The President of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Dr. Nasir Idris, recently recommended that the Federal and State governments should ensure that at least 15 per cent of their annual budget is allocated to the education sector. The NUT boss, who made the recommendation in Abuja during the 2019 Solemn Assembly of the union, decried the exorbitant fees charged by private schools in the country. He also stressed that the Federal Government must check and discourage the ugly trend.
While observing that UNESCO recommended 26 per cent of annual budget to be allocated to education, Idris urged the federal and state governments to ensure that the policy of giving the education sector a minimum of 15 per cent of the entire annual budget is sustained. No doubt, the call by Idris is quite appropriate. In fact, prominent Nigerians and stakeholders in the education sector have equally made case for enhanced funding of the sector. There is no way the country can have the anticipated technological and industrial development when the education sector is not funded adequately. This ugly trend must be reversed forthwith. It is worth pointing out that a country that neglects the education sector is indirectly mortgaging its future. Nigeria cannot see meaningful development when the education sector is poorly funded. Therefore, there is a correlation between poor funding of education and the underdevelopment that is evident in the country.
Unlike the Nigerian experience, where the government allocates between 5 and 7 per cent of the annual budget to education, most advanced countries, which have witnessed rapid socio-economic development, are known to have made huge budgetary allocation to the education sector. Canada, the United States and many countries in Europe and Asia allocate more funds to the education sector. These countries have made giant strides in science and technology.
This is why the NUT advocacy on this matter cannot come at a better time than now. In Nigeria, for example, the education sector remains one of the most beleaguered. The lack of attention to it by those in authority at the various levels of government is public knowledge. Frequent strikes in the universities can be traced to inadequate funding. The members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) recently suspended their three months’ industrial action after reaching some agreements with the government. The Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) just recently called off their own strike believing that government would honour its promises to it this time around. The polytechnics, secondary and primary schools have not fared any better, as the education sector is plagued by strikes due to government neglect over the years.
Any country desirous of rapid socio-economic development must prioritise education. Beyond the 15 per cent of budgetary allocation suggested by the NUT helmsman, the government can even raise it to 20 per cent. Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and presidential candidate of the Young Peoples’ Party (YPP), Professor Kingsley Moghalu, has promised to spend 20 per cent of the national budget on education at inception and to incrementally jerk it up to 30 per cent by the end of his first term in office, if elected.
This is the kind of bold approach that is required by all persons in power, if the rot in the education sector is to be reversed. This proposal is probably in line with the often-quoted UNESCO recommendation that countries spend at least 26 per cent of their budgets on education annually, if the much-needed development is to be achieved and sustained. Even if the said recommendation may be no more than the proposal of a study group of the world body, it has continued to serve as a useful guide for countries who seek rapid socio-economic development.
This is the direction we need to go as a country which we have unfortunately neglected to do. Today, Nigeria is host to over 13 million out-of-school children which is among the highest in the world. This is, by all accounts, a damning statistics. Every stakeholder, including governments at all levels, must begin to deliberately work to reverse this unenviable position the country has found itself in the shortest possible time. A good starting point would be for government to enhance the budgetary allocation to education.