The state of education in Nigeria and the health of the nation
By Victor Dike
At the dawn of the year 2002, Nigeria is still uncertain where it is
headed. In other words, her destination is still unknown. The Nigerian
world has blamed the woes of Nigeria, and in particular that of the
educational sector, to the many years of military misrule. There is the
common feeling that the military neglected the universities because of
their opposition to military rule. But with the re-emergence of civil rule
the nation's educational institutions are still in shambles today, with
university professors still not being paid on time. (Some may argue that
the universities have started to claw their way back to normalcy with the
reprise of civil rule not democracy. See Bollag Feb 1, 2002). But that
remains to be seen!
And the society is also being rocked by labor unrests prompted by
nonpayment of salaries, among other factors. The latest strike action was
the police, which the federal government branded 'an act of mutiny' (The
Guardian On-line Feb 2, 2002; also see Chiahemen, Reuters,
Feb 2, 2002).
If, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as democracy in Nigeria,
it is because its past as well as its present history has become so
interwoven into crises, which has often left the common man in constant
struggle for survival. But for the riches and powerful corrupt
politicians, things are very rosy. The role of the ordinary person in
Nigeria in the making of democracy is, generally speaking, not regarded or
not known at all, after casting his or her vote. And often the positive
contributions of the people who struggled, and are still struggling, for
the sustenance of democracy in the society have escaped the eyes of those
who managed to rig their way into political offices. This is a terrible
deviation from the norm. Nigeria is suffering terribly for that, with
socio-political and economic crises strewn all over the society like a
straw hut in a typhoon.
This paper attempts to bring into public domain the state of education
in Nigeria, and its effect on the polity. With facts, judgment and
understanding of the issues facing the nation, the paper argues that the
survival of Nigeria as a viable society will depend on the health of her
educational institutions, and how well the professors and support staff
are treated. It portrays the state of education in Nigeria as a
Education in Nigeria: A public-health issue?
The role of education in the development of a society has been vastly
documented in academic journals, and we do not intend to revisit it here.
This section will concentrate on the need for Nigerian leaders to pay
close attention to the needs of the educational sector, and treat it as a
public-health issue, because the sociopolitical and economic development
of a nation and (or her health) is, in many ways, determined by the
quality and level of educational attainment of the population. Political
leaders should take politics out of education, as the continued neglect of
this sector would lead to social paralysis. The youth should be given the
appropriate quality academic training and an environment that would enable
them to reach their full potential.
Nigeria has toiled with some educational programs, which have only
served as conduits to transfer money to the corrupt political leaders and
their cronies. For instance, the nation launched the Universal Primary
Education (UPE) in 1976, but as noted, the program failed due to lack
of fund necessitated by corruption, among other factors. Nigeria has again
launched another mass-oriented education program, this time branding it
the Universal Basic Education (UBE). The President,
Olusegun Obasanjo, declared during the launching of the program
in Sokoto that the nation "cannot afford to fail this time around."
However, not long after that, the federal government reported that the
falling standard of education in Nigeria is caused by "acute shortage of
qualified teachers in the primary school level." It is reported that about
23 percent of the over 400,000 teachers employed in the nation's primary
schools do not posses the Teachers' Grade Two Certificate, even when the
National Certificate of Education (NCE) is the minimum educational
requirement one should posses to teach in the nation's primary schools (Ogbeifum
and Olisa; The Vanguard Online, July 1, 2001).
If one may ask: with the troubling revelations of the shortage and
"half-baked" teachers employed to teach in the nation's schools, how are
we certain the current UBE program will be successful? Has the
government trained the required number and quality of teachers needed to
successfully implement the program? Are the teachers going to be motivated
to perform their duties well? Are the classrooms and seats ready, or are
the pupils going to sit on bare floor? Are the books and other teaching
materials ready? This writer has noted elsewhere that to improve the
standard of education in Nigeria, the society has to first educate the
educators, and motivate them to perform their duties well (Dike, July 14,
2000). But the leaders do not seem to want to listen!
However, the UNICEF in it's 'state of the world's children'
report for 1999' pointed out that about four million Nigerian children
have no access to basic education, and that majority of those that are
'lucky' to enter schools are given sub-standard education (Akhaine,
Jan 10, 1999). Today, there are about 48,242 primary schools with
16,796,078 students in public schools and 1,965,517 in
private schools in Nigeria. In addition, Nigeria has 7,104
secondary schools with 4,448,981 students (The Guardian, May
6, 1999; and Dike, 2001).
Most of these schools are in dilapidating states. This shows that
Nigeria has a weird value system: it is a society where priorities are
turned to their heads. For instance, the salaries of the less educated
local government counselors are higher than that of university professors;
it is a place where well known rouge, a 419 person, is applauded
for donating money to local communities and churches; it is a place where
nobody cares about how one makes his/her money; it is a place where the
roads leading to million dollar homes are filled with potholes; and the
society is a place where the streets in capital cities are littered with
hips of thrash. And nobody cares! Something is obviously wrong with any
society that does not take her educational institutions seriously.
Nevertheless, the increased need for higher education during the oil
boom of the 1970s in Nigeria, coupled with political pressure, led to the
establishment of many universities in the society. And 'an explosive
expansion in enrolments' during this period marked the beginning of 'the
decline in quality' of education in the society. In two decades, the
number of university students increased eightfold, from about 55,000 in
1980 to more than 400,000 today (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A40). Now
Nigeria has about 36 public universities, 46 polytechnics and 64 colleges
of education (Dike, 1999, p. 54). In addition, four private universities
have been approved and registered by the federal government. They are:
Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State; Babcock University;
Igbinedion University, Okada; and Madonna University (Oladeji,
August 2, 2001).
As the ugly tradition of corruption persists, the public tertiary
institutions have been left to rot away. Some of the loans received from
the World Bank toward education during the 1990s were used to purchase
unnecessary, and "expensive equipment" that "could not be properly
installed or maintained, and many institutions received irrelevant and
useless books and journals" (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A40). All these,
including ubiquitous corruption, have contributed to the decline in the
quality of instruction in Nigeria's educational institutions that were
ones highly regarded. With the news of corruption still filling the pages
of Nigeria newspapers and magazines, the apparent war on corruption in the
society seem an impossible task, since those wagging the corruption-war
are themselves as corrupt as a parrot.
Although Nigeria's educational institutions in general are in dire
need, the most troubled of the three tiers is the primary education
sector. The recent statistics on primary education available to this
writer shows that there are about 2,015 primary schools in Nigeria
with no buildings of any type. Classes are held under trees. The quality
of lectures conducted under such an inhumane condition would not be
anything to be proud of. With this dismal statistics, the government is
still in the habit of allocating less money to the educational sector (see
Tables A). If Nigeria's allocation to education is compared with that of
other less affluent societies in Africa, the picture becomes more
discouraging (see Table B).
Table A: Federal Government
Budgetary Allocation to Education
Year Allocation (%)
- 1995 7.2
- 1996 12.32
- 1997 17.59
- 1998 10.27
- 1999 11.12
- 2000 8.36
- 2001 7.00
Table B: Spending on Education (%GNP) for some African Countries as
compared to Nigeria
Country % GNP
- Angola 4.9
- Cote d' Ivoria 5
- Ghana 4.4
- Kenya 6.5
- Malawi 5.4
- Mozambique 4.1
- Nigeria 0.76
- South Africa 7.9
- Tanzania 3.4
- Uganda 2.6
Sources for tables A & B: Extracted from, The African Dept;
Reported by Jubilee 2000; Alifa Daniel: Intrigues in FG-ASUU
Face-off; see The Guardian On-line, June 17, 2001. Compiled by the
Relatively speaking, the above disheartening statistics show how
insufficient Nigeria's allocation to the educational sector has been. One
can only get what he or she has ordered! Nigeria has to change her value
system and invest on education, which is the intellectual laboratory of
any nation and the engine that propels the economy. It has been noted that
'without a formidable intellectual base' it is not likely that any society
would move forward (Anya, June 19, 2001).
For that the success of any democratic system (which Nigeria now
fiddles with) depends on the individuals' ability to analyze problems and
make thoughtful decisions. And democracy, it has been argued, thrives on
the productivity of its diverse constituency - a productivity fostered by
free, critical, and creative thought on issues of common interest. But
democratic values are nurtured on the fertile ground of basic education
a functional education with the right focus and correct scope (Marzano,
et. al, 1988).
With everybody chasing the shadow of money, and with the pittance sum
invested yearly on education, how could the system produce the critical
and creative minds Nigeria needs to guide and manage democratic system and
survive as a viable nation? If the society continues to neglect her
schools, it could not educate her citizens. Consequently, the political
landscape would be littered with illiterate politicians, and the society
would be incapable of gathering and maintaining a reasonable database for
national planning and other development programs. To avoid this, the
political leaders should begin now to re-order their priorities, as their
priorities have so far been dictated by how much they will gain from any
policy decision (by ways of contracts), and not how they will benefit the
society as a whole.
Thus, lack of good education and unemployment in Nigeria would
contribute to many social ills, including crime, prostitution, and the
break down in law and order. For this, the society should invest more on
the youth, and educate them to differentiate rights from wrong before they
become adults. As Rousseau has noted: "People, like men [and women are]
amenable only when they are young; in old age they become incorrigible.
Once [bad habits] and customs are established and prejudices ingrained, it
is a dangerous and futile enterprise to try to reform them; the people
cannot bear to have the diseases treated, even in order to destroy it,
like those stupid and fearful patients who tremble at the sight of the
physician" (Rousseau - trans. by Betts; 1994, p. 80).
Therefore, to move forward the government should adopt necessary
policies to destroy the current bad value system in the society, and
create conducive environment that would enable the educational
institutions to engage in healthy competitions, raise funds through
private donations and grants, and attract and retain qualified students
financially positioned to pay tuitions. (Higher education in Nigeria
should not be free. If one would pay for any service, one could afford to
complain, or move to an institution where he/she could get the money's
worth of service. This, however, does not mean that diplomas should be
sold to the highest bidder. Also the universities should develop a system
whereby students could transfer to schools of their choice (and change
their major) if they are qualified, without it adversely impacting their
studies. And university admissions should be based strictly on merit,
without ethnically and state-based criteria, which have unfortunately
colored the system). All these are not available in system currently. If
these suggestions are implemented they would, among other things, help the
institutions of higher learning to prepare grounds for more intense
academic competition, and to attract better quality teachers by "rebuild [ing]
a culture of scholarship which has been eroded by under funding" so as to
motivate them to be more productive (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A40). And
any institution that cannot survive should be allowed to wither. Improving
the condition of things in this sector would pave the way to the nation's
It is known (at least in the developed world) that education
determines, not only earning capacity, but also the very quality of human
life (even longevity has relationship to education). In a society that
appreciates educated class, those with good education tend to earn higher
incomes; they also are in a better position to leave a better and healthy
live. Higher education gives one a greater sense of how to reduce risks in
life and change their behaviour. As Davies noted, confidence,
self-reliance, and adaptability are all earmarks of advanced education (Davies,
Nov 30, 2001, B16-B17).
Comparatively, many uneducated people, in general, have myriad bad
habits that cause or lead to illness. For instance, they can smoke or
drink more than it is necessary, and tend to have more children. (As this
writer noted during his recent trip to Nigeria, some of the less educated
and unemployed villagers he talked with have about eight or more children.
And they are proud of that but the children are suffering. Many of them
drink and eat whatever that is offered to them without limitation and
cognizant of the health consequences). Higher education could be an
important part in the solutions to the ills of the society. As noted
earlier, how much a nation progresses has a lot to do with the quality of
education and educational attainment of its citizens. That's why Nigeria
should build and maintain good schools and treat the sordid state of
education as public-health crisis in society.
Education and Basic Needs
Building good schools for the education of the population does not
guarantee automatic good health to the people. The society must take care
of the basic needs of the people portable water, food, good roads and
habitable environment (the streets are filled with garbage). The voiceless
- the unemployed, the old and disabled should be taken care of. The
funds for all these services are currently diverted to individual purses
by corrupt politicians, whom the people elected to protect them. The
society should offer education that provides adults with the skills and
knowledge they need to secure a job and to compete in the technologically
advanced world economy. And it should find a way to reward those (teachers
and others outside academia) who have contributed positively in creating
new ideas and jobs in the society. Nigeria can sustain economic growth
based on technology if a good number of the adult working population can
read and write well, and be able to make productive use of the computers
and information technologies. "According to a recent World Bank study,
employers complain that the quality of university graduates [and secondary
school graduates], especially their communication skills, has fallen
continually for two decades" (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A41).
Improvement in their communication skill and the use of the computers
and information technologies will increase their productivity, and in the
long run translate into lasting, durable and participatory democracy. All
these mean the need to positively transform the society, especially the
educational sector, into a viable sector.
The need to improve higher education should begin with giving greater
attention to our preschool, elementary, secondary, and vocational schools.
These areas are the building blocks of society's educational foundation,
as not everyone needs a university education. Thus, the society must make
meaningful use of the current Universal Basic Education (UBE)
program, which is expected to provide free education to children between
the ages of seven to seventeen (Umar and Adoba, ThisDay, 12/6/01).
In addition to the free primary education, the government should guarantee
free lunch for the needy students, as no child can learn while hungry.
To supplement the efforts of the government, the
private sector should assist in the form of financial and material
donations, and collaborate with institutions of higher learning to help
the primary and secondary schools to improve their teaching standards,
governance, and their community relations.
If Nigeria can not give adequate and quality education to students at
the elementary and secondary level, the tertiary institutions would
continue to be populated by those who are least prepared to face the
rigors of university education. And 'cultism,' 'intimidation of professors
into better grades' and other vices will continue to blossom on the
campuses across the nation.
States and Federal governments should also device ways and means of
helping financially handicapped students in higher institutions, in ways
of making available affordable financial loans to enable needy students to
complete their education. As in the United States (and other humane
societies), 'merit-based' and 'need-based' approach policy could be
adopted in the process of putting the loan policy in place (King,
March 1999). And adequate machinery should be
put in place to collect the loan from students as soon as they find
employment. Nigeria has the resources to implement a good student loan
program, but as always, her problems have been corruption and
implementation (the old student-loan program in the society died because
Private financing of higher education could contribute immensely to
improving both the financial situations of the institutions and their
quality of education. And the privatization of public institutions that
cannot improve on their standard would not be a bad idea (Callan, et al.
(eds.), October 1997); see also Maeroff, Callan and Usdan, January 2000).
Poor schooling, ignorance, poverty, and unemployment or underemployment
among the youths could lead to their being easily manipulated by the
political elites for selfish purposes. That will spell danger for the
society, as this group will become the nation's leaders of tomorrow. How
can Nigeria manage a complex democratic process without educated, critical
and creative minds?
Thus, to stamp out insatiable greed, ignorance and corruption in the
polity and affect positive changes in the society, the 2003 election year
is the time to act. The people should vote only those with integrity to
political office, because as Jean-Jacques Rousseau notes, "it is only men
[and women] of integrity who can administer the law." (Rousseau, trans.
by Betts; 1994, p.14) The society should only support political parties
and individuals who value and support quality education, not in word, but
in deeds. Good quality education and good value system in a society is
known to affect the quality of the leaders in any society. The political
leaders of Nigeria should find constructive ways to work with those in
academia to improve and upgrade the nation's educational standard, instead
of fighting and clobbering them to death for criticizing the government's
lacklustre educational policy. President Olusegun Obasanjo has
recently taken pride in punching and kicking ASUU with verbal
assault (The Guardian Online, Dec 9, 2001).
His attack on the university professors seems to suggest that the
teachers are the cause of the present poor state of the nation's
educational institutions. There could be some bad eggs in the system. But
in general, how could one believe that the person who works hard, often
without pay and other personal sacrifices is the one causing the downfall
of the sector he/she is striving to protect? And President Obasanjo's
recent insensitivity and outburst at the angry thousands displaced by the
recent explosions in Ikeja show a mark of irresponsibility and lost sense
of purpose on his part. At the people who lost loved ones, he shouted at
them after thinking that they were unruly: "Shut up. I took the
opportunity of being here to see what could be done. I don't need to be
here." "After all, the governor of the state is here, the General Officer
Commanding Two Division and the Brigade Commander as well as the Police
Commissioner were all here. These sets of people could between them
do what needs to be done. I really don't need to be here" (The Guardian
Online, Jan 31, 2002). As a leader and the servant of the people,
President Obasanjo has no excuse to behaving in the manner he did. He
should quit if he has nothing more to offer. As Americans would say, 'if
you cannot take the heat, you should get out of the kitchen!'
Really, President Olusegun Obasanjo should not lead Nigeria at
this technology age. He is, in the opinion of this writer, the president
the nation should not have had. He could be a good military General, but
he does not have a good manner of approach and the skill to lead a civil
society. And he lacks the appropriate national objectives and strategies
to solve the problems facing the academic sector and the nation at large.
With the reprise of civil rule in May 29, 1999, Nigerians expected
instant solutions to the nation's myriad problems. But the future is still
uncertain! Politics with bitterness, politics with selfish purpose,
politics of moneybags (and not ideology), and politic of Sharia,
and politics of ethnicity and division colored with political
assassinations tend to defeat the purpose of the struggles to chase the
military out of politics. The political leaders and political parties in
Nigeria should change their sordid ways and be ready to make their views
and visions known to the public through their manifestos and policy
actions, and not engage in fists fights with those who disagree with them,
or trying to eliminate them with cutlasses, guns through
hired thugs, and even with charms. They should leave their lives by
showing good examples, as our children learn more from what they see us do
than from what we say. Yes, the youth deserve something better! This does
not mean that we would create utopian society for them. As Albert Camus
notes: Perhaps we cannot make this a world in which children do not
suffer." "But we can lessen the number of suffering children. And if you
and I do not do this, who will?"
Thus, without treating education as a public-health issue that requires
serious attention, the youth will continue to receive inferior education;
they will continue to suffer mass unemployment and armed bandits will
continue to rise; the society will continue to have illiterates and
non-leaders as political leaders; the society will continue to have
political parties without ideology, and Nigeria will continue to fall
behind economically, socially and politically.
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Dike, Victor; Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria;
Ahmadu Bello University Press, Zaria, Nigeria, December 2001.
Dike, Victor; Leadership, Democracy, and the Nigerian Economy:
Lessons from the Past and Directions for the Future [Sacramento: The
Lightning Press, 1999].
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the Educators in Nigeria. Online posting - http://www.Nigeriaworld.com,
July 14, 2000
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education woes;" The Vanguard Online, July 1, 2001.
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Nigerian Tribune online, August 2, 2001.
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Victor Dike, who is the author of Democracy and Political
Life in Nigeria [Zaria: Ahmadu Bello University Press, December
2001], is an Information Technology Instructor at the California
College of Technology, Sacramento, California, and an adjunct
Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems with the Los
Rios Community College District, Sacramento, California.
To order Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria [Zaria:
Ahmadu Bello University Press, December 2001], please contact: Ahmadu
Bello University Press Limited (or The Book Store), P.M.B. 1094, Zaria
email@example.com; Or Professor
Enwere Dike, Dept of Economics, ABU, Zaria Nigeria; Email:
Tuesday, 05 February 2002