Education and Democracy in Nigeria: Vision 2020
Sadiq A. Abdullahi, Ed. D
With roughly over 140 million Nigerians, 36 states, a weak political and economic system, and persistent ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria, education provides the best alternative for national stability, security, unity, and prosperity. John Dewey, one of the most influential American philosophers, writing for the America audience in the early 20th century, believes that “democracy was important not only because it stood for freedom and equality but because of its educational consequences.”
In December 2006, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, the Minister of Education, issued a report for education reform and intervention. Vision 2020: The Role of the Nigerian Education Sector. I have not had the opportunity to review the content in the report, but early commentaries suggest that it once again failed to address the main problems facing education in Nigeria: mass education, funding, inequities in access to education, curriculum development, instructional methods, research, and teacher education, citizenship education etc. As this piece will show, this is not the first time the federal government has come up with education reform initiatives. The vision for education in Nigeria, as stated on the official ministry website, is to “establish an enabling and sustainable environment for education to achieve the desired national reforms and human development objectives. Its mission is to reform and restructure the education sector to empower and develop the citizenry to acquire skills and knowledge that would prepare them for the world of work.”
As the nation evaluates the new education reform plan, it is necessary to revisit briefly what we know about education reform in Nigeria. The federal government issued the first National Development Plan (1966-1970), the plan emphasized modernization and technological training. In 1969, a national curriculum conference was staged to overhaul the Nigerian education system. One of the goals as outlined in the National Policy on Education (1981) identifies citizenship education as: “a basis for effective participation in and contribution to the life of the society; character and moral training, and the development of sound attitudes; developing in the child the ability to adapt to his changing environment."
In the Second National Development Plan (NDP, 1970-1974), the objectives of the plan became the foundation for the National Policy on Education. The aim of the NDP was to: build a free and democratic society, a just and egalitarian society, a united, strong and self reliant nation, a great and dynamic economy, and a land of bright and full opportunity for all citizens (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1981). As Federal government attempts to correct the gross injustices and level the playing field, and define our democracy, and move toward a market economy, it is crucial that the new education plan reflect the current realities in the country. This generation of Nigerian youth must be prepared to think nationally and globally. They must be prepared to compete in the global economy.
Since independence in 1960, Nigerians have worked to develop a federal and unitary form of government that could effectively serve people with such disparate traditional political systems. For example, fostering national unity, stability, and security through the social studies education curriculum was tied to the National Educational Policy in 1981 and to the national aspiration for citizenship education.
In 1996, a new curriculum for citizenship education was developed to reflect the transition to constitutional democracy and the new Constitution in 1999. The philosophy of the social studies education hinges in part on the idea that Nigerian schools should not only train individuals to be just and competent individuals, but to function as contributing and participatory members of a free constitutional democratic nation. This implies that students must rely on the knowledge, skills and awareness of the rights of minority and majority groups to coexist and worship freely; respect for law and order; and respect for public and private property of Nigerians and non-Nigerians. This includes the awareness of the rights and obligations of citizens to government and society, and reciprocal government responsibility to citizens.
In 1999, Nigeria became a constitutional democratic nation. The new Constitution addresses core national issues such as citizenship, fundamental human rights, the legislature, the executive branch, the judiciary, national identity, and political parties etc. The assumption here is that the new Constitution can be a catalyst and stimulus that engenders national consciousness, political reconstruction and participation, and economic stability and growth, and ethnic sensitivity and individual development.
Education in Nigeria has been interrupted by regime change since independence from Britain in 1960. For example, between 1960 and 1999, there have been eight military and four civilian regimes in the country. Now that our nation has embarked on sustaining unity, democracy and economic growth, the next president should make a budgetary commitment to education. The United Nations has recommended that African nations should allocate about 21% of their national budget to education. With our National Domestic Product (GNP) and the petrodollars in good shape, Nigeria can sustain a comprehensive educational plan. If this is done correctly, the future of the country will not only be secured, education and democracy will be enhanced. This generation of Nigerian youth therefore must demonstrate a commitment to the democratic principles, economic goals, develop the skills, and values needed to sustain a constitutional democratic nation. The sustained record of corruption and human rights violations and abuses in Nigeria continue to undermine our potential as a nation. The political corruption and the lack of human respect and human dignity combined with weak governance are attributable to the years of authoritarian military rule, but this will change, as Prof. Wole Soyinka and others continue to remind us of our responsibility as citizens and our authoritarian past.
The challenges to education and democracy are obvious. Nigeria embodies 250 ethnic groups speaking approximately 400 languages and practicing traditional African religions, Christianity, and Islam. Three major ethnic groups continue to strongly dominate and influence social and political events. These groups represent different political traditions. The Hausa-Fulani, in the north, are mostly Muslim and traditionally support a centralized authoritarian system with a strong village chief and local Emir. The Igbo, in the southeast, are mostly Christians who traditionally live in autonomous village communities and are noted for indirect democracy. The Yoruba, in the west, follow a mixture of religions and lie midway between the direct democracy of the Igbo and the authoritarian systems of the Hausa-Fulani in their traditional government.
The Yoruba have traditional leaders and a council of hereditary chiefs who make decisions in addition to those made by local self-governing units. Although the Yoruba and Igbo differ greatly in culture and traditional political system, they are often viewed as southerners in contrast to Hausa-Fulani northerners. Politically, the Igbo and Yoruba are lumped together (not any more) because of the generally higher levels of education as a result of early exposure to Western ideas brought in by the missionaries. The regionalization (north north, north central, north east, south south, south east, and south west) of the country is intended to realign the political power structure and dominance of the north.
In any democratic society, education remains at the core of national stability, security, and an instrument for political and economic growth and development. Nigeria has a blend of cultural diversity. This diversity is symbolic of our national unity and diversity. Many people believe that the issue of co-existence was resolved after the Civil War ended in 1970. Today, co-existence is seriously threatened by religious fundamentalism both in the north and now in the south. It would require a huge national effort, funding, and a long-term vision and commitment from our federal government to address concomitant effect of religious fanaticism. Dewey believes that “a society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible forms of associated life promotes democracy. Such as a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationship and control, and the habits of mind which secure social change without introducing disorder.”
The new education plan should endeavor to create viable and enabling programs amidst the challenges of private vs. public education, funding, instructional methods, research, and teacher education, citizenship education programs, and activities that have become crucial to sustaining the goals, objectives, and aspirations of the nation.
As the nation awaits the new president, political scientists, educators, and others continue to express concern about the role of education in providing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for Nigeria. I am optimistic we headed in the right direction.
Adaraledge, A. (1972). A philosophy of Nigerian education: Report of the National Curriculum Conference, September 8-12, 1969. Ibadan, Nigeria: Heineman
Abdullahi, S.A.& Farouk, M.K. (1999). A Humanistic Approach in Nigerian Social Studies Education. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies, Orlando, FL.
Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981). National policy of education. Lagos, Nigeria: Federal Ministry of Information.
Sadiq A. Abdullahi, Ed. D
Social Studies, Global Education, and School Improvement
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