The bill to discourage public officials from sending their children abroad for education may be well intentioned, but it infringes on the rights of the people
Senator Baheer Garba Muhammad is currently leading a debate on a bill to alter the Nigerian Constitution to discourage public officials from sending their children and wards to schools abroad except for specialisation at postgraduate levels or for courses not offered by our educational institutions. His intervention is predicated on the fact that the standard of education in Nigeria, especially in the public schools, has continued to fall despite huge investments in the sector.
We are all familiar with the state of affairs that engendered Senator Muhammed’s bill while the picture he has painted is all too glaring to see. Nothing perhaps exemplifies this today more than the failure profile of our children at senior secondary school certificate examinations, and the now common knowledge that many of our university graduates are unemployable.
We also agree that the desire of many public officials to educate their children overseas constitutes a major drain of foreign exchange on the Nigerian economy as Nigeria has one of the highest student populations in the Diaspora. In 2010 for instance, some N246 billion was spent on Nigerian students in the United Kingdom alone. The figure will be about the same, if not more, for the United States even when many Asian countries have also become new destinations.
The number of Nigerian students in the Malaysian public and private institutions is well over 5,000. The number is also rising in China, Singapore and India. Even former unknown destinations like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan are becoming popular with some of their nationals coming to our country to set up shops for enticing our children to study in their countries. The pattern is also increasingly common in some African countries with Ghana clearly in the lead. Put simply, Nigeria has become a major catchment market for the world because of her inability to provide good education for the citizenry. While their economy is boosted, ours is withering and spluttering.
Given the foregoing, it is understandable why Senator Muhammed’s bill seems to enjoy public support and the concurrence of his colleagues. There is a consensus that the deplorable state of education in the country is traceable to the fact that politicians do not care about fixing the sector because they can afford to ship their children overseas. Yet the provision of quality and affordable education is one of the sacred duties of government since they provide the needed human capital necessary for development.
We recall with dismay that in the 1960s, up till the late 80s, our education sector was able to turn out products from primary to tertiary schools who could hold their own. Unfortunately, for quite some time, huge sums of money are annually budgeted by federal and state governments for education yet much of it end up in some private pockets. Ironically, the same people who share the money that ought to be invested in quality education in the country (in form of getting adequate teaching materials, equipping the schools, providing conducive environment and in motivating the staff) often turn around to bemoan the rot in the system. That explains why many remain cynical of Senator Muhammed’s bill.
On our part, we do not believe the National Assembly can effectively legislate on where anybody sends his/her children for education. We therefore consider Senator Muhammed’s bill as totally misdirected. But even more fundamental, the National Assembly cannot pass a law that infringes on the rights of citizens as already enshrined in the Constitution. It is, to say the least, undemocratic and the height of disregard for the people and their children. The patriotic bill is a populist idea that does not address the challenge of our education nor is it enforceable should it ever be passed into law.