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Nigeria at 56: What Education was like before independence

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By Dayo Adesulu
AS Nigeria celebrates its Independence on Saturday, it is imperative to recapitulate the role education played in gaining our freedom from  Britain 56 years ago.

Foremost nationalists like the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, who fought for our independence did so not through arms and ammunition, but through the power of the pen which they derived through education.

The aforementioned nationalists had were brave enough to challenge the colonial masters due to their access to quality education.

Anthony Enahoro, who moved the motion for our independence was educated at Government School, Uromi, Government School Owo and King’s College, Lagos. He was not educated in any private school, all the schools he attended were government schools. With quality education, Chief Enahoro became the editor of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspaper, in 1944 at the age of 21. Thus, becoming Nigeria’s youngest editor ever.

Constitutional  conferences

His education, coupled with being a member of House of Representatives, he successfully moved the motion for self governance in 1958 which led to Nigeria’s independence in 1960. He was also a delegate to most of the constitutional conferences leading to the independence.

For Obafemi Awolowo, his father who was a farmer and a sawyer died when Obafemi was about seven years old. Nevertheless, because access to education was not as difficult as it is today, he was able to attend various schools and became a teacher at Abeokuta, after which he studied and qualified as a shorthand typist.

AUN student teaching pupils in Wuro Hausa Primary School in Yola, Adamawa State with tablets in local languages
AUN student teaching pupils in Wuro Hausa Primary School in Yola, Adamawa State with tablets in local languages

With that knowledge, he served as a clerk at Wesley College and later became a correspondent for the Nigerian Times. It was after this that he embarked on various business ventures to help raise funds to travel to the United Kingdom for further studies. In the UK, he studied law at the University of London. With this academic feat, he was able to play a key role in Nigeria’s independence movement.

On his part, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe attended the Holy Trinity School, a Roman Catholic Mission school and Christ Church School, an Anglican primary school at Onitsha, Anambra State in 1914. He finished his elementary education at CMS Central School where he served as a pupils-teacher.

Azikiwe later had his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 1930 at Lincoln University, 30 years before Nigeria gained independence in 1960. He also had a master’s degree in Religion and Philosophy  two years later  in the same university. Besides, Azikiwe did conclude two Master’s degrees in Anthropology and Political Science in 1933 at the University of Pennsylvania. He had a Doctor of Philosophy degree also.

With these academic achievements, little wonder he was one of the leading figures of modern Nigerian nationalism. He was first a journalist and later a political leader. He served as the second and last Governor-General of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963 and the first President of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963 and 1963 to 1966, holding the presidency throughout the Nigerian First Republic.

In the same vein, Sir Ahmadu Bello who was a major figure in Northern Nigeria’s pre-independence politics, played a major role in the independence of Nigeria. Born in 1909, he attended Sokoto Provincial School and the Katsina Training College. He finished school in 1931 and subsequently became the English teacher in Sokoto Middle School.

In 1948, he got a government scholarship to study Local Government Administration in England which broadened his understanding and knowledge in governance. After returning from Britain, he was nominated to represent the province of Sokoto in the regional House of Assembly. He was selected among others as a member of a committee that redrafted the Richards Constitution.

The vision and power of education that our foremost nationalists had which brought them to the limelight, influenced the early government of the 60s to invest in qualitative education. At that time, primary education to university level were well funded by the government. No first generation university in Nigeria at that time lacked quality and basic infrastructure, as students were motivated by the government to study.

The University of Ibadan 1948, University of Nigeria, Nsukka 1960,  Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria 1962, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife 1962, University of Lagos 1962 and University of Benin 1970 were unarguably the best universities in Africa. Foreign lecturers and students from the UK, India and Ghana were testament to the quality of Nigeria’s Education sector in those days as foreign students and teachers enrolled for admission and teaching jobs. In those days, few students who schooled overseas retuned to Nigeria, as there was nothing attractive  to them there that could keep them behind; not even job opportunities. Because our Naira was stronger than theirs, on graduation day, it was a common sight to see multi-national companies queuing to employ best graduating students from different disciplines.  Today, all these have become history. We are no longer the pride and giant of Africa, the glory has departed.

The question begging for an answer is: what is our government doing to revamp the Education sector?

In the world university rankings of 2016-2017 as released by The Times last week, only University of Ibadan was listed among the 980 top universities in the world. It was ranked 801. Whereas we prided ourselves as giant of Africa with 149 universities, only University of Ibadan is universally recognised as viable with global standard.

Qualified  universities

South Africa tops African universities in the global ranking by producing eight universities among the 980 top global universities, leading with University of Cape Town that was ranked 148. Even Ghana beat us to it, as University of Ghana was ranked 601.

Egypt also had eight qualified universities in the global ranking as American University in Cairo, Soliag University and Suez Canal University were ranked 601. Morocco had three universities ranked 801, Algeria 801 position and Kenya also 801 position.

The statistics shows that Nigeria’s best university is now ranked alongside with Algeria, Kenya and Morocco.

The criteria as enumerated by The Times include: Research, teaching, international outlook, citations and industry income. Global universities were graded based on the above performance.

It is not the quantity of universities that matter in global ranking, but the quality. No university can claim global quality without adequate funding. The funding, among others must include research and infrastructure. The Federal Government should reduce the criteria for universities to access the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, (TETFund) that is meant for this purpose.

Moreover, it is disheartening to note that the 2016 budgetary allocation for the education sector still remains lower than that of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Education budget moved from N306.3bn in 2011, to N400.15bn in 2012, to N426.53bn in 2013, to N493bn in 2014, to 492bn in 2015 and dropped to N403.16 in 2016 considering the total national budget and its percentage.In his reaction, the Chair, ASUU-UNILAG, Dr Laja Odukoya said that our Independence has not lived up to its promise of “life more abundance” to the Nigeria people. According to him, our independence has become the replacement of the oppression, exploitation and oppression by foreigners in combined force of imperialist powers and their local collaborators.

Increased  pauperization

He said: ‘’The economy is still backward and underdeveloped ministering to all interest but that of the Nigerian people. With the contemporary increased pauperization of Nigerians compounded by a recession foisted by inert and non-visionary and bankrupt elite, and a renewed plan to sell the remaining national patrimony, it is time for a struggle for a new liberation and genuine political and economic independence by the Nigerian people. That must start now.

On his part, the Deputy Director (Academic), Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan, Professor Oyesoji Aremu said that fifty-six years down the line, one of the indices of national development is education.

He said : “Generally, the nation has fared moderately, much still desire to be done, or ought to have been done. ”A good example here is the total collapse of the primary and secondary sectors of education which have virtually been taking over by the private individuals as a result of the neglect of the Federal and state governments.

”Gradually, the tertiary education is also going through the same process of abdication by the government. The implication of this neglect and abdication is in the quality of education being provided. Although while some people would argue that quality has risen, the honest fact of the matter is that it is not yet through. ”Arguably therefore, 56 years of the nation independence do not correspondingly at per with educational development. It is simply worrisome.”

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