President Muhammadu Buhari has finally yielded to the demands of education stakeholders for an increase in the budget for education to meet international standards.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) suggested that developing countries’ budgetary allocation for education should be a minimum of 15 to 20 per cent.
Over the years, however, failure to implement this has led to the belief that the education sector is lagging due to the challenges of poor funding, poor policy articulation or implementation, decay in infrastructure and incessant strikes by ASUU among others.
However, Buhari had, in October 2010 in Abuja, suggested 26 per cent increase while presenting a paper tagged ‘Education Stakeholders in Free, Fair and Credible Elections: My Programme for the Rescue of Education’, to the Joint Education Stakeholders Action Coalition (JESAC).
As the presidential candidate of Congress for Progressive Change for the 2011 general elections, he said then that major indicators of quality management of education painted a bleak picture of teacher development in the country.
Buhari also said restoring the honour and dignity to the teaching profession as well as a gradual increase in the education budget to meet the 26 per cent recommended by UNESCO were part of his plan for the sector.
“I can assure you I will suggest a minimum of 26% of the national budget in consonance with UNESCO’s well-grounded recommendation, in consultation and co-operation with the National Assembly. This percentage I intend to graduate upwards with time and with results.
“I do not remember reading about any policy in Nigeria that enunciates strategies to meet up this United Nation’s benchmark. Do you? Nigeria is grouped in the category of under-achievers regarding this index. Mark you, it has nothing to do with wealth, since some much poorer nations rank higher than Nigeria,” Buhari told the forum.
However, he became president in 2015 but the education sector continued to witness incessant strikes, insecurity and low budgetary allocation among others.
A breakdown of the education budgetary allocation in his five years in office failed to implement the recommended 26% for education.
In 2021, the president presented a budget estimate of N13.8 trillion for 2021 to the National Assembly, the sixth since 2015 and the sector is to expend about N742.97 billion which is 5.78 per cent of the budget as against the allotted N691 billion (6.69%) in the 2020 budgetary allocation.
In the budget, the ministry will expend about N58.4 billion for capital projects while research and development will gulp N47.8.
However, Daily Trust’s tally of previous years showed that in 2019, N620.5 billion (7.02% of the N8.8 trillion proposed budget) was allocated for the sector while in 2018, N605.8 billion (7.04% of the N8.6 trillion) was allocated.
For 2017, N448.01 billion (6% of the N7.30 trillion budget) was allocated; in 2016 N369 billion (6.1% of the N6.08 trillion budget) while 2015 had the highest allocation with N492 billion (11.45% of the N4.3 trillion budget).
However, Buhari pronounced that his government will ensure that total education spending increased by 50 per cent over the next two years and up to 100 per cent within the next five years (2021– 2025).
He stated this in his address at the Global Education Summit on Financing Global Partnership Education (GPE) 2021-2025 in London, United Kingdom on July 29, 2021.
“We also undertake to work with, and ensure that every state in our federation progresses towards or maintains spending levels above 20 per cent of their total budget to achieve national minimum standards for education outcomes,” he said.
The president also said the government was considering legislation to increase education tax from the current two per cent to three per cent, to cater for tertiary education; and to also increase the allocation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to support basic and secondary education from two to four per cent.
He said the government will also expand and deepen collaboration with development partners such as GPE, UK FCDO, USAID, World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF and the European Union as well as the organised private sector to mobilize additional resources for sustainable funding of education in the country.
The president noted that to this end, they will sustain advocacy, promote sharing of credible data, demand timely financial reporting and strengthen institutions in the system to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability.
Meanwhile, the president’s pronouncement elicited commendation and hope in the sector as educationists and other stakeholders described the long-awaited increase as a welcome development.
The Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, commended the president on his commitment to increasing education funding to reach the global benchmark of 20 per cent of public allocation and expenditure to education.
She said in a statement that ActionAid is looking forward to the next steps and actions to back up the president’s commitment, to address the numerous challenges confronting the education sector.
She, however, said government must target projects and programmes that are aimed at addressing its challenges and work with relevant organisations to enable greater scrutiny of future allocations by publicly publishing education budget and expenditure.
The Dean, Faculty of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University Keffi, Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris, said it is a welcome idea especially at the basic and secondary school levels towards maintaining the national minimum standards for education.
He said: “The increase in the budget through the education tax can be utilized by proper legislation and strict compliance by the contractors in remitting the agreed per cent at the project execution. So also, the government can deduct from sources the percentage for the education tax.”
On whether that is likely to end the feud between the federal government and ASUU, he said university autonomy is the answer for now and maybe global best practices in the near future should be pursued.
For Prof Ben Ugheoke of the University of Abuja, the information from the federal government to the public is a tacit agreement, at least for once that ASUU all the while, had been right that the government had neglected to fund education adequately.
“Apart from the vindication of ASUU, the proposed increased funding would positively transform the entire education landscape of the country, if measures of monitoring the application of funds are put in place,” he said.
He, however, noted that there have been situations where successive governments made capital budgetary allocations to unity colleges over and above what the government allocates to capital projects in the universities.
According to him, currently, there is too little funding dedicated to research and everyone knows that the progress and development of any nation is directly proportional to the level of quality research undertaken by that country.
“I would advise that a high proportion of the proposed funding regime be dedicated to R&D, followed by primary and secondary education, which produce the candidates that would eventually be trained in the universities as researchers,” he said.
“It is my belief that whenever the government plays its roles without shirking responsibilities, surely, the incessant strikes would be a thing of the past.”
An educationist, Olasunkomi Opeifa, also said the development will go a long way to improve Nigerian education and set it on the path of greatness like other countries.
He advised that a special scheme should be set up that would coordinate all these components of tax income, increase in budget and expenditure as an independent body comprising Antigraft, FIRS, CBN, FME among others.
He said for the utilisation, Innovation Research & Development should take the centre stage at tertiary institutions while remote/hybrid learning with low-cost digital infrastructure and digital learning platforms should be revamped.