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Politicizing Education in Nigeria

It usually starts like this: A man usually identified as an ‘agent’ or ‘conractor’ and most certainly a member of the ruling political party, prepares…

It usually starts like this: A man usually identified as an ‘agent’ or ‘conractor’ and most certainly a member of the ruling political party, prepares a fantastic proposal. He waits until the dust has settled and then approaches the governor of a particular state; the less learned the governor is, the better. He presents a brilliant proposal: to award foreign tertiary scholarships to indigenous students whose parents would not ordinarily be able to do so. The ‘agent’ liaises with some tertiary institutions in other countries like India and China and in a highly publicized event, these students are paraded as beneficiaries of the goodwill of the government while the governor shines his teeth and receives overwhelming applause. The students, parents and government are ecstatic. It’s a win-win situation that happens every four years.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The problems arise when the students travel to the school expecting to be educated in a world-class university that they have been seeing on their TV screens and dreaming about, only to be led to a small hastily renovated college of education situated in a rural backwater town where they are the only students. Their dreams are dashed when they come to the realisation that the school caters to Nigerians only and that they are treated like boarding school secondary students by the authorities. Many of the students have no idea what they will be studying until they get to their destinations. At the ‘schools’, they are offered a variety of courses to choose from and a degree is guaranteed after three years.

Have you ever heard of BSc Gynaecology? Or BSc Anaesthesia?

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Well, it exists in India!

You do not need to be a doctor to know that there is no such thing as BSc Gynaecology. And even if it exists there, there is no job description for you when you return to Nigeria. What exactly are you supposed to do with that kind of degree?

To be fair, there are other courses like Engineering, IT and other management courses (which are all achieved in three years) but the quality of education and environment in which they study are far from the ideal standards that foreign institutions are known for.

However, even with all these mishaps, the naïve students are yet to be faced with the biggest struggle of their lives. If the students are unfortunate to be in school when the governor’s tenure ends and another government (especially, if it is an opposing party) comes into power, then that is when their challenge truly starts. For those students whose tuition is paid in full, other amenities like accommodation and pocket money are suddenly stopped. Stories of students crying out on social media about them begging on the streets start emerging. Those whose parents are fortunate to be middleclass are able to scrape some money for student hostels. These students in turn accommodate those from more humble backgrounds. The result? Students go from being two in a room to ten in a room because their welfare tap has dried off. Feeding becomes a problem and the real struggle in a far-off land begins.

What about when the tuition has not been paid in full and the governor leaves office?

I am sorry, but that is what the Yoruba call ‘gbese’. The students graduate and return home, but with no certificate. Their so called ‘agent’ is no where to be found. They form groups and send their days sitting in front of government offices, writing letter after letter of request and appeal to the new governor. These students can’t go for NYSC and cannot look for a job. Depending on the political climate they might spend weeks, months or even years before their tuition is paid. Personally, I know a group that spent up to five years post-graduation before their certificates were released! Frustrated, some abandoned the degree and pursued other technical skills instead. It is such a pitiful situation.

Yet not everybody is so unfortunate. Some are lucky (or rather more enlightened) enough to receive quality education in world class schools. These categories of students are usually postgraduate students who are pursuing a Masters’ or PhD and are therefore enlightened enough to know what they want from life. These scholars have most likely secured their admission from excellent universities and only require only financial aid to embark on their journey. Hence, the role of an agent is minimal, as these mature students are able to procure their visa, sort out their accommodation and welfare by themselves.

Ideally, a scholarship is supposed to be a financial support awarded to a student, based on academic achievement or other criteria that may include financial need, for the purpose of schooling. Studying abroad is one of the best ways to acquire global skills and access personal and professional opportunities. Studying abroad is a life-changing experience for many students, opening their eyes to different ways of life and promoting understanding and tolerance.

It is therefore quite disheartening that state governors are playing politics with education in this country. Reports of not following due process to secure admissions for students, government engaging the services of “a contractor”, who collects money improperly from both the government and the institutions, turning the whole admission exercise into a racket are always rife in the media.

One northern governor (in order to discredit his predecessor, the usual modus operandi) lamented that “when the previous government wanted to pay the bursaries of the students, they give the contractor, who in turn takes his share before remitting the money to the students. Similarly, when they want to pay the school fees, they send the money to him, to take his share, then give the rest to the institutions”, the governor claimed.

Win-win situation.

The way out of this quagmire is simply for us to be more diligent.

Firstly, as a parent, when your child begins to think of tertiary education abroad and fills the state scholarship form, it is your duty to help the child make informed choices. Ignorance is not an excuse. Ask for guidance from people more learned than you are. Over the years, many parents have called me for advice regarding their wards, and while I am not an immigration or scholarship expert, the internet has solved a lot of problems for them. It provides information on the university, its ranking and what the student should expect on arrival. Imagine arriving at a country, only to be told that you have to learn the official language first, before spending the next four to five years being taught in the language.  If you are someone like me who struggles with language, that is the beginning of your struggle! How do you expect me to pass exams taught in Yiddish, Russian or Belarusian? For some students, that is the beginning of their academic decline.

Therefore, the parents and students should do their investigations and know exactly what   and where their students will be studying and anticipate challenges. No need attending a mushroom college in a far away village in China that was created solely for Nigerians to get substandard education. Shine your eyes!

Secondly and most importantly, parents should know when government is playing politics with them. It is not rocket science. Was the scholarship awarded towards the end of his tenure? Politics! Is the student anticipated to finish the course while the governor is still in office? Or will he be studying Medicine for six years while the governor has only two years left in office? What about tuition- has it been paid in full? Can you afford to send a little money to your child for his welfare while he is there so he or she does not starve when government welfare is delayed?

In real terms, government awarded scholarships foreign scholarships is something to be celebrated. Yet, when it is turned into a dubious, fraudulent, political scam intended to exploit the poor and desperate, then we are doomed. Remember, these are our children, and we will be held accountable. If not in this world, then in the hereafter.

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