Funding Education as Electoral Issue



In a sense, it may appear unfair to the politicians currently on the hustings, mobilising the people, to say that the campaigns are entirely not issue-based.
Some of the political parties and their candidates have published clear platforms on the basis of which they seek votes. They are labelled as visions, plans, manifestoes, programmes and policy documents.

To be sure, some of them are fairly comprehensive and imbued with evidence of deep thinking about the problems while some others are merely skeletal in content. Apart from the better-advertised Buhari’s agenda for the “next level” and the Atiku plan to “make Nigeria work again,” there are certainly other well-reasoned programmes that should legitimately attract the attention of at least the pundits if not the generality of the electorate.

However, it is the shortcoming in the articulation of concrete policies to improve the condition of the people that is partly responsible for the general impression that campaigns are not focussed on issues affecting the people. And this is far from being the view of a policy wonk.

For instance, in this electoral season there are concrete issues in the education system requiring concrete solutions from those seeking power. It is strange that that the political parties are hardly offering concrete solutions beyond ritualistic proclamations about these problems. These include the national embarrassment that university education is paralysed because academics (who should otherwise be busy with teaching and research) are protesting poor funding of university education and the national shame that over 13 million children of school age are out of school. The electorate should by now be comparing concrete solutions offered by the various parties and candidates so as to choose which one they are convinced would be efficacious in curing the malaise in the education sector.

Unfortunately, that is not the situation on the field. In particular, it is not clear in most of the platforms the definition of concrete commitment of the state to reverse the decay in the education. This is a policy choice. It’s even ideological, if you like.
By the way, it is hugely ironic that some of the free market experts writing the education policies that are vague on the role of the state in the education sector actually benefitted in real terms from state – funded education as students.

Take a sample. In his carefully crafted “Build, Innovate and Grow: My Vision for Our Country,” the presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), Kingsley Moghalu, correctly locates a “fundamental” issue in education as “the role of the state” in the sector as he makes a thorough review of the problem. Yet, all that this candidate of a party of the “young” and “progressive” could offer in his “Vision 19,” in concrete terms, is to push the responsibility to the “private sector, faith-based…and non profit organisations.” This is because the “involvement” of the government is “over-extended” and that to expect the state to solve all the problems is “illusionary.” Meanwhile, Moghalu identifies the “low priority” accorded education as the “first fundamental problem” of the extremely bedevilled sector. While proposing a partnership between the state and some non-state institutions in funding education, Moghalu fails to specify in concrete terms the degree of the responsibility the state should bear especially for basic education. Now, this “solution” is certainly not good enough in a scandalously unequal socio-economic environment that exists in Nigeria today. A vague solution as Moghalu has offered will not be helpful to the majority of the children who are from poor homes as attested to by the various statistics of human development.

Not a few have called for the declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector. And that call is eminently justified on many grounds. In a country with over 13 million children out of school largely because of the poverty in their homes, no responsible state would depend illusorily on some phantom private organisations to fund education. The proposition of partnering with the private sector doesn’t answer the question of the percentage of the government’s budget or even the GDP to be allocated to education. This is the focus of the universal campaign for social justice in education. To propose otherwise is to underestimate the developmental deficit this trend would cause in the near future.
Yes, many new elements are seeking political power. This, however, is not matched by the sufficiency of new ideas to confront the problems.

What is said of Moghalu’s “vision” specifically on funding education is also applicable to most of the platforms so far presented by political parties and their candidates.
The Atiku plan is, perhaps, the most elaborate platform on display in terms of systematic presentation. The plan is rich in details especially in stating priorities and offering liberal solutions to problems. The plan notably seeks to improve “access and equity” in education. The plan also sets targets to improve school enrolments in primary and secondary schools. It also envisages a synergy of purpose between the federal, state and local governments. Yet, the plan lacks concrete solutions for funding education. Although there is the provision for scholarships in some special cases, the nearest to a concrete solution to the gross social injustice in the sector is the vague “guarantee of access” to basic education. This sort of declaration is not the same thing as that of the American “no child left behind” policy backed by law. The Atiku plan lacks a concrete commitment of what percentage of government’s expenditure should compulsorily go to funding education.

The presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, Oby Ezekwesili, has rightly bemoaned “too much illiteracy” in the land. She has promised to make education a “priority” if she is elected president. She quotes the American billionaire, Bill Gates, like this: “‘Education is like a master switch that opens up all sorts of opportunities for individuals and societies.” Ezekwesili, therefore, promises to “turn on” that switch. However, she has not stated the specific commitment of government’s expenditure required to switch on the possibilities for development in the education sector.

Even the political parties that appear social democratic in their approach to education are not definite enough on how to fund education so that the children of the poor would have access to quality education. For instance, the Social Democratic Party (SDP)’s manifesto includes the promise of “free and compulsory public primary and secondary education, scholarships will be provided to indigent and deserving students in tertiary institutions.”
Again, it is not clear how the SDP will fund this plan.

Similarly, in the Buhari’s “next level” agenda, there is a promise of “free and qualitative primary and secondary education to all but to tertiary level for women.”
The Buhari agenda also includes the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act.
Instructively, in the same manifesto, there is a promise of “10% of annual budget” to be allocated to “this critical sector.” As progressive as it sounds, the Buhari’s agenda for funding education still falls short of the international standard of 15-20% allocation of national budget to education. In fact, in our emergency situation some have even suggested a higher percentage than 20%.

The point at issue is that the approach of politicians to the decay in the education sector should go beyond lamentations and brilliant definitions of the problem. There should be concrete commitment of the percentage of budgets to be allocated to education. By so doing, the progress made in reducing illiteracy and improving the quality of education could also be simultaneously measured as the budget performance is being assessed.

The budgetary allocation to education is a concrete way of measuring the responsibility of the state in the education sector. With competent economic management, the allocation of at least 20% of the annual budget to education would help in reversing the negative trend in the sector.
It is also remarkable that no party has summoned the courage to take up a challenge: setting a target to make the provision for equal opportunity in education embodied in Chapter II, Section 18, of the constitution a “practicable” thing to do.

It is also important that the plan for quality and equity in the education sector (like other areas of development) should not only be that of the presidential candidate. For instance, education plans should not just be those of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, but also those of their respective political parties namely the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Congress (PDP). The good thing about this is that even if a party does not win the presidency, the programme of the party could still be implemented at the tier of government where the party is in power.

After all, in the Second Republic, Chief Obafemi Awolowo did not become president, but his party; the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) implemented its cardinal programmes including free education and free health services in the states in which the party was in power. The party clearly articulated the plans to fund its education programme during the campaigns.
In the contemporary times, you hardly hear a governor claiming proudly that he is implementing his party programmes (including the one on education). This is the era of the governor’s projects and not that of party programmes. It is part of the political underdevelopment plaguing the land.
If the political party owns the manifesto including education plan, for instance, it would be possible to assess the progress made in the funding of education by all tiers of government.


There are Alternative Visions

By Tope Fasua
I read Kayode Komolafe’s piece entitled “So, Why Should the People Vote?” on this page on January 3, 2019.
I believe the topic is very central to our political economy and the raison d’etre behind our four -yearly voting rituals. The core aspects of the article, which must be amplified, include the abandonment and reputed non-justiciability of Chapter II of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

The reason why we are at once the nation with the highest incidence of extreme poverty, inequality, unemployment, maternal and child death, some of the worst environmental degradation in the world, terrorism, tribal and religious clashes, as well as other ignominious global laurels is because everyone took their eyes off the most important function assigned to our political leaders in the constitution – the security and welfare of the people.

This assigned role may be extended to include the fact that all societies are rightly judged by how well their most-vulnerable people are provided for. In fact, the paradigm that emphasises a winner-takes-all approach to life, also romances eugenics – the idea that those who are weak, challenged or unfortunate in society should be weeded out and precluded from procreation. That is Hitlerism. Such tendencies also pander to chauvinism and exclude women and youths from everything.

I commend the emphasis Komolafe laid on the recent riots in France, a First World country, where a large number of our political leaders and the nouveau riche take delight in holidaying, shopping and engaging in health and educational tourism with the little that should be used to reboot and re-prime our economy.

You would expect a moment of contrition – and a pause for reflection – on the part of our purveyors of “scorched earth”, winner-takes-all market economics but they are apparently quite indoctrinated. Worse than the scourge of corruption in our country, are the ill effects of the ‘bad economics’ that we have solidly subscribed to over time. I am an economist, but I usually say that Economists are terrible people; I’ve seen them lay to waste generations unborn, and cause whole races and species of human beings, to be enslaved forever. This is what has happened in Nigeria and it will be a sheer miracle for us to upturn the status quo and change our fate in the years to come.

This is also the core reason I am running for president – to at least get alternative economic ideas out there for Nigerians to see. For what is coming is apocalyptic, and on that day, Nigerians should remember that we chose this fate. However, what I have, I shall put on the table, whether anyone is buying or not. It is no surprise that people like me with alternative opinions on how the economy should be run are being deliberately shut down by the establishment wherever they can (such as the unfair exclusion from the NEDG/BON/Channels TV Debate).
Albert Einstein said it is insanity to keep doing the same things while expecting different results. I don’t believe Nigerians are insane, but if we want to keep working the same form of economic ideology over and over, we should actually expect worse results – for we have used all our “get-out-of-jail-free” cards already.

There are a number of reasons why all we hear in the political economy space in Nigeria are phrases like ‘government has no business doing business’ (though this is true), it has now been stretched in Nigeria to mean government should be totally irresponsible to the people and should sell every state asset and squander the proceeds. Also if government should be useless, why pay them as much as we do in Nigeria, or make them so comfortable?). We also hear “Public- Private Partnerships”, “Comparative Advantage”, “Efficient Markets”, “IT-Driven Development”, “Ease of Doing Business”, “Competition”, “Nothing is wrong with borrowing so long as it’s for infrastructure” and so on. Some of these ideas are admissible, but most are totally expired, and others are simply deluded in a society such as ours. Our economic managers hope to buy policies off the shelf, in an age where every people have known to think for themselves. Hence the results we often get. Some of us are here to correct this trajectory.

One of the core reasons we seem stuck in a toxic ideological vicious cycle, is because we were mostly (perhaps deliberately) misguided in our schools – especially in the teaching of economics. The bases of most economic theorems that we imbibed were data from economies totally or markedly different from ours in structure and history. Hardly will one come across a research paper in economics in Nigeria, that is not striving so hard to impress some preconceived conclusions as contained in some 1950s textbooks which may have argued eloquently – with graphs and equations – about how economies should work. We ignore the peculiarities and complexities of economies, one from another.

Look at the idea of ‘comparative advantage’ in international trade; David Ricardo propounded it in 1812! Here we are in 2018 (206 years after and in spite of great change around us) pushing the same idea in policy circles, when it is no better than a sedative used to hold economies like ours down as primary products sellers while we purchase very essential secondary and tertiary products from abroad.

Joseph Stiglitz in his book “Making Globalization Work” destroyed the idea of ‘comparative advantage’ and stated that if South Korea followed that route it will have remained a rice-producing country till date. What works is therefore that every country should bootstrap itself and play the game to ensure it produces more and more of what its people need. Stiglitz was President Clinton’s Chief Economic Adviser. He was also Chief Economist at World Bank, before ‘seeing the light’. Yet we ignore people like him. Our academia has been timid, conniving or since bought over and indoctrinated in all spheres; not only in economics. Again Albert Einstein it was who quipped that “education is what remains after you have forgotten what you were taught in school”.

We therefore need to forget what we were taught in schools, start teaching new stuff, open our eyes to our real society, absorb information, gather honest data, step away from air-conditioned conference rooms located in posh hotels, locate our thoughts in the ghettos that most of our people live, resist intellectual intimidation, and propound our own theories and conclusions.

We need patriots.
Another factor that may be responsible for our intellectual capture is that many Nigerians – especially those who have made it into corporate and political leadership positions – may not have attained what Maslow called ‘self-transcendence’ – the point at which you stop living for yourself and start to give everything away, having achieved and surpassed hygiene issues (basic, decent survival), self-esteem, and self-actualization (confirming that you are ‘somebody’ in society). Many of our policymakers and policy influencers are stuck in the hunter-gatherer stage and see nothing wrong with the mass poverty we complain about.

They still want to see themselves as oppressors and need to see the oppressed around them aplenty, begging to be fed. Hence they would readily support “market-economics” since it carries the prospects of maintaining the status quo where they rule the roost. What many in this category don’t understand is that they stand to be richer, safer, much more comfortable, and more respected globally if we could spare a moment for our most-vulnerable, get governance to work in Nigeria, provide public goods, and put employment in the hands of millions thereby elevating the humanity of our people – because the jobs are there.

I read some of the comments from the usual back page commentariat on Komolafe’s article, and someone suggested that since USA had ‘crass capitalism’ before people like FD Roosevelt (and later JF Kennedy and LB Johnson) put in place rolling social safeguards, there is nothing wrong with what Nigeria is doing. Like a write-up entitled ‘You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum” by a Zambian, Field Ruwe, suggested, the kind of “education” most of us got, was poison – designed to feed our greed and hold our own people down. We “educated” folk are the problem with Nigeria, not the toiling peasants. Saying and writing absolutely selfish and myopic opinions eloquently does not make those opinions enlightened.

I have always pushed the idea that until Nigeria looks like Europe there are jobs available. I have focused on the environmental sector alone as a great bastion for repositioning our economy. By reorganising and optimising our environment, we could at once employ millions, improve the security situation, create a stable floor for the economy, gain global respect, and generate more capital inflows by way of remittances and tourism. The alternative route is what we have chosen. We are embracing an economic system that focuses on financialization rather than real progress and development. The result is N6Trillion of taxpayers’ money stuck in AMCON (while some “top economists” are calling for AMCON-2 because current non-performing loans in banks are back up to 15% or more of their loan books. It seems our banks have become adept at throwing money away on fancy projects and their friends want taxpayers to again pick up the bill. The result of our economics today, is that government rushes to save large businesses at the expense of taxpayers, while the poorest are left to their own devices. The final destination is dystopia – or worse, a total disintegration of this country. I attach herewith evidence of sectorial employment in the United States. We will see that the educational and health sector employs the bulk of workers (34million workers, most employed by governments). In the UK the same holds. Who needs teachers and health workers more than a developing country?

Let me rapidly point us to the fact that there are alternative approaches to economics today. I have immersed myself in new areas of economics such as Evolution Economics (emphasizes the centrality of innovation in economic development), Complexity Economics (debunks the one-track approach of neo-classical approach e.g. comparative advantage, the concept of equilibrium, perfect markets or the idea of a rational, calculating man) and Behavioural Economics (emphasizes the need to craft economic policies according to a proper study of a people by knowing what can ‘nudge’ people to certain decisions. Richard Thaler got a Nobel Prize for this in 2017). The ‘adhesive’ adherence to expired thinking in our economic space parades itself as enlightenment when it is actually pitiable ignorance. The divide is no longer between capitalism and socialism, but about the 50 shades in between.

Common sense is what people apply in running their economies these days. The political party I represent, the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), has ‘positive and constructive pragmatism’ as its ideology because of this. And our challenge today is to force a reset from the destructive approach we have chosen as a people. What is more? Even organisations like the World Bank are now ‘getting it’. At their last big meeting at Bali, Indonesia, not only did the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, apologise to developing countries like ours for their past advice that we focus heavily on infrastructure, they launched what is called a Human Capital Index (HCI), wherein Nigeria was 152ndout of 157 countries surveyed. Our HCI of 34% means that a child born here could only achieve 34% of their potentials for this country! We did slightly better than Niger, Chad, South Sudan and two more sad little African countries.
What a tragedy!

So this is to let the people know that some of us are contesting for the presidency for the core purpose of forcing a new economic thinking, away from this one that mass-produces poverty.
We can never be intimated by phonies who fancy themselves as ‘economic experts’. In fact, economics as a discipline does not lend itself to “expert-hood”, as a real economist is someone who never stops asking questions (even of his own beliefs and research), gathering information, accepting and rejecting causal variables, separating causality from correlation and constantly researching phenomena. You don’t even need a degree in economics to be an economist; it’s about the way one thinks. We have to therefore rescue our country from two extremities; the beaten down masses who have given up and have been convinced that things could never get better than they are, and the oppressors who believe that the ideal situation is to keep pushing the majority against the wall by milking them.

It is also a great shame, that in an age of knowledge and information, we became less tolerant of debates and intellection than we were in 1986. It’s a tragedy that all our certificates have only produced intellectual ‘zombies’ who just repeat ideas by rote.

And as for how to fund larger budgets in education, or take millions out of poverty, or employ more people in essential services for the provision of public goods, I will refer us back to the misallocations that resulted in AMCON, and the recent incidence where revenue-collecting agencies are said to be withholding N2.8Trillion of public funds. What about over N15Trillion of Stamp Duties said to be hanging in limbo somewhere, unaccounted by government? Imagine the sick level of corruption in this country? Imagine if these leakages were used properly and soberly? Imagine where we will be?
In my campaign I have averred that this country’s GDP should be growing at between 15% and 20%. The US Economy grew at that pace in some years between 1950 and 1970. Our insular, over-educated folk who talk down on Nigerians should be told that what we aren’t getting is robust, sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Nigeria deserves a lot better.

So, we haven’t started organising our country. When we start, money will come, in torrents, from within and without. What must first happen, are for our crony/crass capitalist folks to be ready to pay their share. The ‘Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am?’ syndrome needs to be banished first.
We should all pay our share of obligations to society, encourage frugal and effective governance and the provision of public goods, and understand that to keep these many Nigerians down in poverty, we must permanently stay down with them.
That is the message of the moment.
Nigeria – and Nigerians – shall be free!

•Mr. Fasua is the Presidential Candidate, Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP).