Mrs. Arete Affiong Amana, an educationist and also the Managing Director of Cognitus Consulting, believes that the Federal Government cannot adequately provide funds that can take the nation’s education sector to the desired competitive level. However, in this interview with The Post’s Chris Steven, she says the time has come for government to embrace innovative approach to generate funds for the sector.
What do you think is the main issue with the Nigerian education sector?
Well, thank you for this question. You know we have always heard about the 26 percent budgetary benchmark for education purportedly advocated by the
United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Though, a former Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC) Professor Peter Okebukola has also reportedly said that the much touted benchmark of 26 percent of every nation’s annual budget for education is mythical.
Despite this, the benchmark, you know, has been accepted by stakeholders in the Nigerian education sector as a right prescription for funding the sector given its critical role in national development. But the truth is there’s never been a time that the 26 percent has been met .
For instance, if you look back at our past budgets from 2011 to the current budget , you would see that education has not received what could be described as adequate allocation.
From records available, in 2011, N306.3billion was allocated to education, N400.15billion in 2012 and N426.53billion in 2013 while it was N493 billion in 2014 which is 10.7 percent of the total budget of N4.6trillion and N492billion in 2015.
The Federal Government in the 2016 budget gave education the second highest allocation, yet it fell short of the UNESCO recommended allocation.
So, is this a normal situation?
My dear, you and I know that a nation is as good as the quality of its education sector. This is obviously an abnormal situation. We can’t get anywhere in the education sector and by extension in developmental strides without adequate funding of the sector. And unfortunately, we are still doing things the old way in this country.
Any way out of this situation?
While educationists like Professor Okebukola believe that Nigeria should strive for a minimum of 30 per cent benchmark for the next 20 years to clear the mess in the sector, I strongly believe that the country needs to unleash the creative energies and talents of Nigerians, breakdown institutional barriers and collaborate for change to be able to harness huge funds for the sector outside the government’s allocations.
As it stands now, the Federal Government must begin to find means to fund the critical needs of the education sector at all levels in a recessionary economic environment with dwindling oil revenue and depleting foreign reserves.
We must go from the traditional dirges about state of the education sector, public advocacy on more funding and break through the funding barriers recognising that government alone cannot fund educational development.
Education is regarded as infrastructure of infrastructures which is critical to Nigeria’s economic renaissance efforts and its competiveness in the global economy. It is therefore a matter of national interest, public institutional interest, organised private sector interest and our collective and individual interest to seek new ways out of the Nigerian education sector conundrum.
But the Minister of Education recently unveiled a strategic plan to reposition the sector, don’t you think that will change the fortune of the education in the country?
Yes, that was a laudable move by the Minister. It is actually the right step in the right direction. The Education road map presented to stakeholders by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu tagged ” Education for Change” in which all the challenges confronting the sector were highlighted with solutions proffered if religiously implemented would answer all the questions in the sector .
However, the plan is not hinged on any budget or means of funding it to achieve the identified solutions. You would also agree with me that road maps and strategic plans on any development agenda inevitably become pipe dreams without counting the cost and seeking creative approaches to financing desired reforms.
I can tell you that development plan is achievable when there’s a budgetary figure. The Ministerial plan is laudable and we are not trying to shoot it down but it must have fixed budget. But how do you execute the plan without funding?
Our foreign reserves are dwindling. It is time to adopt an innovative approach to finance education. It is time to begin to think outside the box and embrace innovative approach. Government must count, what is the cost of implementing the strategic plan.
You emphasize innovative approach and thinking outside the box to get funding for the sector, can you dwell more on this ?
I’m a Nigerian and equally a stakeholder in the Nigerian project, who believes we can do it . There is a vista of hope to sourcing for alternative funding for Nigerian education sector without having to rely on budgetary allocations from government.
I’m glad to inform you that the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission ( NIPC) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Education and Cognitus Consulting are at the verge of staging the nation’s first Education Sector Investment Promotion Initiatives tagged EduInvest Nigeria 2016.
EduInvest Nigeria 2016 is the domestic platform for the convergence of stakeholders in the education and knowledge industry to discuss investments and innovative financing strategies as well as launch of specific Initiatives for educational development.
Prior to this arrangement, education has not been an NIPC designated priority sector for investments, but the forthcoming event slated to hold in Calabar, Cross River State would enable an investment driven and innovative paradigm shift for the Federal and State Ministries of Education that have evidently run a deficit funding approach to funding educational development in the country.
Let m stress that the recessionary economic environment and the effect on the Federal and State revenue levels as well as critical sector specific expenditure on education and social services make education sector promotion imperative.
The platform would also not only enable internal NIPC focus on the sector in terms of creating a desk in the Investment Promotion Department but also the enunciation of sector specific incentives, policy mechanism in addition to reflecting it in the communications management for the organisation.
What are the opportunities there for the country?
It is a platform for multi stakeholder engagement which will lead to the emergence of a new framework for investments and financing education in Nigeria. These Initiatives are designed to address and arrest the core critical issues of accessibility, affordability, availability of qualitative educational services at all levels as well as support efforts at transforming the education sector.
It underscores the pivotal importance of the education portfolio as the lynch pin for the actualisation of the well inspired development agenda of the current civilian administration.
We believe that since education development is a critical objective of President Muhammadu Buhari led administration, education system needs to be revamped to create the pipelines of trained manpower required for all the sectors.
So, this is a designated moment in time for both the Federal Ministry of Education and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission to exemplify the ideals of inter-ministerial, inter-governmental and inter-sectoral collaboration through the review and implementation of the proposed Initiatives.
But I must also reiterate that NPC’s role remains that of initiating, facilitating domestic and foreign direct investments across the sectors for national economic development