By Fr Chukwudumebi Norbert Atta
‘Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today’.- Malcolm X
On October 1, 2020, Nigeria marked its sixtieth year as an independent country, and at sixty, Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa, could undoubtedly be said to have come of age -especially if ‘coming of age’ is limited by, or anchored on, the number of years (of one’s existence). Undeniably, Nigeria has been through a lot in its sixty years of existence, including a bloody and (some unbloody) military coup d’états, a ruinous sanguinary three-year civil war, political instability, among others.
At Nigeria’s independence, its citizens (particularly the nationalists who had fought for the independence), had dreams of a free, developed and progressive nation. Thus, they had stepped up their commitment to the overall development of Nigeria, in terms of infrastructures and manpower. Nevertheless, what dreams they had for a prosperous Nigeria were (and has continued to be) bedevilled by an avalanche of socio-political and cultural problems that had arisen in the country since its independence. The socio-political problems have led to economic woes, intra-ethnic divisions, lack of national unity, aberrant nepotism and many other ills, that have torpedoed whatever lofty dreams Nigeria’s founding fathers or forebears had. Hence, at sixty, there is no denying that Nigeria and Nigerians needs serious soul-searching and fundamental change/s to move the nation (and its people) forward, but no area of the nation’s structure at sixty, demands so much attention, as its educational sector. Thus, this piece asks: whither Nigeria’s educational sector, sixty years after independence?
A highlight of the status of Education in pre-independence Nigeria
We note at the outset that formal education in Nigeria preceded the British colonizers, as it was rather the Christian and Islamic missionaries, who first introduced it (formal education) to the people. Nevertheless, the colonial rulers systematize somewhat, the educational system including introducing a curriculum of study, grants in aid etc;. To adumbrate further, we observe that while western education came to Southern and western Nigeria in the 1840s with the arrival of Christian missionaries; Arabic education had been introduced into northern in the 11th Century when Islam was introduced there (northern Nigeria) via the trans-Saharan trade, and spreading quickly through mainly the rulers (see Fafunwa, 1974; Ukpokodu and Ukpokodu, 2012). The history of the systematization of education in Nigeria, including the formulation of educational policies in Nigeria could be traced to 1914 (the year that Lord Lugard amalgamated the Southern and northern protectorates, and the Lagos Colony, and his wife named it Nigeria). We intend to highlight the key points of the efforts of the colonialists in this regard.
The Christian missionaries’ introduction of western education in Lagos and southern Nigeria, had been linked to their (Christian missionaries’) efforts at training indigenes to read the bible in English and translate into local languages, and later, to training indigenous hands to help in the spread of the Christian gospel and message in Nigeria. The Christian missionaries invested much into formal education, teaching especially English and mathematics, with some of the missionaries doubling as teachers, pastors, and even health officers or dispensers.
On arrival, the colonialists had employed the indirect rule method in governing Nigeria, but were interested in education mainly for administrative purposes: to help raise a cream of clerical staffs from among the locals, for effective administration of the colonised area (Nigeria). In pursuit of their desire to advance education mainly for administrative purposes, the British colonialists set up schools/classes, made educational policies and promoted western education, including giving grants-in-aid to Christian missionary schools. The colonial administration saw, for instance, to the introduction of a free education policy in the former western Nigeria in 1955 and in the Eastern part of the country about seven years after, aided the colonial administrator’s educational initiative in the country, and in training successors of British administrative and clerical officers in the years after colonialism.
Unfortunately, in employing the indirect-rule approach wherein the colonizers used local rulers for effective governance, especially for tax collection purposes, it had conceded to the request of the traditional Northern rulers (at the time) to not allow Christian missionaries to import Christianity and western education into the north. Thus, creating a dual education system – with a predominantly Arabic educational north and a predominantly Western Education South- that has continued to impact Nigeria’s educational development till date. We shall return to this shortly. This British colonial educational set-up in Nigeria (with different education in the two sections of the country: north and south), continued till the 1960 when Nigeria gained its independence, and decisions-making (including in the area of education), fell on indigenous Nigerians.
The main characteristics of formal education in Nigeria under the British, could thus be summed up in the words of Imam (2012:186-186), as follows:
1. the role of state and that of Missionaries in the governance of education was defined;
2. the school system was geared towards producing the desired manpower for the civil service; thus the recipients of western education ultimately became misfits in their own local rural setup and were suited for blue collar or white collar jobs in the cities;
3. integration of the plural traditions were not addressed by the policy and sowed the seeds of mistrust, hatred and suspicion amongst the various peoples from the different parts of the country and religious intolerance was born;
4. introduction of universal primary education in the 1950s in western and eastern regions of the country further widened the existing education gap between the north and southern parts of the country; and
5. the western, Qur’anic and traditional education thrived as parallel modes with Qur’anic education being the preferred mode in the largely Muslim north amongst the rural communities.
We would now look at the major highlight of education in independent and post-independence Nigeria. We reiterate, however, that one of the low points of the pre-independence education policies and practices in Nigeria by the British colonialists, includes sowing the seed of the inequity in access and attainment (in education) between the northern and southern parts of Nigeria, which is still a feature of the education sector in country today.
Post-independence evolution of Education in Nigeria today
The administrative successors of the colonialists, worked to establish the county on a sound footing after freeing it (without bloodshed) from external, British, colonialist shackles. The efforts of the nationalists (who took the reins of governance from the British!) included attempts at laying some strong foundation for Nigeria’s educational development. Since then, Nigeria has come a long way in the area of education. For example, in terms of siting or presence of schools, there are today more primary and secondary schools, than there were sixty years ago. Nigeria has also moved from its two state-owned universities at independence, to plentiful public and private universities, colleges of educations and polytechnics. In terms of manpower, Nigeria has produced some many scholars who are working within and outside Nigeria, in advancing knowledge and enriching humanity.
Yet, in spite of the steps that have been taken in its education sector by Nigeria, in the last sixty years, a closer look reveals that not only are these ‘steps’ not enough. In fact, more demands to be done in the area of education in Nigeria, both to develop the country and to s salvage its people. For instance, despite the abundant universities and schools, especially secondary and tertiary institutions, the quality of education in the country needs to be looked into, especially in the face of claims of a fall in the standard or quality of education being provided by schools (Arong and Ogbadu, 2010).
Despite the pronouncements of successive governments in Nigeria to improve education, such uncomfortable occurrences as teachers strike, school dropouts, ill-equipped classrooms, exorbitant fees, maladministration, a preponderance of observably unsupervised private schools dotting every part of the country, the failure of the nomadic learning project that seen nomadic children roam roads and streets during school hours ( with some turning badly later), absence of modern technological equipment that aid learning and teaching in schools etc., all seem commonplace. Regrettably, most Nigerian high institutions are feet dragging on going fully electronic for payments, and allegations are rife that such practice obtains more for reasons of embedded corrupt practices, than for lack of technical know-how by Nigerians. All these ills, and more, characterize education in Nigeria, and continue to put a bad mark on Nigeria’s educational sector.
Conclusion: What hope for future?,
Undeniably, when a country cannot provide quality education to its citizens, the country through the governors fails in its duties to the people. The same goes for when a country could only provide an education that is more certificate-oriented, with little pragmatic value in the Nigeria socio-cultural setting. The later has led to the ugly incident of an immense population of certificate wielding Nigerians, looking for non-existent jobs in the civil service, and loud allegations of cases of government jobs-for-sale (or sale of jobs) in the country. The foregoing (and more) are certainly the case with Nigeria today, where mainly for implementation and administration reasons, the nation’s educational goals, remain unrealized.
Some of the impeding factors affecting education in Nigeria includes poor leadership, widespread corruption, political instability, economic handicaps and security challenges, etc., They are nearly same factors affecting the overall development of Nigeria, sixty years after its independence from colonial (mis)rule, that are hampering its educational sector. For instance, corruption remains endemic in the country, and although it is being tackled (or said to be tackled), still affects educational development including staff recruitment, provision of instructional materials, and overall implementation of the National Policy on Education (NPE).
While the many ills plaguing the nation’s education would push one to be pessimistic about the future of the nation’s education, especially given its place as a tool for individual and nation development, we ought not write off the Nigerian education system in its entirety. What is required is a will, and greater efforts, especially on the part of the government through the ministry of education to be forward-looking in pursuing Nigeria’s educational goals. The contents of the nations National Policy on Education, which has been revised four times so far (to meet with newer educational needs), should be employed to the letter, and not just mere pronouncements; and where need be, it should be reviewed with input from stakeholders, including parents and teachers, to meet the needs of the of the Nigerians, as it covers all the levels of education in the country.
Fafunwa, A.B (1974), History of Education in Nigeria, London: Macmillian Publishers
Ukpokodu,P. – Ukpokodu, O.N (2012), Contemporary Voices From The Margin: African Educators on African and American Education, IAP
Imam, H. (2012), Educational Policy in Nigeria in Italian Journal of Sociology of Education
Arong, F.E. – Ogbadu, M.A., (2010), Major Causes of Declining Quality of Education in Nigeria from Administrative Perspective: A Case Study of Dekina Local Government Area in Canadian Social Science Vol. 6, No. 3