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Can Awolowo’s Free Education Be Replicated in Modern Day Nigeria?

January 21, 2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
Written by Tolu Okunade

Growing up, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a name not far from the lips of those who I regarded and respected. From the young to the old, everyone sang his praises. It was until I grew older and I became an ardent student of History that I understood why. He was the Premier of the Western Region for a period of five years between 1954 and 1959, making him the first-ever to occupy such a revered position.

He later went on to become the Federal Commissioner of Finance and Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council during the Nigerian Civil War that spanned between 1967 and 1970. He was also a frontline contender for the office of the President twice. he remained an elder statesman whose relevance was felt until he died. 

Chief Awolowo was a modern-day Midas, who had a touch of gold. It seemed like his aim was to live up to his reputation of being the First Premier of the Western region by further cementing that legacy by pioneering several firsts namely: 

  1. He brought the first television station to Africa (the Western Nigeria Television)
  2. He built one of the first stadiums — Liberty Stadium.
  3. He also built Cocoa House — one of the tallest buildings on the African continent located in Ibadan, Oyo State. 

However, what stood Awo (as he was fondly called) out was the Free Health care and the more importantly, the Free Primary Education Policy for the Western Region which he introduced in 1955. This made primary education not only widely available but free to all Children of age in Western Nigeria. The children of the starkest of illiterates and the poorest of the poor were able to attend school at no cost. 

They were provided with all the needed books and learning materials and paid no fees for whatsoever, at all. It was all funded by the Western Regional Government under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. They were taught by some of the best teachers this nation has ever produced because many of those teachers were trained abroad and were well paid for their jobs. It is a point worthy to note that many leaders who we have in the country now were beneficiaries of that free education scheme. 

“It seems always impossible until it is done,” the late Nelson Mandela had said, and that was the case of the Free Education granted by Awo. It had never been done. He was the pioneer for such. 

Can such feat nonetheless, be replicated in the Modern Day Nigeria? 

I strongly believe it can. Why should it be done? Because Education is the greatest legacy a parent can leave for their offspring and it makes a whole lot of sense to ensure that the education received is of high quality. No nation can rise above the quality of the next generation and Education, especially the most basic of it guarantees that such generation has a solid foundation.

Most importantly, poverty levels are at an all-time high in the country. According to a CNN report in 2018, has about half of the population living on less than $1.90 a day. To put in perspective, according to the dollar to Naira exchange rate in 2018, that is about 700 Naira each day. How do we expect those who live on such meagre income send their kids to school? 

Here’s what can and should be done. 

Regarded in many quarters as ‘The President Nigeria Never Had,” Awo was a selfless leader. He put his nation and if’s people first and ensured their lives were better. And so, his policies were driven towards that sole aim. To make the lives of the people he served better. 

One dent in his impeccable legacy would be his role in the mass murder of Biafrans as the Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council. This is not in defense of him, but while many judging him by that metric, I would like us to understand that he did so be he was committed to Nigeria and its unity and did everything within his powers to keep the nation together. We need more leaders like Awo, for this to be done. 

Furthermore, the Government needs to be doing more for the educational sector. In all honesty, we aren’t doing enough. Education remains and should be one of the most important sectors to focus on for any progressive government. With hundreds of Federal institutions across the country, adequate funding for that sector is a MUST. Cost of education — from the erection of new schools, maintenance and refurbishing of existing ones, to infrastructural development to payment of salaries and due bonuses, the expenses tower for that sector. To now make it free, it would require almost double. 

Yet, when President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2021 budget in 2020, Education got 742.5 billion Naira. A lot you might think, but when measured against the percentage of the total spending plan, it’s a meagre 5.6 per cent out of the entire budget. Now, here comes the shocker — this is the lowest percentage allocated for Education since 2011. 

Nigeria has fallen below the recommendation of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNSECO) for multiple times in a row. The organization’s recommendation is 15 — 20 per cent of the entire budget of a nation’s fiscal year. We aren’t doing enough. 

To close, the Government needs to make children of Public Officials attend Public Schools. To quote Tony Ademiluyi of the Punch Newspapers, 

“I suggest humbly that the nation should return to the Second Republic model where the children of politicians and public officials attended public schools. This will ensure that the quality will astronomically go up as the parents would want the best for their children and so will fight for an improvement in the public schools. The school system should revert to what it used to be as a leveller so that the children of the rich and the poor can be lifelong friends which will augur well for society. Education shouldn’t create more divides in the already largely divided society. Education is the most potent weapon for greater societal good and it should be deployed with efficiency in the public sector.”

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