One of the most commonly recited platitudes by Nigerian Politicians is this: “Nigeria is a country that is blessed with an abundance of natural and human resources.” It is usually read as a prelude to their main speeches at special occasions, and sounds like something out of an old Social Studies notebook. It is a statement we have heard so much and we are tired of because even though it is true Nigeria is blessed, not many Nigerians live in that blessing yet. For many years, so much has been said about the potential resources Nigeria is endowed with but the benefits of those resources have remained just that, potential.
The resources are well known to us- the major example is crude oil, which has produced in benefits an unending wave of strife, murders, kidnappings, corruption and destruction especially in the Niger Delta region. Not many oil-producing communities have reaped good gain of the black gold flowing under their soil, but they have had a good taste of the bad. They also talk about agriculture and remind us that the glory of the old Nigeria came from agricultural exports. We are shown pictures of the groundnut pyramids of Kano, they tell us that Nigeria was the world’s leading producer of cocoa and oil palm, but sadly, those glories are archived in the past from where they mock us today. Some years ago, during the Independence Day speech, President Obasanjo talked about the promise of an oil palm plantation, how it could cater for an entire state, but like the others, it is still potential.
The most important resource –people- upon which the others depend is the most neglected, and so the gains of all our resources cannot be derived. The potential of the Nigerian labor force is as great as the technological or economic achievements of Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, India, South Africa and the countries who began their journey around the same time as we did and are now making impacts in the world. After fifty years, our combined experiences as a country should have taught us that no matter how abundant our mineral resources are, we cannot make the best of them if we are not well equipped ourselves.
Therefore among many national issues requiring urgent attention, quality education is arguably number one, because it is the key to upgrading our human capacity. The stunted state of our technological development is the direct result of a decreasing standard of education from the primary to the tertiary level. And if Nigeria will compete on the international stage with other industrialized countries, then it must also be a producer of modern technological innovations. There is no other alternative, and the earlier we accept that fact as a country, the closer we are to development. The first kindergarten class to the end of the secondary school or university education of a child plays a major role in the national human capital development and so a strong, dynamic educational system will likely yield a productive citizenry. For this reason, in the developed countries of the world, education at pre-tertiary levels is free, while the universities are funded to undertake important research which consequently translates into technological and economic reward.
China has emerged as the second largest economy in the world, after displacing Japan and it is still pressing forward aggressively in economic and technological impacts. Indeed there are other causes behind China’s rising prominence, but it is important to note that it is a country with a 93% literacy rate and some of its universities are world class, for example Peking University is number 37 in the 2010 world universities rankings. India is another country making progress in information technology, biotechnology, agriculture and business development because it is making the right investments in education. The Economist in an article published in September records that a $35 laptop prototype has been developed by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science. Those are some of the country’s top educational institutions are close to world class standards that Nigerians are running to, as they do schools in Europe, America, South Africa and even Ghana. These few examples point to the irreplaceable role of education in national development and especially the urgency of quality education provision in Nigeria, considering that the majority of the population comprises people under the age of twenty.
On Tuesday, November 30, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja ordered the Nigerian government to give free and compulsory education to every Nigerian child. This was the judgment to a suit instituted by the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the Federal Government and UBEC – Universal Basic Education Commission. The court said that the right to education can be enforced before the court and dismissed all objections brought by the Federal Government through UBEC that education is a mere direct policy of the Federal government and not a legal entitlement of citizens. What a preposterous statement! So it is also the position of the Federal Government that development – a product of education – is not a legal entitlement of citizens, that the government is not obligated to do everything in its power to ensure the country’s progress? The ECOWAS court also said that the ICPC report on the diversion of the sum of N3.5 billion from the UBE fund by public officers in ten states constitutes a prima-facie evidence of theft of public funds until the officials are successfully prosecuted before the national courts. While the United Nations recommends that 26% of a country’s budget be allocated to education, it is interesting to observe that almost that percentage of the nation’s overhead cost (25.4%) is spent on the national assembly according to Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank Governor. Mr. Sanusi in an exemplary display of boldness refused to retract the statement or apologize to the legislators even after a hard grilling by the senators who called him to defend the statement.
It is not yet known what effect the ECOWAS court verdict will have; whether the government will obey or not. What is clear however is that our poor education situation in Nigeria is now being recognized as a failed responsibility by the Nigerian government and there may be more international pressure in the future, to cause Nigeria to comply with recognized standards. It is sincerely hoped that very soon, perhaps when the new elected government comes assumes power by May 2011, it will overhaul the country’s educational system in the genuine quest for long-term national development.
Image via SouthAfricafordummies