Good decisions, but is there a will?

educationAll 19 state governments have decided to abolish fees in their secondary schools and to “harmonize” those charged by tertiary institutions with effect from the next academic year. Fees are already abolished in public primary schools in the North. The governments are also to re-introduce the Grade 2 teacher training programme scrapped nationwide since the 1990s.

Besides, schools of preliminary or basic studies will return to the northern states. To cap it, an education summit will hold some time in the year.

These are some of the decisions taken presumably at a meeting of the 19 governors under the aegis of the Northern State Governors Forum (NSGF) in mid-February in Kaduna which only came to light last week through Chairman of the forum, Niger state’s Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu. Speaking on March 3 at an awards ceremony by Niger state Indigent Students Society (NANISS) in Minna, he described education as “the bedrock of development”.

To say that the education sector in the North is in a shambles is to grossly understate the problem. Underfunding has led to poor remuneration of teachers, thereby forcing a near exodus of qualified personnel from the sector to other sectors of the economy that pay better; there is infrastructural decay and poor pupil performance at all levels. No wonder, primary school enrolment has plummeted, creating a pool of potential recruits for terror groups such as Boko Haram. The problem is compounded by lack of jobs for our young men who manage to complete their university education. These too are ready feedstock for the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east geo-political zone.

Let’s give the governors’ meeting last month in Kaduna a perspective. February saw Boko Haram stage some of its deadliest attacks yet in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states that killed over 300 persons, including some 40 students of a federal government college in Yobe. The resolutions of the governors can be said to have been a spontaneous rather than a deliberative move to make people think they are doing “something” about the Boko Haram menace. To that extent, we don’t see a willing spirit to follow up. Everything will be forgotten once Boko Haram begins to recede from newspaper headlines.

Education is not one of those vote-catching tangibles that politicians like, hence their unwillingness to invest in it. At best, they raise it to the plane of rhetoric and leave it there. Virtually all the 19 northern state governments, at one time or another, pledged to pay WAEC and NECO qualifying examinations fees for final year students of public secondary schools. On the strength of that pledge, the two exam bodies allowed them to take the exams. But most of the state governments failed to pay up and the students did not have their results released. It meant they were unable to enter university.

Well, this country is in the eve of very important elections. Some of the governors want to be re-elected in 2015 while others in their second and last term will like to see their political protégés succeed them. Why should we think the NSGF pledge is anything more than bait for votes in 2015? As it is, the governors are already in disagreement. For instance, the Sokoto governor, Alhaji Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, has faulted his Niger state colleague on the fee abolition decision, saying his administration has stopped fees in public secondary schools since 2007. Not a good start, at all.

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