On 1 April the election took place in Nigeria for a new President. Today, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari is sworn in as President. This blog looks at the reasons for hope behind the priorities of the new government for education.
Countering expectations, no violence occurred when a new President was given a democratic majority last month. Many are even nominating Goodluck Jonathan for a Nobel Peace Prize for the way he stood down from office. This might be the dawn of a promising new era for Nigeria that we should all support wholeheartedly. Mr Buhari was voted in on the campaign promises to tackle corruption and insecurity, both of which could have a huge impact on the future of education in the country.
Corruption was a buzz word in the election campaign after the news reported two years ago that some $20 billion of oil revenue was not paid into the federation account by the previous political leadership. The 2012 GMR noted how the poor management of natural resource revenues affects education and the latest Report shows that an equivalent of $21 million of education funding has been lost over two years. Meanwhile the most basic of resources for education — teachers — are lacking. Nigeria needs an additional 220,000 primary school teachers – 15% of the global total.
Greater transparency and delivery of finance to welfare, as promised in the acceptance speech of the new President, could make a huge difference and fast. Better transparency of funding, and political will to make a change could finally take Nigeria off the bottom of the global ranking for having the most children out of school in the world – more than it had in the year 2000, as the GMR 2015 showed last month. It could do wonders, if targeted effectively, at closing the gaps between the rich and poor that have grown over the past fifteen years for children hoping to go to primary school.
The Dakar Framework called on governments to improve the ‘governance of education systems in terms of efficiency, accountability, transparency and flexibility so that they can respond more effectively to the diverse and continuously changing needs of learners.’ As explored in depth in the GMR 2009, where public confidence in institutions is weak, political relationships between regions are tense, and democracy is still under construction – as in Nigeria – decentralization is a fraught political exercise. Fiscal decentralization has reinforced regional disparities in education. In Nigeria the equity principle is turned upside down: the wealthiest states and regions with the highest education participation secure the lion’s share of federal resources. There is also an absence of data on the share of the budget spent on education in Nigeria since 1999, as shown in the GMR 2013/4.
Buhari must take the promise of addressing corruption to education: far greater accountability mechanisms are needed to establish what resources are going to which states, and how they are being spent. Only by doing this will he then be able to effectively allocate new resources in a way that can begin to close the country’s gaping inequalities in education opportunities.
Insecurity is also a key priority for education progress in the country. Nigeria suffers from violence that targets the very promise of education, poignantly captured in the name of the afflicters, Boko Haram. A year on and many are still not returned to their homes and families. Compounding the problem, many parents now refuse to send their children to school from fear. Recent news shows that 200 of the 700 young women recently returned from captivity are pregnant, nearly 200 of the recently rescued 700 young women taken by the group are now pregnant, likely entirely against their wishes. School-related gender-based violence is exacerbated in times of crisis, and is a major barrier to the achievement of quality education for all. The assurance that the President will work on turning the tide of this violence must be carried through if he is to succeed in reducing the risks associated with going to school in the country.
Combined, therefore, the promises contained in Buhari’s campaign and acceptance interviews and speeches give huge hope. Mr Buhari told the Africa Report in their latest edition that:
“People want change and the interesting thing is that it’s across the country. That’s what makes the expectations frightening because you can’t tell these young people that you don’t have the money… that you can’t improve their schools”
He’s right. We all have high expectations because Nigeria’s situation can only improve from here-it can hardly get any worse.