Daniel Kanu and Henry Okonkwo

The latest inclination by Nigerian leaders in sending their children abroad for studies is gradually becoming disturbing.

This is against the backdrop of the fact that while their wards are sent overseas to acquire sound education, no genuine efforts are made to fix the educational system in the country that is gradually being killed by the day.

To say that poor funding is a major threat to achieving functional education in Nigeria is to say the obvious.

Unfortunately, Education in Nigeria is bisected with myriads of problems and not much is done to salvage the situation.

From President Mohammadu Buhari to Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, to the governors to members of the National Assembly, down to the state Assembly lawmakers, it may be difficult to exempt any without his or her ward abroad for studies.

In 2016, when Aljazeera’s Dennis Martine asked Buhari why his children were schooling in foreign lands and not in Nigerian universities, his response was: “Because I can afford it.”

Statistics have shown worryingly that like Buhari, Osinbajo’s, Saraki’s, El-Rufai’s, among many past and present Nigerian top office holders responsible for running the country, have their children in foreign universities, and in some cases, primary and secondary schools.

These officeholders, both in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as well as those in the corporate world, would regularly boast on social media, showing the fashionable photos of the graduation of their children in these very expensive institutions abroad.

From public records, President Buhari has eight children, five of them schooled in the United Kingdom. They attended prestigious universities – Buckingham University, University of Plymouth, University of Leicester and University of Surrey.

Osinbajo recently celebrated his son, Fiyinfunoluwa graduation from Warwick University on social media.

The fees going by Sunday Sun confirmation ranged from £22,460 to £39,150 or N10 million to N17 million per session.

Also, the PDP presidential candidate in the last election, Atiku Abubakar, had in 2016, celebrated the graduation of his daughter from a foreign university. The irony is that he is the owner of the American University of Nigeria in Yola.

Former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who also served as governor of Kwara State, celebrated the graduation of his son from the London School of Economics.

Of course, other Nigerians who could afford the fees of studying in the universities abroad have also chosen to send their wards there because they suspect that poor funding has robbed government-owned schools of quality.

Aside from the poor quality in the learning impacted, there is also the fear that you are not sure of when to graduate, especially in government universities, which are usually student’s first choice.

For most Nigerians, what is quite worrisome is the way the education sector is treated: not as a priority.

For instance, the share of the 2019 budget allocated to education is a paltry six per cent against the UNESCO prescription of 15 to 20 per cent.

Going by the records, the highest budgetary allocation to the educational sector was in 2014, which was 9.94 per cent; otherwise, it has always been five or seven per cent.

The irony is that while big countries are shifting their economies away from extractive based industry to the ones reliant on knowledge economy, Nigeria seems to still be stuck in the past.

Experts have argued that Nigeria’s 2019 budget of N620 billion which is to be shared among the 43 federal universities, 23 colleges of education, 36 polytechnics, 22 monotechnics, and specialized institutions can only guarantee junk, a type that cannot guarantee international competition.

In their well-researched presentation, Josephine Uzorh and Juliet Nwite pointed out that in contrast to Nigeria’s budget for education, which in dollar terms is $1.7 billion; Harvard University spends almost thrice that amount as its budget which stands at $4.5 billion per annum.

According to the duo, “Even as government-owned educational institutions are poorly funded, they still suffer from overpopulation. Harvard with its $4.5 billion budget has only 22,947 students. The University of Lagos (UNILAG) alone has 58,000 students.”

Some people think that it is needless blaming those in authority for sending their wards abroad, especially if they can afford it because the situation could be likened to a person selling what they do not like.

In their views, “if you are an owner of a school and your children are not attending that school, it means you don’t believe in the school”.

A few months ago, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had expressed solidarity with university students over the decay in the nation’s educational system.

The labour movement lamented that the fight for a better educational system has been left for only the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the non-academic staff to prosecute.

NLC’s Head of International Relations and National Assembly Liaison, Uche Ekwe, who stood in for the President Ayuba Wabba, said that unfortunately, the budget for education has continued on the downward trend in the past 20 years, adding that the country was still far from the 26 per cent mark recommended by UNESCO for education funding.

“The campaign, which is to save education is apt. Our national budget has not met the international requirements as recommended by UNESCO that at least 26 per cent of its annual budget should be for education. But we have not gone beyond 12 per cent and in implementation, we have not gone up to seven per cent and this struggle has been left for ASUU alone for a very long time,” Ekwe said.

According to Ekwe, Most Nigerians had erroneously believed that ASUU is troublemakers.

“But because they are in the education sector, they know the damage and the danger of what is going on and the longer they leave this, the more decay you have in the sector both in terms of infrastructure and manpower.

“We have maintained that more funding should be channeled to the education sector and our affiliate, ASUU, has done deep research about sourcing or raising this fund, so I’m advising the government to work at those document from ASUU and ensure they have the political will to implement,” he noted.

The alarming decay in the education sector has made some experts cry out that even the intellectuals are palpably silent and have vacated the market place of ideas, while the students have lost their verve and are instead concerned with butter and bread thereby leaving the sector exhausted and uninspiring.

Some educationists have pointed out the discrimination in the treatment on non-academic staff of different institutions with the academic staff, which they say is also affecting morale and quality of the product.

For example, last month, workers of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Ondo State, raised the alarm that the university does owe them not less than 19 months salaries, which had left many of them in a precarious situation.

They also raised concern on discrimination between the staff and non-staff treatment.

The salary arrears were part of the concern raised by the workers during a protest by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) comprising unions of non-teaching staff in the university.

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The protest by FUTA JAC complied with the directive of the national body of the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), that they should show their grievances over marginalization of non-teaching staff in Nigerian universities.

During the protest, workers carried placards of various inscriptions condemning the preferential treatment being given to members of the ASUU at the detriment of other workers in the university system.

Some of the placards read: ‘Give us our Share of N30bn Earned Allowance’; ‘FG Should Pay our Staff School Teachers 19 Months’ Salary’; ‘No to Discrimination among Workers in Universities’; among others.

Addressing journalists during the protest, the Chairman of FUTA branch of JAC, Mr Dele Durojaye said that it was disheartening that the Federal Government gave only 20 per cent of the N30 billion released for earned allowance to non-teaching unions, while ASUU alone got 80 per cent.

An educationist, Charity Ubong told Sunday Sun that some Nigerians travel abroad for their education because of frustrations from the sector, so as not to sacrifice their future here.

She narrated the story Vivian Nwagboso who after spending six years at a Nigerian university was told her admission was fake only for her to travel abroad and made first class.

Ubong said: “After spending six years in the University of Calabar studying to earn a degree in Medical Laboratory Science, Vivian Nwagboso was told in her final year that her admission was fake. She was broken-hearted, but undeterred she left to find her fortune elsewhere in the United Kingdom where she made a first class in Biomedical Science from De Montfort University, U K. You won’t blame her for traveling but the frustrating system”

Courageous and engaging academic, Dr Ossai Edmund Ossai, a senior lecturer, department of Community Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki told Sunday Sun that there is nothing wrong in one taking his/her ward abroad so far they can afford it and ensure there is standard in what obtains in the country.

“The only worry for me is when you deliberately kill the education system if not I see it as creating space for those schooling here”

He told Sunday Sun: “In all fairness, I am not against it, especially if the individual can afford it, just as I am not against private universities coming up, in fact, we don’t have enough for now. If you check all the number of people that are qualified to take JAMB, we do not admit even half of them and by the time you say jack, another set is out from secondary school positioning for JAMB again.

“Now let us look at it this way, if the son of a governor goes to any university, let’s say UNILAG, UNN or U.I, to seek for admission, do you think he or she can be denied the admission? I don’t think so. That singular move to take their children abroad for me will create a chance for another student here.

“Of course, you know they have access to the Vice Chancellor unlike some of us. So, taking their children abroad will create opportunity or space for some other children, maybe children of the not-so-rich and the struggling class.

“Now, the upper class again, you know we have two types of upper classes here: those who can afford overseas universities and there are those who can afford private universities. Let them go to where they can afford.

“My only annoyance or worry is in the constant ASUU strike or where you deliberately kill the education system so that your children can go out to study and come back as lords that is what I am against.

“Let our educational system flow with good quality so that people here can compete effectively in any international or global competition. My concern is to let the standard be maintained when the standard is of international quality nobody will worry if you go to Harvard because they will equally get the right type of education at home.

“The challenge is to ensure we maintain quality here rather than worry about those that can afford it abroad. All fingers are not equal.

It was like when president Buhari went abroad for a medical checkup and people were against it but I wasn’t and the reason is that we have private citizens who travel abroad to check common B.P, so if a private citizen can go why can’t a president?

“The major thing is that: can we make the local system work? The only thing for me is that whether you are attending a state, federal, private or oversea universities strive for excellence so as to have the power of competitive distribution that can fit anywhere.

“I attended the University of Ibadan and I don’t think I am less dazzling academically when compared to those that schooled abroad. After all, there are still many that schooled abroad and when they come back they don’t get any bearing or showcase any superior credential.

“The world today is a global village and if you are bent on getting excellence and striving for the best you can still be here and update yourself if you desire it and be the best”.

Former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Prof Peter Okebukola, maintained that half of the problems bedeviling Nigeria’s educational system would be solved if the country engages quality teachers, provide good welfare scheme for them and stop treating them like “Libya slaves’’.

He lamented that the nation’s education system will continue to grope in the dark and national development will fall deep into an abysmal pit until the right things were done to elevate the sector.

“Over the last eight years, studies have shown conclusively that the master key, which opens the intricate door to quality education is the teacher; the success story is the quality training and welfare of teachers.

“Our findings published has shown that if we engage quality teachers and provide good welfare scheme for them, more than half of the problems facing the education system would have been solved,’’ he said.

Okebukola said that Nigeria could copy from countries such as Finland and Korea, which revived their economy by taking care of their education system, arguing that when you deliver quality education it would curtail the rush to abroad for education.

“In countries like Finland and Korea, only the very best are admitted for teacher training and when they graduate, they are paid well and are the envy of other professionals.

“In Nigeria, the typical faculties of education of a university admit largely the dregs from the pool of UTME applicants,” he said.

Okebukola said that the five cardinals to improve the education system were to revamp the curriculum, suspend all sandwich programmes since it is the hotbed for training mediocre teachers, do teachers recruitment, implement teachers’ salary scale and punish those that maltreat teachers.

Some analysts opine that the criminal hijack of politics in Nigeria has resulted in a rentier economy and by extension, the pervasive and predatory nature of state capture by both the political and the capitalist class of every sector including education.

They insist that the degenerating situation must agitate citizens’ actions to reclaim the nation and fix not only education, but other sectors.

According to Osita Ogbu, a Professor of Economics and the Director, Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, “the problem with Nigeria is that we have constructed a deep-rooted rentier political economy. Exploited by a rentier political class and a rentier “entrepreneurial” class. Fueled by oil money, without national ethos and any pretense of accountability, underpinned by a warped sense of patriotism, and the absence of leaders willing and capable to make the necessary sacrifices to moderate the exploitative class, the nation falls deeper and deeper into crisis.

“In a rentier economy, the mutuality and unanimity upon which citizenship is built are eroded as our ethnic identity takes preeminence over our national identity. Access thumps merit and unproductive activities, including thuggery and rascality, are shamelessly rewarded. In a rentier economy, honesty is not the best policy; ability, treacherously, becomes a disability; whom you know is more important than what you know as productivity is not the acceptable measure of performance.

“In a rentier economy, democracy is undermined because elections, especially intra-party elections, are not just treated as transactions, but as auctions to be delivered by the “godfathers” to the highest bidder or one whose antecedents suggests that citizens welfare and rights would be subverted in order to service the chieftains. In a rentier economy, you witness the sheer dishonesty, deceit, indecency, corruption, selfishness, short-sightedness, elite-jealousy and the absence of accountability that characterize the political and the leadership recruitment process; and the loss of values and the sham our democracy has become. And many see it as a game, played without rules, without order, and without consequences. Where brawn wins over brain”.

That this is a time when all the indices of development for Nigeria, education inclusive, are all heading south-ward, with Nigeria characterized as one of the worst places to be born presents us an opportunity for soul-searching and deep reflections.

But where are the citizens to engage in these arduous tasks when those expected to do the repairs are already soaked in the trend of sending their children and wards abroad?

As Prof Ogbu submitted: “Nation-building and constructive citizenship demands deliberate efforts from enlightened, value-laden, empathetic leadership. It doesn’t come from brutal force, excessive partisanship, indifference or prayer as history has taught us”.