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2019 general elections and the question of national unity: The role of education (2)

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By Aare Afe Babalola

“Government must realise the importance of and create an enabling environment for education to drive development in Nigeria if we seriously wish to achieve national integration and security”.

Last week I discussed the need for closer attention to the question of national unity particularly as the general eleactions of 2019 draw near. I highlighted the results of the Presidential elections in 2015 as a pointer to the fact that ours is a country that is still divided along ethnic and tribal lines. Regrettably, less than a year to the next elections, more attention, as it was before previous elections,is again being given to religious and ethnic considerations than to the political ideology of parties and their candidates. 55 years of independence appears not to have changed the issues that matter in national elections in Nigeria.

However there needs to be a change. It really should not matter whether a candidate is Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. As far as suitability for political office is concerned, what should matter the most should be the political ideologies of the candidate, the manifesto of his party, his record of service and overall preparedness for service. That change can begin with closer attention to the educational fortunes of the country.

Importance of education

Without a doubt, any country that aspires to greatness in any sphere of its existence must ensure that education remains of paramount importance. In realization of this, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) in Section 18 enjoins the Government to ensure that there are equal education opportunities at all levels and that the Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy. Even though the provisions of the said section and others like it which fall under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in Chapter II of the Constitution have been held not to be enforceable in a court of Law, its inclusion in the Constitution leaves no room for doubt that the Government is expected to be guided by the ideals contained in the provisions of the section.

A large percentage of Nigerian graduates are unemployed despite their qualifications. Foreign and even Nigerian firms find them unsuitable or unemployable for their businesses.This is largely due to the ill-fortune experienced over the decades by Nigerian universities leading to a myriad of challenges such as brain drain, strikes and lack of infrastructure. To bring about an immediate change of fortunes in the lot of Nigerian Universities and other educational institutions, adequate funding must be made available to them.The internal affairs of Universities must as far as practicable, be democratized. In taking decisions concerning the running and administration of Universities, Government must act in the best interests of the Universities. Political consideration must not influence the appointment and removal of University officials. Government must in particular, give attention to the following:

A. Enforceable  constitutional rights to education:

To promote accessible, affordable and available education of the Nigerian people, the supreme law i.e. our constitution must recognize the basic right to education as a justifiable and enforceable right. The current constitution, foisted on Nigerians by the military in 1999, unscrupulously placed education under Chapter II called the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. This portion of the Constitution indeed graciously and rightly provides that:

“The Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall, as and when practicable, provide  (a)  free, compulsory and universal primary education;  (b)  free secondary education;  (c)  free university education; and  (d)  free adult literacy programme”.

While these are all very good and robust provisions, section 6(6) (c), paragraph (c) of the same Constitution however provides that the Judiciary shall have no powers to decide on any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. This provision makes it impossible, for citizens to sue the government for failing to provide free or quality education. In essence, like a Greek gift, the constitution in one breadth contains wishful aspirations or dreams about education, and in another breath takes it away from the citizens.  There is an urgent need to modify these archaic provisions and recognize education as an important and enforceable fundamental human right.

B. Sustained Budgeting and Funding:

Considering the level of infrastructure decay and rot across Nigerian educational institutions, educational security can only be achieved if it is robustly and continually funded. To rapidly catch up with the rest of the world in terms of quality education, there is a need to comply with the international guideline by UNESCO which directs each government to devote 26% of its budget on education. I recall that Chief Awolowo devoted 54% of the budget to education. Targeting a certain percentage of GDP each year would ensure that the education infrastructure deficit is slowly reduced, while demands for new infrastructure are met. The plan could include flexibility to accommodate accelerated educational investment in times of economic slowdown or recession.

Nigeria must also engage with international development partners and meet its obligations under joint funding schemes. For example, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has invested in a five-year, £95m programme aimed at assisting the Government of Nigeria to better plan, finance and operate infrastructure, including educational infrastructure. The Nigerian Government must be transparent, accountable and committed to the proper utilization of such funds for education. A combination of government funding and international development funding could deliver real and measurable financial capital base to realise and meet the expenditure required for financing the education sector. It will also provide robust financial basis for Nigeria to roll out scholarships and grants programs to support affordable education.  Rather than borrow money to buy bulletproof cars, a serious nation will invest money to build the future, which is innovation and education. With education, the political class will find little or no need for bulletproof cars, as every youth will be able to attain a respectable source of income.

  1. C. Investment in Research and Innovation

The importance of innovation cannot be overemphasised.  It is not a mere coincidence that Nigeria’s glorious years in terms of national economic development were years when our Universities were equally known for delivering significant innovation and research. However, poor funding, brain drain, infrastructural deficiency, poor ethical standards and different levels of institutional corruption are some of the reasons why Nigerian Universities can no longer drive innovation. Unless this situation is reversed, Nigeria will continue to depend on foreign technology and goods as the foundation for its infrastructural projects. This is an approach that has failed us for several years and will continue to do so. Countries that have achieved meaningful development realised this and have dedicated significant national funding to research and innovation.

In several developed countries, universities are the ones spearheading Research, Applied Technology, High-tech Industry, Global Management expertise, Export and Economic growth. Take Canada for example, where Aeronautical Engineering Departments have spurred key breakthroughs for Aviation Infrastructure, making Canada a leading manufacturer of aeroplanes (the Bombardier).  Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departments have also provided talented graduates who drive Canada’s Electronics and Software industry, which generates $50 billion in annual exports. Architecture and Civil Engineering Departments have also developed low cost facilities for road and infrastructure construction. And several of Canada’s professors have won Nobel Prizes in Medicine, Engineering and Sciences.  This is the same in the United States where Harvard University, a private University, has produced some of the world’s leading Innovators and Engineers.

Adequate attention to education

If adequate attention is paid to education, I doubt that Politicians will find the minds of young Nigerians as fertile a ground as it is now for the implantation of seeds of disunity which is meant only to serve their own selfish ends on election day. Furthermore, an educated mind is less likely to take up arms or become a suicide bomber, in pursuit of a warped view that western education is a sin, as currently is the case with the long drawn boko haram insurgency.   As the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence put it;

“Knowledge, books, and education have manifold implications when it comes to dealing with conflict… – they embody curiosity, independent thought, freedom of speech and expression, and the potential to eventually make up one’s own mind about the world, its events, and its people. A holistic approach to education, or one that goes beyond the teaching of literacy and numeracy, also educates students on current affairs, creative expression, lateral thinking, structured argument and debate. This subsequently gives them the ability to make independent decisions, the freedom to make a difference, and to become young leaders in their own right”

Government must realise the importance of and create an enabling environment for education to drive development in Nigeria if we seriously wish to achieve national integration and security.

To be continued.


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