Northern state governors’ resolve to abolish fees in their secondary schools in order to boost enrolment and tackle the age-long educational backwardness of the region sounds cheery. Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum, who stated this in Minna through his Commissioner for Tertiary Education, Muhammed Nuhu, added that Grade Two Teachers training colleges, scrapped nationwide, would rebound. Since some measures adopted to revive education in the North in the past did not yield the desired result, the governors should move beyond rhetoric.
Nothing puts the state of secondary education in the 19 northern states in bold relief more than the 2013 entrance examination result to the 104 federal colleges. Whereas male and female candidates from Yobe and Zamfara states were admitted with just two out of 200 marks; and 3 and 11 for Taraba males and females respectively; their counterparts in Anambra State were admitted with 139 marks; Lagos State 133; and Delta State 131. Also, Sokoto and Kebbi states performed abysmally.
But more worrisome is the high number of female school dropouts, which the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, said in April 2013 was up to 93 per cent. This is attributable, mainly, to a culture that promotes early marriage. At the Isaac Moghalu Foundation Leadership lecture in Abuja, Sanusi said, “Now, how do you build a country where 93 per cent of girls in the most populous region of the country do not complete secondary education?”
The Child Rights Act 2003 was intended to change this anomaly. Regrettably, 11 out of the 19 northern states are yet to domesticate the Act. The affected states, according to a 2011 UNICEF report, are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. Reversing this negative trend implies that a female child below 18 years cannot be given out in marriage; and will have time to complete secondary school. This should be the governors’ first redemptive step.
The Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 1999 re-introduced the Universal Basic Education Scheme to create greater access to quality and basic education throughout the country. To drive the scheme, the Universal Basic Education Commission was set up, into which 2 per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund is funnelled annually. A set of criteria, which includes counterpart funding by states to benefit from it, was outlined.
But instead of taking advantage of this to improve their basic education system, which is the feeder for the secondary level, 14 states in the region are among those yet to access the grants for 2013, totalling N43.5 billion. Only Kaduna, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina and Zamfara states have utilitised their shares from the area.
One of the charges for which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting a former governor from the region was an alleged embezzlement of UBEC funds. Since the three tiers of education are organically linked, it is trite that a decadent primary education system cannot produce quality secondary school students.
The scourge of unqualified teachers, ravaging many states in the country, is most gangrenous in the North. A former Executive Secretary of UBEC, Mohammed Modibbo, had in 2012 told the Senate Committee on Education that Sokoto State had the worst case as 80 per cent of its teachers were unqualified. He said, “…I have given them UBE books in Sokoto State. But more than 50 per cent of the entire teachers in the state cannot read because they are not qualified.”
How would teachers who can neither read nor write teach pupils? The malady is widespread. In Kaduna, the home state of Vice-President Namadi Sambo, 1,300 teachers failed primary four pupils’ tests in basic literacy and arithmetic in February 2013. Some teachers in Kwara State had fared as badly before this.
According to a 2013 UNESCO report, Nigeria has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the highest rate in the world. The North accounts for a chunk of this infamous tag because, out of the 10.5 million, 9 million are almajiris (child beggars) who had 64 schools opened for them in November 2013 by President Goodluck Jonathan, a move that negates the 1999 Constitution and our secularity.
Promoting such genre of education at the expense of Western education only deepens the educational crisis in the North. The success story of Turkey where government and major social institutions have been staunchly secular should be instructive for Northern leaders. Other social and cultural practices that put children in the North at a dreadful disadvantage with their Southern counterparts must be jettisoned.
Without doubt, the region would not have been in the backwaters of modernism had its political elite, especially those in leadership positions, followed the educational and development paradigms charted by the late Premier of the defunct Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello. This negligence produced its prize in dismal socio-economic indices such as high poverty rate, diseases and infant and maternal mortality that are more in the region than in other parts of the country. And what about the hate-filled Boko Haram?
It has always been argued that the National Certificate of Education graduates of today are no match for the Grade Two teachers of old in teaching primary school pupils. Returning the teachers’ colleges as envisioned requires serious planning and proper funding. The present culture of waste, having over 1,000 aides and lack of accountability in the use of public funds by not a few governors, is not in accord with the new dream.