Queries FG’s penchant for borrowing
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who was the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the 2019 general election, has called for more investment in education for Nigeria to lift majority of its people out of poverty. He also queried the increasing rate of borrowing by the federal government as against spending more on education.
Atiku, at the convocation ceremony of the America University of Nigeria, Yola, said Nigeria could not grow if it did not invest heavily in education.
“When philosophers say that an investment in education yields the most interest, they were stating a truism for which we see ample evidence in Nigeria,” he stated.
He also attributed insecurity in the country to poverty, adding that poverty is caused by illiteracy.
“It is a cycle that we can only break by educating our people. For the past four years, our education budgets have demonstrated the fact that developing the minds of our people has not been our priority.
“Two weeks ago, a friend of mine, Prof. Anya O. Anya, who just happens to be a former Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), revealed that Nigeria has taken more loans in the last three years than she has taken in the 30-year period preceding 2016,” he added.
The former vice president queried the increasing rate of borrowing in Nigeria to the detriment of funding investment in education.
He said: “Now, how can we have such a monumental increase in borrowings vis-à-vis an unprecedented reduction in investments in education?”
According to him, as a businessman, the first lesson one should learn in business is that you do not take loans except it is to expand your business and there is no justification for taking out loans to pay salaries.
Atiku said Nigeria’s greatness was not tied to its elders but to its youths, who should be the focus of national investment.
He went further to give statistical relationship between education, crime and insecurity.
“Scandinavia outspends every other part of the world in investing in education, with the Nordic nation of Denmark spending an average of eight per cent of its Gross Domestic Product on education. They are followed closely by Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
“Now, is it a coincidence that in every survey of crime and insecurity released by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) for 2018, these same nations and their region are listed as the safest parts of the world as well as the most crime-free states? I don’t think so. In fact, as someone who has invested heavily in education for decades, I know that this is not a coincidence,” he said.
Atiku explained that instead of doing many things and doing them poorly, the federal government and the federating units should rather focus on doing one or two things so that they can do them well.
He said: “When we get this right, we will get Nigeria right. The easiest way to make the most significant impact, in the shortest amount of time, is via education.
“As proof, I cite the fact that 2014 represented the year Nigeria invested the most in education with a N493 billion allocation (then the equivalent of $3.3 billion) to education, representing 9.94 per cent of the total budget.
“The very next year, the trio of the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, and CNN Money rated Nigeria as the third fastest-growing economy in the world. Again, I ask, was that a coincidence?
“If you think that it is, then how do you explain the fact that Nigeria slid into a recession the same year that our education budget began to drop from their pre-2015 levels? The total percentage of the budget allocated to education in 2014 was 9.94 per cent, which dropped to 6.10 per cent in 2016. It is as clear as night and day.
“What I propose is that the federal, states and local governments should consider a policy of allocating at least 10 per cent of the total budget appropriations to the education sector. If insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, it follows that the sane thing to do is that when you get a result that you like, you are challenged to repeat the process, and in fact, improve upon it, so that you can get the same or perhaps improved results.”
He explained that there is documentary evidence from the Human Development Index that the United Nations publishes annually that educated people are healthier.
He said: “Because they are healthier, the proportion of their income and the income of the government that is spent on treating diseases and sickness reduces, they, therefore, have more disposable income to spend, which boosts the economy. Healthier people are more productive. Because they are more productive, they are less prone to crime. The multiplier effects go on and on.
“And all tiers of government must recognise that there would be more money available to the government, via an improved economy, which means improved taxation, if they invest in education. I have been in this business since the 1980s. For every naira, you invest in educating a child, you add N5 to his life earnings. Tell me which other investment can yield that type of return on investment?”
“I have been spending some time in Germany because of the Saudi German Hospital investment I am attracting to Nigeria. One thing I found out in Germany is that private-sector corporations and manufacturers have their schools and institutes. Vocational education is so big in Germany and Japan that a lot of the German and Japanese labour force are vocationally educated by the industrial sector, rather than by the government or their parents or themselves,” he added.
Atiku said with support from the government by way of tax incentives and part-funding, Nigeria could ease its educational challenges by adopting the German Dual VET model, stating that it is a win-win for both government and the organised private sector because education will lead to an increase in highly skilled workers for the real sector, which will boost the economy and reduce unemployment.
He challenged multi-national companies and banks in Nigeria to step up their corporate social responsibilities, saying, “I want to see an MTN Academy for Telecommunications Studies, an Access Bank School of Business and Banking Studies, a Dangote Institute for Agriculture and Engineering and an Innoson School of Automotive Studies.
“Think of the impact such institutions will have. They will ease the burden on our public institutions and will enable artisans and technicians get the certification they need to transit from being low skilled workers to medium to highly skilled specialised semi-professionals.