States-federal shared duty on education
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was frontal in his submission when he stated that most of the problems associated with Nigeria’s education sector was the responsibility of state governments. His assertion should be seen as a stark reminder for the states that they should stop passing the buck as regards basic education of the Nigerian child, particularly the intolerable number of out-of-school children. It would appear that many Nigerians had falsely held the view that the Federal Government was responsible for education in terms of implementation and provision of infrastructure. Osinbajo’s blunt position is a fitting revelation to the public about who takes what responsibility in education. At the same time, the issue bares open the unfulfilled responsibility of the Federal Government to support the states.
Osinbajo, a special guest at a national dialogue on the girl-child, was quoted as saying: “Sometimes, when we talk about out-of-school children and problems associated with education, we tend to focus on Federal Government whereas the Federal Government does not run primary school. That is not the business of Federal Government. It is the business of state and local government.”
He said, “We run a federal system, and questions of education, medical care are essential state matters. Primary education is a state and local government matter. The Federal Government has only about 100 schools of the hundreds of thousands of schools.” He added that the responsibility of the Federal Government was to provide support for the states.
His concern and that of many Nigerians, is of course the unsavoury state of education in the country where deterioration and instability tend to rule. What really does the Federal Government have to do with out of school children in some far-flung settlements in Borno State or Ebonyi State? What business does it have with the employment of quality staff for primary schools? If it is granted that proper education begins from the family and progresses formally to primary, secondary levels and onwards; and if the local and state governments are statutorily mandated to cater to these levels of education, it follows that failure to provide basic education to citizens is attributable to mismanagement by the states and local governments. Thus the vice president was on point when he castigated state and local governments for failing to provide basic education to their citizens.
But frank as the vice president’s comment was, it should not be taken as a derision of the performance level of federating units. Rather, state governors and local government chairmen should take on this challenge by transforming their units. Given the importance of education and, indeed in line with constitutional mandate requiring government to bequeath free, compulsory and qualitative education to all Nigerians, the local authorities must seek out ingenious ways such as liaising with community development associations and faith-based organisations in their units to promote qualitative scholarship. State actors in the education sector should not limit basic education to mere enrolment of pupils in schools or to ‘‘state projects’’ geared towards re-election, they should also ensure that the education provided must be foundational such that it becomes a building block for further development.
Osinbajo may have tacitly attributed the backwardness in the education sector to the poor performance of state and local government administrators; there are nonetheless remote causes that are attributed to the Federal Government. These remote causes, basically the “support” that the Vice President alludes to, are so fundamental that their absence or insufficiency is the major reason for the deplorable standard of education.
As it is today, Nigeria suffers double assaults to education, namely, the complete absence of an over-arching national educational philosophy; and widespread insecurity, all of which are the responsibility of the Federal Government. In a country where educational policies are dictated by primordial and clannish sentiments as well as by the absence of any appreciable national goal for education, it is difficult for young people to see much value in education. How do we expect students to aspire towards further education when, at the foundational stage, some structural injustice contrived by obnoxious policies at the national level, frustrates their aspirations? Surely, the Federal Government is largely culpable.
The Federal Government is also blame-worthy with regards to the deplorable state of education owing to its failure to secure the country for education to thrive. The little efforts made by states and even private entities in providing basic education are being frustrated and grossly undermined by kidnapping and killing of students and closure of schools. Recent studies show that an estimated 6,000 schools in the northern and central parts of Nigeria have closed down due to insecurity, while a report by the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) states that Nigeria has the largest out-of-school children in the world with one out of every five out-of-school children coming from the country. Whereas Nigerian education ministry officials put the figure at 10.1 million as of May this year, UNICEF claimed in 2018 that out-of-school children were 13.2 million. All these abductions and close down of schools occur because of the Federal Government’s failure to secure the lives, property and welfare of Nigerians; and for failing to allow states to secure themselves through state police.
Yes, the governors and local governments may have their share of culpability over the deplorable state of basic education, but it is inappropriate for the vice president to have heaped all the blames on them. States and local government do need to take more responsibility to improve education; but the Federal Government must provide the necessary support to make the schools safe and secure for school children at all levels. The future of Nigerian children must never be tied up with any form of politics.