By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It has not been an easy road for Nigerian workers. Since May 1999, when democracy re-emerged on the political surface called Nigeria, it has been a tough and tumble ride. Even the practice of democracy in the country, contrary to earlier beliefs, have not helped to stop the pangs of socioeconomic challenges experienced by Nigerian workers or reduced strike actions to the barest minimum.
However, before diving into propagation of solution, it is germane for this piece to underline that one major problem standing in the way/preventing Nigerian workers particularly those in the education sector from enjoying piece as it exuberates industrial disharmony is government’s progressive non recognition of the right to education as a human right despite their membership of a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where the right is respected.
As a background, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education.
From this point, the questions may be asked; what exactly does that mean? Why is education a fundamental human right?
Going by commentaries, the right to education is a human right and indispensable for the exercise of other human rights because quality education aims to ensure the development of a fully-rounded human being. It is one of the most powerful tools in lifting socially excluded children and adults out of poverty and into society. UNESCO data shows that if all adults completed secondary education, globally the number of poor people could be reduced by more than half. It narrows the gender gap for girls and women. A UN study showed that each year of schooling reduces the probability of infant mortality by 5 to 10 per cent.
However, for this human right to work there must be equality of opportunity, universal access, and enforceable and monitored quality standards. There must be in place Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal. Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free and a higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free.
Now let’s look at the contradictions when juxtaposed with Nigerian situation.
With the nation’s current population of over 195.9 million, 45 per cent of which are below 15 years, there is a huge demand for learning opportunities translating into increased enrolment. This has created challenges in ensuring quality education since resources are spread more thinly, resulting in more than 100 pupils for one teacher as against the UNESCO benchmark of 35 students per teacher and culminating in students learning under trees for lack of classrooms.
The challenge has increased in the last few years.
Strong evidence abounds that in the 2017 Appropriation Act, N448.01 billion representing 6.0 per cent of the N7.30 trillion budgets was allocated to education. Similarly, the budgetary allocation for education in 2020 is N671.07 billion constituting 6.7%. Of the N671.07 billion allocated to the Federal Ministry of education, the sum includes the statutory transfer allocated to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which is N111.79 billion. UBEC intervention funds as we know are focused on collaboration with other state actors towards improving access to basic education and reducing Nigeria’s out-of-school children. When compared with 2019, there is however a 44.37% increase in capital expenditure. Yet, a shortfall in UNESCO’s benchmark.
Looking above,(particularly other challenges spread out in part 1 and 2) of this opinion piece, it is understandable that for us to move forward as a nation and have peace restored in the troubled sectors, Nigerian workers need new leadership to hang their hopes, and deliver them from incessant strike action. They yearn for a system that will put workers back in charge of their responsibilities. Like the Judicial workers recently demanded, an average Nigerian worker/sector needs financial autonomy. They need politics taken out of labour matters so that they can function prominently/independent Aso Rock or No Aso Rock.
For their part, Nigerians, have within this period of vulnerability generated ‘megawatts’ of questions which could safely be classified into three different categories.
For some, what is it that makes it easy, seamless and convivial for policymakers of rich nations to master, and figure out better policies that eliminate failures? If policymakers of rich member nations can master, and figure out better policies that eliminate failures, why is it a difficult task for policymakers in Nigeria to find out these nations that on one occasion faced the challenges we currently wrestle with, find out how they solved such challenges, seek right advice, or at the very least, ’copy’ their method?
To others, why has it become an impossible task for Nigerian leaders to build an economy that is all-encompassing improvement, a process that builds on itself and involves both individuals and social change? And to the rest; Why is it taking our leaders at both state and Federal levels eternity to engineer growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernization in social and cultural attitudes, a degree of political transformation and stability, an improvement in health and education so that population growth stabilizes, and an increase in urban living and employment?
The only answer that sums the above question is important for those in positions of authorities/public offices in the country to start viewing governance from the prism of development and fortify the levers of administration (political, social, economic, legal etc. institutions). We must be holistic in approach. Achieving this feat will assist citizens enjoy prosperity while the nation would automatically thrive and survive the challenges of modern statehood.
As an incentive, it is important to underscore at this point that for a programme to be tagged development, ‘it must, according to, the United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development, require a particular process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms, by expanding the capabilities and choices of the individual’.
While we keep this in mind, it will equally be of considerable significance to the present discussion if the FG realizes that globally, there is no codified principle for lifting a nation from poverty to prosperity but through the government’s ‘disciplined attention to some sectors such as; education, health, and energy among others.
To disabuse the minds of the angry Nigerians, therefore, it will be pertinent that the FG respond to the needs of these workers. It has also become imperative that the Federal Government goes extra miles to accelerate economic development, social progress and gets deeply committed to developing strategies that will guarantee the protection of lives and property of Nigerians. That, in my views, may be the little beginning that will bring a great end.
If we fail to achieve this, it will again reinforce the notion as canvassed in some quarters that Nigeria keeps wasting resources on payments of dues to the international organizations without learning something new or domesticate good governance policies and ideals that these organizations represent.
If viewed as true, this notion without a doubt will further corrode our leaders’ reputations with nothing consummate or inspiring for the future generation to learn while leaving their leadership era painted as a period when the nation went into desolation.
Utomi, is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;firstname.lastname@example.org