoughts and claims that border on malignant gains, profits, exploitation and oppression. Maybe after all said and done I have only succeeded in building castles in Spain. Phew! What an anti-conclusion! I can hear your whispers loudly and clearly.

I thank you for your rapt attention given to these thoughts.



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