Though gratifying, the pledge made by President Muhammadu Buhari to increase the budget for the educational sector by 50 per cent in the next two years will signify nothing unless he fulfils it in unmistakable and transparent way. Otherwise, it will remain as empty as many other promises made by his government, merely in playing to political gallery; a routine pronouncement for international summits. Ordinarily, at summits and conventions such as the Global Education Summit on Financing Global Partnership for Education (GPE) 2021-2025, which Buhari attended in London recently, heads of state commit themselves in the presence of peers to better the lot of their countries, and thereby promote civilisation and culture.
In words very promising for a president embattled at home for, among other reasons, seemingly uncaring, Buhari stated: “We commit to progressively increase our annual domestic education expenditure by 50 per cent over the next two years and up to 100 per cent by 2025 beyond the 20 per cent global benchmark.” Is there any sincerity of purpose and genuine commitment in that pledge? Can he honestly bind his successor, from 2023, with the pledge?
Being a statement coming from a head of state, the pledge ordinarily provides a basis to hold the Nigerian government accountable should there be a breach of this promise. That the president even contemplated progressive increase in budgetary allocation to such a level as to surpass the 20 per cent global benchmark in four years’ time is no cheer, considering the abysmal deficit in the educational sector. If the government appreciates the value of education and the enormity of the problem bedeviling that sector, this is the time to walk the talk.
But Nigeria and Nigerians have been through this deceptive path of pledges and promises before. A few years ago, the National Economic Council (NEC) advised federal and state governments to declare a state of emergency on education and push up the single digit budgetary allocation on education to 15 per cent. In widely celebrated commitment declarations, governors promised to ensure children acquired free and compulsory education. But when one considers the topics of the London education summit – Education’s Reset: Learning from COVID, Transforming the Child’s Learning Journey, Gender Equality In and Through Education, Ripple Effect: Education’s Impact on Sustainability and Financing for Impact: Volume, Equity, Efficiency – it is clear that quality education in the 21st century goes beyond enrolment of children in schools or taking children of school age off the streets.
Everywhere Nigerians turn to for respite in education, they find a fragmented society gravitating towards anomie. In the north east, the murderous Boko Haram insurgents have made true their threat of forbidding formal education in towns and villages they control. In an effort to nationalise this barbaric agenda, bandits in the North West are disseminating fear and death to the cluelessness and incapacitation of state managers. All these are compounded by the degenerate tertiary educational system, frequently punctuated by epileptic calendar and nationwide strikes by unions over lingering industrial disputes with government.
Whilst Buhari’s pledge suggests a step in the right direction if the modalities for implementing, managing and sustaining a 50 per cent increase in education budget could be ascertained, there is apprehension that given the realities of the Nigerian condition, it will go the way of other promises and pledges government had made in the past. As Nigerians reflect on the president’s submission, they should interrogate it with some cautious cynicism. They should ask: Granted that Buhari’s pledge is an expression of genuine commitment, how does his administration hope to make this work? What are the structures on ground to meet the overarching purpose of the pledge? What has this administration put in education in terms of purposeful thinking? What is the national educational philosophy that should drive every aspect of political, socio-economic and cultural life? What does this government understand as Nigeria’s educational goal? What objectives drive this goal? Why do we pursue those objectives? How do all these become meaningful to the average Nigerian who aspires to be educated?
Nigerians are cynical, not unjustly, of such fanciful effusion that seemed not to have arisen from perceptible needs assessment. If the Federal Government is convinced of its proposal, there must be visible signs of concrete commitment to the cause of education. As we once stated in our leading comment on the funding of education, the primary sign of commitment would be the cultivation of the right mindset and the resolve to radically transform the human capital of the country. This would then lead to radical renunciation and denouncement of wasteful spending and profligacy around private and public lives of state actors and institutions.
Besides, this government needs to understand that apart from basic amenities such as adequate electricity supply, functional internet services and computerisation, it takes focus and purposefulness, adequate funding, appropriate research design and 21st century curriculum for adequate provision of qualitative education.
A government that models its guidelines for educational administration based on primitive, anti-rational, dogmatic and recondite knowledge production structure, even if it redoubles its budgetary allocation to education, is unwittingly plotting the collapse of education in the country. Above all, government must provide a secured, enabling environment for education to flourish. The prevalence of banditry, kidnapping of school children and terrorism presently in the country is inversely proportional to any good intention that may be found in the president’s pledge.