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Nigerians are fighting over crumbs

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Nigerians are fighting over crumbs

According to a newspaper report, the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, a compulsory test for secondary school leavers seeking admission into tertiary institutions in the country, which took place in March 2019 had almost 2 million candidates who sadly, competed for less than 800,000 slots.

This means, in simple terms, that irrespective of performance and readiness, over a million candidates, in addition to fresh output from secondary schools, have to repeat the exam next year as the test result is valid for a single admission cycle. This has been the norm for several years due to the overstretched capacity limit of available institutions.

To any random observer, the obvious solution is improving the quality of the institutions and expanding their capacity to ensure more candidates desiring a university education stand a better chance of gaining entry. But this is Nigeria where the words “growth” and “improvement” are almost alien to political and administrative leaders.

Many of the public institutions will fare better with increased fund allocations, especially in the national budget where education presently accounts for a measly 7%, even though UNESCO recommends a minimum of 25%. However, as opposed to adopting this approach, influential political figures across various levels in the country have merely politicized and bastardized the entry process by introducing multiple layers of screening premised, not on aptitude, but nepotism. It is therefore not strange to hear parents in the country nudging their wards to select institutions where they “know someone” to increase chance of admission success.

The licensing of private institutions would have alleviated the problem with a thousand more slots, but these spaces often go unfilled due to their significantly higher fees as public institutions, despite the general low quality, are subsidized by the central government. This points to a greater economic problem which is also a consequence of the mindset of the country’s leadership that is summarily all about sharing and plundering resources, not growing.

Historically, every increase in the country’s earning, especially upon the discovery of oil, has been met by a spike in recurrent expenditure with a comparatively less increment in the funds committed to capital expenditure. Of the N9.12 trillion sum designated for Nigeria’s 2018 budget, only N2.87 trillion, which represents less than a quarter of the total budget, was devoted to capital expenditure. A huge chunk of the recurrent expenditure goes to servicing the greed of office holders and their costly entitlements, leaving the masses to grapple with slowed economic growth, acute poverty and lack of basic amenities.

Clearly, instead of delivering public goods for the greater majority, the leadership of Nigeria prioritizes self while abandoning the public to jostle for crumbs. This is part of the reasons every element, such as ‘indigenous status’, considered an advantage is violently guarded. The governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai is presently under fire for calling to an end of indigene/settler dichotomy as it contravenes the spirit of federalism and national unity. This may not be unconnected to the fact that an average Nigerian believes that being an indigene of a state, and not a ‘settler’, guarantees better consideration in the distribution of scarce resources and benefits such as jobs and land lease. Were any of these in abundance, as it should be in a prosperous nation, it is unlikely that the status would hold such reverence. In their absence though, the people are violently turning on each other. In the first quarter of 2019, the Nigerian Police counted over 1000 deaths in crime-related cases.

Sadly, the situation will only get worse. The sluggish economic growth and inability to create enough jobs to match the population growth of the country represents a recipe for disaster.

Recently, the Kano state government, under the leadership of Umar Ganduje, conducted yet another mass wedding for 1500 residents who couldnt afford to do so. It is unlikely that those unable to afford a wedding have the resources to start a family. This reinforces the well known fact that although the Nigerian government, across levels, has displayed a stark incompetence at growing resources, it has no problem multiplying  the population and state-dependents. With resources fast depleting, more trouble looms.

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Peter Adeshina is a journalist who reports politics, policy and governance.

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