The state of education in Nigeria and the health of the nation

By Victor Dike,


At the dawn of the year 2002, Nigeria is still uncertain where it is headed. In other words, her destination is still unknown. The Nigerian world has blamed the woes of Nigeria, and in particular that of the educational sector, to the many years of military misrule. There is the common feeling that the military neglected the universities because of their opposition to military rule. But with the re-emergence of civil rule the nation's educational institutions are still in shambles today, with university professors still not being paid on time. (Some may argue that the universities have started to claw their way back to normalcy with the reprise of civil rule – not democracy. See Bollag Feb 1, 2002). But that remains to be seen!

And the society is also being rocked by labor unrests prompted by nonpayment of salaries, among other factors. The latest strike action was the police, which the federal government branded 'an act of mutiny' (The Guardian On-line Feb 2, 2002; also see Chiahemen, Reuters, Feb 2, 2002).

If, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as democracy in Nigeria, it is because its past as well as its present history has become so interwoven into crises, which has often left the common man in constant struggle for survival. But for the riches and powerful corrupt politicians, things are very rosy. The role of the ordinary person in Nigeria in the making of democracy is, generally speaking, not regarded or not known at all, after casting his or her vote. And often the positive contributions of the people who struggled, and are still struggling, for the sustenance of democracy in the society have escaped the eyes of those who managed to rig their way into political offices. This is a terrible deviation from the norm. Nigeria is suffering terribly for that, with socio-political and economic crises strewn all over the society like a straw hut in a typhoon.

This paper attempts to bring into public domain the state of education in Nigeria, and its effect on the polity. With facts, judgment and understanding of the issues facing the nation, the paper argues that the survival of Nigeria as a viable society will depend on the health of her educational institutions, and how well the professors and support staff are treated. It portrays the state of education in Nigeria as a public-health issue.

Education in Nigeria: A public-health issue?

The role of education in the development of a society has been vastly documented in academic journals, and we do not intend to revisit it here. This section will concentrate on the need for Nigerian leaders to pay close attention to the needs of the educational sector, and treat it as a public-health issue, because the sociopolitical and economic development of a nation and (or her health) is, in many ways, determined by the quality and level of educational attainment of the population. Political leaders should take politics out of education, as the continued neglect of this sector would lead to social paralysis. The youth should be given the appropriate quality academic training and an environment that would enable them to reach their full potential.

Nigeria has toiled with some educational programs, which have only served as conduits to transfer money to the corrupt political leaders and their cronies. For instance, the nation launched the Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1976, but as noted, the program failed due to lack of fund necessitated by corruption, among other factors. Nigeria has again launched another mass-oriented education program, this time branding it the Universal Basic Education (UBE). The President, Olusegun Obasanjo, declared during the launching of the program in Sokoto that the nation "cannot afford to fail this time around." However, not long after that, the federal government reported that the falling standard of education in Nigeria is caused by "acute shortage of qualified teachers in the primary school level." It is reported that about 23 percent of the over 400,000 teachers employed in the nation's primary schools do not posses the Teachers' Grade Two Certificate, even when the National Certificate of Education (NCE) is the minimum educational requirement one should posses to teach in the nation's primary schools (Ogbeifum and Olisa; The Vanguard Online, July 1, 2001).

If one may ask: with the troubling revelations of the shortage and "half-baked" teachers employed to teach in the nation's schools, how are we certain the current UBE program will be successful? Has the government trained the required number and quality of teachers needed to successfully implement the program? Are the teachers going to be motivated to perform their duties well? Are the classrooms and seats ready, or are the pupils going to sit on bare floor? Are the books and other teaching materials ready? This writer has noted elsewhere that to improve the standard of education in Nigeria, the society has to first educate the educators, and motivate them to perform their duties well (Dike, July 14, 2000). But the leaders do not seem to want to listen!

However, the UNICEF in it's 'state of the world's children' report for 1999' pointed out that about four million Nigerian children have no access to basic education, and that majority of those that are 'lucky' to enter schools are given sub-standard education (Akhaine, Jan 10, 1999). Today, there are about 48,242 primary schools with 16,796,078 students in public schools and 1,965,517 in private schools in Nigeria. In addition, Nigeria has 7,104 secondary schools with 4,448,981 students (The Guardian, May 6, 1999; and Dike, 2001).

Most of these schools are in dilapidating states. This shows that Nigeria has a weird value system: it is a society where priorities are turned to their heads. For instance, the salaries of the less educated local government counselors are higher than that of university professors; it is a place where well known rouge, a 419 person, is applauded for donating money to local communities and churches; it is a place where nobody cares about how one makes his/her money; it is a place where the roads leading to million dollar homes are filled with potholes; and the society is a place where the streets in capital cities are littered with hips of thrash. And nobody cares! Something is obviously wrong with any society that does not take her educational institutions seriously.

Nevertheless, the increased need for higher education during the oil boom of the 1970s in Nigeria, coupled with political pressure, led to the establishment of many universities in the society. And 'an explosive expansion in enrolments' during this period marked the beginning of 'the decline in quality' of education in the society. In two decades, the number of university students increased eightfold, from about 55,000 in 1980 to more than 400,000 today (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A40). Now Nigeria has about 36 public universities, 46 polytechnics and 64 colleges of education (Dike, 1999, p. 54). In addition, four private universities have been approved and registered by the federal government. They are: Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State; Babcock University; Igbinedion University, Okada; and Madonna University (Oladeji, August 2, 2001).

As the ugly tradition of corruption persists, the public tertiary institutions have been left to rot away. Some of the loans received from the World Bank toward education during the 1990s were used to purchase unnecessary, and "expensive equipment" that "could not be properly installed or maintained, and many institutions received irrelevant and useless books and journals" (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A40). All these, including ubiquitous corruption, have contributed to the decline in the quality of instruction in Nigeria's educational institutions that were ones highly regarded. With the news of corruption still filling the pages of Nigeria newspapers and magazines, the apparent war on corruption in the society seem an impossible task, since those wagging the corruption-war are themselves as corrupt as a parrot.

Although Nigeria's educational institutions in general are in dire need, the most troubled of the three tiers is the primary education sector. The recent statistics on primary education available to this writer shows that there are about 2,015 primary schools in Nigeria with no buildings of any type. Classes are held under trees. The quality of lectures conducted under such an inhumane condition would not be anything to be proud of. With this dismal statistics, the government is still in the habit of allocating less money to the educational sector (see Tables A). If Nigeria's allocation to education is compared with that of other less affluent societies in Africa, the picture becomes more discouraging (see Table B).

Table A: Federal Government
Budgetary Allocation to Education

Year Allocation (%)

1995 7.2
1996 12.32
1997 17.59
1998 10.27
1999 11.12
2000 8.36
2001 7.00

Table B: Spending on Education (%GNP) for some African Countries as compared to Nigeria

Country % GNP

Angola 4.9
Cote d' Ivoria 5
Ghana 4.4
Kenya 6.5
Malawi 5.4
Mozambique 4.1
Nigeria 0.76
South Africa 7.9
Tanzania 3.4
Uganda 2.6

Sources for tables A & B: Extracted from, The African Dept; Reported by Jubilee 2000; Alifa Daniel: Intrigues in FG-ASUU
Face-off; see The Guardian On-line, June 17, 2001. Compiled by the author.

Relatively speaking, the above disheartening statistics show how insufficient Nigeria's allocation to the educational sector has been. One can only get what he or she has ordered! Nigeria has to change her value system and invest on education, which is the intellectual laboratory of any nation and the engine that propels the economy. It has been noted that 'without a formidable intellectual base' it is not likely that any society would move forward (Anya, June 19, 2001).

For that the success of any democratic system (which Nigeria now fiddles with) depends on the individuals' ability to analyze problems and make thoughtful decisions. And democracy, it has been argued, thrives on the productivity of its diverse constituency - a productivity fostered by free, critical, and creative thought on issues of common interest. But democratic values are nurtured on the fertile ground of basic education – a functional education with the right focus and correct scope (Marzano, et. al, 1988).

With everybody chasing the shadow of money, and with the pittance sum invested yearly on education, how could the system produce the critical and creative minds Nigeria needs to guide and manage democratic system and survive as a viable nation? If the society continues to neglect her schools, it could not educate her citizens. Consequently, the political landscape would be littered with illiterate politicians, and the society would be incapable of gathering and maintaining a reasonable database for national planning and other development programs. To avoid this, the political leaders should begin now to re-order their priorities, as their priorities have so far been dictated by how much they will gain from any policy decision (by ways of contracts), and not how they will benefit the society as a whole.

Thus, lack of good education and unemployment in Nigeria would contribute to many social ills, including crime, prostitution, and the break down in law and order. For this, the society should invest more on the youth, and educate them to differentiate rights from wrong before they become adults. As Rousseau has noted: "People, like men [and women are] amenable only when they are young; in old age they become incorrigible. Once [bad habits] and customs are established and prejudices ingrained, it is a dangerous and futile enterprise to try to reform them; the people cannot bear to have the diseases treated, even in order to destroy it, like those stupid and fearful patients who tremble at the sight of the physician" (Rousseau - trans. by Betts; 1994, p. 80).

Therefore, to move forward the government should adopt necessary policies to destroy the current bad value system in the society, and create conducive environment that would enable the educational institutions to engage in healthy competitions, raise funds through private donations and grants, and attract and retain qualified students financially positioned to pay tuitions. (Higher education in Nigeria should not be free. If one would pay for any service, one could afford to complain, or move to an institution where he/she could get the money's worth of service. This, however, does not mean that diplomas should be sold to the highest bidder. Also the universities should develop a system whereby students could transfer to schools of their choice (and change their major) if they are qualified, without it adversely impacting their studies. And university admissions should be based strictly on merit, without ethnically and state-based criteria, which have unfortunately colored the system). All these are not available in system currently. If these suggestions are implemented they would, among other things, help the institutions of higher learning to prepare grounds for more intense academic competition, and to attract better quality teachers by "rebuild [ing] a culture of scholarship which has been eroded by under funding" so as to motivate them to be more productive (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A40). And any institution that cannot survive should be allowed to wither. Improving the condition of things in this sector would pave the way to the nation's prosperity.

It is known (at least in the developed world) that education determines, not only earning capacity, but also the very quality of human life (even longevity has relationship to education). In a society that appreciates educated class, those with good education tend to earn higher incomes; they also are in a better position to leave a better and healthy live. Higher education gives one a greater sense of how to reduce risks in life and change their behaviour. As Davies noted, confidence, self-reliance, and adaptability are all earmarks of advanced education (Davies, Nov 30, 2001, B16-B17).

Comparatively, many uneducated people, in general, have myriad bad habits that cause or lead to illness. For instance, they can smoke or drink more than it is necessary, and tend to have more children. (As this writer noted during his recent trip to Nigeria, some of the less educated and unemployed villagers he talked with have about eight or more children. And they are proud of that – but the children are suffering. Many of them drink and eat whatever that is offered to them without limitation and cognizant of the health consequences). Higher education could be an important part in the solutions to the ills of the society. As noted earlier, how much a nation progresses has a lot to do with the quality of education and educational attainment of its citizens. That's why Nigeria should build and maintain good schools and treat the sordid state of education as public-health crisis in society.

Education and Basic Needs

Building good schools for the education of the population does not guarantee automatic good health to the people. The society must take care of the basic needs of the people – portable water, food, good roads and habitable environment (the streets are filled with garbage). The voiceless - the unemployed, the old and disabled – should be taken care of. The funds for all these services are currently diverted to individual purses by corrupt politicians, whom the people elected to protect them. The society should offer education that provides adults with the skills and knowledge they need to secure a job and to compete in the technologically advanced world economy. And it should find a way to reward those (teachers and others outside academia) who have contributed positively in creating new ideas and jobs in the society. Nigeria can sustain economic growth based on technology if a good number of the adult working population can read and write well, and be able to make productive use of the computers and information technologies. "According to a recent World Bank study, employers complain that the quality of university graduates [and secondary school graduates], especially their communication skills, has fallen continually for two decades" (Bollag, Feb 1, 2002, A41).

Improvement in their communication skill and the use of the computers and information technologies will increase their productivity, and in the long run translate into lasting, durable and participatory democracy. All these mean the need to positively transform the society, especially the educational sector, into a viable sector.

The need to improve higher education should begin with giving greater attention to our preschool, elementary, secondary, and vocational schools. These areas are the building blocks of society's educational foundation, as not everyone needs a university education. Thus, the society must make meaningful use of the current Universal Basic Education (UBE) program, which is expected to provide free education to children between the ages of seven to seventeen (Umar and Adoba, ThisDay, 12/6/01). In addition to the free primary education, the government should guarantee free lunch for the needy students, as no child can learn while hungry. To supplement the efforts of the government, the private sector should assist in the form of financial and material donations, and collaborate with institutions of higher learning to help the primary and secondary schools to improve their teaching standards, governance, and their community relations.

If Nigeria can not give adequate and quality education to students at the elementary and secondary level, the tertiary institutions would continue to be populated by those who are least prepared to face the rigors of university education. And 'cultism,' 'intimidation of professors into better grades' and other vices will continue to blossom on the campuses across the nation.

States and Federal governments should also device ways and means of helping financially handicapped students in higher institutions, in ways of making available affordable financial loans to enable needy students to complete their education. As in the United States (and other humane societies), 'merit-based' and 'need-based' approach policy could be adopted in the process of putting the loan policy in place (King, March 1999). And adequate machinery should be put in place to collect the loan from students as soon as they find employment. Nigeria has the resources to implement a good student loan program, but as always, her problems have been corruption and implementation (the old student-loan program in the society died because of this).

Private financing of higher education could contribute immensely to improving both the financial situations of the institutions and their quality of education. And the privatization of public institutions that cannot improve on their standard would not be a bad idea (Callan, et al. (eds.), October 1997); see also Maeroff, Callan and Usdan, January 2000). Poor schooling, ignorance, poverty, and unemployment or underemployment among the youths could lead to their being easily manipulated by the political elites for selfish purposes. That will spell danger for the society, as this group will become the nation's leaders of tomorrow. How can Nigeria manage a complex democratic process without educated, critical and creative minds?

Thus, to stamp out insatiable greed, ignorance and corruption in the polity and affect positive changes in the society, the 2003 election year is the time to act. The people should vote only those with integrity to political office, because as Jean-Jacques Rousseau notes, "it is only men [and women] of integrity who can administer the law…." (Rousseau, trans. by Betts; 1994, p.14) The society should only support political parties and individuals who value and support quality education, not in word, but in deeds. Good quality education and good value system in a society is known to affect the quality of the leaders in any society. The political leaders of Nigeria should find constructive ways to work with those in academia to improve and upgrade the nation's educational standard, instead of fighting and clobbering them to death for criticizing the government's lacklustre educational policy. President Olusegun Obasanjo has recently taken pride in punching and kicking ASUU with verbal assault (The Guardian Online, Dec 9, 2001).

His attack on the university professors seems to suggest that the teachers are the cause of the present poor state of the nation's educational institutions. There could be some bad eggs in the system. But in general, how could one believe that the person who works hard, often without pay and other personal sacrifices is the one causing the downfall of the sector he/she is striving to protect? And President Obasanjo's recent insensitivity and outburst at the angry thousands displaced by the recent explosions in Ikeja show a mark of irresponsibility and lost sense of purpose on his part. At the people who lost loved ones, he shouted at them after thinking that they were unruly: "Shut up. I took the opportunity of being here to see what could be done. I don't need to be here." "After all, the governor of the state is here, the General Officer Commanding Two Division and the Brigade Commander as well as the Police Commissioner were all here. These sets of people could between them do what needs to be done. I really don't need to be here" (The Guardian Online, Jan 31, 2002). As a leader and the servant of the people, President Obasanjo has no excuse to behaving in the manner he did. He should quit if he has nothing more to offer. As Americans would say, 'if you cannot take the heat, you should get out of the kitchen!'

Really, President Olusegun Obasanjo should not lead Nigeria at this technology age. He is, in the opinion of this writer, the president the nation should not have had. He could be a good military General, but he does not have a good manner of approach and the skill to lead a civil society. And he lacks the appropriate national objectives and strategies to solve the problems facing the academic sector and the nation at large.


With the reprise of civil rule in May 29, 1999, Nigerians expected instant solutions to the nation's myriad problems. But the future is still uncertain! Politics with bitterness, politics with selfish purpose, politics of moneybags (and not ideology), and politic of Sharia, and politics of ethnicity and division colored with political assassinations tend to defeat the purpose of the struggles to chase the military out of politics. The political leaders and political parties in Nigeria should change their sordid ways and be ready to make their views and visions known to the public through their manifestos and policy actions, and not engage in fists fights with those who disagree with them, or trying to eliminate them with cutlasses, guns through hired thugs, and even with charms. They should leave their lives by showing good examples, as our children learn more from what they see us do than from what we say. Yes, the youth deserve something better! This does not mean that we would create utopian society for them. As Albert Camus notes: Perhaps we cannot make this a world in which children do not suffer." "But we can lessen the number of suffering children. And if you and I do not do this, who will?"

Thus, without treating education as a public-health issue that requires serious attention, the youth will continue to receive inferior education; they will continue to suffer mass unemployment and armed bandits will continue to rise; the society will continue to have illiterates and non-leaders as political leaders; the society will continue to have political parties without ideology, and Nigeria will continue to fall behind economically, socially and politically.


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Victor Dike, who is the author of Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria [Zaria: Ahmadu Bello University Press, December 2001], is an Information Technology Instructor at the California College of Technology, Sacramento, California, and an adjunct Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems with the Los Rios Community College District, Sacramento, California.

To order Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria [Zaria: Ahmadu Bello University Press, December 2001], please contact: Ahmadu Bello University Press Limited (or The Book Store), P.M.B. 1094, Zaria – Nigeria; Email:; Or Professor Enwere Dike, Dept of Economics, ABU, Zaria – Nigeria; Email:

Tuesday, 05 February 2002

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