Education vs. in­fra­struc­ture in catalysing de­vel­op­ment in Nige­ria

A sub topic of this de­bate is whether the in­ad­e­quacy of the cur­rent state of education in Nige­ria does not ex­ceed that of in­fra­struc­ture.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Jide Ak­in­tunde

Afew weeks ago, I sug­gested in a so­cial me­dia post that Nige­ria should pri­ori­tise education over in­fra­struc­ture. The knee-jerk re­ac­tions I got ba­si­cally as­serted that a choice be­tween education and in­fra­struc­ture is un­nec­es­sary. The two are press­ing needs for the coun­try, I was coun­tered. But the im­pul­sive re­sponses merely evaded the de­bate.

Choice is com­pelled in public ex­pen­di­ture all the time. Gov­ern­ment's de­vel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties are not only ex­pressed in what it al­lo­cates funds to, visà-vis what it over­looks; the rel­a­tive sizes of the al­lo­ca­tions do also re­veal the pol­icy choices that are made. The de­bate be­tween education and in­fra­struc­ture is about which one should at­tract sig­nif­i­cantly more fis­cal al­lo­ca­tion and in­cen­tives for pri­vate in­vest­ment.

The de­bate could be framed in starker terms. Education or in­fra­struc­ture, which will bring about the more sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment in Nige­ria? In­fra­struc­tures are cre­ations of education and tech­ni­cal knowhow. In the Nige­rian en­vi­ron­ment that is ed­u­ca­tion­ally less-de­vel­oped, built in­fra­struc­tures are mis­used and quickly slip into dis­re­pair.

Nige­ria's choice The gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari does not dis­guise that its pri­or­ity is in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, com­pared to

education. In the 2017 bud­get, the com­bined cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture al­lo­cated to the Min­istry of Power, Works and Hous­ing, and Min­istry of Trans­port, was N791 bil­lion. The capex for Uni­ver­sal Ba­sic Education Com­mis­sion and the wider Min­istry of Education was N142 bil­lion. This was the pat­tern of capex al­lo­ca­tions in 2016.

The huge al­lo­ca­tion to in­fra­struc­tures – mainly roads, rails and power, not specif­i­cally tied to the education sec­tor – have ready jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Nige­ria has been in a long and deep eco­nomic slump. To re­flate the econ­omy, the bor­rowed con­ven­tional wis­dom is that the coun­try should in­vest “mas­sively” in in­fra­struc­ture. The in­vest­ments are ex­pected to cre­ate jobs and sup­port longterm in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment. More­over, the un­end­ing epilep­tic power sup­ply in the coun­try has been a drag on in­dus­trial and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

How­ever, the choice of in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment over education by Nige­ria, and in­deed other African coun­tries, is with the en­cour­age­ment of the mul­ti­lat­eral fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions and the for­eign pri­vate in­vestors. Ir­re­spec­tive of the state of dis­re­pair in which education in­fra­struc­ture has fallen in Africa, and how this would en­sure Africa does not be­come glob­ally com­pet­i­tive in the fore­see­able fu­ture, the in­vest­ment theme which global fi­nanciers have for­mu­lated for the con­ti­nent is in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment.

Global in­vestors would rather in­vest in Nige­rian rails, roads, ports and power projects. These kind of projects are of­ten size­able. Small projects don't meet the ap­petite of global and big emerg­ing mar­ket in­vestors who are in the hunt for huge re­turns, prefer­ably in a hand­ful of projects. Thus, when, for ex­am­ple, the big road or rail projects are built, the feeder roads to link into them are un­avail­able.

When this de­bate pitched Pa­trick Awuah, founder of Ash­esi Uni­ver­sity, Ghana against Ha­mad Buamim, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, Dubai Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, their views were di­a­met­ri­cally op­po­site. “In the long term, the ed­u­cated com­mu­nity will cre­ate the in­fra­struc­ture it needs and a di­verse econ­omy from the ma­te­ri­als it has. The sta­ble civil so­ci­ety will at­tract for­eign in­vest­ment. On the other hand, the for­eign­built in­fra­struc­ture of the … un­e­d­u­cated so­ci­ety is likely to ex­pe­ri­ence a slow col­lapse, with com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple do­ing things much as they did in the past,” Awuah ar­gued.

Buamim coun­tered in the fash­ion of cap­i­tal­ist au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism: “In­fra­struc­ture is what Africa needs now and this is where new in­vest­ment should be di­rected. Its de­vel­op­ment must take prece­dence over education re­form at present be­cause this is where the great­est needs of African peo­ple lie.”

The fal­la­cies

A stand­out fal­lacy of Nige­ria's in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment is in the fact that the agenda is ex­ter­nally gen­er­ated. The gov­ern­ment has to con­ceive of projects that

can at­tract the fi­nanc­ing in­ter­est of global in­vestors. Last year, Pres­i­dent Buhari had to re­turn to Nige­ria and de­ter­mine the in­fra­struc­ture projects his del­e­ga­tion had se­cured fi­nanc­ing for in China. But there are hur­dles that must be scaled for ex­ter­nal fi­nanc­ing to be re­alised, in­clud­ing macroe­co­nomic sta­bil­ity, im­pres­sive GDP growth rate, healthy gov­ern­ment's cash flow and be­nign po­lit­i­cal risk. On the weak­ness of nearly all these fac­tors, Nige­ria is set to also ex­pe­ri­ence this year the ex­ter­nal fi­nanc­ing dis­ap­point­ments that thwarted the de­liv­ery of the in­fra­struc­ture projects in the 2016 bud­get.

As Nige­ria ap­par­ently did not have the funds to meet its pu­ta­tive in­fra­struc­ture needs last year, I made the ob­ser­va­tion that the coun­try also lacked the tech­nol­ogy and ex­per­tise for the projects. There­fore, the coun­try would not only be pay­ing huge cost of fi­nanc­ing for the projects, much of the project fund­ing also would go to for­eign coun­tries to ac­quire ex­pen­sive equip­ment and needed ex­per­tise.

This is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween our lo­cal con­text and that of the ad­vanced economies or the Gulf States – with huge for­eign cur­rency-de­nom­i­nated re­serve as­sets – when hop­ing to re­flate their economies with mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment. Any of the coun­tries would have at least one of the project mix: cap­i­tal, tech­nol­ogy and ex­per­tise. Nige­ria has none.

It is al­ready ev­i­dent that it is not the in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment plans of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment that will take the coun­try out of the cur­rent re­ces­sion. It would be the near-to­tal re­cov­ery in oil pro­duc­tion, fol­low­ing the respite from at­tacks on oil in­stal­la­tions in the Niger Delta. This pos­i­tive out­look is sup­ported only by oil prices above the 2017 bud­getary bench­mark of $42.50 per bar­rel.

Nige­ria's longer-term eco­nomic per­for­mance that is an­chored on roads, bridges, rails and power is even ques­tion­able. If by the dint of good for­tunes the coun­try man­ages to com­plete some of the in­fra­struc­ture projects over the com­ing years, the fa­cil­i­ties will not au­to­mat­i­cally de­liver pro­duc­tiv­ity growth. Other vi­tal in­puts for pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing hu­man cap­i­tal, will prove a lim­it­ing fac­tor at a time when public debt would have weighed heav­ily on fis­cal pol­icy.

Education lever­age

A sub topic of this de­bate is whether the in­ad­e­quacy of the cur­rent state of education in Nige­ria does not ex­ceed that of in­fra­struc­ture. How­ever, not only is the cri­sis-state of our education a threat to pro­duc­tiv­ity and com­merce; it is also a threat to life and civil so­ci­ety.

Ten mil­lion Nige­rian chil­dren are not in school. This means the chil­dren face a very bleak fu­ture of no known ef­fec­tive re­me­di­a­tion. With ma­jor­ity of this chil­dren in the north, some of them are al­ready can­non fod­ders for Boko Haram ter­ror­ists. A sys­temic so­cial frac­ture brews when a large pop­u­la­tion is de­nied ac­cess to ba­sic education.

The fallen stan­dard of education in Nige­ria has been a source of con­cern for

var­i­ous em­ploy­ers who con­tinue to find grad­u­ates from the coun­try's ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions un­em­ploy­able. Even as the avail­able public and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties have lim­ited spa­ces for those seek­ing ad­mis­sions, even so we are find­ing that stu­dents who have com­pleted nine to twelve years of education are barely lit­er­ate or nu­mer­ate. If sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy education and re­search ever took off in the coun­try, we have since aban­doned them.

Pri­ori­tis­ing in­vest­ment in education will help re­verse the threat of sys­temic col­lapse of the so­cial or­der. It will do more over the long-run. De­vel­op­ing lo­cal ex­per­tise through ef­fec­tive and func­tional education will aid the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal in the do­mes­tic econ­omy. (In 2013, the US in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty hold­ers earned $128 bil­lion.) Lo­cal knowhow will drive down the cost of projects, usu­ally height­ened by for­eign sourc­ing of ex­perts that dic­tate project costs.

Giv­ing more pri­or­ity to education in Nige­ria will op­ti­mise re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture in education. Al­though education re­ceives rel­a­tively low cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture al­lo­ca­tion, it ac­tu­ally re­ceives high al­lo­ca­tion for re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture. In the 2017 bud­get, education at­tracted N398 bil­lion, the sec­ond-high­est al­lo­ca­tion for re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­tures. But the value of this hu­mon­gous al­lo­ca­tion is hardly re­al­is­able, if not com­ple­mented with cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture in education to raise stan­dards of teach­ing, learn­ing and re­search.

Education path­way to in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment

The strong­est ar­gu­ment for in­fra­struc­ture is that it pro­vides the path­way to in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment. With­out the ports, how do we con­duct trade? With­out the roads, trams and elec­tric­ity sup­ply, how would we even get to school and power the elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances and equip­ment for teach­ing and re­search?

How­ever per­sua­sive this ar­gu­ment is taken to be, there is an al­ter­na­tive path­way to in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment for Nige­ria. In­deed, for the de­vel­oped coun­tries, education pro­vided the im­pe­tus for in­dus­trial and in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment.

There are two pol­icy pro­nounce­ments of the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion that pro­vide point­ers to the al­ter­na­tive path­way. In late 2015, the Min­is­ter of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Og­bon­naya Onu, said the coun­try would start pro­duc­ing pen­cils in two years. Nige­ri­ans in de­nial that the coun­try would in­evitably en­ter the tech­nol­ogy race at a lower level sneered at him. But Onu's pro­nounce­ment, if it trans­lates to con­crete pro­grammes with hon­est ac­tions could serve a model that links the coun­try's quest for tech­no­log­i­cal knowhow and in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment to the education sec­tor.

But, of course, six months to the kick-off date for this in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion of pen­cil pro­duc­tion in the coun­try, the prom­ise may have dis­si­pated like ev­ery­thing else the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion has promised and failed to de­liver. How­ever, with a ready mar­ket, the pro­duc­tion of pen­cils in Nige­ria can pro­vide the nudge for fur­ther in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment along the vast education value chain.

The sec­ond pro­nounce­ment is the school feed­ing pro­gramme. The pro­gramme is a key part of the N500 bil­lion so­cial in­vest­ment plan the ad­min­is­tra­tion has touted for two years. The school feed­ing pro­gramme is a sym­bolic em­pha­sis on achiev­ing learn­ing out­comes by for­ti­fy­ing school chil­dren with the nutri­tion they need.

As de­scribed, the school feed­ing pro­gramme was de­signed to boost lo­cal food pro­duc­tion. Only lo­cally-pro­duced items would be served. If this pro­gramme serves only eggs across the coun­try, we can ex­pect the de­vel­op­ment of sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity in the poul­try in­dus­try, in­clud­ing pro­cess­ing of chicken. And if it en­tails elab­o­rate meals, we can imag­ine the num­ber of farm and non-farm jobs it would cre­ate, pro­vid­ing a real spark to the lon­gawaited agri­cul­ture rev­o­lu­tion. The pro­gramme would also help de­velop the lo­gis­tics in­dus­try. The knowl­edge de­rived from se­ri­ous im­ple­men­ta­tion of the na­tional pro­gramme would be use­ful in the de­vel­op­ment of the wider agro-pro­cess­ing in­dus­try.

But, again, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the school feed­ing pro­gramme has been un­der­whelm­ing. Un­im­ple­mented in 2016, the pro­gramme was trans­ferred to 2017. At mid-year, it re­mains in a pi­lot stage in only nine out of the 36 states of the fed­er­a­tion and the Fed­eral Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory.

Limit of out­sourc­ing

It is in ac­qui­es­cence to a fu­ture Nige­ria that is ed­u­ca­tion­ally and tech­no­log­i­cally un­com­pet­i­tive, com­pared to peer na­tions, that pol­i­cy­mak­ers today have not found the re­vival of qual­ity education and re­search a na­tional pri­or­ity. Ar­guably, the pol­i­cy­mak­ers, who hardly fol­low through with poli­cies, found an easy way out by con­tract­ing big in­fra­struc­ture projects to for­eign en­ti­ties. But we def­i­nitely can­not build our education sys­tem merely by award­ing big con­tracts and out­sourc­ing gov­ern­ment's re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to global fi­nanciers and project de­vel­op­ers as we try to with in­fra­struc­tures.

Education rep­re­sents that ar­du­ous path to the coun­try's de­vel­op­ment that we have con­tin­ued to aban­don. It is also an open se­cret that in­fra­struc­ture projects in Nige­ria are sig­nif­i­cantly about build­ing cesspits of cor­rup­tion.

Nige­ria has missed the op­por­tu­ni­ties to si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­velop in­fra­struc­tures and build a first-rate ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem. The petrodol­lars that would have made that hap­pen have been mis­ap­pro­pri­ated and frit­tered away through in­fra­struc­ture boon­dog­gles we have no ca­pac­ity to main­tain. This is un­like some pro­gres­sive oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries that have healthy sav­ings even af­ter investing si­mul­ta­ne­ously in in­fra­struc­ture and education.

A choice is com­pelled in the Nige­rian case now. We can con­tinue to pre­tend to be build­ing in­fra­struc­tures with­out build­ing the peo­ple that would use them. Such in­fra­struc­tures would soon fall into dis­re­pair. But if we in­vest in education, we will in­evitably build the in­fra­struc­ture we need to har­ness the in­no­va­tion and in­dus­try of our well-ed­u­cated pop­u­la­tion.

We def­i­nitely can­not build our education sys­tem merely by award­ing big con­tracts and out­sourc­ing gov­ern­ment's re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to global fi­nanciers and project de­vel­op­ers as we try to with in­fra­struc­tures.

Some Nige­rian pupils in a de­crepit class­room

A Nige­rian road rid­den with pot­holes

Nige­rian Act­ing Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo

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