Nigerians are generally bold and confident wherever you find them in the world. They are hardworking, intelligent and socially adept. Recently I read that Nigerians living in the United States of America are the most educated immigrants superseding even the host’s citizens based on the percentage of population having a college degree. This is the same story across the globe – from Europe to North America, Asia to Australia – Nigerians have demonstrated excellence in many fields ranging from academics to other professional skills.
But despite the extraordinary performance displayed by Nigerians at various fields, the country still spends huge sums of money for postgraduate training of its academic staff abroad; something that is avoidable.
According to statistics, Nigeria has a population of about 206 million people, which places it as the most populated country in Africa and 7th most populated in the world. Besides, the country is blessed with huge natural and human resources that can comfortably take it out of its present condition of poverty, insecurity and ignorance. A lot of people attribute the current bad situation to poor leadership, corruption and greed among the majority of Nigerians.
Some people may argue that the main problem is from the leaders alone, who have the capacity to steer the affairs of the country to the promised land. But to me, the problem is from the majority of the population, where all the leaders are selected to lead. These people represent the fair sampling of our behaviours. The attitudes of our leaders portray the replica of the entire population’s attitudes, hence a rigorous attitudinal change is necessary for us to develop as a country.
Let me not digress much from the main topic. Education remains the only sector where the poor people can still directly benefit from the government. Education is virtually free up to university level to date. However, the system is deteriorating slowly at both primary and secondary school levels and now approaching the tertiary institutions.
It is unfortunate that the government that was elected by the masses with the hope of rekindling their wellbeing in the areas of education, security and jobs for the teeming youth is losing its main focus in all the three aforementioned problems.
To say that no country would develop to a high status without quality education for its citizens is an understatement. Nigeria is currently undertaking a perilous journey by abandoning its educational system in an awful state and focusing more on the welfare of the politicians that are far less than 0.1% of the country’s population. No country will take this dangerous road and end up in the promised land. The education budget in Nigeria is pathetically low (about 6%) and therefore among the lowest anywhere in the world. This behaviour is common among African countries, hence tagged the third world countries, a phrase synonymous to ignorance, underdevelopment and diseases.
According to the United Nations, for a country to have good education, 26 per cent of its budget must be allocated to education. The 2021 budget was recently presented to the National Assembly for their perusal and approval as enshrined in the country’s constitution. However, the budget allocation for the education sector is meagre N671.07 billion (1.49 billion dollars at N450 to a dollar rate) for 206 million people. This is very small when compared to the education budget of some countries that have much lower population and less resources compared to Nigeria.
Underfunding the education sector, particularly in universities, could lead to producing half-baked graduates in all areas, which makes them difficult for them to address new challenges. Poor graduates would find it difficult to compete in other spheres around the world. Additionally, brain drain of our experts from various fields is one of the major problems facing our educational system. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike for seven months now. ASUU is on strike because the government has failed to fulfil agreements signed with the union since 2009.
However, despite the achievements recorded by ASUU over this period, tertiary education in Nigeria is far from perfect when compared to other developing countries across the globe. Underfunding of education, that leads to continuous deterioration of our tertiary institutions, particularly universities and the welfare of its staff is alarming. The current struggle of ASUU to convince the federal government to solve the lingering problems affecting the system that would ensure the continuous existence of public universities is now considered as the mother of all struggles. The government is doing everything possible to see that university education system is no longer public but private. This claim is unanimously supported by the forceful introduction of the Integrated Personal Payroll Information System (IPPIS) to university system and the student bank loan suggested by some Nigerian capitalists. This system is foreign, which is made to impose problems on developing countries, thereby destroying their educational system that may lead to subsequent introduction of tuition fee to the masses. It is common knowledge that Nigerian academics are the worst paid in Africa.
The federal government needs to brace up and allocate better budget to the education sector – at least 26 per cent as recommended by the United Nations. Our universities’ infrastructure and remuneration of staff should be upgraded to at least the African average. The laboratories, workshops and libraries in our tertiary institutions are archaic, lacking basic modern facilities for learning and research.
Some countries, such as Malaysia, that started developing together with Nigeria, have made huge investment in education and today they are having the best universities in their region and attract international students from more than 25 countries around the world. Malaysia is a country of about 32.7 million people as of July, 2020 according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, just less than one-sixth of Nigeria’s population. The Malaysian government presented its 2021 budget yesterday and to my greatest surprise, the education sector was allocated the largest share among all the sectors/ministries in the country. Education department was allocated the sum of 64.1 billion Ringgits (15.4 billion USD, 7.051 trillion Naira). The budget is so impressive by any standard considering the country’s economy, population and resources. The commitment of Malaysian government toward proper funding of its educational sector elevated the country’s tertiary education to be among the best in the world. University of Malaya (UM) is ranked 59 in the world by QS ranking in terms of teaching and research, superseding many universities in the UK, USA, France and Canada. The first four universities in the country are ranked 59, 132, 141, 142 and 187 positions in the QS world ranking for UM, UPM, UKM, USM and UTM, respectively. I was told by a retired professor in Malaysia, that some of these universities were hiring visiting professors from Nigeria, notably ABU Zaria, University of Ibadan and University of Nigeria Nsukka in the 1970s.
Proper funding of Nigerian universities will not make the country bankrupt but rather bring prosperity, sustainability and more wealth to the country through winning some global research grants, attracting more international students and scholars from Africa and other countries around the world. There is no doubt Nigerian scholars are equal to this task once the proper funding and better remuneration are provided to the system and the staff. The federal government could improve its economy through education the same way countries like Malaysia, India and Egypt have done. Nigerian universities are ranked very low in global universities ranking not because of unqualified professors but because of underfunding.
Dr Mansir, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, writes from University Putra Malaysia