The poverty of education in Nigeria--A rejoinder

Tonye David-West, Jr., Ph.D
Political Scientist

Even a poor country like Haiti knows better not to allocate such insignificant percentage of its yearly budget on education, that figure in Haiti is 21 percent, almost trippling Nigeria's figure.

his must be a bad dream, a very bad one. Someone please pinch me, wake me up to reality. I'm still in shock over the numbers emanating from Ondo state. Could this be true? Is it right that only 1,700 out of 269,000 were successful in the recent WAEC exam? If that be the case, I would not want to see the numbers from Zamfara or Sokoto states. Please, if you love me, spare me the pain, the anger, the anguish, the heart attack.

This is particularly distressing coming from the "trail blazing" [to use Professor Worika's phrase] state of Ondo where a Ph.D degree does not mean "doctor of philosophy," but means "pedestrians/peasants holding doctorates" as almost every family in Ondo seemingly has someone who holds a doctorate degree, almost every farmer and pedestrian in that state. What could be responsible for this shameful outcome. What was it? Was it the carving out of Ekiti state from Ondo that has occasioned this educational mess? Are all the bright students now part of Ekiti state, thus, leaving Ondo to fend for itself? If this could happen in the state where education is valued, then we are doomed, completely.

I believe that Professor Ibibia Lucky Worika captured it well in his article titled, "The Poverty of Education in Nigeria," in which he wrote eloquently about the neglect of the education sector by this present administration. The neglect has become so palpable that even the blind can see it. How can we accomplish anything with only 8 percent of the national budget going to education? What would 8 percent accomplish? Its not even sufficient to pay teacher's salaries not to mention buying equipments, etc.

Even a poor country like Haiti knows better not to allocate such insignificant percentage of its yearly budget on education, that figure in Haiti is 21 percent, almost trippling Nigeria's figure. Does this administration know the implications of this neglect? Is it aware of the need for Nigeria to be competitive with other nations? What caliber of students does this administration hope to produce with such neglect as a state policy? I submit that with such trend, the worst is yet to come. We have not seen the end of the pit---its far more deeper than this and except there is an immediately reversal of this budgetary neglect, the abyss shall be our lot.

Before leaving on my recent trip to Nigeria, I told some high school classmates of mine in the US that top on my agenda when I visit home was a visit to our high school---to see what it looks like several years after our graduation. I told them that I wanted to return to the house where I was a prefect and see my "boxroom" [a small room reserved for the house prefect] for old time sake. I told them that I wanted to see the field where we used to beat all other rival schools in soccer and where we displayed our athletic abilities as students during inter-house sports.

I told them that the chapel where we sang several sweet heart-warming hymns was also top on my agenda. I wanted to see it and touch the building again and even go to my favorite spot. I told them I wanted to see this, I wanted to see that. After I had gone through the list, one of my former classmates who himself had just returned from a trip home and a visit to our high school, gave me one simple advise---- "please make sure you take a box of tissue with you."

Indeed, was he right. The school looked like a war zone and all the buildings dilapidated as though they had suffered a nuclear disaster. It was a rude awakening and I thought momentarily that I was in the wrong school. The roof of the chapel that I so eager sought to see had since caved in and become an animal kingdom for assorted animals to hide and breed. Which animal did I not see there--rats, stray dogs, stray cats, worms, lizards, rednecked ones, regular necked ones, all calling our once beautiful chapel were we gallantly marched into every morning singing enchanting and invigorating songs, home.

The grass that was growing in and around the chapel itself was taller than Houston Rocket center, Hakeem Olajuwon. My dormitory which I had wanted to see was so filthy that I could not even go close and had to take pictures several feet away. Indeed, I wept. I needed that box of tissue, I should have heeded my classmate's advise. After my disappointing visit, on my way out of the compound, I saw a few students and I stopped them and asked---what happened to the school? They responded almost unanimously---"nobody cares."

Nobody cares and yet we have a government. How could students possibly study in such environment? How could they concentrate? What happened to those in power who are seeing these conditions day in day out? Do they not know that the kids in secondary schools today are the leaders of tomorrow? Are they producing uneducated leaders to rule Nigeria?

Professor Worika mentioned that the administration's reason for that peasant share allocated to education was because it wants to share the national wealth equally amongst all the sectors---but like the professor, I wonder what earth-shaking impact this administration has made in those other sectors to warrant such meager budget for education. It cannot be in transportation since Nigeria Airways' wings have since been clipped and it has no hope of growing new wings anytime soon.

It cannot be in the health sector since our health care system has been lowered six feet down the earth. It cannot be the power, mines and steel sectors since NEPA has become the eight wonder of the world. It cannot be in industries and infrastructures since we have none to talk about nor invest any money in. It cannot be in the sports sector since NFA trails NEPA as the ninth wonder of the world. It cannot be in the security sector as the police is still relatively ill-equipped and corrupt to the 't".

Furthermore, it cannot be in the diplomatic sector since our diplomats still complain of lack of pay and their morale lower than that of those on death rows in prisons across the nation. It cannot be in the maintenance of roads since our roads might as well lead straight to hell. So where is the Obasanjo's administration putting all that money it recovered from the Abachas and other looters? Where are all those billions of dollars? Have they been used to purchase presidential jets or they have been invested in personal accounts? Shouldn't Nigerians know? Its their money, is it not? And what happened to all the money that come into the country from oil sales?

Isn't time for this administration to equip our universities so that our computer science students can finally know what a computer looks like? Isn't time for them to be able to finally touch a real computer and actually type on the keyboard? Isn't time for them to say they have seen a computer with their eyes in their life-time and it actually looks like the picture they have been seeing all along? Isn't it time for our Chemistry students to have equipments to run their experiments rather than run those experiments only in their dreams?

The late civil rights leader Malcolm X stated, "Education is the passport to the future, for those who prepare for it now." Are our students getting the passport?