Revamping and modernizing Nigerian education is an essential companion to industrialization. It is a project that touches every aspect of the nation’s existence. It demands a triple alliance and collaboration by the public sector (government), the private sector (commerce and industry), and the people (the citizenry).
This collaborative principle was enunciated at the 20th (Educational) Summit of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) in March 2014. By now the Presidency should have received the Summit Report and should be working out the guidelines for that collaboration.
Financial contributions by the three “allies” should come in the form of: (a) government budgetary allocations to education (not in billions but in trillions of naira), plus education loans (internal and external); (b) a yearly education levy (separate from normal taxes) paid by every private sector organization (according to their size and financial capacity), plus voluntary donations in cash and kind (which may be compensated with reduction in taxes); (c) income tax paid by every citizen, plus voluntary donations in cash and kind by individual philanthropists (which may be compensated with reduction in taxes).
Let’s take a closer look at each of these “allies.”
As with other aspects of our development, the central responsibility for education lies with government. Government has unlimited access to experts, domestic and foreign (including, within the system, the “lowly” teachers, under-rated and under- paid), who can draw up a comprehensive and detailed roadmap for revamping and modernizing our educational system at all levels.
Government also has the funds. The federal Budget habit in recent years has been to allocate approximately N600 billion every year to education. This is a joke. Why? Because (a) education needs a great deal more than that (b) the Budget itself is invariably a deficit budget with a huge loan (public debt) of over N1 trillion embedded in it (a fresh loan of same size is added every year). This loan is not put to any productive use but is wasted in extravagant allowances and prodigal consumption by the tiny upper echelon of government functionaries. The annual interest on the loan is even larger than the allocation for education! But in fact it is education that needs the trillions!!
If the Nigerian government is serious about revamping and modernizing our educational system and raising it to global standards, it must accept and actually practice the principle that only education, health, water and sewage, public transport and other such critical infrastructure can justify putting Nigeria into debt. This means that the Budget must be turned on its head, so that 70% goes to development projects and only 30% goes to consumption (salaries, allowances, foreign junkets, entertainment, etc.) for members of the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and the entire federal and state civil service and public service throughout the country.
COMMERCE & INDUSTRY:
Such a dramatic change-over in government expenditure will constitute an unprecedented and powerful signal of commitment to building a new Nigeria. Without it, the private sector (commerce & industry) can be expected to continue to be lukewarm and reluctant to meet their responsibilities to Nigeria’s educational and industrial development. Leaders (government) must lead by example in frugality and fiscal responsibility—certainly not in extravagance and wasteful consumption. Only then can they lay down the law and enforce it. And “the law” in this instance is to tell the private sector what contributions they must make toward our development. This is what all successful governments do.
In particular, those governments which led their countries to achieve rapid industrialization within two or three decades in the late 20th century required their banks to lend to entrepreneurs (small, medium and large industries) at 0% to 5% interest. In contrast, Nigerian banks continue to lend at 25% to 33%. Speak to any entrepreneur today and they will tell you their biggest roadblock is the high cost of finance—plus the high cost of generating their own electric power. Nigerian banks are notoriously unpatriotic—but then, what shining examples of patriotism have they had in the successive Nigerian governments ?
Government must develop a system for discovering and corralling in every income-taxable business and individual citizen, and levying equitable taxes justified by size of income. Salaried workers have no place to hide: their income is taxed at source. But self-employed workers (traders, mechanics, artisans, farmers, market women, etc.) are mostly invisible. The Big Boys (merchants, industrialists, “businessmen”) successfully hide their wealth and pay little or no taxes only because government has so far been weak-spined, un-serious and inefficient in tax collection.
Equitable and efficient tax collection, and thrift in the management of a nation’s resources, must go hand in hand. Each reinforces the other, and together they guarantee that a nation with will put its own resources to optimal use before resorting to borrowing. Only when it has done so can a public debt be a justifiable or “good debt.”