THE education sector in Nigeria has faced various challenges over the years, which the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari did not decisively tackle despite his campaign promises before the 2015 general elections and even after.
Buhari had, on different occasions, promised to improve the sector, including increasing budgetary allocations to education, resolving long-standing issues with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and improving the quality of primary and secondary education.
The president had also pledged one free meal (to include fruits) daily, for public primary school pupils to encourage children to enrol to be educated and reduce the number of out-of-school children.
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The number of out-of-school children under the Buhari administration has, however, ballooned rather than reduce. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2020 Model Estimates on out-of-school children, published in 2022, stated that almost 20 million Nigerian children were out of school. According to the data, the secondary school out-of-school population had grown by 61 per cent, from 6.3 million to 10 million since 2010.
Also, the number of primary school-aged children who were not in school had also increased by 50 per cent, from 6.4 million to 9.7 million since 2010. This put Nigeria as the country with the third highest number of children deprived of education, behind only India and Pakistan.
An investigation published by The ICIR mentioned poverty as one of the factors responsible for the rising numbers of out-of-school children. The report stressed that although basic education was free under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Act, there were associated costs, including transportation and the purchase of uniforms, which were unaffordable for many families in Nigeria, where more than half the population lived in extreme poverty.
Poor budget allocations
Poor budget allocations to education has been a major issue in the past eight years as Buhari’s administration failed to budget up to 10 per cent of the total budget to the sector. UNESCO prescribed 15-20 per cent of the total budget to be allocated to education.
A review of the budgetary allocations for education between 2016 and 2023 indicates that the government has never assigned up to 10 per cent of the total budget to the education sector. The allocation has declined from 7.93 per cent in 2016 to 4.95 per cent in 2023.
In 2015, before Buhari was sworn in, a total of N483 billion (N483,183,784,654), translating to 10.8 per cent of the budget, was for education. It decreased to 7.93 per cent in Buhari’s first budget in 2016. In 2017 6.12 per cent was earmarked for the education sector, showing a decrease from the percentage allocated in the previous year.
In 2018, the allocation to education slightly increased again to 7.14 per cent after a total of N651 billion was set aside for the sector. It decreased again to 7.11 per cent in 2019 as the Federal government allocated N634 billion to the sector.
The budgetary allocation to education kept decreasing despite how vital the sector is and the clamouring of many stakeholders on the need for improvement in the sector. The situation was no different in 2020 as Buhari again earmarked N607 billion, about 5.74 per cent. In 2021, the allocation decreased slightly to 5.29 as the government approved N771.46 billion.
Similarly, the Federal government in 2022 budgeted N900 billion of its total allocation to education, which was about 5.26 per cent of the amount, while in 2023, the administration earmarked 4.95 per cent of the total budget to the sector.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has gone on strike for 669 days since Buhari assumed office in 2015. On September 3 last year, The ICIR reported that ASUU had embarked on a 628-day strike. The strike was subsequently suspended on October 14 after the government reached a temporary agreement with the union.
Due to unmet demands and agreements by the Federal government, ASUU most of the time resorted to industrial action to press its claims, resulting in the highest number of days of strikes by lecturers under any President since the nation returned to democracy in 1999. ASUU has since then suspended work for a minimum of 57 months (equivalent to almost five years).
The university lecturers were demanding the implementation of an agreement the Federal government signed with it in 2009, demanding for funding for infrastructure and research in the universities, among others.
Other demands are the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), payment of outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), the release of an agreed sum of money for revitalising public universities (federal and state), addressing proliferation and governance issues in state universities, settling promotion arrears, the release of withheld salaries of academics, and payment of outstanding third-party deductions.
The frequent industrial actions have had an adverse impact on numerous Nigerian students studying in public universities, meaning that the suspension of academic activities has resulted in prolonged academic calendars, thereby disrupting students’ plans and also leading to additional costs.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) is also not left out when it comes to industrial actions, as the Federal government also failed to meet their demands. Although the approximate number of times the polytechnic lecturers embarked on strike during Buhari’s administration was lower than that of ASUU, The ICIR can confirm that ASUP went on strike in 2017, 2018/19, 2021, and 2022.
According to a report by The Punch, ASUP embarked on industrial action for 147 days between January 2017 and December 2021. This figure has, however, increased as the union also went on strike in 2022.
Speaking to The ICIR on the challenges the union faced during the Buhari administration, ASUP president Anderson Ezeibe said although 11 new federal polytechnics were established and the amendments to the Federal Polytechnics Act was signed into law during the Buhari regime, the new polytechnics can be likened to constituency projects done on a poor foundation. He explained that appointment of principal officers in all but three of these institutions were fundamentally faulty, leading to the maladministration of most of the new institutions.
He added, “The amended Federal Polytechnics Act has been repeatedly violated by the same administration. Funding of the polytechnics has been poor, leading to deterioration in infrastructure. The advent and inclusion of polytechnics into the TSA and IPPIS programmes threw up issues around the smooth administration of the polytechnics and staff welfare.
“The renegotiation of the 2010 FG/ASUP agreement has not been concluded after nearly six years. This has left a lot of issues around appropriate compensation packages, legal reforms, infrastructure deficit, inadequate policy frameworks, the agelong certification blockade, and regulatory impediments unaddressed.
“The recent release of the sum of N15 billion by the government for the first tranche of the NEEDS Assessment came after nine years of agitation by our union. Yet there are yet-to-be-resolved issues around the administration of the funds. In all, the polytechnic system could have been a lot better under the outgoing administration.”
Speaking on staff welfare, he explained that the salaries of staff, particularly academic staff, have depreciated by as much as 200 per cent in value between 2010 and 2023.
“This is, of course, attributed to the nation’s economic crises. But the government has not taken appropriate steps to review the salaries of staff in the polytechnic system as the six years old renegotiation process is yet to be concluded. Staff are working through a slave wage regime, and morale is indeed low,” he added.
According to the ASUP president, it took the union 61 days of industrial action to get the government to release the new minimum wage arrears to deserving staff after two years of implementation in other sectors.
“Equally, agelong welfare issues like release of arrears of CONTISS 15 Migration has been met with the usual administrative inertia.
“The scheme and conditions of service have been undergoing review since 2017 and are yet to be concluded. The exclusion of the sector from the recent 40 per cent salary awards to staff in the core civil service sums up the disposition of the outgoing government to the sector. All this has worsened staff working conditions in the sector, and as we speak, there is a high rate of migration of qualified academic staff away from the sector,” Eziebe said.
State of facilities in public institutions and colleges/schools
While it is important to note that the state of infrastructure in many schools across the country is deplorable, with many schools lacking basic functioning amenities such as toilets, libraries, and laboratories, the administration of Buhari has tried in awarding multimillion naira projects to improve the face of primary and secondary schools across the country.
The ICIR has done several in-depth investigations and special reports on how children are in school in uncomfortable and deplorable situations.
In a recent investigation by The ICIR, some schools in the Federal Capital Territory are facing years of neglect as children learn with no chairs and tables under unroofed classrooms.
Some of the children in Sadaba and Kundu communities in the Kwali Area Council in the Federal Capital Territory have withdrawn from school since storms blew off the roofs of the only public primary school in the villages in 2014 and 2020.
According to the report, the school’s pupils in primaries one to three have had no roof over them since 2020.
Although there is no clear data to show the number of students who have migrated abroad, The ICIR reported that UNESCO estimated that 71,753 Nigerians were studying abroad in 2020. But, there are indications that this figure has increased to nearly 100,000 by the end of the year.
The report stressed that the United Kingdom issued visas to 65,929 Nigerian students to study abroad in 2022, which was significantly higher than the 17,973 visas issued in 2019.
In 2016, Nigerian students’ total outbound international mobility in tertiary institutions was 96,735. But between 2017 and 2020, the number dropped significantly to 85,960, 76,330, 69,106, and 71,753 for each year, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) database.