Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji
(From the Archive -first published in 2006)
During the previous university matriculation admission exercise, I had met a woman who exhibited enormous zeal to get her first daughter admitted into the university. I was interested to assist and offered to help talk to somebody in Imo State University (IMSU) on her behalf. But the woman, a nurse and a mother of six rejected my offer. She rather implored me not to worry since she has already bribed somebody with the sum of eighty thousand naira (N80, 000) to facilitate a place for her daughter at the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO). I inquired why she had to do so, moreover when the post-UME test for both IMSU and FUTO that her daughter sat for were yet to come out. She retorted “ A aah, I don’t want to take chances o o o h. It is either FUTO or nothing. I don’t like IMSU, none of my kids will ever go there. Ada must go to FUTO”
She however failed to proffer any reason for the strong dislike for IMSU other than it is a state university. Further inquisition revealed to me that her daughter, who already was aged twenty years old, had finished from the Federal Government Girl’s College Owerri. The girl wanted to study Micro-biology and had made a score of 171, the highest in her third attempt to scale the ‘almighty JAMB’.
It is this foregoing that enables me the premise to talk about the general state of education in Nigeria. It is not actually a comparison between FUTO and IMSU but a call for policy reversal on status. This is hinged on the need to promote the cardinal objectives of education at all levels of university education, federal, state or private etc. This is so because Nigeria’s future lies in its people. Investment in people is becoming more important for two reasons.
First, Nigeria’s future economic growth will depend less on its natural resources, which are being depleted and are currently subject to lots of instability and restiveness, and more on its labour skills and its ability to accelerate a demographic transition. Growth in today’s information-based world economy depends on flexible, educated, and healthy workforce to take advantage of economic openness. Accelerating the demographic transition to reduce population growth will require education, especially of women, and widely available contraceptive and reproductive health services.Second, investing in people promotes their individual development and gives them the ability to escape poverty. This again requires education and health care as well as some measure of income security.
As at 2004, the gross total enrollment (percentage of age group) in Nigeria for primary school was 99%; secondary was 35% and tertiary was 10%. The ratio of female to male in primary and secondary at that period was 84% while the adult literacy stood at 67%.Assuming that these figures are a true reflection of the situation as at 2004 in Nigeria, then the following conclusions will aid us understand the scenario much better.
Low primary enrollments seriously undermine economic growth and poverty reduction. Worldwide, no country has enjoyed sustained economic progress without literacy rates well over 50%. On this premise therefore, Nigeria could be said to really be on track. Though the consequences of low secondary and tertiary enrollments are harder to analyze and may be particularly critical in Nigeria. There is increasing evidence of positive backward links between secondary and higher education and other parts of the system, especially teacher education. It was said that it is only in Africa, for example, does the correlation between female education and fertility reduction not kick in until the secondary level. The quality of tertiary education levels is so low that they limit the development of society’s leaders.
Moreover, universities have a potentially greater role to play in Africa, nay Nigeria than in many other regions. They are often the only national institutions with the skills, equipment, and mandate to generate new knowledge through research or to adapt to global knowledge to help solve local problems. Sadly the content and quality of education in Nigeria are also in crisis. Poor quality not only produces poorly educated students/graduates, it also results in excessive repetition and low completion rates at enormous costs. In Nigerian universities, there are serious decline in quality in the natural sciences, applied technology, business related skills, and research capabilities. Rapid enrollment growth in higher education, coupled with declining resources, has significantly lowered quality.
There is every need to scale-up investment in higher education in Nigeria at all levels and tiers, both to train the teachers and managers who will provide the primary and secondary education and to train the scientists and engineers who will underpin the continuing capacities in the country. Higher education is very necessary to train doctors, nurses, natural resource managers, engineers, and other professionals who will implement development goals vital in poverty reduction.
This therefore defines the on-going cardinal objectives of the Nigerian education sector reform as enunciated by the Education Minister as “the restoration of character and learning as foundation for creating and sustaining a good society, for nurturing the mind and for the ability to compete globally”. While further justifying the restructuring of the unity schools in the country by the Federal Government, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesiri said “Our greatest concern is the fact that the federal ministry of education spends an inordinate amount of time and resources on these schools that constitute only 30% of the secondary schools in the country. Out of 6.4million secondary school students, only 120,718 are in the unity schools. The minister has the feeling that this number cannot on any account justify the disproportionate amount of staff and budget allocated to these schools. She insists that this has to be reversed and that we have to do things differently as the current business model can no longer be sustained.
Drawing from the above therefore, I insist that the existing discrimination between federal and state universities be collapsed. Federal funding or monetary allocations should be made to have same reach and effect on both institutions. This has become necessary in view of the deep rooted rot such as sorting of lecturers, bribing for admission, sexual harassment and promiscuity of lecturers and students, examination fraud and cultism etc that are manifest in all universities; federal and state alike. Besides all these, both schools are rendering same service of manpower development for the nation.
If current reforms as being proposed insist that unity schools and polytechnics must give way, then let’s extend it to the universities by abrogating this federal –state disparity and accord all universities equal funding opportunities though with bias to inherent expertise. I think this way because federal universities are no longer what they were conceived to be by their founding fathers. These days to secure admission into most of them, it is has become the norm to grease palms’ of those- in-charge. Merit is no longer a basic hallmark as depicted in the encounter I narrated earlier.
We surely need a reversal of status!