2022 – Nigeria’s Collapsing Education System
The enslavers of the past and those of today know that education is key to liberation. It is a reason they try as much as possible to refuse the education of the enslaved/oppressed. While laws were openly enacted to prevent the education of the enslaved in the past, as is the case in the era of slavery in America, enslaved and oppressed people are systematically deprived education today through commercialization and privatisation – and the open declaration and propagation of the notion that ‘education isn’t meant to be accessible to all’. A variant of the argument against access to education for all is the position that only basic education is meant to be accessible to all. But considering that education is itself a lifelong learning process, the restriction of access to education to a specific level cannot be rational.
By Gideon Adeyeni, Member, Education Rights Campaign
There is no doubt that there is a stubborn plot by the ruling class in Nigeria to make education inaccessible to the mass of Nigerian people. The re-increasing commercialization and privatization of public education at all levels in line with the prevailing neo-liberal capitalist agenda. As a result there is rapidly growing private ownership of universities especially since 1999 when the neo-liberal capitalist model became entrenched without successful mass resistance, something that also affected the mass action against SAP under the military rule. Perhaps it is worthy of note that the presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and the vice presidential candidate of the Labour Party are two examples of members of the ruling elites who own private universities. Indeed, Atiku established his private university while he was Vice President between 1999 and 2007 just like his principal, President Obasanjo.
Proofs of collapsing education system in Nigeria
It is undeniable that in Nigeria there is neglect of the education sector, a near total neglect evidenced in part by the fact that while UNESCO reportedly recommends between 15 to 20% budgetary allocation to education for a developing country like Nigeria, in the 2022 budget, only a meager 5.4% was allocated to the education sector. A part reason for this, as many commentators have rightly observed, is that more funding for education would mean less money to fund the prodigality of those who sit in Abuja and the state government houses, and who seem to understand their role essentially as to fatten their body and cart away the people’s money.
While the education sector suffers neglect, the political elites fill our media spaces with images and news of their children graduating from foreign universities, often lavishing the people’s wealth to get their own children and sometimes themselves what they deny the children of the ordinary citizen, with one the latest of such images being that of the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who recently shared the ‘good news’ of his enrollment at Harvard Kennedy School in the US, especially at a period public universities had been closed by strike actions.
In response to this absurdity, a social media commentator had written: “you take our commonwealth to enrich yourself, then you take your children out to give them the costliest of education while you lock the children of the common citizen out of school, is there a better definition for heartlessness”. Truly, there appears to be no better definition of heartlessness than politicians stealing the commonwealth of a country, denying the children of the ordinary people education by locking up their institutions of learning, while affording their own children the costliest of education outside the country.
The implication of this gross underfunding of education is predictable: most of the universities and education institutions generally either do not have the necessary facilities for teaching and learning and research, or the facilities are in derelict conditions. Incessant interruption of the academic calendar in our universities and other institutions of learning is another evidence of the dangerous neglect of the education sector in our country. Students are left idle for months (since there are also no jobs to engage them during strike periods) and many get lured into criminalities (like cyber fraud) and other get-rich-quick ventures (like Ponzi schemes) The incessant disruption of the school calendars and the little prospect of finding a gainful job upon graduation, both as a result of the failure of successive capitalist governments, has made many young people and even adults to conclude that “school na scam”, implying that pursuing education isn’t worth the stress.
It should be stated, however, that the underfunding of public education is only one of the manifestations of the crisis of the capitalist economic system. The collapsing education system is due to the fact that the government is constituted not by those who show greater interest in the wellbeing of the masses, but by those who can manipulate the people better; and who desire only to serve a parochial profit interest – of their class members and cronies. The successive regimes that have perpetuated a neocolonial capitalist system that has brought the country to ruination as it serves the profit interest of a few business and political profiteers.
So Nigeria faces a bundle of crises today; from insecurity to rising poverty, high inflation rate, unemployment and underemployment, while the nation is increasingly polarized along ethnic and religious lines. The collapsing education system is worthy of special spotlighting now considering the observable enormous psychological and physical cost of the recently suspended eight months ASUU strike – on many individual citizens and the country as a whole.
The people’s resistance actions are commendable
It is clear the working people are willing, if mobilized, to respond courageously with resistance actions against the attack by the ruling elite on public education. Many workers and ordinary citizens heeded the call of the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to join the protests organized on 26 and 27 July, 2022, across the states of the federation, to demand that the Buhari government meet the demands of the academic staff and non-academic staff of Nigerian universities in order for public universities which had been closed since February to be reopened. The universities lecturers went on strike on February 14, 2022, following the refusal of the government to honor the agreement signed with the lecturers’ union in 2009, which is meant to help improve the working conditions and funding of public universities. It is worthy of note that the massive participation and support the action enjoyed was despite NLC’s notorious record of calling off previous planned actions at the eleventh hour.
The challenge before the labour movement
The most saddening part of the ruling elites’ stubborn plot to fully commercialize public education is not just the delusion of these elite – who force themselves on the people as political leaders – but the disorientation of a large segment of the population, especially many from middle-class families, who join the ruling class in propagating the false postulation that education, despite being the most crucial driver for societal development, cannot but be commercialized. The argument that ‘for education to be quality it has to be expensive’, which is being peddled by the ruling elite who have succeeded to a great extent in disorienting a vast proportion of those in the middle class, is false. It is partly a trick by the ruling class which is saying that it will not or cannot fund education so the middle class, working class and poor have to look after themselves. The answer from working people must be ‘we cannot afford to tolerate a system that allows the rich to exploit but cannot provide education, let alone health care, electricity, water, transportation, etc’.
Although ASUU strike has been suspended, the struggle to avert the ruling class’s plot to fully commercialize public education and make university education a preserve of their class members alone is far from over.
No doubt, there is no other solution to the incessant strikes of academic and non-academic staff of the universities than for the government to fund education adequately and ensure the democratic administration of the universities. The usual attempt by the government to intimidate the striking workers and turn the ordinary people against anyone who demands that adequate attention be given to education, must be resisted by the working people and youth. The struggle must be waged relentlessly – until the day when access to quality education shall no longer be a privilege enjoyed by a few but a right delivered for all. This would mean disruptive mass campaigning and creative civil resistance actions. However, such actions will only be meaningful if the mass of workers and the masses are moved to take actions for the revolutionary transformation of our society. This should be seen as the primary essence of such action; galvanizing the mass of the people to act for change.
The labour movement, including the NLC and TUC, academic and non-academic staff unions of Nigerian institutions of higher learning as well as students, now have to mobilize against the resolve of the capitalist ruling elites to emasculate the public education system. This would mean responding to issues of underfunding of education much earlier before their allowances cannot be paid and walls of the classrooms begin to fall off. Mobilization should begin at the point when poor allocation is being budgeted to education. Already, the three frontline candidates, Bola Tinubu of the APC, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Peter Obi of the LP, have indicated plan to impose tuition fee and deepen the commercialization of public university education. This shows that whoever wins the 2023 general elections, only the readiness of the workers and students to struggle can save public education.
The labour movement must also continue to establish the link between the crises of the collapsing public education system to the prevailing capitalist economic system, which is concerned mainly about profit. It must continually be stressed that as long as we run an economic system that places profit over people and over planet, the society will continue to wallow in crises – like the collapse of the education system.
Finally, the labour movement must now take up its historic duty of being the catalyst for revolutionary social transformation in Nigeria. This simply means that the labour movement must galvanize other oppressed layers of the country to birth a socialist change. A critical task in this regard is finding creative ways to communicate to the average person on the street and help them have a clear perspective on the crises bedeviling the country. The leadership of labour movement should do less of trying to get its messages across to those folks in the ‘big offices’, but to the ordinary persons on the street, to make them understand why public education must be funded adequately and why the underfunding of education is a primary reason public education is collapsing; and to make them understand that no matter how much they patch and patch an underfunded education sector, it can’t work – and that this proper funding is what we must get the government to do.
However, while such an action can force the government to improve the funding, it is only a working people government on a socialist program and planning that can guarantee adequately funded public education and provision of other basic needs like health care and decent housing on a lasting basis. This also underscores the need for a fighting labour movement with left and Marxist leadership that will appreciate the need to mobilize the strength and power of the working class people and youth to fight for free quality public education and other social program. It such a leadership that can also initiate the building a mass revolutionary movement that can wrest power from the capitalist ruling elite and enthrone a socialist order.
E-mail: [email protected]