Since President Muhammadu Buhari presented the proposed 2018 budget before the National Assembly on 7 November 2017, quite a number of reservations have trailed the 1918-pages-long document. Standing out easily among these reservations is that which concerns the educational sector. The government has allocated ₦435.01 billion to education out of the total amount of ₦8.612 trillion proposed for spending the following year. In other words, the sector is getting a meagre 7.04%. Many, including the National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS) have decried the perceived misplacement of priorities. A writer has in fact observed that the extent of the allocation, when compared to the entire budget, has only taken us back to 2004 – when the percentage left for education was exactly the same – rather than to a future craved by majority of Nigerians.
Another remarkable scandal relating to the Federal Ministry of Education is the recent report that the National Universities Commission, headed by Professor Shehu Galadanci, chose to budget a whopping ₦85 million for the purchase of motor vehicles, while only ₦8 million was earmarked for research and development. But beyond these, one sore in the budget that everyone seems to miss is the imbalance in how much the government intends to spend on tertiary institutions compared to institutions of lower strata such as Federal Government Colleges. It appears to be a classic case of ultimogeniture, a rare tradition of inheritance whereby the right of succession belongs to the youngest child.
A cursory look at the section of the Appropriation Bill dealing with the Ministry of Education reveals a stark, inexplicable contrast in the capital budgets for federal universities and federal unity colleges. While University of Lagos, University of Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Benin, University of Calabar and a host of others are to get a flat sum of ₦89,199,469 for capital expenditures, the sum of ₦131,769,713 has been proposed for the Federal Government Colleges of Jos, Kaduna, Odogbolu, Ogbomosho, Warri, Benin among others. The Queens College, Lagos, is getting exactly ₦131 million, and King’s College is to receive a king-size amount of ₦170,769,713.
Federal Unity Colleges are basically secondary schools owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria, established in order to facilitate national integration and foster unity amongst the children of Nigeria. The first set of Federal Government Colleges had just three schools, established in 1964. Today, there are 104 of such schools with about three in each state of the federation.
Important as secondary school education is, it should not be prioritised to the detriment of higher institutions. It is puzzling to discover that the federal government has placed the need for better infrastructure in Nigerian universities below that of secondary schools because not only are universities more crucial to innovation, research, national development and global reputation, they certainly have a greater number of heads to cater for. In other words, they need more halls of residence, more lecture theatres, more laboratories and generally more (sophisticated) infrastructure.
Obafemi Awolowo University, according to its website, hosts about 5,000 staff and over 26,000 students. And according to 2012 figures provided by the Needs Assessment Committee following that year’s prolonged ASUU strike, University of Lagos hosts 3,622 staff and 49,179 students; Ahmadu Bello University has 6,177 staff and 49,436 students; University of Benin has 5,744 staff members and 56,501 students; while University of Abuja (which has the largest capital budget, among tertiary institutions, of ₦457,476,125 following Federal Polytechnic Ukana and Bayero University Kano) hosts 2,137 staff and a student population of 62,528.
In contrast, King’s College, Lagos, is reported to have a student population of about 3,000; and as at 2005, the Federal Government College Lagos had a staff population of 492 and a student population of 2,535. Hence, neither population nor contribution to national development can be used to justify this budgetary lop-sidedness. What is more, these Federal Government Colleges are today a shadow of their past glory, despite being spoon-fed. A 2015 report about King’s College tells a tragic tale of teacher inadequacy, poor sanitary conditions, classroom congestion, bedbug attacks and so on. Mr Denis Okoro, a retired Director at the Federal Ministry of Education, in fact, thought that the schools are no longer sustainable and recommended the sale of all but twelve – two for each geopolitical zone.
It should be noted that the increasing financial malnourishment of universities is not in agreement with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the Federal Government’s roadmap for Nigeria’s economic growth and sustainable development. The document acknowledges, on page 87, that “some of the most pressing challenges [in the education sector] include limited access to and quality of basic education [and] inadequate facilities at all levels of education especially at tertiary level.” The budget, however, seems to be speaking a different language.
When interviewed on the subject, Azeez Oladejo, a senior lecturer at Crescent University and political scientist, suggested that the decision to apportion more to Unity Colleges must have arisen out of the recent demands to improve the colleges. According to him, “It must have been a function of the need to upgrade those unity colleges, which for a very long time have suffered some level of neglect. Of course, politics will be involved, negotiating power will be involved and, in a place like Nigeria, we cannot but some corruption too. But, by and large, it is an issue that is not easy to discuss from a face-value observation.”
This view appears corroborated by a study of the 2012 budget wherein the tables had turned between the institutions of learning. In it, federal universities received an average of ₦430 million while most Unity Colleges received a contrasting average of ₦43 million for capital expenses, though there were a number of them which were allotted ₦120 million, and some others ₦270 million.
Attempts to get a statement from the Director of Press, Federal Ministry of Education, proved abortive. While Mrs Chinyere Ihuoma responded to a text explaining the purpose of contact and fixed a time for the interview, she eventually did not answer the call from the writer. Likewise, the line of the Registrar of University of Ilorin, as retrieved from the university website, could not be reached, and the Registrar of University of Ibadan, Mr Olujimi. Olukoya, politely declined having an interview through a phone call.
Besides the lop-sidedness in the capital budgets for Nigerian federal universities and unity colleges, another imbalance that stands out like a sore thumb is how much has been earmarked for certain secretariats and headquarters compared to capital budgets for tertiary institutions. While most universities are not getting beyond ₦100 million and polytechnics and colleges of education beyond ₦70 million, the total capital budget as proposed for the National Universities Commission (NUC) Secretariat is ₦1.7 billion.
Similarly, the National Commission for College Education Secretariat is getting ₦697.7 million; the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS) headquarters is getting ₦336.2 million and the headquarters of the almighty Federal Ministry of Education is to get a whopping ₦22.7 billion. It is more saddening, if not frightening, to consider that the NUC has budgeted more money for the purchase of four vehicles (₦85 million) than the ministry has noted as capital budget for most federal polytechnics and colleges of education, and just a little less than for universities. The completion of an office extension at the Commission’s secretariat alone is to gulp ₦167 million, and the re-development of its Lagos liaison office is expected to gulp ₦250 million.
The problem becomes even more confounding when the figures are placed side by side those of the previous year, that is, the 2017 Appropriation Bill. One of the interesting points include that in 2017, all the federal unity colleges, including King’s and Queen’s Colleges, got a flat capital budget of ₦131,769,713 – or a kobo less or some kobos more. But for 2018, we can see King’s College getting ₦170,769,713, and Federal Government College Wukari getting ₦241,069,981. It is also puzzling to find that in just a spate of one year, the recurrent budget for King’s College has jumped from ₦321 million to ₦631 million. There is no significant change in the section for universities – except that University of Uyo is getting a lesser amount of ₦54 million (for capital expenditures) next year as against the ₦89 million proposed in 2017, which was at par with what most others received.
It is also worthy of note that while the National Universities Commission budgeted ₦83 million for computer software acquisition in 2017, it still plans to spend as high as ₦94 million on the same items in 2018. While it proposed to spend ₦42 million on “painting of the secretariat and refurbishing on carpentry works” in 2017, it still plans to spend ₦52 million on same in the coming year. It also appears there is a black hole at the NUC secretariat, which is not only gobbling vehicles but the on-going office extension project, for in 2017 ₦297 million was proposed for office extension and again ₦167 million in 2018, and while ₦57 million was proposed for the purchase of two Prado SUVs in 2017, another ₦85 million has been proposed for four in 2018. And though the Commission managed to budget ₦8 million for research and development this year, this is an improvement as no provision was made for this in the previous year. The line of the Commission’s Director of Press, Ibrahim Yakasai, was not available for a statement, nor did he respond to texts sent.
In 2012, before he became head of the National Universities Commission, Professor Shehu Galadanci said during a lecture at Ahmadu Bello University, “We can blame our universities for some of the problems that bedevilled our country.” One then wonders who is to blame for the problems in our universities when the Commission saddled with the responsibility of promoting higher quality in higher education is overtaking their interests with higher, yet unreasonable, budgetary demands. He may have intended something else then but General Yakubu Gowon’s remark in 1973 remains true today: “Money is not Nigeria’s problem, but how to spend it.” Oil boom or oil doom, recession or not, our problem is not that we do not have the right amount of money, but that we are sending it on the wrong errands.
‘Kunle Adebajo is a final-year law student and student journalist at the University of Ibadan, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org