PREMATURE DISSOLUTION OF GOVERNING COUNCILS (2)
“Some Nigerians feel that the only way they can contribute to National development is to bring children to the world and leave everything about their welfare including their education to the government”.
Last week I began an examination of the recent dissolution by Government, of the Governing Councils of Universities, with emphasis on the effect of similar actions in the past on the quality of education in Nigeria. I traced the history of education in Nigeria and how the quality was extremely high in the past. However to place the effect of this action in proper perspective, it is pertinent to also trace the history of the decline in the quality of education to the dark era of military rule in Nigeria.
DECLINE UNDER THE MILITARY
Before the advent of civil rule in 1999, the education sector was under the military, in a near-total state of ruination. The military waged a war against learning. While huge funds were budgeted for defence (despite the fact that we fought no wars during the period), the education sector got what could be termed the left-overs. It was as if the military had a mandate to return Nigeria to the stone age.
The consequence of course was glaring for everybody to see:
- poor, inadequate and dilapidated infrastructures on our campuses;
- unpaid pensions and gratuity of retired university people which instilled fears in and gave psychological trauma to serving staff;
- poor remuneration of staff which led to the exodus of our most brilliant minds to foreign countries where they were better appreciated.
- shortage of high-skilled manpower needed for the sustenance of vibrant universities;
- poor hostel and accommodation facilities
- poorly-equipped university library and laboratories.
- poor electricity supply to offices, lecture rooms, laboratories, student hostels and staff quarters, and
- irregular and inadequate water supply.
Although successive civilian governments have improved on funding of education, a lot is still to be done.
However it does appear that the problem of funding cannot be blamed on government alone. The truth is that government alone cannot fund education. But in Nigeria there has developed a feeling that government alone must be responsible for the funding of education. Some Nigerians feel that the only way they can contribute to National development is to bring children to the world and leave everything about their welfare including their education to the government. This anomaly can be blamed on different factors. It is felt in some quarters that everyone must partake in sharing the national cake. Therefore if you cannot get to the corridors of power by occupying public office, you can at least expect government to provide for each of your welfare needs. The fact that corruption has eaten deep into the consciousness of most Nigerians in public office has also not helped matters. Therefore many Nigerians have come to expect that every service expected to be rendered by government must be free. So there must be free healthcare and free education.
FUNDING OF EDUCATION IN COLONIAL AND EARLY POST COLONIAL ERA NIGERIA
The first schools in Nigeria were founded by the missionaries. They were responsible for the maintenance and funding of their schools. Many of these schools such as CMS Grammar School Lagos, Methodist Boys High School, Lagos, Abeokuta Grammar School Abeokuta, Christ School Ado-Ekiti still exist today. However much as the missionaries recognized the need to provide quality education to the populace and also the benefit of using education as a tool for the propagation of Christianity, they were still conscious of the fact that education came at a cost, some of which must be borne by those who wished to be educated. Thus the said schools charged tuition fee which most still found difficult to pay. It was something of a status symbol at that time to attend some of these schools.
With the subsequent push for self-government across the continent, the colonial government recognized a need for gradual empowerment of the people for such a transition. One of the cardinal steps in this direction was the introduction of the 1951 Constitution. This Constitution provided for elections into houses of assemblies of the tree regions. Furthermore the said regional governments were empowered, by their respective legislatures to make laws for the good governance of the regions. One of the areas in which they could make laws was education.
In 1952 the Action Group led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo won the elections into the Western House of Assembly. This therefore provided a great opportunity for him to put into practice a notion which he had always professed: free education. It should however be recognized that this concept was forged out of a realization that only an educated people could ensure that the country would have enough professionals and a sufficiently educated middle class to run the affairs of the regions and even the federal government after the then much awaited independence would have taken place. To make this work the Government of the Western Region proceeded to formulate a plan that would ensure not only free education but free quality education. The manner in which they went about it was captured by S. Ademola Ajayi in the article titled “The development of Free Primary Education in Western Nigeria” in the following words:
“Between 1954 and 1966, education attracted the largest share of the Western Region’s recurrent budget, having varied between 28.9 per cent and 41.2 per cent during the period (Table 4). In the 1958-59 financial year, for instance, 41.2 percent of the total recurrent budget was devoted to education alone. This, undoubtedly, represented one of the highest proportional expenditures on education, the world over. That was an ample demonstration of the great importance that the regional government placed on education. However, the fact should equally not be ignored that the more money spent on education, the less there was for the sectors that could provide employment and other services.”
With the level of funding described it is not difficult to see how the Government of the day was able to sustain its policy of free education. The decision of the Government of the Western Region was also replicated in other regions. This perhaps is due to the healthy competition and rivalry which then existed amongst the regions and which to a large extent contributed to the immense development recorded at that time.
….to be continued
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON