The annual government budget is a mirror into the culture of a country. Therefore, anyone who desires to understand the culture of a country should take a look into the annual budget and especially the education component thereof. This is because education is one of the objects of the highest importance to the welfare of any society. There is no country that can rise above the quality of the education it provides. In the quality of education of a country lies the answers to the miasma that beclouds the sensitivity of people in all areas of life.
In Nigeria, there is no meaningful development that can take place unless and until the education sector is redeemed from the present state of chaos. Issues concerning education in Nigeria are currently at the short end of national discourse. Consequently, the bricks of the university system in Nigeria have fallen down and the sycamore tree of its glory cut down. The time has come, therefore, to begin to think of rebuilding the system with hewn stones and cedars of academic excellence and the starting point is the annual budget. The annual budget should present just an adequate view of the education sector at all times and this has not been done in the context of the 2019 budget proposal.
The budgetary provision for the education sector for the 2019 fiscal year provides no indication that the government realizes the central role of education in national development. The N620 billion provided for represents 7.02 % of the entire budget of N8.83trillion. The average provision in the last two and a half decades had been about 8%. This is far lower than the UNESCO range of 15% – 20% provision. Of the E9 countries to which Nigeria belongs, the average annual budgetary allocation to the education sector is 20% except for Nigeria. Among Africa countries, in terms of allocation to the education sector as a percentage of GNP, Nigeria is not anywhere close to the top percentile. No wonder, the World Bank forecasts that by 2030, Nigeria will harbour 90% of the world’s poor people. This can’t be controverted since Nigeria has not even understood the import of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in which education is the flagship.
The allocation to the education is paltry but given the current size of the economy, it might not be possible to increase the allocation much more than it is currently. But a lot could be done to better manage and maximize whatever resources that are available. Value for money is of the essence in the situation in which the country has found itself. Of the proposed N620billion, a large chunk, in the sum N539billion is provided for personnel emoluments while N33billion is for overheads and a lamentable sum of N47.29 billion, representing 7.6% for capital expenditure. This model of allocation of resources won’t take the education sector anywhere edifying. It is even curious that of the N47.29billion, N3 billion is provided for Security Infrastructure in the 104 Unity Colleges. The Unity Colleges were designed to achieve some national objectives and the question is: are these colleges still relevant in the context of their initial mandate? I guess not. It is high time that the various States where these colleges are located took them over to enable us to stop subsidizing the budget of a few privileged Nigerian whose children and wards are students of the colleges. Why, for instance, should the sum of N3billion be provided for ‘fencing’ of the colleges in one budget year? Why can’t the colleges fund the expenditure from their resources?
It is also laughable that in a typical Federal University, for instance, personnel cost component of total budgetary allocation is over 95%. This suggests that the Universities are unnecessarily overstaffed. It would be necessary to carry out staff audit in these universities. If the exercise is diligently done with the required level of integrity, I believe about half of the personnel cost being currently carried would be avoided, thus making funds available for more meaningful development of the universities. It would also be necessary to introduce some level of fees in the Federal Universities. Education is not cheap and it should be the joint responsibility of all stakeholders. There is no point running a ‘free’ system that is actually costly in terms of quality of output. The issue of a portfolio of parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Education is worthy of attention. Many of the parastatals either ‘Councils’ or ‘Commissions’ should be merged to ‘cancel’ part of the excessive recurrent expenditure component of the budget. Let’s someone have the courage to say, yes, we have moved around this mountain long enough. It is time to say no to anything that does not help the cause of education in this country.
Besides the allocation of funds to universities, for instance, there should be a clear vision in place articulating what allocated funds would be used for other than salaries and allowance. In the 2019 budget of India, it is clear that the country desires twenty world-class universities in the next ten years and allocations have been made appropriately to kick it the vision. In Malaysia, the 2019 budget provides for fifteen specific items with clear and unambiguous deliverables including subsidizing the school fees of children of low-income families. In Indonesia also, the 2019 budget provides for a budget of human capital development with emphasis on four major issues including adapting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution trends. What is our vision for education in Nigeria?