Education in Nigeria under Dr. Sayyadi Abba Ruma: Challenges and Possibilities

by Sadiq A. Abdullahi

In April 2007, Dr. Sayyadi Abba Ruma, Minister of State for Education 1, assumed the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Education at a time when the Ministry of Education is enmeshed in criticisms of some of its educational reform initiatives, particularly the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Initiative. This federal program, initiated by the former minister of education Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, who left to join the World Bank as Vice-president for Africa, caused many headaches for many observers of Nigerian education.

Dr. Abba Ruma with his impressive resume can change the direction of education in Nigeria. He must proceed cautiously. The Minister will need courage and commitment to change the path education is headed. The Minister must strive to change mediocrity to quality and end hypocrisy in our education sector. According to the Federal Ministry of Education, the vision is to “become an emerging economy model, delivering sound education policy and management for public good.” The mission and goals are to “nurture the mind, create a good society, and compete globally.” The ultimate goal of any educational process is to help human beings become educated persons and to help the young acquire basic knowledge, develop talents and skills, and the dispositions for effective citizenship.

The federal government has played a limited role in education. The Constitution gave the state governments the authority and power to fund education and thus the primary responsibility of educating its citizenry. It is therefore understandable when recently Mrs. Ezekwesili called on all governors-elect to declare a state of emergency in their states in order to address what she termed “a national disaster” in the education sector.

Dr. Abba Ruma must revisit the PPP initiative and other reform initiatives. One of the things the PPP program did was to allow the Federal Government to restructure a system that has vestiges of colonial educational policies and a system that many educational analysts have deemed inadequate. Recently, the National Forum for Policy Development Workshops on National Education Reforms weighs in on the issue and expressed concern about the PPP reform initiative.

Two recent articles published in national newspapers, the first, by Mrs. Jane Ejueyitchie-Oroye and Mrs. Yetunde Holloway closely examined the PPP initiative, especially the governance structure. The other by Professor Sam Aluko, examined the PPP plan. Prof. Aluko questions the sincerity and wisdom of the proposal. Mrs. Jane Ejueyitchie-Oroye and Mrs. Yetunde Holloway argued that governance structure of the PPP initiative needs some “fine-tuning” in order to ensure its success. Professor Aluko, one of the architects of the 1979 Constitution, makes a stronger argument that “the present PPP reform programme violates both the economic and educational objectives of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in our present Constitution.”

Mrs. Ejueyitchie-Oroye, a former Queens College principal and Mrs. Holloway, a former director in the Federal Ministry of Education, expressed administrative and structural concerns. According to them, “a major element of the initiative is the transfer of the management of the affairs of Federal Government schools (otherwise known as Unity Schools) from the Federal Ministry of Education to a new Unity Schools Trust (UST), which will be part of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and will derive its authority from the ETF.” Furthermore, they believe that there is “a need for the Federal Government to return to the drawing board to ensure that its system of partnership will achieve the desired outcome.” The private stakeholder participation should be by means properly empowered governing boards and the Unity Schools Trust. The school governing boards should be strengthened and expanded to bring in people with known and proven competence from industry, commerce, education, management, alumni, parents/teachers organizations, communities around the schools, and staff associations.”

They agree that “a Private-Public Partnership in education delivery stands a much better chance of bringing about much more effective public schools, and particularly more effective Unity Schools than the current fully government-owned and managed arrangement.” Furthermore, they argue that the “governance structure in the proposed new system needs to be revisited to have a clearer and less confused line of reporting and less conflicting delineation of roles. The line of reporting is from the management of the schools to the governing boards, form the governing broads to the Unity Schools Trust and on to the Education Trust Fund (FTF). Still, they argue that “to achieve the purpose, a system of effective, independent, accountable and transparent management need to be installed. The SMO element in the new governance structure of the PPP initiative seems to be its most prized factor of the former Minister. A governance structure that will achieve the objectives of the new initiative will need to be designed to ensure quick, purposeful and efficient performance.”

Segun Akinyode, in his article The Hope for Education in Nigeria by 2020: A Reaction to Sadiq A. Abdullahi, published in believes that “an integral part of policy formulation is determining the amount of cash needed for the execution of the policy and it is the responsibility of the sitting powers to ensure that enough cash is made available for the actualization of the policy.” The sitting powers he is referring to are: the president (executive) and the legislators (national assembly). Consider, for example, the amount of money allocated to education in Nigeria between May 1999 and August 2006. The federal government has allocated to the 36 state governments over $35.6 billion (over N4.6 trillion) for running of the states. Additional $23.4 billion (more than N3 trillion) was also allocated to the 774 Local Government Councils (LGC) to support the states in running its affairs. The funds are meant for public hospitals, public secondary schools, and universities, as well as for investment in other basic public infrastructure Local governments are responsible for building and maintaining primary school facilities and providing them with educational materials and other basic amenities (Human Right Watch, 2007; Federal Government of Nigeria, 2006).

Dr. Abba Ruma must review the recent consolidation of all the parastatals in the ministry. Educational agencies such as the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), National Council on Education (NEC), National Teachers Institute (NTI), Universal Basic Education Commission, including the State Universal Basic Education Board and the Local Government Education Authority, must be aligned with the goals and mission of the ministry of education.

Dr. Abba Ruma must strengthen its relationship with the Governors Association; must make sure that in every school, there must be quality curriculum and instruction; must make sure that school teachers and instructors are well trained and adequately compensated; must have dilapidated schools refurbished and renovated; must review the financial position; must review governance and administrative structure; and must secure quality assurance mechanism as we move forward to prepare and nurture the mind of young people, create a good and functioning society, and compete globally. We are hopeful that by the year 2020 Nigerian education will be reborn. Teachers and educators in America will work with the Minister.

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Abubakar Musa June 11, 2009 - 10:31 am


Reply May 5, 2007 - 8:43 pm

I enjoyed reading your article. I was in Lagos, Nigeria at the end of December until mid-January (marriage and hooneymoon), and I noticed that many children do not attend school due to their parents not being able to pay the required school fees. Many of these children were begging on the streets in Lagos, Nigeria (very sad)!

I am an African American woman, and my husband is Nigerian (Ijaw). I am an educator (Adult education and now I teach in the public school system). In America, public education is TOTALLY FREE to all school aged children. We know that education is the opportunity one needs to be in the positition to have an opportunity of a prosperous and successful future. Yet, with the poverty level being so high in Lagos, Nigeria, parents and/or guardians have to pay school fees (WHY?), which stretch their already limited budgets to the maximum.

Nigeria (Africa period) needs to realize that when they invest in a child's education, that investment pays off, not only for that child, but for that country! These same students turn around and invest right back into their country. Some will venture away but not all.

A better system must be incorporated to ensure ALL CHILDREN receive the same quality education and have a "fair" chance at life. Money should not be the criteria whether a child is educated or not. That country has a financial obligation to educating its own! Celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey, are making great strides in making a difference in Africa (South Africa in this case), but what will Africa do for its own children?

I really enjoyed your article, and it made me realize how the education system works much better.

Thank you.


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