President Buhari ‘failed to deliver’ on promise about budget

Despite the never-ending clamour for increased budgetary allocations to higher education in Nigeria, the government has continued to turn a deaf ear.

Educationists expressed their ire after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the country’s 2022 budget on 31 December 2021. Buhari also signed the accompanying Finance Bill 2021 to enable the implementation of the budget starting from 1 January 2022.

The entire Nigerian national budget is NGN17.1 trillion (US$41.5 billion), which is 25.7% higher than the previous year’s budget of NGN13.6 trillion.

However, the allocation to the higher-education sub-sector – comprising 44 federal universities, 33 federal polytechnics, 27 colleges of education, and their corresponding agencies – has again been considered a drop in the ocean by education analysts.

The whole education sector gets NGN753.14 billion, which is about 4.4% of the entire budget.

Of this figure, higher education gets about NGN545.55 billion, according to a breakdown by BudgIT, a local civic organisation that uses data to hold the government accountable. Thus, higher education will get 3.2% of the whole budget.

“The education sector has been deteriorating over the past 20 years due to inadequate funding. It is essential to state the importance of adequate funding in the education sector,” BudgIT principal lead Gabriel Okeowo said. “With proper funding, teachers’ training, infrastructure in all schools (basic, secondary and tertiary levels), teaching and learning aids can be executed.”

“The education system in Nigeria is not functioning at the optimal level, which is a threat to the country’s future social and economic development. The out-of-school children and half-baked graduates Nigeria produces every quarter transcends into high unemployment rates, which is a ripple effect of the decay in the sector,” Okeowo warned.

Meanwhile, the government has also allocated NGN319 billion to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), a scheme established in 2011 to disburse, manage, and monitor education tax to government-owned tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The fund caters for infrastructure and research projects in tertiary institutions.

TETFUND’s allocation is usually not considered a part of government funding, since it does not appear in the budget and because it is funded through an education tax of 2% on the profit of all registered companies operating in Nigeria.

Broken promise

Educationists’ disappointment with the ‘meagre’ 3.2% of the budget for higher education is not without reason.

At the Global Education Summit in London in 2021, Buhari promised that he would increase the budget for education by 50% between 2022 and 2023. Buhari also said education expenditure would be increased by up to 100% by 2025, and beyond the 20% global benchmark.

In a joint statement with other world leaders at the summit, Buhari recognised the need for significant investments in education.

But, going by the budget for education, and particularly tertiary education, it seems the president has forgotten his promise. For instance, the budget for tertiary education in 2021 was NGN446.38 billion, meaning that a 50% increment in the budget would have been an allocation of NGN669.57 billion for higher education in 2022.

“The president seemed to quickly forget he made a commitment in 2021 to increase education funding by 50% over the next two years, and by 100% over the next five years.

“The figure we have this year doesn’t reflect his promise. It’s a broken promise,” Dr Kunle Adeyemo, a Lagos-based education analyst, told University World News.

A drop in the ocean

For years, education analysts and unions have canvassed for bigger budget allocations to education. Failure by successive governments to heed this call has often led to strikes by higher education bodies, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

“The combined effect of reduced funding of public educational institutions on one hand, and the commercialisation and privatisation of education on the other, has impacted negatively on the conditions of service of all categories of workers in the education sector, especially in private schools and universities, where workers are receiving slave wages,” the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) said at a summit in November 2021.

In February 2020, prior to the passage of the 2021 budget, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, appealed to the legislative arm of government to consider the allocation of 15% of the budget to education in order to take the sector out of the woods.

By appealing for more funding, Adamu and other analysts were following the recommendations of global education policies like the UNESCO Incheon Declaration.

A key recommendation in the Incheon Declaration regards funding for education. The signatories, including Nigeria, were urged to commit 4%-6% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or 15%-20% of their public expenditure to improving the status of education.

In 2021, when Nigeria had a GDP of US$514 billion, it implies that, between US$77.1 billion-US$102.8 billion ought to have been spent on education.

Professor Catherine Ngila of the African Academy of Sciences previously pointed out in a University World News report, that Africa spends about 0.45% of its GDP on research and development, which she described as significantly less than the global average of 1.7% and the AU target of 1%.

Huge consequences

If enough funding is not provided for higher education, Lagos educationist Adeyemo said, the consequences for the country would be huge.

“Think of higher institutions not having enough funding for research; think of producing graduates who aren’t properly equipped for this present age and the future,” he said.

“In fact, the consequences are already evident. In the whole of Nigeria, isn’t it saddening that no scholar or group of scholars has been able to invent a vaccine for COVID-19? Isn’t it embarrassing that we keep depending on foreign countries, which spend huge resources on research, for solutions?”

Some higher-education institutions have resorted to calling on their alumni for financial support.

For instance, in 2020, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, the vice-chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, pleaded to concerned persons to do everything within their power to assist the university in putting into place more infrastructure for learning.

In his comment, ASUU President Professor Emmanuel Osodeke said poor funding of tertiary education and the education sector as a whole had been a major cause of incessant strikes. He added that the union would continue to engage with the government to boost funding.

Jesusegun Alagbe is an online editor and award-winning journalist, writer and researcher.