Tomorrow, 29 May, will see the inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigerian president — the first time an opposition candidate has defeated the incumbent since independence in 1960. But what should be his priorities? PhD fellow Ayokunu Adedokun proposes a seven-point agenda – four already discussed in earlier posts. This post sets out the remaining issues: human development, rule of law and media freedom.
Despite Nigeria’s high economic growth over recent years, improvement in human development measures has actually slowed down, according to the 2014 Human Development Report (HDR). The human development index (HDI), a measure that gives a snapshot of a country’s success by combining three important indicators: health, education and incomes, barely grew from 0.466 to 0.504 between 2005 and 2013.
Education, in particular, faces deep problems throughout the country. Yet if we look back at the first three decades of independence (1960s, 70s and 80s), Nigeria made considerable progress in education. In fact, the country’s education was ranked the best on the continent and one of the best in the world. These days, however, standards of education have nose-dived and primary school enrolment is falling at an alarming rate. The UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report revealed that more than 10 million Nigerian children of primary school age are out of school. This is more than in any other country in the world. The situation is even worse for girls than boys, with an estimated 6 million girls not in school nationwide. And the few luckier ones in schools are dropping out to work for their families’ subsistence or to survive on their own. Streets in Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and other major cities in the country are full of children doing all sorts of odd jobs, from hawking food to working as ‘bus conductors’.
More tellingly, education at all levels remains under-funded in Nigeria. Although the government has earmarked over £1.8bn to education in the 2014 federal budget, this is just 10.7% out of a 26% allocation to education recommended by UNESCO. The pupil/teacher ratio is also shameful. In some schools, there are more than 250 pupils per trained teacher. Many primary, secondary and tertiary institutions lack modern facilities, including textbooks, libraries and functional laboratories. Some schools are even housed in dilapidated buildings, lacking water, electricity, and the curriculum for students is in most cases outdated.
And yet in a knowledge-based world economy, a quality education is critical for finding a good job, maintaining good health, building stable and engaging communities, developing the skills and competence to be a dependable parent, and becoming a responsible and patriotic citizen. Failure to provide future generations with proper education and skills will result in large inequalities, more recruits for Boko Haram (deepening insecurity), and reduced economic growth.
So what can Mr. Buhari and his cabinet do to salvage Nigeria’s educational systems? Here, I offer five policy recommendations. First, initiate and implement a policy on “leave no child behind”: Mr. Buhari should put education for all children at the forefront of his agenda, at least through secondary school level. Second, scale up the use of information and communications technology (ICT), together with quality teacher training. Third, facilitate a recognition scheme for teachers and pay them more. At the moment, a local government councillor with a primary school certificate (the lowest certificate in the Nigerian educational system) earns more than a teacher or even a professor in some universities. This is simply wrong. Fourth, ensure the curriculum at all levels of education is dynamic – the curriculum should be learning-centric and innovation-driven, not exam-driven. Of course, exams need to be there to measure, but they should be complemented with incentives for innovation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, allocate 26% of the national budget to education as recommended by UNESCO.
No doubt, these are challenging recommendations. It is important for the government to recognise that it cannot do it alone. This is where the private sector, donor agencies and philanthropists come in. The time has come to create a workable partnership for education to ensure that even the poorest children in the country have the chance to receive a quality education. This is how to end poverty, ensure durable security, promote social inclusion, and create a more equitable society.
Rule of Law & Media Freedom
Since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria has made real progress in terms of rule of law and media freedom. The Nigerian constitution of 1999, for example, in section 22 makes provision for independence and autonomy of the media. The same constitution in Section16 (2) acknowledges that the essence of the Nigerian State is to promote the common good such as the rule of law, transparency, accountability and effective governance.
Nonetheless, Nigeria faces enormous challenges in the practice of rule of law and media freedom. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Nigeria 12th on the list of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists in 2014. Similarly, a recent report by the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance rated Nigeria as one of the worst governed countries in Africa. In the report, Nigeria scores 45.8% — far lower than the African average of 51.5% — and ranks 37th out of 52 in the overall governance scale. And in 2012, Human Rights Watch said Nigeria had one of the worst human rights records in the world. The police and security services, in particular, routinely use torture, rape, mistreatment and extortion as investigation tactics, and engage in extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects. While there are various reports on these issues, there have not been effective accountability measures in place to sanction or deter violations on the part of police officers.
There is no clear separation of powers between the three tiers of government in the country. The legislature and judiciary tend to bend to political pressure from the executive branch. Both the president and governors have also been known to offer inducements to state judges in the hope of receiving favourable judgements. A continued interference in the judiciary means that it will continue to be seen as an appendage of the executive, leaving it unable to freely and fairly undertake its responsibilities.
Moving forward, Nigerians expect Mr. Buhari and his cabinet to ensure: (i) that the independence of each arm of government under the doctrine of the separation of powers is preserved and respected; (ii) that citizens are treated equally before the law; (iii) that “e-governance” is introduced to provide media and citizens with direct access to administrative information and decision-making processes; (iv) finally, create a platform for investigative journalism, through education, international exposure and training.
Above all, it is important for Mr. Buhari to understand that leading a country as dynamic and diverse as Nigeria will never be easy. It will require him to listen to the people, involve them in life-changing decisions, and ultimately to serve with patience, perseverance and pragmatism.
UNHCR / H. Caux