Nigeria: Driving Our Education

No country can ever attain the status of being developed without its citizens being literate.  Using Nigeria as a case in point, our economic growth and improved living standards depend on several factors i.e. economic and social inequality, government’s spending priority and education. Several problems which can be associated with over population, unemployment, health, productivity, HIV/AIDS, high infant mortality rate and poor agricultural production,  can be addressed if and only if we can get a high percentage of our citizens to read and write.

Adult literacy rate is the percentages of people aged 15 and above who can, with understanding, read and write a short simple statement on their everyday life.  Based on UNICEF statistics between 2005 – 2010, Nigeria had a 61% adult literacy rate compared to South Africa’s 89% which is ranked second behind Zimbabwe’s 91.86%- the highest on the continent of Africa.  I doubt the accuracy of the adult literacy level in Nigeria to be 61%; if the above definition is applied, I believe it should be between 40% – 50%.
In a firm I work with, we requested that clients who wanted to pursue a master’s degree abroad provide their CVs. A few responded negatively by questioning the rationale behind the request,  they claimed not to be  seeking employment but education, and those who did submit were a poor majority.  A good study would be a comparison of the interlinks between literacy levels in China and India against their economic growth.

Universal Basic Education (UBE), was launched on the 29th of September 1999 by former President Obasanjo in Sokoto, Sokoto State.  The programme was later signed into law in 2004 with the aim of providing 9 years of free, compulsory and continuous education in two levels: 6 years of primary and 3 years of junior secondary education for all school aged programmes.  The fanfare attached to the launch however did not match the outcome in the long run; one does not need a scientist from Pluto to decipher the failure of the UBE. Why did the UBE fail or perhaps why is UBE failing? What have we learnt from that failure? How much revenue was wasted on that white elephant project?.
Fast forward to April 10th 2012, President Jonathan launched a school for Almanjiris* in Sokoto, Sokoto State? The President, accompanied by his aides, ministers and governors claimed to have launched an ultra-modern school facility. A closer look at pictures from the launch reveals nothing of that nature. The President reminds me of my childhood days back in Ibadan, where one Baba Sogo erected a 3 storey building comprising lock-up shops without any adequate provision for parking or toilet facilities, and named it Temidire* Ultra-Modern Shopping complex. My father would cringe in distaste at the wrong choice of words; he was deeply worried about kids growing up with the impression of it being an epitome of the word ultra-modern.

I wonder who sold the idea of an all-white school uniform for Almanjiri school kids in the North- shouldn’t the nature of the environment have had a bearing on such a decision? I recall how we struggled with maintaining our white school shirts in my first 2 years at Federal Government College, Odogbolu. How would this primary school Almanjaris kids cope?  Coupling this with a white pair of socks and open sandals is the joke of the century, at least if one did not grow up with shoes, acquiring a Phd should more than make up for that.  By the way, does the President need so large an entourage of ministers and aides to travel with him for a school launch? Save for the Minister of Education, I wonder what the whole entourage was in Sokoto for.

What purpose is this Almanjiri School supposed to serve beyond getting destitute kids off the street? What is the correlation between these schools and the mainstream schools in other parts of Nigeria? Will they teach the kids how to speak English so they can engage their peers from other parts of the country?  I have gone through the website of the Federal Ministry of Education and Information and there is yet no policy/white paper available on these schools. Until then, I will continue to see this as one of our governments’ misplaced priorities [the present challenges in the North is not purely that of education but economic inequality as well]. Primary and secondary education should be the primary responsibility of Local and State governments not the Federal government. What capacity does the FG have to cover all 36 states and over 700 LGAs? The inconsistency of the 6-3-3-4 or 9-3-4 system as implied by government within a 5 year period, does not indicate what the government’s priority is.

The 6-3-3-4 system should stay: what we should develop is the curriculum, the quality of teachers as well as the facilities required to deliver qualitative and quantitative education.  At this rate I don’t think every child would be able to get basic primary education in the next 10 years unless we step up our efforts. Likewise university education, we must bring non formal education into this space.
Sometimes I ponder over why most government initiatives and poverty alleviation or empowerment programmes focus on the provision of okadas, wheelbarrows etc. Perhaps the government does understand that it’s burdened with a large population of unemployable youths who have acquired no skills over the years, and hence this approach. However, I don’t see how this fits into plans of achieving significant economic growth.

All levels of government claim to be investing billions of Naira into the education sector without giving an analysis of what we get in return for this investment. The recent NECO, WAEC and UTME results are nothing to write home about, yet no government agency including the President and the Minister of Education have reacted nor shown their displeasure at these results. How come the State governments who offer free secondary education and write off examination fees, are not matching the output (NECO/WAEC result) with the investment (cost of paying teacher’s salaries, furniture, buildings, books, etc.). This is nothing short of having bad managers in charge of State funds.  I could cite Oyo State teachers who were on strike recently to ask for more pay: has the Governor confronted them with the last NECO/WAEC results from the state? What would change if the government gives them a pay increase with more investment on education? The same disturbing results? Yes, the teacher deserves a pay increase, but is the increase worth the quality they deliver? This situation is also very applicable to other states across the country.

What is the role of various stakeholders in the education sector of Nigeria? Nigeria is aiming to become a developed state with one of the top economies in the world. How feasible is that if there is no correlation between the demands of the private sector and the products of the education sector?  Education, skill formation and funding continue to be part of the integral policy mechanism for most economies. With the role of the Federal Government in the present Nigerian system, we should be having a coordinated market economy conceptualizing the inputs of the private sector in the education sector with state support and cooperation. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark have been successful with this approach till date.

Though the demographics (especially population) are not similar, we could learn a lot from their approach. We share common challenges they had in the past such as academic drift, labour market stratification and gender inequalities, still the development of our political economy is yet to yield any fruits. Probably at the risk of having to outsource skilled labour if eventually we have significant economic growth, the reality may dawn on us that we are experimenting with a large population of unskilled youth.

As our social capital seems to diminish before our very eyes, I begin to look inwardly at the role education played in the development of the generation before us.  With relative success, the vision for the country was driven by leaders who had both qualitative and quantitative education and were eager to build on this.  We no longer have a middle class and our downward relative social mobility reflects in several development indicators such as health, poverty level etc.

Till date, I don’t understand what the plan for education is and how it meets our urgent demands. In order for us to own and steer the trajectory of our economic and social development, our education sector must evolve along with time. I don’t expect this present government to fix the problems as it were in one night, but the policy direction must be precise and concise with input from all stake holders. We may just start to drive our education as a priority again.

*Almanjiris- a term used to describe young children who roam Nigeria’s streets begging- a prevalent syndrome in Northern Nigeria.

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Nigeria: Any Alternative?

Somewhere on planet earth…………

Pelumi:  All these youths clamouring for change will not be different from the present crop of looters; they will loot the treasury a million times over

Babatunde: Why don’t you speak for yourself?  Why this blanket stereotype?

Akeem: Egbon, even you would have to steal from the treasury when you become a senator, wont you?

Babatunde: Come on guys, if I find myself in office and you are found wanting for corrupt practices, be rest assured you will pay for it.

Pelumi  & Akeem: We might as well not support you then, as for us we will chop while in public office.

*The phone rings*

Babatunde:  Hello, Miss P, missed you so much, I am hanging out with some dudes and as usual, its Nigeria on the table.

Miss P:  With all this passion for Nigeria, I wonder where you will end. All your friends in government especially those ones on twitter must be looting the treasury by now. Well I won’t hesitate to take my share of the national cake when I get in there.

*phone cuts*

I stare at me phone, not in utter dismay but conscious of fact that these young Nigerians in a large percentage regardless of their background will maintain the status quo of chop the national cake.

The debate seems to surface everywhere and every time we have young Nigerians at any gathering especially when it’s a lounge where our audible and loud voices can be tolerated.  Why does this debate tow the same line of argument over the years yet we put up a face of optimism when clearly we seem to have lost hope.  Why don’t we express our inner most fears as opposed to nodding at will in large gatherings so we don’t seem like the anti-Christ.  We do hold this belief that the system is corrupt and nothing can be salvaged therefore we turn against anyone and everyone in our generation who decides to work for the government or join the government.  I am of the opinion that any young Nigerian in government should be open to criticism just like the president but can’t come to terms with labelling them as corrupt in a system where they do not hold the mandate. The US vs Them line becomes blurring as we realize the need for active civic engagement of all stakeholders in the polity.

Change is what a lot of people seek in Nigeria, it is very attractive to call and demand for change but difficult to explain how the dynamics and mechanism of change will be pursued in the present Nigerian system.  A foundation of institutions built on trust and legitimacy would produce the change phenomena with no concrete  change in the short-term but measurable  in the long-term, the state of the nation over the decades coupled with institutionalised corruption can’t be washed away overnight.  Public opinion claims we are under some sort of democratic governance, which is the collective will of the people to subject themselves to the requirements of various institutions because of their normative beliefs that it is morally justified. I disagree with this; we are simply in an adjustment process coupled with conditional tolerance.

The lack of real alternative is the reason why we have had one political party in the majority after 4 general elections and now there is still no alternative as such. This was easily misconceived as stability in the system until we were exposed to the trend of home-grown militancy and arms struggle against the state.  We are undergoing an adjustment system which connotes negative legitimacy as a result of mistrust in most social and government institutions, the individual trust can no longer be associated with governance and the legitimacy deficit is overwhelming.  What we have had since 1999 can be termed as conditional tolerance of the system coupled with partial legitimacy driven by forces of coercion. The multiplicity of conflicts clearly points in one direction, a deep divide between the citizens and the government, we run a danger of running a system with no connection to the reality of the people. The recent #OccupyNigeria protests and subsequent actions by the government clearly show lack of understanding of what the people want.

While a lot of states are moving towards pluralism in democracy, a notion or intent to promote peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles, Nigeria is clearly not headed in that direction.  The acceptance of democratic norms is higher among political elites and rulers (though we differ on what a democratic norm is because this group place their self-interest above all) than the general public, political disputes are settled at this level with recourse to their interests. The significant intent is to keep Nigerians at bay which in turn ensures the system’s safety and stability, for how long Nigerians will remain at bay and this quasi stability breached is what we are undergoing today.

The absence of a real alternative should not be defined as stability; rather the government should focus on real stability and continuity within the polity. The core focus should be on economic success, social peace and social pacifity.  The growing voices of dissent are not only from the ones who have taken up arms against the state but also the citizens who have become victims of the quasi stability.

Nigeria’s World Bank President

“Don’t ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”

J.F Kennedy

This is one of the frequently used quotes in the Nigerian advocacy for paradigm shift, it questions our desire to put our country first as patriots. As we all know, Nigeria has not been too efficient at providing basic welfare for its citizens, yet we live with the idea of giving back to a state that continues to rape its citizens. No thanks, to the ruling elites supported by a few political bourgeois, who work hand in hand with born again pro-democracy ex-military officers.

Shortly after President Jonathan was sworn in May 29, 2011, the buzz about how he was ever going to deliver his transformation agenda became the order of the day. For a president with low self-esteem, no exposure to leadership but became the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the virtue of controlling the state resources and security apparatus before the elections, it was a herculean task. He had a choice, to swim with the political sharks and make it business as usual or seek for some sort of legitimacy for his presidency by reaching out for a technocrat who could drive the macroeconomic policies without looting the treasury.

The President sought after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance under former President Obasanjo, he was convinced that her credentials which included the World Bank Managing Director, would lend the much-needed credence to his government and derive the trust he needed badly from Nigerians. If the elections were won by luck and some elements of ethnic and religious sentiments, the economy would not be run on that. Some quarters within the ruling party were quick to remind the president of the perceived domineering attitude of this former Minister of Finance, that the presidency may be subdued by her personality and ego. They tried to convince the president not to bring Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala back, the Nigerians newspapers went to town with different versions of what was going on within the presidency. I suppose some quarters felt her presence meant a stop to their feeding off the system and acquiring humongous wealth.

I was not sure of what to make of the return of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I have never recovered from her October 2005 advertised success of leading the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club and a group of bilateral creditors to pay off Nigeria’s external debt of US $ 12 billion in return for a US $ 18 billion debt write off. Her excuse? Nigeria was servicing external debt with US $ 1 billion a year, it was not making sense and she wanted to redeem that. I still question her judgment for repaying a debt of US $12 Billion in 2005, which developing country on planet earth does that? Assuming we built a power station with that US $12 billion, we would turn our economy around and probably run a surplus budget in 10 years to repay those debts. Her first stint as a Minister of Finance was also not without some controversy, she and Olu Adeniji were being paid US $ 240, 000 as salary from a donor supported Diaspora Fund negotiated by the government. In 2007, the Court of Appeal rule that the payment was not in tandem with our laws, and ruled that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Olu Adeniji pay back the excess to the account of the state. The Federal Government of Nigeria, Olu Adeniji and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have appealed to the Supreme Court and judgment is pending, that is if we ever get a judgement. After paying off the debt, as the head of Nigeria’s Economic Team, she boasted about the number of jobs and growth to derive from paying the debts with a fortune spent promoting the NEEDS agenda. We never had assessment of the outcomes but surely if it worked, we would be better off today.

I believe President Jonathan swallowed his pride, which is if he had one apart from being the president and a member of the ruling party. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was ushered back as Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, more or less the de facto Prime Minister. My friends ask if she’s being paid in US Dollars this time around or the equivalent in Naira, I don’t know how much she’s paid. The country’s finance and economic direction was in a dire strait and she was portrayed as the messiah to put things in order. She comes across as a capitalist economist with the drive to stop the economy from bleeding by promising to reduce the high recurrent expenditure of the budget and the double-digit unemployment rate. What she did not tell us was that the country was back to the same situation she met it shortly before she paid off the Paris Debt, the country’s debt was on the rise, corruption was at unprecedented level with uncompleted projects. What she did not tell us was that, Nigeria could not continue in this same projection over the next 10years without hitting the bottom.

The Federal Government led by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance set out to remove the fuel subsidy, yet she could not cut down on the crazy cost of running the government instead she came up with SURE and then SURE – P which was dead on arrival. I recall one of her interviews where she said, it would take about  5 years to carry out her economic policies. What she did not tell us was the intent of this government to go a lending from the likes of China and co to fund the 2012 budget. What she did not tell us was how much this government was committed to her economic policies. What she did not tell us was the writing on the wall as a result of the #OccupyNigeria protests.

Overnight we heard rumours of her intent to vie for the post of the President of the World Bank, subsequently she confirmed our fears to jump the ship less than a year after her arrival as the economic messiah. All of a sudden, she’s returning the President’s favour by absconding to the safety of the World Bank where the likes of #occupyNigeria protest will never get to her. I wonder what she told President Jonathan, that her role as World Bank President will be beneficial to the transformation agenda of Nigeria. What she has not told us is how the World Bank Policy has not enhanced our development policies, after all she has been in the World Bank for years, how has this benefitted our macroeconomics. Or has the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance seen the hand writing on the wall and she’s looking for the nearest possible exit?

Without going into the history of how the World Bank alliance is built on the US/Europe relationship and why I think the US will get away with the nomination of the health policy expert Jim Yong Kim, I am surprised that Ngozi Okonjo Iweala will jump ship when the heat is turned on. What happened to her dreams of transforming Nigeria? Does she not know that if she eventually turns around the Nigerian economy, Nigerians would agitate for her to become the Nigerian President in the future which is more prestigious than her present pursuit? Deep down the President’s mind, he must be unhappy with the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination for World Bank but can’t come out to express this. He must have been caught unaware with the support the minister got within a short time (which cannot be divorced from her career network), that he decided to play along so he’s not seen as the anti-Christ. A serious-minded President would fire Ngozi Okonjo Iweala if she does not make it to become the World Bank President, she’s proven that the job Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance is not her priority especially when the whole economic plan is built around her. But what do I know? The presidency thrives and survives on distractions such as this, if Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala leaves, there would be every reason for a delayed or failed economic policy. The government may even list the Nigeria World Bank President as one of their achievements. Apart from history in the making, a female Word Bank President from a developing country, Nigeria has nothing to gain. The hype will not reduce our debt or the double-digit unemployment rate, it will only distract us as it is doing now. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala can never be indispensable in a nation of 150 million plus but Nigeria especially President Jonathan needs her putting into consideration the circumstance under which she was appointed, the whom too much is given, too much is expected.

“Don’t ask what Ngozi Okonjo Iweala can do for Nigeria but what Nigeria can do to boost her nomination for the World Bank President”

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s credentials are not subject to any debate, I believe she’s qualified for the World Bank President as well as helping to build our economy in her present capacity. Her nomination for the World Bank president can never be complete without the mention of her time as the Finance Minister with her career at the World Bank in the background. Yet she comes on air to say this is a personal ambition and not that of the government, sure it cannot be, and poor President Jonathan has been left dry and hung out to his transformation agenda which he has no clue about.