The refusal of some state governments to pay the WAEC registration fees they promised their candidates speaks volumes about the place of education in the calculus of leadership among Nigerian politicians. Vincent Obia writes
One of the most brutally accurate and spot-on confirmations of the indifference of Nigerian leaders to education in recent times is, perhaps, the refusal of state governments to fulfil their promise to pay the School Certificate examination fees of their candidates. The West African Examinations Council said 19 states had failed to keep the promise they had voluntarily made to settle the entry fees for the candidates they sponsored for the May/June 2015 West African Senior School Certificate Examination.
On account of the debts, totalling about N4 billion, WAEC has said it may withhold the results of candidates from the affected states. “The affected states should off-set the registration fees of their candidates as soon as possible, as we cannot guarantee that the results of their candidates for the May/June 2015 WASSCE will be released alongside others,” WAEC’s Head of National Office, Mr Charles Eguridu, said on Monday in Lagos. The problem is that not only do most people believe the states have the capacity to pay the fees, but the word on the street is that once again, the poor masses have been used as political pawns, which have to be sacrificed when they are thought to have exhausted their value. This sentiment is dangerous – yet hardly far from the truth.
The payment of WAEC fees for indigenous candidates is part of the educational policies of some state governments. And, definitely, this palliative to the many poor parents was among the arsenals of campaign issues deployed by the ruling parties in the respective states during the last general elections. The default in the payment of the fees probably set in at the point where the concerned governors felt the political capital from such payment was not worth the investment. This raises the question as to whether patriotism or politics is the motivation for many of the programmes celebrated as achievements by governments in the country.
If WAEC carries out its threat to withhold the results of the defaulting states, thousands of young people would be denied the basic qualification for the furtherance of their educational ambitions for no fault of theirs. The psychological effect of this situation on the candidates is enormous. And the cost to the country, at a time when education is desperately needed to wean the youth off criminality, is incalculable.
But the scanty regard for education is not limited to the states; it goes beyond the default in the settlement of WAEC fees for government-sponsored candidates. Education has traditionally taken a negligible portion of the country’s federal budgets. For several years, the allocations to education have oscillated between five and nine per cent, getting to about 10 per cent only in the last years of the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. And about 80 per cent of the paltry education budgets are allotted to recurrent expenditure. The story is not different for the states.
By contrast, Botswana spends about 19 per cent of its budgets on education; Swaziland spends about 24 per cent; Lesotho spends about 17 per cent; South Africa, about 25 per cent; Cote d’Ivoire, about 30 per cent; Burkina Faso, about 16 per cent; and Ghana, about 31 per cent. Kenya spends about 23 per cent of budgets on education; Uganda spends about 27 per cent; Tunisia, about 17 per cent; and Morocco, about 17 per cent. The percentage budgetary allocations to education in Nigeria sharply contrast with the UNESCO-recommended minimum of 26 per cent for developing countries eager for development. Interestingly, countries that have made giant strides in development are those known to have invested the bulk of their resources in the education of their peoples.
The sad fruit of the apparent neglect of education in Nigeria has been an appalling record of performance in examinations. The country is said to record the highest number of examination irregularities among the five member-countries of WAEC. This is in addition to the mass failures in the School Certificate examinations Nigeria has seen in the last couple of years. Nigeria needs a radical rethink of its attitude towards education to come out of its current embarrassing socio-economic and political position.