by Joachim MacEbong

One must then ask: what was the point of this pathetic attempt to cast doubt on her stewardship? It is typical of a morally bankrupt government such as this, to attack the messenger, in order to distract from the import of the message.

“There is no better example of the cost of the imprudent choices than what has happened to Education. The failures and limitations of the education you have received during your time here leading to your graduation today will become clearer to you should you ever seek to do what was very easy for me to do –that is, gain admission to one of the best schools in the world for my graduate studies simply on the strength of my University of Nigeria education.”

That was Obiageli Ezekwesili. By her own admission, she was lucky growing up, and while Chinua Achebe declared in 1983 that ‘Nigeria is not a great country’, it managed to give its youth an education that was enough to start them off in life. In 2013, that is no longer the case, and she took pains to explain this reality to the graduating students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she also graduated from in 1985.

The part of her speech which made all the headlines last week, was her charge that the governments of Yar’Adua and Jonathan squandered the “significant sum of $45 Billion in foreign reserve account and another $22Billion in the Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007.”

This brought a rejoinder from the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, calling the total figure of $67 billion ‘fictitious’, and the explanation for this in the rejoinder is tidy.

However, there is another way to look at waste. The sum total of the last 5 federal budgets comes to almost N19 trillion ($118 billion) and 70% of that amount ($82.6 billion) went to salaries alone, leaving just $35.4 billion for capital projects. Now, does Nigeria look like a country that has expended $35 billion on capital projects in the last 5 years? Does Nigeria get the value it should from the public servants it spends 70% of federal money on? These two questions have obvious answers.

However, that is besides the point.

A Labaran Maku rejoinder is never complete without a ludicrous spice in it, and that duly came in his latest rejoinder: “We also found Mrs. Ezekwesili’s interrogation of the educational system somewhat disingenuous and borderline hypocritical. During her tenure as Minister of Education between 2006 and 2007, she collected a total sum of N352.3 billion from direct budgetary releases. In addition, she received about N65.8 billion under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Fund, and over N40 billion from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) during her time as Minister of Education. In view of these humongous allocations, a few legitimate questions arise. What did she do with all these allocations? What impact did it have on the education sector? One wonders if our educational system would have been better today if these allocations were properly applied.”

It would interest Nigerians to know that 76% of the education budget in 2006 went to salaries alone. In 2007, it was 74%. These percentages closely match that of the budget as a whole. I am really interested in knowing what ‘impact’ N85 billion over 2 years would have on a sector that has been underfunded for thirty years, especially as Mrs Ezekwesili herself only stayed a grand total of TEN months as Education Minister, from June 2006 to May 2007, in which case she only really had charge of one of those budgets, not two.

One must then ask: what was the point of this pathetic attempt to cast doubt on her stewardship? It is typical of a morally bankrupt government such as this, to attack the messenger, in order to distract from the import of the message. It is not the first time they have done it, and it will not be the last.

A thousand rejoinders will not change the facts on the ground.

We are where we are because our education sector has been relegated for 30 years, leading to a generation of unemployed and unemployable people in ever increasing numbers, roaming the streets. This year, another 1.1 million young Nigerians will not enter a university, no matter how good they are. Despite all the lip service to its importance, this country has not spent up to 10% of the federal budget on educating its youth for over 20 years, even though UNESCO recommends 26%.

We are beginning to see the first results of the neglect of this sector. Why bother about education, when international oil companies can come in, extract oil, and hand te money over with minimum stress? You don’t need a well-educated workforce to sell Bonny Light on the international market.

In the book ‘Why Nations Fail’, which Mrs Ezekwesili drew from substantially in her remarks, one quote sticks out for me: ‘poor countries are poor because those who have power make choices that create poverty. They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose.’ That is the reality of our situation as a nation, and when that reality changes, we won’t need the likes of Maku to tell us.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.