Education Sector in Crisis: Evidence, Causes and Possible Remedies – Ladipo Adamolekun

January 26, 2013

Iju Public Affairs Forum

Being text of  the 2012/2013 Distinguished Lecture of Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Ikeji Arakeji, Osun State. Thursday, January 24th 2013.

“Trained talent is the yeast that transforms a society and makes it rise.”

– Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore in his “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000” 


bra ladiLadipo Adamolekun


I would like to thank the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sola Fajana, for inviting me to deliver the 2012/2013 Distinguished Lecture of Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU).  I understand that the Distinguished Lecture Series was introduced in the 2011/2012 academic session, JABU’s sixth year in existence.  I heartily congratulate JABU on the recent graduation of its fourth set of students.

While the topic of last year’s Lecture was broad-gauged – “Whither Nigeria” (delivered by versatile Professor Akin Oyebode) – I’ve been requested to focus sharply on Nigeria’s Education sector. For almost four decades (1949-1988), I was continuously attached to one educational institution or another at primary, secondary and tertiary levels in succession. At the tertiary level, I studied and/or taught in several universities on the African continent, in Europe and in North America. I would add that I participated in academic conferences, seminars and workshops across all the continents from the early 1970s through the 1980s and 1990s to the early 2000s.  Consequently, some of the observations that I make in this Lecture draw on lessons learned from both good and bad practices across the continents.


The title of this Lecture, “Education sector in Crisis” in reference to any country must be considered a cause for serious concern because of the great value attached to education world-wide.  It is widely acknowledged that education has social, economic, political, and security benefits for an individual, for a society and for a country:  Education is almost everywhere considered as the key to economic prosperity and a vital instrument for combating disease, tackling poverty, and supporting sustainable development.  At the international level, “Education for All” (EFA), an initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was launched in 1990.  Twenty-two years later, UNESCO’s parent organisation, the United Nations, launched “Education First Initiative” that seeks to unite businesses, governments, nongovernmental organisations, teachers, parents and pupils in a 1,000-day campaign to get every child into quality education by the end of 2015. Former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who is UN special envoy for global education, put the case for the new Initiative as follows:

Under current trends, 50 million children worldwide will be out of school in 2025, and in 50 years education for all will remain a hollow dream…the cause of educational opportunity [is] the civil rights issue of our generation (bold and italics added)…Extending educational opportunity is a moral, economic and security imperative…

In-between these two initiatives, there was the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000 that included education as one of Eight (8) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Specifically, according to MDG 2 the Goal is to “attain universal primary education in all countries by 2015” and the Target is to “ensure children of both sexes everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.” Nigeria joined 189 other countries world-wide to endorse the Declaration.

While there is broad agreement in the literature on education that it benefits both the individual and society, there is contestation on whether governments should pay more attention to primary education whose benefits to the society as a whole are very substantial than to tertiary education with huge benefits for the individual.  As will be demonstrated later in this Lecture, the argument over the relative benefits to individuals and to society is akin to the chicken and egg debate: without the quality products of tertiary education, quality primary education is unachievable and vice versa.

Strikingly, the success story of educational development in Western Nigeria in the 1950s and early 1960s was characterised by actions that respond to the issues raised in the preceding paragraphs.  A free universal primary education (UPE) programme was launched in January 1955 and politicians and civil servants collaborated to ensure its effective implementation.  The public was mobilised in support of UPE: there was active involvement of communities, faith-based organisations, private entrepreneurs, and parents/adults through payment of taxes.  (Parents also provided uniforms and books for their children).

After a decade (that is, by 1965), primary education completion rate was between 80 and 100 per cent throughout Western Nigeria.  Furthermore, the launch of universal free primary education was accompanied by rapid expansion of post-primary education: 5-year Secondary/Grammar Schools and 3-Year Modern Schools. The latter were introduced to provide post-primary education for the hugely increased primary school leavers who could not gain admission to the Secondary/Grammar Schools. Simultaneously with the launch of UPE, teacher training was significantly scaled up through the expansion of colleges responsible for training teachers for primary and post-primary education.  Finally, in 1962, the Western Nigeria government established a university (University of Ife, later re-named Obafemi Awolowo University) and in 1963, Adeyemi College of Education was established. (For details on the Western Nigerian experience, see S. Gbadegesin, S.  and R. Sekoni, eds., 2010).

From the above summary it is obvious that the Western Nigeria experience has important lessons for all advocates of rapid educational development world-wide, with particular reference to universal primary education. Yes, UPE can be successfully implemented and yield huge dividends within a decade. The experience also demonstrates that successful implementation of UPE requires attention to secondary education, teacher training, and tertiary education.

After this Introduction, the Lecture is in three other parts.  In Part Two, I provide evidence of the crisis in Nigeria’s education sector that justifies the title, “Education Sector in Crisis”.  Part Three highlights the major causes of the crisis.  In Part Four, I proffer some possible remedies that could help re-launch the country on the path to educational excellence.  In closing, I offer “A Word for JABU: Challenge of Being Part of the Solution” and a “Last Word”.



The word “evidence” is used here not in the legal sense but in the ordinary dictionary meaning such as what is provided in The New Oxford Dictionary of English: “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid”

Since I returned to the country about eight years ago, I have read reports in the country’s newspapers that constitute strong evidence of a crisis in the education sector at all levels: from primary education through secondary to tertiary education. From time to time, politicians, academics and opinion leaders either called for the declaration of a “state of emergency” in the education sector or lamented what they consider as decline and decay in the education sector: while some affirm that 70 per cent of university graduates are unemployable because of their poor quality, others focus on the country’s slow progress towards meeting the MDG goal on completion of primary education by all school-age children (female and male) by 2015. It is sad to note that a national dialogue on “Nigeria and Education: the challenges ahead” held almost two decades ago concluded that “The nation must now consider seriously the desirability of declaring a five-year emergency… for the rescue of our educational system” (Akinkugbe, 1994, p. 329).

At the personal level, I was reminded of the lost era of educational excellence when in late 2000s, a taxi driver, who drove me in Lagos and who only completed Modern School education in the “old” Western Nigeria, was more articulate in spoken English than some current first degree holders!

I summarise below selected “facts” and “information” on the decline and decay in the country’s education sector.

A.        Basic education: Low enrolment and low quality teachers

  • 10.5 million Nigerian children of school-going age are not attending school – highest in the world.  Source: Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2012. (Introduction of EFA goal of one-year Early Childhood Care and Education – three years in Sweden – is unlikely to happen soon).
  • According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report Index, 2011-2012, Nigeria was ranked 140th out of 144 countries in primary education enrolment.
  • “National Planning Minister, Shamsuden Usman, said two years ago… that Northern Nigeria harboured the highest number of school-age children in the world that were out of school”.  Source: Punch, October 16, 2012
  • Enrolment of children into schools is as low as 12.0% in some states. Source: Leadership (Abuja), 11/09/2012
  • 6 million of 36 million girls out of school world-wide are Nigerians.
  • Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world that has had to launch a boy-child education campaign – launched by the Federal government in the South-east in June 2012
  • In 2008, Kwara State tested 19,125 teachers in Primary Four Mathematics… Only seven teachers attained the minimum benchmark for the test in Mathematics.  Only one of 2,628 teachers with degree passed the test; 10 graduates scored zero. The literacy assessment recorded only 1.2 per cent pass. Source: The Nation, August 30th 2012

B.         Secondary education: students’ poor performance records

  • The following are the percentages of students who obtained five credits, including English and Mathematics in the May/June WAEC over the last five years: 23% (2008), 26% (2009), 24% (2010), 31% in 2011 and 39% in 2012.
  • Regarding NECO, failure rate was 98% in 2008, 88% in 2009, 89% in 2010, 92% in 2011, and 68% in 2012.
  • Percentage of students who scored 200 and above (out of 400 total) in JAMB in the last four years ranged between 36% (2010) and 46% (2009) – overall average of 42%. In 2012, only 3 of 1,503,93 candidates scored above 300 and only 5% scored 250 and above
  • “The single biggest problem [in Nigerian universities] is the abysmal quality of the intake; the vast majority of my students barely know their grammar, never mind the poor quality of their knowledge”.  Source: Mohammed Haruna, in reference to his part-time teaching experience in a first-generation university (teaching Journalism), The Nation, November 28th 2012
  • According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report Index, 2011-2012, Nigeria was ranked 120th out of 144 in secondary education enrolment.

C.        Universities: some specifics on decline

  • ·         “The most ridiculous indication of the rot in our universities was the recent reported dismissal of three graduates of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology from the National Youth Service Corps scheme for falling below the standard expected of graduates.”  (The university is reported to have declared “an academic emergency”

Source: Punch, Editorial, December 14th 2012

  • “…Nigeria’s university system is in crisis of manpower (italics and bold added). Instead of having no less than 80% of the academics with PhDs, only 43% are PhD holders while the remaining 57% are not.  And instead of 75% of the academics to be between Senior Lecturers and Professors, only about 44% are within the bracket while the remaining 56% are not.  The staff mix in some universities is alarming…Kano State University, Wudil [established in 2001] has only one professor and 25 PhDs”. Source: Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities. Main Report (2012)
  • Almost all the universities are over-staffed with non-teaching staff: in many universities, the number of non-teaching staff doubles, triples or quadruples that of teaching staff; and in some, the number of senior administrative staff alone is more than the total number of teaching staff. Source: ibid.
  • “There is an average of 4 abandoned projects per university in Nigeria” – with negative consequences for classrooms, laboratories, students’ hostels, and staff accommodation. Poor infrastructure adversely affects teaching, research, learning and students’ health and safety.  Source: ibid.
  • Minister decries lack of Nigerian academic journals [that are cited] abroad. Source: The Nation, September 6th 2012
  • There are 75,000 Nigerian students in Ghana who pay not less than N160 billion as tuition alone annually, compared with the annual budget of N121 billion for the entire federal universities in Nigeria. Source: The Sun, September 20th, 2012.
  • In 2010, Nigerian students spend about N246 billion in tertiary institutions in UK, more than 60% of education sector budget in 2012. Source, Vanguard, June 7th 2012
  • Universities do not have adequate supply of PhDs but PhD holders seek graduate-level positions and some compete to be truck drivers.

In addition to the above sector-specific illustrations, broad-gauged evidence of huge decline in   all aspects of quality education measurement on an African comparative basis is provided in Table 1 below.  It is based on the 2012 Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Index, Education Sub-Category of the Human Development Category. (The three other Categories of the Index are: Safety and Rule of Law; Participation and Human Rights; and Sustainable Economic Opportunity). The six indicators used to calculate the scores recorded in the Table are: education provision and quality, ratio of pupils to teachers in primary school, primary school completion, progression from primary to secondary education, tertiary education, and literacy. According to the evidence, education performance in Nigeria declined significantly between 2006 and 2011: score declined from 51% to 47.6% in and Nigeria’s rank declined from 21st to 30th.  It is striking that there was improvement across the continent: from an average of 49.4% score in 2006 to 53.8% in 2011, an increase of 4.4% contrasted with Nigeria’s decrease of 3.4%.
































Change 2006 – 2011


+ 4.4



Nigeria’s poor performance in the Education sector is typical of the country’s performance in respect of all four Categories of the Mo Ibrahim Index in 2012: Nigeria dropped into the bottom 10 countries in the overall rankings for the first time: 14th out of the 16 countries in West Africa and 43rd out of the 52 countries in the Report – Nigeria was 41st in 2011 and 37th in 2006.


Three major causes of the crisis in the education sector are examined in this Lecture: (i) over-centralisation; (ii) implementation failure; and (iii) de-emphasis on the value of education and decline of the teaching profession. Some other causes of the crisis are linked in varying degrees to one or the other among the three main causes highlighted and they will also be mentioned, as appropriate.  The problem of corruption deserves special mention.  Although it is not highlighted as a major cause of the crisis, it will feature prominently as it is uniquely linked, in varying degrees, to both over-centralisation and implementation failure.

(i).        Over-centralisation                                                                         

Over-centralisation is, without question, a major cause of the crisis in the education sector and its origin is unarguably the intervention of the military in the governance of the country.  The fact that military rule lasted for almost three decades (one of the longest in Sub-Saharan Africa) and was extended by a former military ruler and strong believer in centralisation who served as the first civilian president from 1999 to 2007, has resulted in the entrenchment of over-centralisation in a constitutional federal system.  The following are five key misbegotten legacies of military-imposed centralisation in the education sector:

(a)  At the primary education level, former president Obasanjo, the civilianised military who served between 1999 and 2007, invented a role for the federal government in primary education that was different from what the 1999 Constitution prescribes: Universal Basic Education (UBE) was designed as a federal government policy and programme in defiance of the provision in the 1999 Constitution that assigns responsibility for primary education to state and local governments.  The role of the federal government in primary education is limited to prescribing minimum standards as provided in the Constitution’s Second Schedule, Exclusive Legislative List, 60 (e).   Sadly, two civilian presidents have maintained this usurpation.  Former president Yar’Adua committed to abandoning this bad practice but he died within a year that he turned his attention to the subject.  (“I have also directed that all laws be examined that go against the federal system so that they will be amended to be in conformity with the federal system of government” (interview with London’s Financial Times reported in various national newspapers, May 20/08).  President Jonathan appears to be agnostic on the subject. In this area, it would be correct to assert that there has been leadership failure.

(b)  The military established unitary secondary schools, again contrary to the assignment of this function to sub-national level governments in the 1963 Constitution it suspended: only higher education was on the Concurrent Legislative List.  Now, Federal government involvement in post-primary education is currently provided for in the 1999 Constitution: “the National Assembly to establish institutions for post-primary education” (Second Schedule, Part II, Concurrent Legislative List, (28).  But federal role in running secondary schools would qualify as a Nigerian military invention – more on this later.

(c)  At the tertiary education level, military over-centralisation was extended to the regulatory agency for the universities, the National Universities Commission (NUC).  From its initial role as a buffer between the universities and governments, the NUC under military rule was transformed into an over-powerful and control-oriented government parastatal with very extensive powers that were more consistent with the centralism and uniformity of military culture than with the autonomous mind-set of academic culture.

(d)  The operation of centralised labour unions for teachers at all levels that made sense under centralised unitary military rule has been maintained under civilian rule when the hierarchical federal-state relationship no longer exists, at least, according to the 1999 Constitution.  Thus, both the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) negotiate salaries and other conditions of service at the federal level and the agreements become binding on state governments that did not participate in the negotiations.  Persistent strikes that are linked to the challenge of implementing the agreements reached at such negotiations continue to undermine teaching and learning in educational institutions, especially the universities.

(e)  Perhaps the most extensively debated issue in military-inherited over-centralisation is the over-sized share of the federal government in the federation account, to the disadvantage of the sub-national governments.  This affects all sectors but it is particularly pertinent in the education sector because the hi-jacked primary education function (UBE) highlighted above was used as the rationalization for the maintenance of the federal government’s lion’s share of the Federation account under president Obasanjo.  Notwithstanding President Jonathan’s experience in sub-national governance, he appears to have adjusted nicely to the prevailing skewed revenue sharing arrangement.  Well, he is the top dog now. Thus, he has ignored the persistent sensible call of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum for the modification of the existing unbalanced revenue allocation formula (52.68 to federal government, 26.72 to state governments, and 20.6 to local governments).  And he is strangely comfortable with the failure of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the National Assembly to act on the subject.

(ii)        Implementation Failure

Implementation failure can be due to either weak capacity to implement or the lack of political will to drive implementation. As pointed out in Part One, the UPE in Western Nigeria was successfully implemented because of the combination of a political leadership team with the will to drive its implementation and a competent civil service (also reputed as incorruptible) to execute the policy and deliver results on the ground in respect of both UPE and other aspects of educational development.

In contrast to the Western Nigerian experience, the UPE introduced at the national level in 1976 failed because there was no sustained political will to drive it.  Throughout the civilian interregnum of 1979-1983 and the return of the military for extended rule, the policy was abandoned. As already pointed out, the successor UBE that was launched in 2004 has achieved rather limited results. Muddled political responsibility for UBE has been a major constraint and centralised implementation (for example, contracts for purchase of textbooks for students in all 36 states are awarded in Abuja) has hindered federal-state collaboration that is essential for effective implementation.  And there have been reports of corrupt practices associated with some UBE contracts.    Although there has been an emphasis on enhancing the professionalism of primary and secondary education teachers and improving their conditions of service to promote improved implementation capability, the political muddle combined with the inherent weakness of centralised implementation appear to have doomed a federal-driven UBE to failure.

A telling commentary on the weakness of the National Assembly (NASS), the apex watchdog institution charged with assuring effective implementation of government policies and programmes, is the poor education of its members: “Some National Assembly members can barely write their names – Ekweremadu” (Punch, October 16th 2012).  (Ekweremadu is the Deputy President of the Senate). To date, all the oversight missions of the National Assembly in respect of the different sectors, including education, are tales of corrupt practices without a single MDA being made to account for implementation failure: teams of senators and representatives strut the land and return to Abuja with additional millions to their obscene self-allocated salaries.  For example, NASS committees would rather descend on educational institutions for the usual extra earnings than organise a public hearing on how best to fix the 6-3-3-4 education system that is widely acknowledged as not being properly implemented.

(iii).      De-emphasis on the value of education and decline of the teaching profession

It is incontrovertible that Nigerians across all the three/four regions valued education highly up to the emergence of military politicians whose culture and actions progressively resulted in a de-emphasis on the value of education.  It would not be unfair to assert that the politicians in khaki had limited understanding of educational excellence, notwithstanding the fact that a few of them decided to obtain university degrees, most often after retirement from service.  Because the military remained in power for so long (close to three decades), their anti-education orientation (or anti-intellectualism) had replaced the pre-military high value of education across the country.  Today, restoring high value for education in the Nigerian society has become a tough challenge.

My father travelled to Lagos during the First World War and encountered western education.  He returned to his community in Iju, Akure North to become a propagandist for education. Due to his example and inspiration, Iju had one of the highest concentrations of educated people (in proportion to total population) in the country at his death.  I am sure that similar stories abound of propagandists for education of my father’s generation in communities across the country.  It was on this fertile soil that Awolowo’s UPE seed was sown; and it flourished as already highlighted above.

Unfortunately, worship of money that accompanied the military’s anti-intellectualism appears to have replaced love for education.  Paradoxically, a former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, whose tenure was characterised by notable anti-intellectual measures, recently summed up the prevailing value (less) order as follows: “Knowledge has no value while money and power has (sic) more value” (The Nation, November 25th 2012).  Even those who commit resources to education today appear to be spurred on by love of money, that is, the ever-increasing number of for-profit educational institutions from kindergarten, through primary to secondary and tertiary education.  The lack of distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit educational institutions in the country is almost certainly linked to the fact that office holders who ought to have championed making the distinction (including imposition of tax on the for-profit institutions) are guilty of benefitting from this cheating, another form of corruption.  It needs to be corrected without further delay.

It is important to stress the linkage of the de-emphasis on the value of education to the decline of the teaching profession.  In the 1950s and 1960s teachers at all levels were highly valued in the Nigerian society.  Primary and secondary school teachers were respected and trusted in communities across the country and teachers in tertiary institutions were acknowledged as a distinguished elite group.  That was also the era of educational excellence. Then, in 1973/74, military politicians and higher civil servants combined to rubbish the elite status of university teachers through the brash “quit notice” from campus accommodation and the imposition of relative disadvantage in the context of a so-called post-Udoji re-alignment of salaries and wages in the public sector (Adamolekun and Gboyega, 1979).  Although ASUU has, through prolonged struggles, succeeded in achieving decent improvements in salary levels for universities, the rubbished elite status has persisted, sustained, in part, by the numerous strikes that have accompanied the Association’s struggles, and in part, by the dominance of money culture within the society.

The decline in public respect for, and trust in, primary and secondary education-level teachers started at about the same time as was the case for university teachers.  Beginning from the early 1980s, the decline was accentuated partly by wrong-headed policies that made teaching at these levels unattractive (mission and elite schools were taken over by governments and all were progressively reduced to mediocrity) and partly by neglect (low salaries, poor working environment and lack of incentives). The result was poor performing teachers and decline in standards.  Efforts aimed at restoring teacher professionalism that could, in turn, raise standards and enable teachers to regain public respect and trust have so far recorded limited success.  In some instances, the teachers and their Union are resisting reform, thereby perpetuating the prevailing decline.


 In all, I propose five (5) possible remedies: (i) devolve educational development, (ii) increase funding for education, (iii) ensure reliability of education statistics, (iv) leapfrog use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education; and (v) enhance university autonomy.

1.         Devolve educational development

According to the Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education Act, 2004, “the Federal government’s intervention under this Act shall only be an assistance to the States and Local Governments in Nigeria for the purpose of uniform and qualitative basic education throughout Nigeria”.  After eight years of implementation, enrolment in primary education falls far below MDG target and the “assistance” of the federal government to Junior Secondary Schools that caused management nightmares for states has resulted in “unified”, 6-year secondary schools in many states.  In these circumstances, I would recommend that the UBE Act should be repealed and the share of national revenues hi-jacked for the purpose by the Federal government should be shared among the states and local governments.

Full responsibility for achieving quality basic education (interpreted as 9 or 12 years, preferably the latter) belongs to these sub-national governments.  And it is only at these two levels that communities can be successfully mobilized for ownership of, and participation in, primary and secondary education – as was the case in the “old” Western Nigeria.  Predictably, some states will perform better than others, reflecting differences in quality of leadership, political party orientation (there could be significant differences within the same party in different states), and level of administrative competence.  However, the resulting diversity would contribute more to reducing the number of school age children out of school than the poor performance recorded during the period of centralism and uniformity.

Furthermore, in the absence of empirical evidence to support the facile assertion regarding the usefulness of the so-called unity secondary schools (102+) for promoting national integration, the federal government should choose one of the following two options: either transfer the schools to state governments together with the annual budgetary allocation (pending the adoption of a new revenue allocation formula) or embrace the public private partnership for running the schools that was adopted during president Obasanjo’s final year but abruptly abandoned under president Yar’Adua.  It is worth adding that according to the Report of the Presidential Task Force on Education, the unity schools “do not appear to be sources of excellence in secondary education and cannot be model for the States and other School Proprietors – one of the reasons for establishing them in the first instance.”

2.         Increase funding for education

Perhaps the first point to make is that Nigeria has sufficient financial resources for ensuring adequate financing of education at all levels.  According to newspaper reports in August 2012, the World Bank had estimated that about $400 billion oil money was stolen or mismanaged in the country between 1960 and mid-2012 of which over $250 billion between 1999 and mid-2012. According to another report, between 2006 and 2009, Federal government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (including law-enforcement units) failed to remit about N4 trillion to the Federation account. That translates to NI trillion per annum or 25% of the annual budget for those years. Furthermore, according to a Sunday Punch investigation (published on November 25th 2012), “Over 5 trillion naira (about ($31billion) funds have been stolen through fraud, embezzlement and theft since President Jonathan assumed office in 2010”.




2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

(10.6%)N271.2bn – (6.4%)N306.3bn – (6.2%)N400.2bn (8.4%)N426.5bn (8.7%)

In these circumstances, federal government’s education expenditure (actual for 2009-2011 and budgeted for 2012 and 2013) is grossly inadequate.    This low level of funding needs to be significantly increased, beginning with the 2014 budget: a modest target would be 16 per cent, that is, double the average for 2009-2013, but still far below the desirable UNESCO’s recommended 26 per cent.  According to the Report of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities (2012), state governments also underfund education.  The situation in one state university was so pathetic that the Committee recommended “Declaration of state of emergency in the university”.

Against this backdrop, it is important to mention the additional funds mobilised for the education sector through education taxes (introduced in 1993) and collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). (Total amount collected between 2008 and 2011 was about N400 billion).  Until 2011, all levels of education benefited from the fund, called Education Trust Fund.  By the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) Act 2011, proceeds of education taxes were to benefit only tertiary education institutions: universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.  Furthermore, NUC recently introduced the High Impact Intervention Fund for selected universities in geopolitical zones but its disbursement lacks predictability.

Notwithstanding these additional sources of funding, the financing gap in public universities remains huge. Today, there is strong support in the public universities for the introduction of fees.  This viewpoint has merit, taking into account developments in the university sector world-wide.  However, policy reform in this direction would need to be accompanied with an appropriate mix of scholarships, bursaries  and loans that would ensure that no Nigerian who is qualified for university education in a public institution is denied the opportunity because of his/her inability to pay prescribed fees.  An essential prior action to the introduction of tuition fees in public universities would be for the Federal Government to provide substantial capital fund for the take-off and effective functioning of the Nigerian Education Bank (EDUBANK Nigeria), established by law in 1994 as successor to the Students Loans Board that was repealed by the same law.

3.         Ensure availability of reliable education statistics

An important dimension to the crisis in the education sector is the weakness of the statistical underpinnings of the national education system:  “That data (both hard figures and soft explanations) are virtually non-existent and un-useable in the education system is an undisputed truism” (Report of the Presidential Task Team on Education, p. 17). Again, it is through a devolved approach that reliable education statistics can be produced and made available for the use of relevant stakeholders.  State governments need to provide appropriate incentives (a mix of sanctions and rewards) to local governments to ensure that they keep comprehensive data on childhood and primary education.  And state governments need to acknowledge and accept that they cannot achieve quality education without robust education statistics.  At the federal level, collaborative effort between the National Bureau of Statistics and the Federal Ministry of Education would be a sensible strategy for tackling this problem. The objective at both the federal and state levels should be, as recommended in the Report of the Presidential Task Team on Education, the establishment of “functional educational management information systems (EMIS) that would facilitate evidence-based decision making in the sector.

4.         Leapfrog use of ICT in education

Although ICT penetration is still low in the country, due partly to epileptic electricity supply and partly to broadband challenge, its role in helping to enhance teaching and learning has been embraced in several states. For example, a few states have provided laptops for students and teachers in secondary schools.  Ensuring regular electricity supply and scaling up broadband penetration from the current 6 per cent to the 20 per cent promised for 2017 are the conditions that would make leapfrogging use of ICT in education a reality across the country.  In the meantime, public and private secondary schools and universities that are able to successfully tackle both the electricity and broadband challenges can leapfrog to join other countries such as South Korea and USA in improving the quality of education through online/digital teaching and learning (see Box 1.)

 BOX 1:


 1. Around 30% of all college students are learning online – up from less than 10% in 2002.

2. New online Western Governors University [founded in 1997 by 19 Governors]: Tuition costs less than $6,000 a year, compared to $54,000 at Harvard.  Students can study and take their exams when they want, not when the sabbaticals, holidays and scheduling of teaching staff allow. The average time to completion is just two-and-a-half years.

3. Massive open online courses (MOOCS) offer free college-level classes taught by renowned lecturers to all-comers… they are part of a trend towards the unbundling of higher education.

Source: “Higher Education – Not what it used to be” in Economist, December 1st 2012

“Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete”

– Arne Duncan, US Secretary for Education

“One of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea, has set a goal to go fully digital with its textbooks by 2015… Over the last two years, at least 22 states have taken major strides toward digital textbooks… In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills in September aiming to make his state a national leader in electronic college textbooks.

Source: Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), October 2nd 2012

A California law that will become effective in 2013-2014 school year, allows college students to download up to 50 core textbooks for free in the form of e-books. The e-books are for classes at the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges. The state has also established the California Open Education Resources Council for e-books.     Source: Information accessed online on October 3rd 2012

5.         Enhance university autonomy

The final possible remedy that I proffer is sharply focused on universities for two reasons.  First, I have been involved longer in this apex of the education sector than in the two other sub-sectors.  Second, I strongly believe that just as the fish gets rotten from the head, it would be correct to assert that the rot in the Nigerian education sector is most severe at the apex.  As soon as tangible improvements are recorded at that level, they are very likely to cascade down to polytechnics, secondary schools and primary schools.

(a)    There is urgent need for a critical review of the functions of the NUC.  Currently, its functions include setting academic standards, inspecting and monitoring the standards and accrediting the universities. There is strong evidence that it’s centralized, domineering, and unified approach stifles experimentation and initiative at the level of individual universities (public and private). NUC appears unwilling to accept that uniformity and excellence are antithetical. The inability of universities to determine their curricula, subject to oversight through accreditation, derogates from university autonomy.  I would also recommend that NUC’s accreditation function be hived off (together with staff and resources) and assigned to a separate independent statutory body that would not be tied to the apron strings of the Federal Ministry of Education and the Presidency.  This will be more consistent with a university education landscape where private universities constitute 40 per cent of the current 125 total (see Appendix 1). The Accreditation Board/Council will be exclusively concerned with accrediting public and private universities as is the case in Ghana, for example.

(b)   There should be an immediate end to the operational subordination of universities to both the NUC and the Federal Ministry of Education that results in key officers of the institutions spending a significant proportion of time in Abuja instead of working on their campuses. According to Dr. Nasir Fagge, incumbent president of ASUU, “You will find out that circulars are emanating in most cases from the National Universities Commission, interfering in the day-to-day running of the universities” (The Nation, Nov. 30th 2012). This bad practice undermines university autonomy.

(c)    A critical aspect of university autonomy is the right to admit their students.  That right was taken away from Nigerian universities by the military that wrongly decided to centralise admission to all universities through the establishment of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in 1977.  At the time, there were only twelve (12) universities, all owned by the federal government (four of them through what would qualify as forceful take over).  Although there has been more than tenfold increase in the number of universities (see Appendix 1) of which 40 per cent are privately-owned, the wrong-headed and disabling centralised admission policy is still in force.  Centralised admission should come to an end with the 2013/14 admission. This action will help to restore a crucial dimension of autonomy to Nigerian universities, both public and private.  The established basic university admission requirement will be maintained: a minimum of five (5) credits, including English and Mathematics, in WAEC or NECO.


The opening paragraph of the “Brief on JABU” sheds light on the university’s focus on what has become accepted as a possible solution to the production of unemployed/unemployable graduates: “Taking cognizance of the unacceptably high rate of unemployment of university graduates in the country, Joseph Ayo Babalola University intends to give all its graduates the capacity for self-employment, thereby making them self-reliant and self-sustaining, in addition to turning them into an effective army of human capital for the nation and vanguard in the war against societal ills”.  Indeed, JABU prides itself as “The First Entrepreneurial University in Nigeria”.

However, there is a huge obstacle posed by the combination of epileptic electricity, poor transportation (roads and railways) and limited broadband penetration to both entrepreneurship development within the university and opportunities for self-employment after graduation.   (The flight of medium and multinational manufacturing and industrial enterprises – with the exception of oil and gas and telecom – from our shores since the 2000s is testimony to this challenge – only foreign retail shops are flocking into Nigeria).  I expect that JABU, as a private university, is implementing coping mechanisms that would enable it fulfil its promise to students: “No matter your area of study, we take you through entrepreneurial training to make you a potentially self-employed graduate and an employer of labour, without diminishing from the content and quality of your degree and ability to pursue postgraduate studies”.

The second area where JABU can make a difference would be through translating its commitment “to seek and impart knowledge with high ethical standard” (bold added) to mean a campus culture that is underpinned by ethical values such as excellence, integrity, responsibility, and service.  And it is essential that the values are shared by all members of the community, especially the teachers.  Students that graduate with these values are likely to stand out in the society as diligent and incorruptible men and women in their places of work.  For JABU graduates to be recognised nation-wide as incorruptible would be an important contribution to the healing of a debilitating national disease.

Third and finally, for JABU to be in the vanguard of Nigerian universities that would be competitive both at the African and international levels, its leaders would need to seek to meet most of the following criteria that are used in recognising “elite” universities world-wide within the shortest time possible.

  • Favourable governance features that encourage strategic vision, innovation and flexibility to make decisions and manage resources without being encumbered by bureaucracy.
  • A high concentration of talents – Faculty (staff) and students
  • Abundant resources to offer a rich learning environment and to conduct advance research
  • Good liberal Arts education + high dose of Science and Technology
  • Exposure to ICT
  • Production of graduates who are in high demand
  • Linkages with industry and investors

Source: Adegoke (2012).  Adegoke adds that “funding is key to development of world class status” and stresses the critical role of various types of endowments.


My last word is the following: get education right, and you are on the path to prosperity and peace; get it wrong, and poverty and insecurity will deepen and persist.  For Nigeria to graduate from the miserable league of Middle-Income, Failed or Fragile States (MIFFS), (alias, “poor little richer kids” – Economist, July 23rd 2011), getting education right is the pre-eminent condition. I fully share the viewpoint of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding leader, that “Trained talent is the yeast that transforms a society and makes it rise.”  It is only through quality education that Nigeria can become a strong emerging economy within a decade or two: it holds the key to unlock progress in all spheres of development – social, political, economic, and technological.

I thank you all for your attention


Adamolekun, L. 2007. Challenges of university governance in Nigeria: reflections of an old fogey.  Convocation Lecture delivered at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Ondo State.

Adamolekun, L. and A. Gboyega. 1979. (eds). Leading Issues in Nigerian Public Service, Ile-Ife, University of Ife Press.

Adegoke, O. 2012. “What it takes to develop world class universities”, paper presented at 5th Forum of Laureates of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), Abuja, December 4th 2012.

Akinkugbe, O.1994. Nigeria and education. The challenges ahead.  Proceedings and policy recommendations of the 2nd Obafemi Awolowo Foundation Dialogue. Ibadan: Spectrum Books

Brown, G. “Education for all.  For disenchanted youth, salvation may lie in school”, The Washington Post, September 30th 2012

Effah, P. and A. Hofman (eds.). 2010. Regulating tertiary education. Ghanaian and international perspectives.  Accra: Ghana Universities Press.

Federal Republic of Nigeria. 2011. Report of the Presidential Task Team on Education. Main Report (Volume I)

__________. 2012. Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities. Main Report.

Gbadegesin, S.  and R. Sekoni (eds.).  2010. Legacy of Educational Excellence. Essays Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Universal Free Primary Education in Western Nigeria, 1955-2000. Mitcheville, MD, USA: Pinnacle Publications

Universal Basic Education Commission. 2005. The Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education Act, 2004 and Other Related Matters.




1948 -1969


1970 -1979



Only 12 federal universities had been established by 1977.
1980 -1989



1990 – 1999




All 3 private universities were established in 1999
2000 – 2009




Decade of huge expansion: 60 new universities
2010 – 2012




50 private universities were established within 13 years, 1999-2012.




Private universities constitute 40% of Total.

Source: National Universities Commission Website – accessed on December 17th 2012.

Note: 53 “Illegal Degree Awarding Institutions (Degree Mills)” were also listed on the website with the following comment: “This list of illegal institutions is not exhaustive”.

[Ladipo Adamolekun, an Oxford University D. Phil., is  one of Ondo State’s Nine (9) of Nigeria’s Sixty-Seven (67)  National Merit Awardees.  A former Dean of the Faculty of Administration at Ife and a former Lead Public Sector Management Specialist at The World Bank, Adamolekun is now an Independent Scholar.]

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