The decision of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) to abolish payment of fees in secondary schools in the northern part of the country is timely and commendable. The Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, who disclosed the good news in a message to the National Association of Niger State Students (NANSS), said the governors also agreed to harmonise fees paid in tertiary institutions in the region. They will also re-introduce the Grade II teachers training programme abolished across the country several years ago, and establish schools of preliminary studies to prepare students for admission into tertiary institutions.
Babangida Aliyu, in the message delivered at the NANSS Award Ceremony to distinguished Nigerians which held at the Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre, explained that these initiatives are targeted at improving the standard of teaching and encouraging the pursuit of education in the region.
This resolve of the Northern state governors to promote education is heartening. It has come at a time that everything that is possible needs to be done to increase interest in learning to counteract the onslaught of Boko Haram on schools in the region. Greater attention to education will also go a long way in reducing the army of idle and illiterate persons from which the sect largely draws its membership.
Education is the bedrock of the development of any nation or society. It is the stream from which other arms and sectors of a nation drinks. It is to a nation what the mind is to the body.
We, therefore, laud the governors for this plan and implore them not to let it end as just a part of a great speech by Governor Aliyu. The agreement must metamorphose into a policy that will be passionately pursued and implemented by all the governors.
For too long, Northern Nigeria has lagged behind other regions of the country educationally. Thus, this declaration by Northern governors to abolish fees in secondary schools in the region is not only welcome, it is long overdue. It is, unarguably, a step in the right direction, and the region’s education statistics bear this out.
Eight states in northern Nigeria have the country’s worst girl child education indices. According to the latest scorecard by a group of non-governmental researchers, Kebbi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Jigawa, Yobe, Zamfara, Katsina, and Gombe states have Nigeria’s worst girl child education rate and its highest female illiteracy. The ten states with the highest number of girls not in secondary school are found in the North, and these ten states, along with Kano, have the highest percentage of females between 15 and 24 years who cannot read or write. Not coincidentally, there is a link between poor educational attainment for girls, forced marriage of underage children, and under age child bearing. The overall education statistics for both boys and girls in the area are no less depressing.
Northern Nigeria has suffered untold consequences in the deathly grip of terror, a situation partly traceable to the region’s inadequacies in the area of education. A society develops in relation to its achievement in education. Contemporary world attention has focused on education as an instrument for launching nations into the world of science and technology, with consequential hope of human advancement in terms of living conditions and development of the environment.
The northern part of the country cannot be, and is not, an exception. The state of its education will determine the moral regeneration and revival of its people. The region cannot rise above the level of its education.
Consequently, we urge the Forum to keep these inalienable facts in mind and faithfully implement this plan. The governors should strive to provide the necessary funding for this scheme to stimulate the development of the region.
This education transformation scheme should involve a massive teachers recruitment drive. The states should employ more trained teachers for science and mathematics, which are universally acknowledged as engine rooms of society’s technological advancement.
Pushing education on the front burner is not just an effective long-term strategy against Boko Haram and other vices that have crept into the North, it is also a wise investment in the region’s future. If the governors are able to follow through with their plans, the benefits will be felt for many years to come, and they will be recognised for their single-minded determination to fight ignorance and terrorism with education.
As has been said in several quarters, it will take more than guns and bombs to defeat terrorism in the North. What these governors have decided to do with education is one of the veritable weapons needed to end the campaign of bloodshed in the region.
We urge the governors to get all hands on deck to get this initiative to work. Intensive campaigns are necessary to reorient parents and children in the states. They need to buy into this laudable plan for it to fly. Religious leaders, traditional rulers and Non-Governmental Organisations should also be co-opted into the drive.
We enjoin the Federal Government to facilitate administrative support to the NSGF to make this plan work. The North is too important for Nigeria to ignore. The nation can never achieve the much-desired greatness if large numbers of its citizens remain shackled by illiteracy and ignorance.