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23 November 2017
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) strongly condemns the proposal of President Buhari-led Federal Executive Council to allocate a paltry 7.04% of the 2018 budget to the education sector. We hereby demand an upward review of the budgetary allocation to education up to 26% as recommended by UNESCO, democratic management of schools as well as the honoring of all agreements reached with unions in the education sector.
There is no more doubt that the Buhari-administration has only been paying lip service to the much needed revitalization of this crucial, but ailing, sector. We applaud the National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS) and other groups for condemning the budget but now is the time to move beyond talks.
Now that the 2018 budget proposal is yet to be passed into law, there is a chance to win an upward increase in the allocation to education if we fight. Between now and January 2018, we have a chance to stamp our feet on the ground and demand that government does what is right. This would require a series of mass actions like lecture boycotts, strikes and protest marches across the country and up to the gate of the National Assembly to compel the lawmakers to increase the allocation to education.
Therefore, we urge the students unions, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), NAPS, NUT, ASUU and other unions in the education sector not to fold their arms but to immediately hold meetings of their organs and collectively call for mass actions involving students, education workers, parents and members of the public. Such mass actions which should take place on campuses must also move to the streets nationwide and culminate in a mass occupation of the National Assembly as the 2018 budget proposals are being debated by lawmakers. Without doing this, the public education sector will face serious challenges over the next one year as a result of this paltry allocation.
The 2018 budget proposal, presented to the National Assembly on Tuesday, 7th November, indicates that a meagre N605.8 billion is earmarked for the funding of the education sector, in spite of the widely acknowledged crises bedeviling the sector. As with previous budgets, the proposed allocation to the education sector is a far cry from the 26% budgetary allocation to education as recommended by UNESCO for developing countries like Nigeria. On the surface, there appears to be a fractional increase in the education budget compared to the N550 billion earmarked for the sector in the present 2017 budget. But as Premium Times of 8th November reported: "Although the N605 billion allocated to the sector this year is higher in naira terms than the N550 billion allocated in 2017, there is a decrease in percentage terms."
Against the backdrop of collapse of public education in the country, the 2018 budget proposal, if passed into law by the National Assembly, would further compound the problems that students and education workers face on daily basis on account of underfunding of public education. Already, managements of schools are increasing fees astronomically, and the University of Benin is the latest example in this regard. As experience has shown in schools where fees have been astronomically increased, the policy of squeezing the pockets of parents dry in order to run schools is indeed incapable of resuscitating moribund academic facilities.
The budget has equally exposed the insincerity of government in respect of its promises to meet the demands of education workers' unions, especially ASUU, for upward funding of the education sector. This means that the government would continue to grapple with industrial actions by these unions in the coming year, if the national assembly fails to rectify this error and sufficiently increase the budget to education.
Days after this budget was submitted to the National Assembly, the President delivered another academic talk on the problems with the nation's education system at the Education Summit of the Federal Executive Council. We find it completely deceitful of the President to diagnose same government-induced problems with the nation's education system, when the underfunding of this system is at the epicentre of the Nigeria's education crisis. Like the politicians before him, President Buhari continues to draw a parallel line between quality education and national growth, forgetting that there cannot be sustainable growth without a value-creating human population.
However, students, education workers, and parents should draw the conclusion that the crops of capitalist ruling elites in this country are incapable of taking independent initiative to mould a desirable future for young people, and in effect, for this country. This is why together with fighting for save public education, we should also fight to replace all these failed anti-poor and anti-education capitalist politicians with a planned democratic socialist system under which the wealth of Nigeria can be publicly owned and democratically managed to finance free and functional education and other vital social services.