The prevailing socioeconomic challenges which have rendered virtually every sector, including healthcare delivery, education, social infrastructure, purchasing power, human capital development, etc., in dire straits, may have validated claims by the World Bank Group that Nigeria is amongst the worst places to live in the world. Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf and
Daniel Adeleye in this report examine the issues
Can Nigeria really be one of the worst places to live on earth? Can a country blessed with such enormous human and material resources be classified as poverty-stricken? What indices, if any, support such claims that the most populous black nation in the world suffers a lot of privations more than the citizens are willing to admit?
This barrage of questions agitated the minds of some concerned Nigerians following the damning verdict by the World Bank Group last Thursday which ranked Nigeria 152 out of a total of 157countries surveyed in its Human Capital Index (HCI).
What the HCI is all about
The HCI measures the amount human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18, given the risks of poor health and education that prevail in the country where he or she lives. Human capital consists of the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate throughout their lives, enabling them to realise their potential as productive members of society.
According to the President of the multilateral institution, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, who spoke at the just concluded IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings in Bali, Indonesia, said “Nigeria unfortunately ranks 152 out of 157 countries. We provide quite a bit of support to Nigeria in terms of the health budget. But we feel that the overall spending on health in just far too low at 0.76 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Also, the educational outcomes in Nigeria are very poor.”
He described human capital as a key driver of sustainable, inclusive economic growth, saying investing in health and education has not got the attention it deserves.
“Many African countries are in the red zone. I think that the World Bank has to take some responsibility for having emphasised hard infrastructure, roads, rails, energy, for a long time. And you know, that changed about 20 years ago. But there has still been the bias that says ‘You know, we’ll invest in hard infrastructure and then when we grow rich, we’ll have enough money to invest in health and education.”
The devil is in the details
Beyond rhetoric, is it true the situation in Nigeria is that bad, in terms of the performance index of the key sectors of the economy including education, healthcare and social infrastructure? In a manner of speaking, the devil is in the details.
Points to ponder
In the nation’s education sector for instance, the poor performance can be attributed to a number of factors bordering on the superficial to the complex.
Poor funding has been identified as the major reason for the rot and challenges in the education sector, especially tertiary education, which has led to frequent strikes by teaching and non-teaching staff since the early 1990s.
While UNESCO’s benchmark for funding of education is 26 per cent of national budget, Nigeria has never gone beyond 6.0 for many years now.
Checks by The Nation revealed that the federal allocation to the education in the last 10 years has been miserly. Out of a budget of N55.19 trillion, only N3.90 trillion or 7.07 per cent was allocated to the sector.
In 2009, the federal government allocated N221.19 billion (7.25 per cent) of its N3.049 trillion budget to education. The figure was reduced to 4.83 per cent in 2010 when education got N249.09 billion of the hefty N5.16 trillion appropriations.
There was a marginal improvement in 2011 when education got N306.3 billion (6.16 per cent) of the N4.972 trillion budget. The marginal improvements continued in 2012 (8.20 per cent), 2013 (8.55 per cent), and 2014 (9.94 per cent) until 2015 (7.74 per cent) when a significant drop in allocation to education was recorded.
In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari’s first full year in office, the sector had its second-worst allocation in 10 years when, of the N6.061 trillion budget, only N369.6 billion (6.10 per cent) was appropriated for education.
However, there was a slight rise in 2017 (7.38 per cent) and if the 2018 proposed N8.612 trillion is approved, education will get N605.8 billion or 7.03 per cent.
Speaking in an interview with The Nation recently, Mr. Kelani Akeem Tolu Chairman, Out-of-School-Children-Empowerment Foundation (OSCEF), a nonprofit, nongovernmental organisation that is passionate about children’s education and strives to support the different tiers of government, described as scandalous the rising incidence of street kids, most of who are out of school.
“Personally, I feel bad when I see children roaming the streets instead of being in school. There are poor parents who could not send their children to government schools that are relatively affordable. But in some cases it is just ignorance on the part of some parents. For parents, who are handicapped or physically challenged, concerned citizens of Nigeria should come to their rescue. Our work is to identify these unfortunate children and help get them back to school. Our challenges basically are inadequate funds, accommodation, big office space to ensure better training and mobility for monitoring the children, who are not in school.”
In the view of Professor Peter Okebukola, President, Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi-Africa) one way to save the education sector and drive development, is for increased funding of the sector by all tiers of government.
Okebukola, who is also Chairman of Council, Crawford University, and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Caleb University, lamented the education funding deficit and urged that 15 per cent of the budget should be allocated to education.
Like education, the health sector has not fared any better. In the 2018 budget, a total of N340.45 billion was voted for the health sector, which is less than the N359.2 billion the country spends on medical tourism annually. This represents a meagre 3.9 per cent of the total budget, lower than the 4.1 percent in 2017.
With the N340 billion allocated to the health sector, it means the federal government plans to spend approximately N1,893 on the health of each citizen annually.
In the 2018 health budget proposal, N269.34 billion was earmarked for recurrent expenditure, which refers mainly to expenditure on operations, wages and salaries, purchases of goods and services, and current grants and subsidies; while N71.11 billion is for capital expenditure.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) only recently raised the alarm that 17million Nigerian children are stunted due to malnutrition. UNICEF’s Nutrition Specialist of its Akure Office, Mrs Ada Ezeogu, said this at the opening of a two-day ‘Media dialogue on child nutrition in South West Nigeria’, in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Ezeogu noted that statistics “showed that 37 per cent of children representing over six million are malnourished, 43.6 per cent of estimated 40 million Nigerian children under age of five years (from estimated population of 197 million) are stunted, while 19.4 per cent of children in the South West suffer same deficiency.”
Experts views on how to turn the tide
In the view of Sheriffdeen Tella, a professor of Economics at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun, it is regrettable that the allocation to key sectors like education and healthcare get the lowest votes.
“It’s not unexpected. When a government continue to vote lowest percentage of its budget to education and health so such is not unexpected. And those are the two major sectors that drive economy.
Government overtime has not been serious about what they allocate to education and health. And those two sectors are very important to any economy. So once you have neglected those sectors you cannot expect good from that particular country. These are the engine roots that develop economy.
“For instance you have 58 per cent in 2011 and within that you also find illiterate among them, so the thing is that more than half of the total population of Nigeria are illiterate. So how would the economy be productive? When the health sector is rated very low among its contemporaries, the economy of that nation cannot be buoyant. People will continue to fall sick, people that fall sick cannot be productive. Illiterate cannot also be productive. So I wasn’t surprise about the verdict because health and education are indices to rate the viability of any country. A country like Nigeria who cannot vote sufficient money for education, it’s very unfortunate.”
According to the don, having over 10 million children out of school is huge. “That’s a population of another country. So the verdict of World Bank on Nigeria is not unexpected at all.”
As to what the government should do to turn things around, the former Vice Chancellor of Olabisi Onabanjo varsity said, all that is required is sincerity of purpose by government at all levels. “Government should just stop pretending and face the reality. What they should do is very clear, education and health sector must be heavily funded. They have to turn table around; both federal and states government are not care about what happen to those two sectors. We only see what they budget for the sectors in the media but they don’t implement it. Both federal and state governments have to vote large of money to those sectors, not only voting but must be properly implemented and the money will not go into private pockets. If this can be done, in another decade there would be a huge different. That’s what China did; China turned around their economy, they voted huge money on education and agriculture. And what they started in 1948, by 1982 they have over 90 per cent from 14 per cent in 1982, which means over one billion were educated and within that period they were able to generate employment of over 500 million. So we can see what education means. Government has to be serious and fund education heavily, not only to vote money but make sure the money is spent properly because we are talking of the future now.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Prof. Leo Ukpong, a professor of economics at the University of Calabar, said there is really no need to get overtly patriotic over the outcome of the survey conducted by the multilateral agency.
“As long as they use the same index to assess other countries, I think that’s acceptable. So I will assume the same indices they used in ranking all other countries. I think the question here is what we believe about our country Nigeria, can we really say we have gone beyond where we were some years back? In my own opinion when we look at the resources, the money that are generating daily, our intellectuals; I will agree with the verdict because we have not been utilising what we have very well. The roads are too bad, the poverty rate is high. A lot of people leave below two dollars per day. So personally we are far below where we should be, we are way below our credentials. So I cannot say I disagree with the verdict, as long as they used the same measurement for all countries.”
Besides, he said, he would rather the nation’s economic team see the whole idea of the survey as a wakeup call to get their acts together.
On the way forward, a former faculty member of the Lagos Business School holds the view and very strongly too that there should be a paradigm shift.
“I believe that even the government themselves know what they should do. If you listen to our politicians especially our lawmakers they talk about this and make some sense when they are talking about it. So I think they know what they should do. We are all living in this country as a people and there are some specific deficit in supply as your economy grow that you expect. I think this is very simple, most people are still going around electricity and so that alone will affect our trees and environment because people will cut down trees to cook and all that. You buy a car and the car cannot last six months because of bad roads; and another thing is where our money is going. Our money is going heavily on importation so we have to start manufacturing. What we consume in this country and last one is most of the people are still in poverty level. When people have jobs, everything improves in their lives. I don’t think focusing so much on government to provide jobs is what Nigerians need at the moment. We need private investors to come and produce in Nigeria. That will transform the country. We import too much in Nigeria.”
Also sharing his views on the parlous state of the economy, Dr. Austin Nweze, a faculty member of the Pan African University, noted that one of the indicators of a failed state is poor education sector. “We have not done well in that and if you check the chain of history you’ll discover that government has not done in that sector. The United Nation recommended 26 per cent of annual budget to education.”
Pressed further, “The best that this country has ever experienced was in 2013 when Jonathan administration earmarked 10 per cent of 2013 budget to education for the first time in the history of this country. It has always been 2-8 per cent. What our government fails to understand is that it’s easier to govern educated population. Crime rate is still high, kidnapping and forms of terrorism, and that’s another indicator of a failed state.”
Speaking further, the political economist said, “Poverty rate is high and this is another pointer to a failed state with about 80 million Nigerians below poverty line. What about infrastructure like power which is the basic thing required. Power constitutes 85 per cent of manufacturing companies. Products manufactured in Nigeria are more expensive than the imported ones. Now you discovered that none of the above mentioned criteria that Nigeria qualifies. Apart from Nigerians themselves, even in the face of hardship and difficulties you’ll still find that Nigerians are very hospitable and enterprising. They are excited and full of energies even in the midst of poverty and difficulties.”
Interestingly, the government is not unmindful of the sorry state of affairs in the key sectors of the economy. In the education sector for instance, the National Executive Council have since hinted of plans to increase funding to the sector just as efforts are been geared towards boosting investments in the social sector.
Part of the programmes of action under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is to ensure that things get back on an even keel in the key sectors. But whether these plans will be achieved under the lifespan of the Buhari administration remains to be seen.