Education and Democracy in Nigeria: Vision 2020

by Sadiq A. Abdullahi

With roughly over 140 million Nigerians, 36 states, a weak political and economic system, and persistent ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria, education provides the best alternative for national stability, security, unity, and prosperity. John Dewey, one of the most influential American philosophers, writing for the America audience in the early 20th century, believes that “democracy was important not only because it stood for freedom and equality but because of its educational consequences.”

In December 2006, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, the Minister of Education, issued a report for education reform and intervention. Vision 2020: The Role of the Nigerian Education Sector. I have not had the opportunity to review the content in the report, but early commentaries suggest that it once again failed to address the main problems facing education in Nigeria: mass education, funding, inequities in access to education, curriculum development, instructional methods, research, and teacher education, citizenship education etc. As this piece will show, this is not the first time the federal government has come up with education reform initiatives. The vision for education in Nigeria, as stated on the official ministry website, is to “establish an enabling and sustainable environment for education to achieve the desired national reforms and human development objectives. Its mission is to reform and restructure the education sector to empower and develop the citizenry to acquire skills and knowledge that would prepare them for the world of work.”

As the nation evaluates the new education reform plan, it is necessary to revisit briefly what we know about education reform in Nigeria. The federal government issued the first National Development Plan (1966-1970), the plan emphasized modernization and technological training. In 1969, a national curriculum conference was staged to overhaul the Nigerian education system. One of the goals as outlined in the National Policy on Education (1981) identifies citizenship education as: “a basis for effective participation in and contribution to the life of the society; character and moral training, and the development of sound attitudes; developing in the child the ability to adapt to his changing environment.”

In the Second National Development Plan (NDP, 1970-1974), the objectives of the plan became the foundation for the National Policy on Education. The aim of the NDP was to: build a free and democratic society, a just and egalitarian society, a united, strong and self reliant nation, a great and dynamic economy, and a land of bright and full opportunity for all citizens (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1981). As Federal government attempts to correct the gross injustices and level the playing field, and define our democracy, and move toward a market economy, it is crucial that the new education plan reflect the current realities in the country. This generation of Nigerian youth must be prepared to think nationally and globally. They must be prepared to compete in the global economy.

Since independence in 1960, Nigerians have worked to develop a federal and unitary form of government that could effectively serve people with such disparate traditional political systems. For example, fostering national unity, stability, and security through the social studies education curriculum was tied to the National Educational Policy in 1981 and to the national aspiration for citizenship education.

In 1996, a new curriculum for citizenship education was developed to reflect the transition to constitutional democracy and the new Constitution in 1999. The philosophy of the social studies education hinges in part on the idea that Nigerian schools should not only train individuals to be just and competent individuals, but to function as contributing and participatory members of a free constitutional democratic nation. This implies that students must rely on the knowledge, skills and awareness of the rights of minority and majority groups to coexist and worship freely; respect for law and order; and respect for public and private property of Nigerians and non-Nigerians. This includes the awareness of the rights and obligations of citizens to government and society, and reciprocal government responsibility to citizens.

In 1999, Nigeria became a constitutional democratic nation. The new Constitution addresses core national issues such as citizenship, fundamental human rights, the legislature, the executive branch, the judiciary, national identity, and political parties etc. The assumption here is that the new Constitution can be a catalyst and stimulus that engenders national consciousness, political reconstruction and participation, and economic stability and growth, and ethnic sensitivity and individual development.

Education in Nigeria has been interrupted by regime change since independence from Britain in 1960. For example, between 1960 and 1999, there have been eight military and four civilian regimes in the country. Now that our nation has embarked on sustaining unity, democracy and economic growth, the next president should make a budgetary commitment to education. The United Nations has recommended that African nations should allocate about 21% of their national budget to education. With our National Domestic Product (GNP) and the petrodollars in good shape, Nigeria can sustain a comprehensive educational plan. If this is done correctly, the future of the country will not only be secured, education and democracy will be enhanced. This generation of Nigerian youth therefore must demonstrate a commitment to the democratic principles, economic goals, develop the skills, and values needed to sustain a constitutional democratic nation. The sustained record of corruption and human rights violations and abuses in Nigeria continue to undermine our potential as a nation. The political corruption and the lack of human respect and human dignity combined with weak governance are attributable to the years of authoritarian military rule, but this will change, as Prof. Wole Soyinka and others continue to remind us of our responsibility as citizens and our authoritarian past.

The challenges to education and democracy are obvious. Nigeria embodies 250 ethnic groups speaking approximately 400 languages and practicing traditional African religions, Christianity, and Islam. Three major ethnic groups continue to strongly dominate and influence social and political events. These groups represent different political traditions. The Hausa-Fulani, in the north, are mostly Muslim and traditionally support a centralized authoritarian system with a strong village chief and local Emir. The Igbo, in the southeast, are mostly Christians who traditionally live in autonomous village communities and are noted for indirect democracy. The Yoruba, in the west, follow a mixture of religions and lie midway between the direct democracy of the Igbo and the authoritarian systems of the Hausa-Fulani in their traditional government.

The Yoruba have traditional leaders and a council of hereditary chiefs who make decisions in addition to those made by local self-governing units. Although the Yoruba and Igbo differ greatly in culture and traditional political system, they are often viewed as southerners in contrast to Hausa-Fulani northerners. Politically, the Igbo and Yoruba are lumped together (not any more) because of the generally higher levels of education as a result of early exposure to Western ideas brought in by the missionaries. The regionalization (north north, north central, north east, south south, south east, and south west) of the country is intended to realign the political power structure and dominance of the north.

In any democratic society, education remains at the core of national stability, security, and an instrument for political and economic growth and development. Nigeria has a blend of cultural diversity. This diversity is symbolic of our national unity and diversity. Many people believe that the issue of co-existence was reso

lved after the Civil War ended in 1970. Today, co-existence is seriously threatened by religious fundamentalism both in the north and now in the south. It would require a huge national effort, funding, and a long-term vision and commitment from our federal government to address concomitant effect of religious fanaticism. Dewey believes that “a society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible forms of associated life promotes democracy. Such as a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationship and control, and the habits of mind which secure social change without introducing disorder.”

The new education plan should endeavor to create viable and enabling programs amidst the challenges of private vs. public education, funding, instructional methods, research, and teacher education, citizenship education programs, and activities that have become crucial to sustaining the goals, objectives, and aspirations of the nation.

As the nation awaits the new president, political scientists, educators, and others continue to express concern about the role of education in providing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for Nigeria. I am optimistic we headed in the right direction.


Adaraledge, A. (1972). A philosophy of Nigerian education: Report of the National Curriculum Conference, September 8-12, 1969. Ibadan, Nigeria: Heineman

Abdullahi, S.A.& Farouk, M.K. (1999). A Humanistic Approach in Nigerian Social Studies Education. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies, Orlando, FL.

Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981). National policy of education. Lagos, Nigeria: Federal Ministry of Information.

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Sadiq Abdullahi November 13, 2010 - 3:43 pm

Thank you for your inspiration. Collective efforts are needed to make meaningful progress in education and sports in Nigeria. I will continue to write and share. I am a Nigerian. God bless Nigeria!

Sadiq Abdullahi November 13, 2010 - 3:38 pm

How far are in you in your project? (

Sadiq Abdullahi November 13, 2010 - 3:33 pm

Mr Oyeleke Oluniyi can reach me at:

Daniel Oriazowan September 17, 2010 - 3:39 pm

This article is highly insightful. It must have taken deep critical thinking to come about a masterpiece like this. This work reflects a sustained passion, abiding love and faith in the country’s possibilities at realizing the aspirations of its founding fathers and those of us Nigerians who have not given up on her. I write to encourage you to keep it up. Perhaps, someday the world will cease from seeing us from the eyes of our past and appreciate the massive potentials in this country whose hour of prosperity is NOW .

Nickson Alfred August 14, 2010 - 2:30 pm

this article is credible i read your article dated on 14 august 2010, am really impressed u are an agent of change a be-cone of hope to our nation keep it up.

Adewumi Ige December 15, 2009 - 4:38 pm

This is great, Sadiq. I will appreciate it if we can meet. There is a project on improving educational standard in Nigeria that am working on and i will like you to be part of the team.

REV. NNAMDI OBIUKWU September 9, 2009 - 2:08 pm

I did get a chance to read report but as you rightly stated, it completely lacked the vision and direction to lay the foundation needed that consents to been constantly evaluated. As rightly stated by Eric Hoffer – the central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning;it should produce not learned but learning people. Not to reiterate your points, the reform should focus more on a building a broad foundation suitable for development as we head into the years ahead.

REV. NNAMDI OBIUKWU September 9, 2009 - 1:22 pm

with all heroism, if only GOD will give us life till than and those in power will work with fear of God, i believe the vision will be of better than now, I did get a chance to read report but as you rightly stated, it completely lacked the vision and direction to lay the foundation needed that consents to been constantly evaluated. As rightly stated by Eric Hoffer – the central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning;it should produce not learned but learning people. Not to reiterate your points, the reform should focus more on a building a broad foundation suitable for development as we head into the years ahead.

fonny September 2, 2009 - 9:47 am

i appreciate your level of appraisal on the nigerian society with regards to education and development. it has given me advanced insight into the current status of the education sector in nigeria, as well as possible solution and measures to improve on existing policy and curb mediocrity.

Hyginus Nwona July 2, 2009 - 2:32 pm

this is a well articulated write-up. young researchers like I would make this a spring pad upon which to launch into some aspects of our educational development. please more of such articles will be highly welcome.

Princejoe June 23, 2009 - 3:36 pm

An enriching article. i am actually doing my project on this area but a focus on only the educational sector. I was wondering if i could be sent some articles to help me with my project topic which is “The role of the educational sector in the accomplishment of vision 2020

Nwigo John O. June 11, 2009 - 6:45 am

This article is indeed interesting and educating, especially the methodology. Thank you Mr Sodiq.

bako June 4, 2009 - 10:53 am


Oyeleke Oluniyi April 29, 2009 - 4:02 pm

The article by Mr Abdullahi Sodiq is not only interesting, but relevant to proposed PhD research at dept of Curriculum Studies, OAU, Ile-Ife. Let me be frank with, I am not making headway. I want to look out how our democracy can be sudtaned through curriculum development. My background is in Social Studies. The materials are not just there and the framing of the topic to suite Nigeria system seem to be an herculan task. I got this article in the process of searching for topic. I will be glad if I can be linked with Mr Sodiq expecially on topic and methodology.

Thank you.

KENNY December 31, 2008 - 11:37 am

well done

Damamisau A. December 17, 2008 - 2:23 pm

The article is well written. Infact it really helped me in my work. Well done. It is excellent.

mrs adeniji October 28, 2008 - 5:35 pm

it ‘s an excellent write up

OKEWOLE 'TUNDE October 5, 2008 - 9:01 am

The response is good and suitable for project writing on the topic “democracy and government ” in Nigeria.

Isa musa August 30, 2008 - 6:35 am


henry oriji June 6, 2008 - 5:24 am

am quite happy with your sincere and unbiased appresal

chuks May 29, 2008 - 12:49 pm


Onyilibe Ndidi April 21, 2008 - 6:42 pm

Well, it’s okey and informations are obtained from it.

Ashiru Al-Mahroof March 21, 2008 - 8:47 am

this is a highly educating article, it has helped a great deal in my work on ‘higher education and the millennium development goals’ thank you and keep it up

Daniel Osaghae January 2, 2008 - 4:08 am

your article is a very nice and sensitive one which could be internationally great also.Thanks and try to keep it up.

Best Regards.

Amb. Ikwelle Johnpaul Ekene November 5, 2007 - 6:51 am

well, there is really alot to be learnt from this article but please give us the facts and factansies of this aspirational and possibly realistic vision.

abubakar s borodo October 9, 2007 - 12:22 pm

if realy want to improve the standar and quqlity of education, in nigeria let them send they deligate to the various state and see what is going on with they naked eyes

Augustine L Obuh July 14, 2007 - 6:46 am

It is welcom Article. Pls continue You may end up winning World Award one of these days.

Good Luck and God Bless

Johnson Abel June 26, 2007 - 8:38 am

your article looks good, though without so much facts in it for the Nigerian students to use in the case of history study!

Naijaman January 24, 2007 - 1:42 pm

An uncomplicated and coherent essay not only critical of one of the many repugnant systems within the Nigerian society but does offer strategic means of providing long-term solutions which if applied genuinely will be very tolerant to change or altercation to face the demands of present days.

I did get a chance to read report but as you rightly stated, it completely lacked the vision and direction to lay the foundation needed that consents to been constantly evaluated.

As rightly stated by Eric Hoffer – the central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning;it should produce not learned but learning people.

Not to reiterate your points, the reform should focus more on a building a broad foundation suitable for development as we head into the years ahead.


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