The near-total collapse of education all over Nigeria but especially in northern states has, thankfully, caught the attention of the leaders. The years of neglect and their long-standing tardiness notwithstanding, the governors of the northern states who have resolved to redress the situation and make education of Nigerian children from that region a worthy venture requiring massive investment, deserve commendation. As necessary, they may wish to declare a total emergency in the sector. Indeed, whatever measures are considered necessary by the states will be welcome in tackling the general educational malaise. Other parts of the country with challenges in the same sector across the country may also wish to develop the same sense of urgency and invest more in education.
Four main areas are discernible in the renewed effort by the Northern Governors’ Forum. According to Babangida Aliyu, the Niger State governor and forum chairman, focus will be on abolishing of school fees at the secondary level (with effect from next academic session), harmonizing fees paid in the region’s tertiary institutions, reintroduction of the Grade II Teachers’ Training (although abolished nationally several years ago), closing the educational gap between male and female students and a resolve to establish schools of preliminary studies to prepare students for tertiary institutions in the country.
Of course it is in a way baffling that those governors who themselves had benefitted from formal ‘western’ education would delay a remedy until now that a yawning gap is created between the region and others in the country – in spite of resources available to them. Such misplacement of priorities over many years is a shame that haunts the nation today and is condemnable in the strongest terms. No doubt, the future of many promising students has been compromised over the years. And it is pertinent to ask: at what point did the leaders come to terms with reality or realise the dangers inherent in raising an army of uneducated youths? The benefit of formal education conferred on many of these leaders the power with which they were able to attain their present status and created opportunities for their own children. Why have they waited for so long before extending the opportunity to others?
Indeed, claims of a carefully orchestrated hegemony in which the elite seek to perpetuate only themselves and make the people subservient by keeping them ignorant may not be far from reality. Millions of children have suffered as a result of this systemic distortion. Successive governments in those states have really not helped matters with policies that do not encourage formal (western) education and poor investment. It is, however, better late than never. The point, of course, must be made again that there should be no contradiction between Islamic and so-called ‘Western’ education. All opposition to a particular form of education is the height of ignorance and must stop. The governors’ new resolve may not be novel but it should be supported by every stakeholder. They should also seek opinion or assistance from their counterparts in other states who have done better in promoting education to get the desired breakthrough, and history will be kind to their administrations for this effort.
A few years ago, specifically in 2005, this problem was identified by the governors then and it was admitted that, too much decay had set into education especially in the North. Steps taken to redeem the situation were also spelt out in an Agenda for Action which identified that the most serious educational crisis in the region dates back to the 1980s but has persisted owing to a lack of political will by successive governments to tackle the problems.
The governors’ vacillation has resulted in low enrolment at all levels, general infrastructural decay, grossly inadequate funding, serious shortage of competent teaching staff, high rate of drop-outs of the girl-child among the negative effects listed. A lot can be gained and solution will be easier for the present governors if they would look into past efforts to see why those efforts failed. One of the successes recorded after the 2005 exercise, however, was the re-engagement of retired teachers who had shown willingness to serve. That idea is still relevant and should be found useful by the current class of governors as part of a holistic effort.
They may also wish to commission an independent study of factors that keep children away from classes while hiring tested teachers from other states where there is a surplus. In addition, schools’ inspectorate divisions must be restructured for results, Guidance and Counselling revitalised while problems associated with girl-child education and other setbacks must be tackled with zeal.
Leadership has been the bane of Nigeria, north or south, east or west. Time is fast running out and the nation must prevent the breeding of a generation of illiterates if it would have a happy future.