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Education in Nigeria: The Impact of Bad Politics and a Blueprint for Progress

The challenges facing education in Nigeria, their underlying links with politics and possible ways to address them were discussed by education experts at a popular lecture. Emeritus Professor Pai ObanyaUniversity of Ibadan, Nigeria, spoke about his country’s potential and suggested political solutions, including electoral reforms and the end of overcentralisation. His presentation at the event at LIDC on 27 January was the third annual lecture organised by the Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE).
 
Difficulties and background
Obanya highlighted how politics and education policy influence each other through a continuous process which has failed the education sector, particularly in the last decade. He listed the country’s current problems including its low standing in the Corruption Perception Index, adult illiteracy of 28 per cent, and the lack of university places – only one-fifth of applicants receive a place. Obanya described how recent political instability has led to inconsistent policies due to a rapid turnover of education ministers with different interests, from supporting Universal Basic Education (UBE) to developing the National Open University. The proliferation of private universities, making up 30 per cent of the total, was also mentioned as this does not broaden access to education for the poorest. The lecture also provided an historical dimension to his analysis, showing how regions' British colonial policies favoured indirect rule and capitalised on existing social structures, and how regions and their schooling developed differently (Christian communities in the South and Islamic communities in the North). Nigeria celebrates its fiftieth anniversary of independence this year.

Recommendations
Obanya suggested a list of general and specific reforms, all deemed to support the education sector. He called for:
• Electoral reform to reduce the incidence of flawed elections and encourage the emergence of governments that would reflect the people’s will
• Good and accountable governance
• A return to ‘true federalism’
• Drastically reducing wastage and corruption in the entire system
Regarding universities, he called for the strengthening of existing institutions rather than the creation of new places. He said: “Nigeria’s wealth is in its people. We need to empower people through unfettered access to education, and need to transfer people from being a mere crowd to a resource.”
 

Mixed assessment
Emeritus Professor Lalage BownUniversity of Glasgow, echoed many of Obanya’s suggestions when she commented on his presentation, drawing on her 16 years of working in Nigerian universities. She said freeing universities from federal control was the “greatest mistake”, and warned of a widening mismatch between education provision and employment expectations. The reality of Nigeria’s oil wealth not finding its way to domestic consumers was also mentioned. Bown did suggest Obanya was too critical of the Nigerian government in other respects. She praised the government for devoting 28 per cent of the federal budget for 2010 to education, and said civil society was getting much stronger in the country. 
Reflecting on the presentations, Professor Keith Lewin, Director of CREATE, said they revealed a “kaleidoscope of contradictions” and tension within the education sector between failing structures and limited personal agency, particularly for ministers in post for only months at a time.
 
The CREATE annual lecture was organised and chaired by Professor  Angela Little, of the Institute of Education. CREATE is a five-year programme of research, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), with partner institutions in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, South Africa and the UK. CREATE is co-ordinated from the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex, UK
By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC