Budget 2018: With education at 7%, Buhari takes us back to 2004

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“Lend me your ears, that I may bury my words in them, but more importantly your heart, that I may inscribe my thoughts on its walls, that we may safely transform our nation and put the departed to rest. For their sake, do not turn on the deaf ears as I play from this drum of observation and intellect. For the sake of the fallen, do not pretend to be blind as I extend these vices to your frontlet, for their sake mind my words and tend to my advice, then together we shall take a handful of the sands of fulfillment and pour on their caskets as we bid them adios and watch them in sane peace.

“Though my heart is heavy but I have not come in its heaviness because emotions are known to ultimately becloud judgment and that is what I have come to do today; to judge our national malady, to appraise the educational insanity and to give resounding rounds of applause to the mediocrity of the Nigeria students (Of whom I am one). I have come to try to take you down the lane called memory, as we flip through the pages of history, trying to revisit the relics of time and learn the lessons that history teaches.”

The quotes above is from an article I wrote for the backpage column of The Guardian newspaper, as published on July 23, 2013.

At the time, six students actively involved in the politics of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) were involved in an autocrash, which — as you may expect — led to the death of all six. I argued that “saying ‘rest in peace’ like every other person would not necessarily make them rest in peace, but acting against the vices that put them six feet beneath our feet would be the best feat to make them find the peace”.

I thought — and still think — that NANS was one student body with massively misplaced priority. My argument was that the Nigerian state was not investing enough in anything that would last long enough to transform the country positively. Education and infrastructural investments were abysmal at the time, and the students were not concerned. What was priority to the students at the time was the politics of 2015, which was in the offing. We “complained about the man trying to cut our toes, while applauding the one with a loaded rifle facing our fore-head”.

I believe one of the top three problems with education in Nigeria is funding.

As always, I was reluctant to write; I thought my writing would not change the way NANS was being run, neither will it change the power dynamics around budgeting and funding education in Nigeria. I said it was “drums to the deaf”. I was right about that. But who would believe that a government would come in Nigeria and allocate less than 10 percent to education after the Goodluck Jonathan administration?

“From 2006 to 2010, less than N300 billion was recurrently allocated to education, with much more going to unsafe security, yet we have our hands akimbo,” I wrote.

“In 2011, N1.592 trillion (about 35 percent) was allocated to security, while education was ailing at less than 10 percent as though we live in a war ridden nation. 2012 was no different with 8.4 percent N394.58 billion of 4.697 trillion). The final deception came in 2013, when education was said to have got the highest allocation, with just N426.5 billion which amounted to 11.489 per cent of the national budget, all of these in a nation that is expected to give at least 26 per cent to the sacred sector (According to UNESCO).”

Fast forward to 2017, the government led by Muhammadu Buhari actually changed the dynamics around budgeting, raising capital expenditure to 30 percent. Buhari began investing, actively in essential infrastructure, such as roads, rail lines, power, and some social security. For the first time in the history of our nation, over N1.5 trillion is being expended on capital projects across the country.

Like I wrote last week, the 2018 budget got it right on many fronts, but education is one front where the budget is getting it wrong. The same government that put on us on track with respect to tangible infrastructure has also set us back by over a decade — with respect to education. The last time allocation for education went as low as 7.04 percent was in 2004 — 13 years ago! In naira terms, the allocation may have increased, but in relative terms, with inflation put in right perspectives, the allocations have dropped drastically since it crossed the 10 percent mark in 2006.

Current allocations put Nigeria around the bottom rung for education funding across the world. As of 2013, the global average according to the World Bank was 14.13 percent — we have been below the average for at least 17 years, with no deliberate plans for breaking out.

A UN economic model designed for sustainable development as far back as 1945, prescribes that developing countries must put 26 percent of its budgetary allocation or five percent of GDP into education to get the much needed national and economic development. At a time when the world is shifting and education is getting all the more dynamic, nations are spending even more, but Nigeria is spending less.

From eight percent in 2016, we moved to 7.4 percent in 2017 and now 7.04 percent for 2018 — the trend is disturbing. Go ahead, build more roads and houses, erect better bridges, fix power too, but remember, that the child you failed to train today will sell the houses you built, pull down your better bridges, and bring power generation to nothing via vandalism.

If this trend continues, I would no longer ask why Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world; I would seize to question the rationale behind having teeming youths as members of Boko Haram; I would kill my curiosity concerning the uprising in the Niger Delta or southeast Nigeria — for now, I know why.

Like my 2013 article, this also, may be drums to the deaf, but I’ll beat the drums anyway; Nigeria, you can do better.

Reach Tijani across major social media platforms @OluwamayowaTJ

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