Banning Degrees From Benin is Not the Way Forward: Overhaul the Failed Privatised Education System Now

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Late last year, Umar Audu, a report of the Daily Nigerian newspaper carried out an investigative report on Nigerian’s acquisition of degrees in some neighbouring countries as well as how people get mobilised into the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). This revealed that university degrees were issued to some people after just a few weeks of study in the Republic of Benin. He also enrolled for the NYSC scheme after getting one of such degrees, even though he had served before, and according to the law, graduates can be mobilised into the NYSC only once.

After these shocking revelations, the federal government drew up a list of countries where degrees issued by universities would not be recognised in Nigeria. These countries include Benin, Kenya, Togo and Uganda. One faction of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) supports this ban. Another faction called for caution so that the baby would not be thrown away with the bathwater.

I agree with the faction which called for caution that the Nigerian government should not ban degrees from these countries. Yet I strongly oppose the argument and manner in which the opinion was expressed. Some questions arose in my mind, which I think have gained almost no attention in the ongoing public discussion emanating from these developments.

Does this mean Nigerian graduates from these countries are declared unemployed in their own country by extension? What about those already in service in the Nigerian civil service or even in the education sector of Nigeria? Does the policy end here? How about the Nigerian policymakers in the education sector who approved qualifications from these countries as recognisable for postgraduate admission in our universities? What about the NYSC top bosses who annually sit on billions of naira partly allocated to ICT maintenance but could not use biometric means to detect that the Daily Nigerian journalist had once served and completed his NYSC? What about the agencies involved in carrying out these deals? What about Nigerian students who honestly attended meritorious universities in these countries and graduated qualitatively? Are they supposed to be denied the recognition of their earned academic certificates because they were unfortunate to attend Togolese and Beninese schools at the time this revelation came out? In all of these, why is no one raising the question of factors that make Nigerian youths to desperately find a way to purchase certificates in other countries? 

We must start to find answers to these questions by interrogating the crisis in the Nigerian education sector itself. The Student Loan Scheme Act has been passed, and it came with a sporadic increment in tuition fees across tertiary institutions in Nigeria, up to the tune of 500% and above. The Nigerian government has failed to take responsibility and commit to adequately fund public tertiary education. Another nationwide strike by university workers is imminent since the government is not addressing the question of working conditions nor the outstanding demand for increases in their salaries.

The increment in tuition is meant to cover administrative costs by universities. It doesn’t mean classrooms and laboratories would be improved, nor would teaching and learning become easier. Proven statistics today show that only 9 out of every 100 young people in sub-Saharan Africa proceed to higher institutions and only 6 eventually graduate. The data mentioned that Nigeria accounts for the highest number of people in these statistics. You can imagine how the hike in fees would worsen this bad situation. But then, would Nigerians pay these exorbitant hiked fees to end up with six years studying for four-year programs? Does this not lead to the temptation to find a quick way out, at probably less cost?

In today’s world, countries are internationalising their education system to meet global exchange. One of the mechanisms to ensure this is developing a system that can validate the credibility of qualifications from other countries, based on merit criteria to check the accreditation quality of foreign universities. If over the years, many have acquired degrees from these countries in a few weeks and were admitted for graduate studies in Nigerian universities, or recruited into the civil service after successfully completing NYSC, does this not mean Nigeria has failed in its credibility checks? I forgot that many of our institutions exchange lecturers and fill vacuum positions with contracted people to pass accreditation! The integrity test is also that institutions in some other countries would put Nigeria on a watch list. This means Nigerians would be subjected to more scrutiny than the already bad situation by universities in the United States, Britain, Germany and other Western countries because they are products of the Nigerian education system which lacks accreditation and credibility.

It is unfortunate that no one is talking about the youths who have studied honestly in these would-be-banned countries. Neither is much said about graduates from these banned schools who are already in different Nigerian schools teaching younger people . Again, would no one be held responsible for the incompetence of the Ministry of Education and NYSC to discover these incredible qualifications and identify a former corps member, respectively? Should the head of the ministry and NYSC not be ashamed that they have failed woefully? Or then what exactly is the essence of digital registration for the NYSC mobilisation?

Finally, the Nigerian policymakers need to swallow the hard pill that what they really need to overhaul are the education sector and the NYSC board. There is no alternative to adequate funding of education to make it accessible, affordable, and attractive to Nigerians. This is what the Nigerian government should take seriously. The privatisation of education and student loan policies has failed in the US, UK and every other bigger capitalism. It would only aggravate the number of dropped-out students. We cannot forget that we have over 20 million out-of-school children. Making the education system in Nigeria and its tertiary institutions more qualitative and affordable for the 133 million poor people in the country would help stop the rot captured in the Daily Nigerian investigative report. Investing in public education is of utmost importance for social progress.

by Lekan Abdulazeez SONEYE

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