Why education is a vital step on route to peace and prosperity for Nigeria

Thursday, 24 January 2019 00:15 GMT

Students read a book at the Makoko floating school on the Lagos Lagoon, Nigeria February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For Nigeria to truly succeed, the government must provide our children and young people with an education system which is fit for purpose

Nigeria is a country rich in resources and natural wealth. However, despite this, we are failing to equip a vast number of Nigerian children with the skills they need to succeed in the world.

As we celebrate International Day of Education, we must reflect on the role that education can play in promoting peace and development.

Nigeria is persistently encumbered by bleak statistics about its socio-economic development and reports concerning militant attacks across the country. In 2018 UNICEF reported that there were 13.2 million children out of school in Nigeria – the highest number globally.

In 2016 Nigeria was ranked 152nd out of 188 countries in educational achievements by the UN Human Development Index.

For a country that is ranked as Africa’s top oil producer, with an economy estimated at approximately N150 trillion, this should not be the case.

It has resulted in a damaging cycle of poverty and violence with a growing divide between the haves and have-nots.

Young people face futures devoid of opportunity due to their lack of skills, pushing them from legal enterprise into criminality and leaving them vulnerable to the temptations of militancy and cultism.

For Nigeria to truly succeed, the government must provide our children and young people with an education system which is fit for purpose.

Investment in education has had a demonstrable impact in Bayelsa State.

Prior to the inception of my administration, Bayelsa was ranked 28th in the Education Development Index out of the 36 states in Nigeria. Militancy thrived and countless numbers of youths were lured into illegality and violent crime.

Upon my election I called a state of emergency in the sector. Our government took deliberate measures to democratize knowledge and deepen education at the grassroots, helping children from underprivileged backgrounds access loans, scholarships and resources including books and uniforms.

We have addressed the poor infrastructure, low quality teaching and lack of interest in education that once characterized the state. Because of this the state now ranks at the top of the education index in the country.

As the presidential elections near and candidates reflect on how Nigeria can develop as a nation, it is incumbent on the government to ensure that the state of our education system is adequately addressed.

If the Federal Government is serious in its declarations to address the failing education sector, it must reconsider its approach to education spending, which falls well behind the UN-recommended minimum spend of 25% for countries seeking rapid development.

For change to be seen, the government must match their political rhetoric with committed action in the sector. Investing in education in Bayelsa State has enabled us to offer free, quality education to thousands of students, and this must be reflected across the board in each local government if we are to change the fate of our country.

Despite the many obstacles placed in the Nigerian people’s way, we have proved to be innovative, resourceful and entrepreneurial. We are known globally for our vibrant culture, art, music and business.

But those who are denied an education are more likely than not to be deprived of the endless opportunities that Nigeria can offer.

Today’s International Day of Education has come at an important time in our history: Nigeria and her politicians have the option to renew past pledges to boost spending on schooling or show real commitment to our education system.

It is essential that our government works to ensure that the opportunities available to children across the country are accessible to all children in Nigeria, that their right to a quality education remains the same.

If we do not seek to educate our people to be empowered, peace will be elusive and the wheels of economic development halted – and we will only have ourselves to blame.