KEYNOTE SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, A.B MAHMOUD, OON, SAN, FCIArb, AT THE FUND-RAISING DINNER FOR THE DOMINICAN UNIVERSITY, IBADAN
Your Excellences, Your Holiness Your Grace
Distinguished colleagues Ladies and gentlemen
I am extremely honoured to be invited to speak to this very distinguished audience on a matter that is of great national importance. I am not sure that I am really qualified to speak on the topic of education in Nigeria. There are many distinguished Nigerians that are far more eminently qualified. Indeed, there are many in this audience. I am neither an educationist nor an academic. Nevertheless, I am sure I share with many of you here the passion for education and more broadly, for the development of our country. I can also proudly say that many of my close friends are prominent academics. From our younger days, I have had the privilege of sharing in their modest efforts at promoting education in Nigeria. In the early eighties for instance, I along with some my friends such as the late Prof. Abdulraufu Mustapha of the University of Oxford, Prof Attahiru Jega, one time Vice Chancellor of Bayero University Kano, but more famously, the immediate past INEC Chairman, Prof Amina Mama, a renowned feminist and academic scholar and now with University of California, Davis, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist, former head of Centre for Democracy and Development and his wife Dr. Charmaine Pereira, Dr. Yahaya Hashim and his wife Dr. Judith Anne-Walker, came together to found the Centre for Research and Documentation (CRD) in Kano. The conception of that centre was to fill a gap that we had perceived, was created by the decline of our Universities. The CRD for many years actively promoted advance research in the social sciences and development studies and contributed to policy advocacy. It nurtured many young scholars and academics. The impact of CRD up until the late 2000s was very significant. I have also served on the board of Mambayya House, that is the Centre of Democratic Research and Training founded in honour of Mallam Aminu Kano and affiliated to Bayero University Kano. Mambayya House has become a fulcrum of research and dissemination of policy related outcomes. Again in mid-2000, acting jointly with colleagues both in Nigeria and the UK, we came together under the leadership of Prof Tunde Ogowewo to promote what we had hoped will be the first local University that will award degrees in Law of the Kings College London. The objective was to train high quality local lawyers to fill in the gap created by the decline in the quality of legal studies in Nigerian Universities. The initiative had gone far, land secured and even certain regulatory approvals obtained, but ran aground due to funding challenges. For the past five years I have served as Pro-Chancellor of the Kano University of Science and Technology, Wudil. I also currently serve on the Board of Aliko Dangote Foundation. As some of you may be aware, the Aliko Dangote Foundation is promoting the establishment of what we hope would be Africa’s premier Science and Technology University. In 2016, acting jointly with friend late Prof. Abdulraufu Mustapha, we persuaded Alhaji Aliko Dangote to travel to Oxford for an exciting one day engagement in furtherance of an ambitious plan to promote support for African Scholars in Oxford. Africa happens to be the least represented continent amongst the Oxford student population. Only yesterday the team from the University were here in Lagos to continue discussions in furtherance of that mission. I currently chair the Board of Directors of Tristate Cardiovascular Associates, a healthcare provider that specializes in Cardiac Care. This was formed by top Nigerian medical professionals who have trained and practice in the United States. Tristate is partnering with Babcock University to support an ambitious cardiac program in the University and training fellows and other medical students in the University. The centre established jointly by TriState Cardiovascular Associates and Babcock University has recently been categorized as a centre of excellence. The Centre has in the last two or so years carried out more than 200 open-heart surgeries and procedures with more than 96% success rate. I am presently too an member of Advisory Board of African Initiative for Governance (AIG), a private initiative promoted by Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede to support public sector reforms in Nigeria and indeed in Africa. A major component of this is supporting bright and promising young African scholars to pursue courses at Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford. The AIG Advisory Board is chaired by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, former President of Nigeria. So, I think I can claim some reasonable measure of legitimacy to speak in support of promoting educational endeavours such as this one, we are gathered this evening for.
Our passion in education perhaps is born from childhood experience and the extra ordinary privilege we were given to attend some of the best institutions then in the Country. My college days at Federal Government College Sokoto in the early seventies remain some of brightest experiences in my educational career. Sokoto offered us the best experience: excellent facilities, well trained, highly motivated teachers and a diverse student body. All these at state expense. We moved to Universities in the mid-seventies, probably the hay days of Nigeria’s university system. Studying in any top university at the time, like Ahmadu Bello University, where I attended, the University of Lagos where my wife was at, University of Ibadan, University of Ife or University of Nigeria Nsukka, was no different from studying at any of the top universities in Europe or North America. The facilities were excellent. The Libraries were up to date. Hostels were the clean and liveable. In my first year, I shared a spacious room with another student. We were each given clean sheets every week. Each student was entitled to free laundry once every week. We ate three- course meals every day in clean and well-managed cafeterias. Our libraries were well stacked. It was always a joy for me to be at the new-arrivals section of the Kashim Ibrahim Library where you would find the latest publications from around the world. I would spend hours scurrying through various journals and new publications. The University bookshop was well stocked. You could place an order for any title you could not find and within a few days your order will arrive. As a student, I could often afford to buy newspapers and periodicals.
The University experience was dignified and conducive to learning and character formation. Not anymore! Nigerian public universities are now a shadow of what they use to be. The campus experience for most students in brutal and inhumane. Students live in subhuman conditions in most public Universities. When I first assumed duty as Pro-Chancellor at Wudil, I decided to undertake an on the spot assessment of the hostel facilities in the University. I was shocked at I saw! It was the most undignified existence. In a room meant perhaps for 3 persons, there were probably about 12 students in residence, some literally on windowpanes. The sanitary conditions were appalling. The entire corridors were littered with kerosene stoves and used cooking pots for preparing what could hardly pass as decent meals by the students. For most students, life on campus was a dreadful experience and they only try to survive it as they muddle through their studies.
This is beside the declining quality of teaching and the near absence of qualitative research in most universities. Funding has declined in relative terms whilst the country has witnessed rapid increase in numbers of applicants seeking admission. According to the National Universities Commission (NUC) from 2013 to 2017 for instance, a total of 7, 812, 938 applications were received for admission to Nigerian Universities. Of these, only 1,506, 551 were offered admission. This represents only 19.28% of applicants. In other words, 80.72% of all applicants were denied admission. Although we currently have about 160 Universities in the country of which 74 are private Universities, entry to university remains dismal compared to what obtains in other countries. For Nigeria, funding is a major constraint. Our budgetary expenditure on education remains the lowest compared to many countries in Africa. Whilst countries like Ghana, Botswana are spending an average of 8% to 10% of the GDP on education, Nigeria according to available figures hovers around 3% to 4%. Other constraints include inconsistency in educational policies. I understand for instance between 2001 and 2008 there were 7 Ministers of education in the country. Of course every minister comes up with his policy thrust and new initiatives. As the NUC puts it in a recent report, (Blueprint on the Rapid Revitalisation of University Education in Nigeria 2019-2023): “Since each wanted to be remembered for improvement plans literally named after them, the higher education space became littered by a staccato of such plans which were hardly scratched by way of implementation”.
Many analysts and commentators also argue that much of the problem lies in our dysfunctional federal structure. There is a view that our constitutional structure hinders innovation, flexibility both in policy formulation and implementation. It stifles responses to local conditions and challenges. Too much power and resources are concentrated in Federal Hands at the expense of the States and local governments. This according to some analysts is encouraging abuse and corruption. Education, it is argued, should be purely a state and local government affair. Undoubtedly, the Nigerian federal system is convoluted and in need of reform. The system will benefit much from decentralization, which will assist in making public institutions more functional, more responsive and more efficient. Nevertheless, I do not subscribe to the very reductionist view that ‘true federalism’ and restructuring is the magic wand that will address all our development challenges. With great respect, the position is somewhat simplistic and often an excuse for our failure to pay detailed attention to the developmental and governance challenges we face was a country. Building a federation in a diverse country like Nigeria cannot be an easy task. It will require sincere and committed efforts both at intellectual level as well as practical faithful execution of policies on the part of the ruling elite. Every federation is unique and must negotiate its mechanics, power sharing and distribution. We must however not lose sight of our enormous strength in our size and diversity. But that is a discourse for another day.
Let us come back to the topic of today: education! It is now accepted that the provision of educational services is no longer the exclusive preserve or responsibility of governments which no doubt must do so as part of their constitutional obligations to citizens. Private entrepreneurs, charitable organisations or missionaries such as the ‘Order of Preachers in Nigeria’ also known as the ‘Dominican Order’, who are the proprietors of the Dominican University, have their role to play as part of their moral duties to the communities which they serve. The increasing demand for access to tertiary education has now created a gap in the market, which can be filled by entrepreneurs. The private sector and voluntary agency organisations have a unique opportunity to step in and invest in the Nigerian education sector. This is necessary for the country to meet the demand for tertiary education.
The economic and social impact of investment in education is now globally recognised. It is accurately captured by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity also known as ‘The Education Commission’. In its Report titled ‘The Learning Generation- Investing in Education for a Changing World’, it is stated as follows:
‘The case for investing in education is indisputable. Education is a fundamental human right. It is critical for long-term economic growth and essential for the achievement of all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A dollar invested in an additional year of schooling, particularly for girls, generates earnings and health benefits of $10 in low-income countries and nearly $4 in lower-middle income countries. Around one- third of the reductions in adult mortality since 1970 can be attributed to gains in educating girls and young women. These benefits could be even higher in future with the improvements in education quality and efficiency proposed in this report’.
Investments in education are beneficial to entrepreneurs and in turn support the long-term socio-economic development goals of the country. Though investors in the tertiary education sector could establish more privately-owned Universities across the country given the dearth of good quality Universities, yet it may be wise to consider the establishment of specialised institutions, focused on the provision of trainings in emerging skills especially technical and science education as against the current trend particularly in Government owned institutions, where students are being trained in disciplines that do not equip them with the relevant knowledge and skills that would enable them compete favourably in today’s market. This point was buttressed by the Education Commission in another Report on ‘Achieving a Learning Generation- The Role of Business’ in which it is noted that:
Over the coming decades, education and skills will matter more than ever to the prosperity of individuals and economies. With up to half of today’s jobs – especially low- and medium-skilled jobs – at high risk of disappearing due to automation, and with shifting global demographics placing greater pressures on productivity, higher levels of skills will become increasingly vital for growth. Some 40 percent of employers globally are already finding it difficult to recruit people with the skills
they need. If current trends continue, more than 1.5 billion adults will have no education beyond primary school in 2030. If education in much of the world fails to keep up with changing skill demands, the growing skills gap will stunt economic growth around the world, and threatens to have far-reaching social and political repercussions.
Beyond investments into the establishment of educational institutions, it is also important to ensure that investments are made into creating and maintaining the quality and standards of the graduates from these institutions and in the promotion of qualitative teaching and learning that would help foster the core values required to build the future generation of Nigerian leaders.
Some of the earlier examples I have given of my own engagement with the educational sector in my view give an indication as to the various forms of interventions and support that could benefit the educational sector in Nigeria. I will therefore like to conclude my remarks by highlighting a few recommendations:
1. Government must continue to invest heavily in education. As percentage share of GDP, our educational spending must be scaled up. We must match if not surpass Africa’s leaders in this sector if we must lead the continent. Any spending less than 10% of GDP in my view is not ambitious enough.
2. We must also continue to encourage robust policy reforms in the educational sector. However, we must aim to achieve stability and continuity in educational policies over the long term. The private sector must contribute to this. Educational policies are far too important to be left in the hands of governments alone.
3. There is a great room for private sector investment in education. This should be across all sectors. Already huge successes have been achieved in this area. We have many examples of very successful private sector investment in schools and Universities. We have the likes of Babcock University, Afe Babalola University Addo Ekiti, Crescent Universities and many others. It is clear that private Universities have a great role to play and have clearly come of age.
4. But interventions need not be huge. There is room for private/public partnership or even private/private partnerships. The partnership between Babcock University and Tristate Cardiovascular Associates is a very good example. This is an example of a great partnership that leverages local resources and diaspora talents and advanced knowledge and skills.
5. The Aliko Dangote Foundation, Africa Initiative for Governance and the Tony Elumelu Foundation offer different models of intervention by which they invest in education through partnerships, collaboration, scholarships, grants and endowments.
Let me give one small example of a highly successful endowment. The Bodleian Library in the University of Oxford is one of the most famous libraries in the world. It is the main research library in the University. With over 13 million printed items it is the second largest library in the Britain. The Bodleian Library receives more than 4,200 new books every week. Whist this famous library has a much longer history, yet it was greatly revived and began to thrive thanks to support and endowment by Thomas Bodley a former fellow of Merton College who became its biggest benefactor at the time and had the library named after him and was opened in 1602.
The point is this: Great institutions can have humble beginnings. We too can start great institutions that will endure and become iconic. Small seeds planted today can germinate and grow to into formidable trees. I therefore wish to close my remarks by congratulating the proprietors of Dominican University and by urging everyone one of us here to support this great endeavour.
I thank you for your attention.
Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, FCIArb, SFNLI
President, Nigerian Bar Association