The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) demands upward review of the proposed allocation to the education sector in the 2017 appropriation bill. The bill which was presented to the joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday 14 December 2016 contains a proposed allocation of a paltry 6 percent to the education sector.
According to the bill, a total of N540.01 billion will be spent on education in 2017 with N398.01 of this sum going for recurrent and N142 billion for capital (Vanguard newspaper, 22 December 2016). For a federal education budget that is meant to cater for 36 federal universities, 25 federal polytechnics, 22 federal colleges of education, 104 federal unity schools and many federal monotechnics , this allocation is too low and incapable of meeting the needs of the sector.
Already the federal government is in deficit to the tune of N800 billion on the NEEDS assessment intervention funds to revitalize public universities and over N60 billion Earned Academic Allowances to lecturers. This is aside debts owed non-teaching staffs in the federal universities, staffs of federal polytechnics and colleges of education as well as teachers in the 104 unity schools aside numerous collective agreements awaiting implementation.
Therefore, given the enormity of the crisis bedeviling the sector, a responsible government would commit massive funds to revitalize the education sector. Regrettably, it appears that the Buhari government is as clueless and irresponsible as the Jonathan/PDP government it replaced. At this stage, we must sound a note of warning to members of the National Assembly that they will be failing Nigerians if they choose to pass this appropriation bill without increasing the allocation to education. We therefore urge the members of the National Assembly to increase the budgetary allocation to education in the appropriation bill to at least 26 percent of the total budget as recommended by UNESCO.
Without mincing words, the education component of the 2017 appropriation bill is a letdown in many ways. First and foremost, it shows that just like past government, the Buhari government is neither concerned nor serious about addressing the crises bedeviling the sector. Secondly, it shows that all the lofty promises made on the campaign trail by President Buhari and the APC were mere hot air.
Today, Nigerian students are studying in primitive conditions not compatible with the requirements of 21st century education. Many universities, polytechnics colleges of education and monotechnics lack the most basic facilities and materials for quality learning. Laboratories where they exist are decrepit with kerosene stoves being used as Bunsen burners. Classes are often overcrowded and held in ramshackle structures converted to lecture rooms. Most libraries are denuded of relevant materials and books. Recent warning strikes by ASUU in December last year and SSANU, NASU and NAAT in January 2017 are indications of what is to come. If the allocation to education in the 2017 budget is not increased as demanded, the result will be chaos and disruption of academic calendar as different workers unions embark on strikes to press home long-term demands on salary, allowances and working conditions. This is why the ERC is calling on the Federal government to increase the budgetary allocation to education in the 2017 appropriation bill.
We are not unmindful that the country is in an economic recession. We are equally aware that several apologists of the federal government are always quick to use the economic recession to justify every anti-poor policies of this government including the paltry allocation to the education sector. But outside of the fact that this argument is at best specious and hypocritical, we are of the opinion that it will amount to gross irresponsibility on the part of the government to sacrifice public education under the guise of bailing out the economy out of recession. This will in no way help to surmount the economic quagmire but further deepen it. In actual fact, investments in public education, job creation, increase in the minimum wage and a plan to redirect the economy from profit to meeting people’s needs are the antidote to the economic crisis. Therefore, if the Federal Government is so much sincere to rescue the economy from recession, the salaries and allowances of political office holders, which is very outrageous, must be reduced to a level not higher than the national minimum wage and wastages like foreign trips, exotic vehicles and numerous others which are provided for in the proposed budget must be eliminated. The excess funds derived should be ploughed into funding public education, health care and other social services.
While calling for proper funding of education, the ERC equally deem it imperative to also call for democratic management of schools to ensure that the funds are not looted or mismanaged. Otherwise an increase in the education budget will only end up enriching Vice Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts. There is already too much corruption in the education sector. The spate of allegations against head of tertiary institutions bear this out. Only democratic management of schools through the involvement of elected representatives of staff unions and students unions in decision making organs can stem this tide of corruption and ensure that funds allocated to the education sector are judiciously spent.