The Theory of Privatising Education

Sudents in Nigeria

“We are not selling any college but desire to inject new blood and sanity in our educational sector” – Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili

This clarification from the horse’s mouth, Minister of Education which was timely came when she addressed a Conference on the “National Brand and Economic Development” organized by Alder Consulting in Abuja. Already many are getting worried with the theory that any bad situation in a public institution is best handled by privatization, while collapsed privately owned firms are not usually sanctioned or acquired by the government.

Before she made that bold remark which was greeted with standing ovation, she detailed worrisome statistics on the fate of education in Nigeria. She pointed out that about 80 percent of FG’s budgetary allocation to ministry of education goes to the 102 Unity Schools; out of 6.4 million secondary school students, only 120, 718 are in the Unity Schools; out of more than 6000 secondary schools (including states and privately owned) in the country, Unity Schools only constitute a meager fraction; out of 27,000 staff of the ministry of education more than 23, 000 are deployed to FGC which is 85.6% of the total staff enrolment. To add to the gory tales she added that, with the pampering of those colleges about 70 percent of the students failed the annual WAEC exams woefully.

Her disclosure came after media reports that the Federal Government (FG), as part of its ongoing reforms in the nation’s educational system might soon privatize Unity Schools- the Federal Government’s model colleges for secondary level. It indicated that Dr. Ezekwesili on assumption of office had complained of the unwieldy nature of parastatals and agencies under her ministry. She wondered why about 85 percent of the allocated resources went to overheads at the expenses of capital investments. The media further reported that she proposed the privatization of these schools and that the ministry of education would work with Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) to allow competent private sector-driven education organizations to manage these schools.

With the few statistics flashed to the public, it seems the principal culprits in the bastardization of education are the civil servants, the technocrats in charge of those institutions. Probably it was for this reason the allegation that she unilaterally directed the redeployment of some top civil servants, directors and permanent secretary in her ministry of education for not meeting up with the modern trends and assigned consultants to take the responsibilities of some of the functions in the ministry.

The most disheartening situation we find ourselves today is that even the civil servants are no more comfortable sending their wards to public schools as they also cut corner to make sure they put them in private schools like their senior citizens, political appointees who not only send their children to foreign schools but also establish and invest in the proliferation of private schools to the university level in Nigeria instead of improving the standards of public schools they had benefited from. In the olden days there was no demarcation between the school attended by the princes and the children of the servants which were all free public schools. Today the children of those poor farmers and servants are the mightily rich and powerful officers in the society and also major beneficiaries of non-discriminatory policies on education formulated by our forefathers.

Today while the children of junior workers and poor citizens contend with decayed public schools that produce certificated illiterates, the rich children attend the prestigious private schools that guaranteed their future in the spirit of cartelization. A child that attends X privatized (privately owned) schools from elementary to tertiary, would not require any godfather to get a job in X privatized group of companies or institution owned/operated by Chief/Alhaji X? The recent commendable policy of government that only highfliers with Distinction would be offer employments in the federal civil service may not require the service of soothsayers to predict how it could be abused by proprietors of private universities who may churn out more first class graduates (different from first class materials) to compete in filling up the job quota with their alumni.

In a situation where average senior civil servants, not junior cadre or ordinary masses, earn less than N50, 000 as monthly take-home pays, how can their children benefit from intended privatized schools? If it is necessary to privatize the schools it may be imperative too that the ordinary citizens are giving the opening to have the financial muscles to afford the fees to make the rich and the poor have the equal opportunity to get quality education for their kids to reduce the rate of touts and illiterate criminals in our midst. We need to be cautious on the craze for privatization of everything because if the purpose of Unity Schools is to expose our children to diverse cultural environments and promote mutual coexistence in a united country, I wonder what will befall similar schemes like National Youth Service Corps and other forces in the near future!

What irked me more as a Nigerian is how civil servants are sacrificed as scapegoats over misdeeds mostly engineered by political appointees and contractors that promised to deliver quality service. Even though they take order blindly without hesitation for fear of losing their job, they (workers/teachers) deserve no mercy for colluding with corrupt officers, consultants and contractor in wrecking havoc on the image of public service and destruction of our collective patrimonies as legacies of our forefathers but being hunted by the few.

We can not deny the fact that foreign trained, especially Harvard scholars, who holds sensitive positions in our present political landscape have great passion for positive change in how we do things locally. We can attest to Madam Due Process’ exemplary leadership in the formation of Due Process Office and the transformation of Ministry of Solid Minerals within few months. But they must note that there are strategies required in solving severe problems, more than just deploying academic theories to address stark realities.

As I was about to post this piece, I hooked to NVS to read a posting on education in Nigeria by Prof. Mobolaji Aluko, the respected human encyclopedia on Nigeria’s political economy. Apart from providing web links to Nigeria’s 2006 Budget and Appropriation bill approved in February 2006, he formatted a version of NASS document with specific references to Education Budget in 2006. He states that Education sector has N166.6 billion or 8.77% of a total of N1.9 trillion which is far below the recommended 26% UNESCO international target. Of that N166.6 billion for education, payroll takes a whopping 69.5% with capital taking only 22.4% and overhead rounding out the rest. Unity Schools take up only about 11% of the total Education budget with its own payroll 53.6% and overhead 27.9% both taking up Recurrent total 81.5% with the Capital project being about 18.5%. He therefore ended by saying that “It is ONLY this recurrent total of the Education budget that comes ANYWHERE close to the 78% mentioned by the Minister of Education, an observation that needs to be quickly clarified. One hopes that she has not been misinformed in her new position as Education Minister.”

As we project the positions of public officers on what concerned all of us, we must also defend the conservative public servants who are influenced to toil the line for fear of victimizations.

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in the New Nigerian October 18, Sunday Tribune October 22, Leadership October 24, Thisday October 31, Sunday Trust November 5, Vanguard November 21 and Daily Independent December 28, 2006


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Yushau Shuaib

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