Low Education Budget: Deathknell for Our Nation

From inception at Independence, Nigeria has never demonstrated a passionate commitment to the education of its citizenry.  The colonial master himself never pretended to want his subjects to be educated in the actual sense of the word.  Chinua Achebe’s personal experience as captured in his memoir entitled The Education of a British-Protected Child is eloquently paradigmatic: “The real teachers I have had in my life have been people who did not necessarily know what my needs would ultimately be but went ahead anyhow in good faith and with passion to tell me what they knew, leaving it to me to sort out whatever  I could use in the search for the things that belonged to my peace.  Because colonialism was essentially a denial of human worth and dignity, its education program would not be a model of perfection” 

Achebe goes on in No Longer At Ease to dramatize the essence of western education, which he gives us to know, is the “education” of an infinitesimal fraction of the local population, the better for these fortunate ones to hold semi-official clerical/secretarial positions, occupying, predictably, the lowest rungs of the civil-service ladder.  This lukewarm attitude on the part of the colonialists towards the education of the subject races was in part a throwback to slavery days when it was against the law to educate the slave.  Thus, slaves who got a rudimentary education did so thanks to the quasi-Christian large-heartedness of their masters.  A prime instantiation of this was the unforgettable Phyllis Wheatley, a young African – American slave who was transported from Africa, literally as an infant.  Wheatley (8 May 1753 – 5 December 1784) was the first African-American author of a published book of poetry.  Her most famous poem: “On Being Brought from Africa to America” reads in part: “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain/May be refin’d and join th’angelic train”

She had composed this famous poem in eternal gratitude to a generous slave-master in particular and a slaveholding society in general for a life well-spent in benignant servitude and meliorative bondage.  Evidently, for the slave-holding society, literacy was synonymous with freedom or manumission.  An educated slave (imagine the irony!) is a free mind in chains awaiting the right moment to bring its enslavers to strict accounting.  An educated slave is fully armed mentally and intellectually with the ammunition to torpedo the system as was witnessed in Haiti and in somewhat different circumstances in Paris, France during the storming of the Bastille in 1789.  It is this inherent desalienating, empowering and salvific power of literacy that had informed the ambiguous educational (mis)adventure on the part of the occupying colonial powers in Africa.  Thus, whilst the French opted for the more race-obliterating and mind-obfuscating policy of assimilation, which logically, produced human mongrels, the Portuguese toed a similar line which equally spawned and sired a race of double-visioned mimic-men known as assimilados. Shunning these Francophone and Lusophone educational policies, the more self-serving and conservative Britons had settled for the policy of association.  The resultant psycho-social distance created by this policy made the colonised mind regard the Mother Country (metropolitan Britain) as some offshore Eldorado, a heaven of sorts and his local environment as “heart of darkness”.

Madagascan poet, Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo ,had committed suicide for not being allowed to travel to France!  There you have it!  The education on offer in Anglophone Africa, to be sure, for all intents and purposes, was at best a miseducation.  Little wonder, therefore, virtually all the textbooks shipped from Europe to Africa to be used in schools and colleges were designedly passé, normally marked “For overseas use only”.  Or something along those lines.  Whether it was Arts-oriented or Science-oriented subjects, the curricula were carefully designed and packaged in such a manner that what the British-protected subject (ponder the import!) got was an inferior kind of literacy.  S/he got the whey of the milk or chaff of the wheat.  Unsurprisingly, therefore, the crisis of knowledge production as well as the geopolitics of knowledge dissemination and reception in contemporary culture and society is a logical fallout of this historical miseducation (or the deliberate messing-up of the Black mind).  Vast multitudes of so-called “educated” African peoples are simply or merely mimic-men and women; hollow-men and women.  Stuffed characters, all!

The result of this, again, is the creation of a “nation” (or a continent) of apes and parrots.  This default mode of parrotry or mimicry (see Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture) at the national level has, since the departure of the colonial master, metastasized like a cancer in Nigeria’s body politic.  Everywhere you go, it is the same thing: a bland, uncritical replication of all things British, whether it is in religion, governance systems, fashion, music, culinary arts, architecture, town-planning, and, of course, education.  But make no mistake, part of the failure of leadership of which Achebe writes in The Trouble With Nigeria (1983) derives in the main from the long history of official discounting of education as an all-important tool of social transformation and development.  Informed by his left-leaning welfarist orientation, the late Chief  Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba avatar after Oduduwa, had in his day stoutly kicked against this bourgeois-oriented, anti-people education policy by vigorously promoting the free-education policy in the south-western region of Nigeria.  Given, thus, this liberalisation of access and the equalisation of opportunity, everyone could aspire to any position in society, including, of course, holding political positions in the young postcolonial republic.  It is gratifying to report that most of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governed states in the South of Nigeria did sustain this Awo-inspired policy of Free Education, with such progressive-minded governors as Lateef Jakande of Lagos and Ambrose Alli of Bendel State (now Edo State) still fondly remembered by the beneficiaries of the policy.

What this has revealed is the undeniable fact that  the successive managers of Nigeria, having inherited the slavery-days and colonial policy of mass illiteracy, or what Alexander Pope refers to as “half learning”, have consistently starved the education sector of the much-needed funds and resources to function optimally.  It is difficult to pinpoint the source of this nation-voiding policy.  However, it could be surmised that class is at the root of it all.  Wole Soyinka in his memoir Ibadan: The Penkelemens Years narrates that during his days in the UK as a student at Leeds and later a theatre practitioner in London’s Royal Court Theatre, he had witnessed first-hand the obscene and outlandish display of hedonism and self-aggrandisement by our pioneer politicians who were visiting London supposedly to negotiate Nigeria’s Independence during the late ’50s.  There and then, Soyinka had drawn his conclusions, namely, there’s no hope ahead.  He adroitly dramatizes this bleak prognosis in the Independence play A Dance of the Forests in which he clinches his thesis statement thus: “The only consistency in human history is war

It is gratifying to report that most of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governed states in the South of Nigeria did sustain this Awo-inspired policy of Free Education, with such progressive-minded governors as Lateef Jakande of Lagos and Ambrose Alli of Bendel State (now Edo State) still fondly remembered by the beneficiaries of the policy

Is it, therefore, surprising that the Nigerian nation-state has been described as “Kleptocracy”: a society governed/ruled by thieves? (See Niyi Osundare, “Why We No Longer Blush: Corruption as the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”).  The Nigerian nation-state, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie aptly notes, is “a collection of fragments held in a fragile clasp” (London: Fourth Estate, 2006, pp. 155).  What Adichie, however, fails to add is that Nigeria is a fractious latticework of adversarial and mutually antagonistic ethnicities cobbled and corralled and held together in perpetuity by fiat.  A neo-military fiat under a civilianised dispensation.  Thus, as mooted above, the Nigerian nation-state is a class society in which the power-holding elite constitutes a class, on the one hand, and the people themselves constitute another class, on the other.  The jury is still out on the question of whether the people fare better under military despotism or under civilian regimes.  But what has remained consistent, regardless of who is at the helm, is the fact that a vast majority of Nigerians have been and are being denied access to quality education, no thanks to negligible annual budget allocations to the education sector.  One gets the impression that this is deliberate policy aimed at or designed to keep the masses eternally under; to make them ordinary marionettes and puppets, amenable and pliant.  A nation of salaaming lizards!

The story of Nigeria’s annual budget allocations to the education sector makes grim reading.  In an online article captioned “With ₦4.68 Trillion Budget Allocation in 6 Years, Nigeria’s Education Sector Struggles to Improve”, Kafilat Taiwo furnishes a break-down of Nigeria’s annual education budget in the last six years under the current administration: In 2016, a total budget of ₦6.06 trillion was approved by the National Assembly.  ₦480.28 billion was allocated to the education sector which is about 7.9 per cent of the total amount budgeted for the year.  In 2017, ₦448,44 billion was allocated to the sector, representing about 6.1 per cent of the ₦7.30 trillion total budget for the year.  In 2018, the approved budget for the year rose to ₦9.2 trillion and ₦651.23 billion which is about 7.1 per cent was allocated to the education sector.  In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari presented ₦8.83 trillion estimates to the National Assembly as the year’s budget.  The education sector got ₦745.52 billion, about 8.4 per cent of the total budget.  In 2020, the sector received a total of ₦686. 82 billion, that is about 6.5 per cent of the total approved budget for the year.  In 2021, the education sector received ₦742. 52 billion allocation which is about 5 – 6 per cent of the total budget for the year, the lowest budget the sector had ever received compared with the previous budgets allocated to the sector in the past. In 2022, out of the 2022 budget totalling ₦17.13 trillion, a sum of ₦923.79 billion was allocated to the education sector.  Though the figure increased, the budget is at 5.4 per cent of the total budget approved by the NASS (Based on data acquired by Dataphyte, according to Kafilat Taiwo, February 22, 2022).  In the same document, Taiwo provides statistics on the number of out-of-school children by geographical region: (1) Northwest: 3,490,670; (2) Northeast: 2,001,038; (3) Southwest: 1,451,739; (4) North-Central: 1,329,112; (5) South-South: 1,208,182 and (6) Southeast: 713,176. (Chart created by Dataphyte. Source: NBS).  By the same token, Premium Times of December 9, 2017  reveals that: “None of the E9 (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan) or D8 countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey) other than Nigeria, allocates less than 20 per cent of its annual budget to education.”

The implications of this official policy of low budget allocation to education are truly unsettling and frightening.  As ASUU president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke posited on TVC recently, Nigeria’s public university system exists only in name as it is a cruel mockery of what it should be, to wit: world-class centres of academic excellence.  Owing, therefore, to the very parlous state of our universities in terms of research and teaching infrastructure as well as the poor pay of the academic and non-teaching staff, Nigerian universities cannot attract expatriate scholars unlike other countries such as Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and, of course , South Africa.  A university at which the teaching staff are ALL sourced or drawn from within [read: local content], say, Nigerians teaching Nigerians, is nothing but a watered-down version of the real thing!  In some cases, these so-called “universities” are glorified secondary schools.  No path-breaking, paradigm-shifting discoveries or intellectual breakthroughs can be achieved therein.  They are simply what Niyi Osundare calls “Archaidemia”, barren granaries of superannuated shibboleths and antiquated theorems!  Why so?  Because the nation’s brightest and best tend to emigrate overseas, provoking a massive Brain Drain, thereby hobbling both Town and Gown (or scholarship and policy).

Those who remain are mere paper tigers that cannot make the grade.  Accordingly, the ensuing subsidisation and universalization of mediocrity across disciplines, professions, the Civil Service, the Armed Forces and the informal sector only spell doom for the country; it sounds the death-knell for the nation.  The countervailing argument from government has always been that it’s got an awful lot on its plate – security, Healthcare, the Economy, Agriculture, power and so forth.  The official position is that Nigeria is perennially low on budget, being as it is a mono-cultural economy (i.e., dependent largely on oil-and-gas revenue).  But this argument only exposes government’s poor judgement and lack of deep thinking.  It also shows its slavish carry-over of colonial mind-set.  Besides, it exemplifies a child-like terror at novelty or innovation.  It shows that we as a people are comfortable with “tradition”, old ways of doing things; an analogue mentality subsisting in the digital turn.  Ultimately, it also reveals that we are afraid of upsetting the applecart, of desacralizing the pieties and orthodoxies of our corrupt way of life.  Can we contemplate the truly new?  Seek ye first the mass education of the people, then all other things shall be added unto you.  An educated citizenry is infinitely better and easier to govern, if service is the raison d’etre of the political office-holders and not as it is now, autocratic self-deification.  Also, all the pathologies afflicting our country today to which over 90% of our annual budget is allocated will be taken care of.  We must therefore jettison our Sisyphean curse of tragic repetitiveness and embrace the Promethean vision of mass enlightenment.  What does the National Policy on Education say about all of this?  Its aims, among others, are to build “a free and democratic society, a just and egalitarian society, a united, strong and self-reliant nation, a great and dynamic economy and a land full of opportunities for all citizens”.  Thus, a constitutional amendment, if required, of provisions on education funding is welcome. If the UNESCO benchmark on education funding for developing countries is 15 – 20% of a nation’s annual budget, we can and should strive for, at least 18%.  What this will achieve, if the funds are well-managed, will be mind-blowing!  But, let’s be reminded that except our ruling elite’s children are made to school here in Nigeria rather than in the best colleges and universities in Western Europe and North America, we are only wasting our time.  If our aim is to build “a just and egalitarian society”, then the children of the rich and poor must drink from the same fountain.


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