Trending Now

Education In Nigeria: The Rise And Fall And The Hope



Let me start with a quote I came across in putting this paper together, it is from one Prince Oyakhire who was a Former Administrator of Oyo and Taraba States during a lecture he delivered at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma in 2004. 

He said: “Education is an alienable right and an inseparable companion, no crime can destroy and no misfortune can suppress. Education is a societal ornament and a progressive discovery of our ignorance. It makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave”.


The concept of education in Africa was not a colonial invention Prior to European colonization and subsequent introduction of Western education, traditional educational systems existed in Africa. 

The enduring role of education in every society is to prepare individuals to participate fully and effectively in their world; it prepares youths to be active and productive members of their societies by inculcating the skills necessary to achieve these goals. 

Although its functions varied, African traditional education was not compartmentalized. 

Fundamentally, it was targeted towards producing an individual who grew to be well grounded, skilful, cooperative, civil, and able to contribute to the development of the community. 

The educational structure in which well-rounded qualities were imparted was fundamentally informal; the family, kinship, village group, and the larger community participated in the educational and socialization process.

In his book titled Education in Africa, Abdou Moumouni affirmed that the educational process essentially was based on “gradual and progressive achievements, in conformity with the successive stages of physical, emotional and mental development of the child.” 

The medium of instruction was the native language or “mother tongue” through which systematic instruction was delivered by way of songs, stories, legends, and dances to stimulate children’s emotions and quicken their perception as they explore and conquer their natural environment.

The African child was taught the various tribal laws and customs and a wide range of skills required for success in traditional society.

Before the British arrived in the early nineteenth century, there were two major types of education in Nigeria. In the Islamic North, education was strictly religious in nature. 

In each Muslim Community, a Mallam drilled children as young as five years old in the teachings of the Qur'an and the Arabic alphabet. 

The indigenous system was the second type of education before the British occupation. 

Students were taught the practical skills needed to function successfully in traditional society.


Indigenous education represents the type of education offered in the pre-literate era, within the community, by community members who possessed specialised skills or abilities in various fields of human endeavour. 

Mkpa, (2012) noted that the traditional education offered by the community was comprehensive such that it provided training in physical, character intellectual, social and vocational          development Joseph (2007) observed that Nigerian pre-colonial            education was progressive because of its emphasis on functionalism,     and its relevance to Nigerians.

In most communities, prior to the introduction of formal                     education, boys were brought up to take to whatever occupation     their fathers engaged in. In some other cases, the boys were sent   to other masters as apprentices to learn various vocations and life etiquette. 

Although occupations varied according to the geographical areas in Nigeria, the major ones were farming, trading, craft work, fishing, cattle rearing, wine tapping, traditional medicine and black-smithing. 

The boys also engaged in such other training activities as archery, tree climbing and wrestling. Intellectual training for them       consisted of their sitting quietly beside their fathers at meetings and listening attentively to learn the process of such tasks and skills as arbitration of cases, oratory, wise sayings and use of proverbs. All these stimulated their sense of rationality.

Girls were often expected to stay back at home to learn domestic and other chores such as cooking, sweeping, weeding the farmlands, hair weaving, decorations of the body, dye production and so on.

Traditionally, education received by Africans was oriented toward the practical. Work by Magnus Bassey (1991) indicates that those who took to fishing were taught navigational techniques like                  seafaring, the effects of certain stars on tide and ebb, and                   emigrational patterns and behaviour of fish. 

Those who took to farming had similar training. Those who learned trades and crafts,     such as blacksmithing, weaving, woodwork, and bronze work, needed a high degree of specialization and were often apprenticed outside their homes for training and discipline. 

Those who took to the profession of traditional priesthood, village heads, kings, medicine men and women diviners, rainmakers, and rulers underwent a longer period of painstaking training and rituals to prepare them for the vital job they were to perform.

Teaching was basically by example and learning by doing. African education emphasized equal opportunity for all, social solidarity and homogeneity. It was complete and relevant to the needs and expectations of both the individuals and society. This is because it was an integral part of the social, political, and economic foundation of the African society. 

However, the advent of the European missionaries and the introduction of Western education through the mission schools changed, in many fundamental ways, the dynamics of African education. 

Western education soon took the center stage in Africa, debasing, challenging, and supplanting the traditional, informal education along with its cultural foundations.


Records show that Islam was first accepted by a Kanem ruler, Umme Jilmi (1085 - 1097). 

Subsequent rulers, Dunama 1 (1097-1150) and Dunama II (1221 - 59), continued the tradition of Islamic learning such that by the end of the 13th Century, Kanem had become a centre of Islamic learning. 

In the early 14thCentury, Islam was brought into Hausa land by traders and scholars who came from Wangarawa to Kano in the reign of Ali Yaji (1349 1385). 

Before long, most of what later became the Northern Nigeria was Islamised. 

Islamic education brought along with it Arabic learning since Arabic is the language of the Quran and was therefore perceived as having great spiritual value. Arabic and Islam were taught simultaneously in primary schools. 

As a result of the political and social influence which Islam and Quranic learning conferred on those who possessed it, many rulers employed Islamic scholars as administrators.

The Jihad by Uthman Dan Fodio helped to revive, spread and consolidate Islamic studies and extend access to education also to women. 

Thus, before the arrival in Nigeria of the Western type education in the 19th Century, Islamic learning had been established. 

Islamic studies had also penetrated the Western parts of Nigeria before the arrival of the Jihadists; but the Jihad strengthened the religion where it was weak. 

Support for Islamic education came from some Northern Nigerian leaders, especially Abdullahi Bayero, (Emir of Kano), who, on his return from Mecca in 1934, introduced new ideas by building a Law School for training teachers of Islamic subjects and Arabic as well as English and Arithmetic.

The school continued to grow and expand in scope such that before long, and with the support of the then Northern Region Ministry of Education, it had grown into the popular Bayero College, Kano, which became a part of Ahmadu Bello University and later the present Bayero University, Kano. 

The institution helped to expand the scope of Islamic studies in Nigeria. Many institutions have sprung up over the years, in many parts of the country, for the purpose of teaching Islamic ideas and practices. 

However, one major problem of this educational tradition is the focus on Arabic which, in many parts of Nigeria, is not the language of literature, instruction and correspondence.


The colonial brand of education was essentialist by orientation (Joseph 2007) they viewed education as a central body of essential knowledge that must be transmitted to all who came to school for this reason they established a proper code of  conduct for the localities. 

Most of the schools set up by these missions were boarding schools because they believed that if children were to be developed along civilized lines their daily life must be supervised, controlled and directed along proper lines. Education was meant to purify the mind of the learner. 

This is because of their belief that man was born evil in an unsuitable and sinful world. 

The colonialists expected the Nigerian teacher to be a strict disciplinarian and well behaved to the extent that he was to be a model worthy of emulation. 

In imparting knowledge to the learners, the teacher was expected to use lecture method, play way and Socratic teaching strategy. 

The Nigerian learner was expected to keep mute by sitting and looking up. 

He memorized all that emanated from the teacher’s mouth with the hope of reproducing same on examination day.


Formal education in Nigeria began when the first primary school opened its doors in 1843 in Badagry, Lagos. 

This school was then owned by the Methodist missionaries, marking the first evidence of private sector stimulated delivery of education in Nigeria. 

Education at this time was regarded as of fundamental importance to the spread of Christianity. 

Thus, education introduced at this early stage was interwoven with Christian evangelism. 

The missionaries established and ran the early schools in Nigeria. They also designed the curriculum for such schools and devoted their meagre resources to the opening of schools for young Nigerians.

All missionaries who came to Nigeria combined evangelical and educational work together. 

Consequently, early mission schools were founded by the Methodist Church of Scotland Mission, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the Roman Catholics. By 1882, the CMS had seventeen elementary and infant day schools for boys and girls in various parts of Lagos. 

The subjects taught in majority of the elementary schools included:                    Scripture, English Compositions, English Grammar, Arithmetic, Geography, Music, Singing, Reading, Writing, Dictation, and for girls Sewing.

Although literary education in the 4Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic and religion) was predominant, this new missionary education prepared the recipients for new job opportunities, as teachers, church evangelists or pastors, clerks and interpreters. 

Emphasis was also on character training. Most of the missions established primary schools and, initially, little emphasis was laid on secondary and higher education.        

Records show that the earliest Secondary School to be established were: (1) Baptist Academy, Lagos: 1855 (2) CMS Grammar School, Lagos: 1859 (3) Methodist Boys High School, Lagos: 1878 (4) Methodist Girls High School, Lagos: 1879 (5) Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar: 1895 (6) and Saint Annes School, Ibadan: 1896

The period between 1900 and 1940 saw the establishment of more prominent schools such as: “(1)Abeokuta Grammar School, Ogun State: 1908 (2) Kings College, Lagos:  1909 (3) Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, Ogun: 1913 (4) Eko Boys High School, Lagos: 1913 (5) Government Secondary School, Ilorin: 1914 (6) Government College Katsina-Ala : 1914 (7) Ondo Boys High School, Ondo:  1919 (8) Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta: 1923 (9) Methodist College, Uzuakoli : 1923 (10) Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Anambra: 1925 (11) Queen's College, Lagos: 1927 (12)  and our own Government College, Ibadan Oyo State was founded in 1927”

Others in this category include:  

(1)  Barewa college, Zaria also founded in 1927  (2)  Government College Umuahia foundedin 1927 (3) St Gregory's College, Lagos: 1928 (4) St. Teresa’s College Ibadan: 1932 (5) Christthe King College, Onitsha, Anambra:1933  (6)  Christ's School, Ado Ekiti: 1933  (7) Government Secondary school Owerri: 1935  (8) Edo College, Benin City : 1937

However, the spread of western education in the north was not as smooth as it was in the south. 

This was because the north had enjoyed the Islamic system of education for many years before the introduction of western education and also because of the scepticism of the Muslims about the impact of Christian missionary education. 

By 1914, it was estimated that about 25,000 Quranic schools were already in existence all over Northern Nigeria. 

Thus, the arrival of Christian Western education met stiff opposition. 

However, in some parts of Northern Nigeria, the Christian missionaries did succeed to establish schools, at times, in collaboration with Government. 

Western education slowly entered the northern region. 

In 1947, only 66,000 students were attending primary schools in the north. 

Ten years later, the number enrolled had expanded to 206,000 students. In the western region, over the same period, primary school enrollment expanded from 240,000 to 983,000 students. 

The eastern region experienced the most dramatic growth in primary enrollment during this period, jumping from 320,000 to 1,209,000 students. 

The number of secondary school students in the entire nation grew much less dramatically, increasing from 10,000 in 1947 to 36,000 in 1957. 

Most of this growth, 90 percent, was almost entirely in the south. In the 1950s, Nigeria adopted the British system called Form Six that divided grades into six elementary years, three junior secondary years, two senior secondary years, and a two-year university preparation program. 

Those who scored high on exit examinations at the end of Form Six usually were qualified to enter universities.

The Nigerian education system started slowly but soundly developing during the colonial time until the conclusion of World War II. 

The Christian missionaries introduced the western education system in Nigeria in the mid-nineteenth century.  In 1990, three fundamentally distinct education systems existed in Nigeria - the indigenous system, the Quranic schools, and formal European-style educational institutions. 

Higher Education in Nigeria originated with the colonial government launching the Yaba Higher College in 1934.

Much of the educational work in Southern Nigerian, prior to 1882, was done by the missionaries almost without government assistance. 

However, from 1882, the Government began a bold intervention by promulgating codes and regulations, guidelines and policies on organisation and management of schools. 

The Government also began to appoint inspectors and to make grants to schools to ensure quality. 

Thus, between 1882 and 1950, many codes and regulations were issued by Government to regulate the quality of education in various parts of the country. 

Between 1952 and 1960, each of the then three regions enacted and operated new education laws (the West in 1955, both the East and North in 1956). 

The initial experiment at Universal Primary Education Programme was started in the West and East in 1955 and 1957 respectively.

Furthermore, in 1959, the Federal Government set up the Sir Eric Ashby Commission to identify the high-level manpower needs of the country for the future. 

The Ashby Report prescribed that education was indeed the tool for achieving national economic expansion and the social emancipation of the individual. 

It recommended the establishment of four Federal Universities in the country, and presented some vital courses for them. 

Five universities, instead of four, were subsequently opened as follows: University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1960), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1962), University of lfe, lle-ife (1962), University of Lagos, Lagos (1962), and University of lbadan, first established as University College, lbadan in 1948.

University of Benin was later established (1972). As of 1999, Nigeria had forty-one universities made up of twenty-five Federal, twelve State and four Private-owned. 

Among them are specialised universities, including three Universities of Agriculture, seven Universities of Technology, as well as a military university, the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. 

Latest figures show that Nigeria now has 152 Universities consisting of 68 private, 44 State Owned and 40 Federal Owned Universities.

These have been established in the bid to address specific areas of national needs. Other tertiary educational institutions such as Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology were also set up during these years. 

The National Universities Commission (NUC), established in 1962, has the task of co-coordinating the orderly development of the Nigerian university system and maintaining its academic standards.


Remarkably, education in Nigeria pre-independence laid a very solid foundation for the past-independence era. That past independence era saw the rise of the best educational institutions in Nigeria from the primary to the tertiary. 

Our universities were rated amongst the best in Africa and had a pride of place in the world rankings. Seated here, tonight are some of the products of that era. 

I passed out of our dear school in 1979 and headed for the International School, Ibadan. I only dreamt of a place in the University of Ife or the University of Lagos. My late father had other plans. 

He felt I was quite rascally and had to be taken out of circulation. 

So he arranged for me to be removed to a little village called Buckland, near Oxford in England where I was welcomed by very bitter winter months. 

I spent quite a lot of years even after I returned to Nigeria to settle into active legal practice dreaming what would have been if I had ended up in Great Ife or Unilag. Most of you, experienced these golden years and it is those years that gave you the foundation in the main to hold your own in the diaspora. 

Before things fell apart, our Education System produced the best and some of these, we shared with the World.


It is uncertain when the rot began, who was or is responsible and how it should have been nipped in the bud, all we know is that a terrible Rot set in from the early 1980s and we are still on a freefall. 

Inadequate funding, corruption and disorganisation took hold of the Educational System in Nigeria. 

Brain drain was like a tsunami and even the popular Government propaganda T.V. advert featuring Andrew could not stop the exodus by lecturers, researchers and students from finding their way out not only to the Western World but also to the far East and even other African Countries. 

Indeed our taunt on Ghanaians with “Ghana must go” indeed ran a full circle as parents who could not afford full Western Education found Ghanaian Universities a better and safer alternative. 

Are we out of the Doldrums? 

The answer is an emphatic NO. Our present house is in a very poor state. 

The Guardian Newspaper in its editorial opinion on 1st June, 2018 stated as follows;

“It is no longer news that the Nigerian educational system, due to an unwholesome combination of neglect and mismanagement, has fallen over the years into a squalid state of disrepair. 

"It is no longer news that while in saner societies throughout the world, the teaching profession is considered one of the most important jobs there could be, in Nigeria, teachers are about the most indigent, most derided lot in the polity.

"It is also not a so surprising truth anymore that if the achievement of peace, stability and development is one of the objectives of the Nigerian state at this present time, its school curriculums are ill-equipped to drive the nation towards the goal”.

Again the Daily Trust Newspaper in its editorial of 8th February 2018 had this to say; “The crisis in the country’s education sector is not a recent development. Neither is it an ordinary challenge. It is complex, critical and multi-dimensional. 

"Many years before the 2015 deadline set for meeting the goals decided in 2000 by Education for All [EFA] elapsed, there were symptomatic manifestations that Nigeria was going to miss out in that global education race. This dashed hope came to pass when the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) on EFA was made public by UNESCO in Paris in April 2015. 

"Clearly, Nigeria’s education system is in crisis today, at all levels. Malam Adamu (The Minister for Education) said as much at the opening ceremony of a Presidential Retreat on Education which held in Abuja last November. 

"It is tragic that the academic standard of most primary school teachers in the country is not better than that of the pupils they teach. 

"A classical illustration of this professional embarrassment was when Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i of Kaduna State announced last October that 21,780 out of 33,000 teachers in the state failed the primary four examination administered to test their competence.” 

The Daily Trust opinion went further “An even more critical challenge is the criminal tendency among many state governments to leave teachers’ salaries unpaid for several months. In June 2017, Nigeria Union of Teachers [NUT] threatened to embark on “aggressively-driven total strike action” over teachers’ salaries, which remained unpaid for between 4 to 23 months. Teachers in some states were placed on half-salary for over 3 years. The problems are no less grave at the tertiary level of education. 

"Besides sharing some of the challenges bedeviling the lower levels, some of the nation’s higher institutions are “famous” for running unaccredited academic programmes. 

"Others are notorious for the rain of first class degrees, award of honorary degrees to undeserving recipients, admission controversies, contract scams, overcrowded lecture halls and hostel accommodations, exam malpractice and cultism. Until recently, strike was the only “language” understood by ASUU. 

"A huge consequence of this quagmire is the advent of educational tourism to European and neighboring West African countries.” 

UNICEF Nigeria report on Quality Basic Education has recently said that: Nigeria’s population growth has put pressure on the country’s resources, public services and infrastructure. 

With children under 15 years of age accounting for 45 per cent of the 171 million population, the burden on education has become overwhelming.

Primary school enrolment has increased in recent years, but net attendance is only about 70 per cent, but Nigeria still has 10.5 million out-of-school children - the world’s highest number. Sixty per cent of those children are in northern Nigeria.

About 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls. Many of those who do enroll drop out early. Low perceptions of the value of education for girls and early marriages are among the reasons. Some northern states have laws requiring education of girls and prohibiting their withdrawal from school. Girls’ primary school attendance has been improving, but this has not been the case for girls from the poorest households.

Increased enrolment rates have created challenges in ensuring quality education, as resources are spread more thinly. It is not rare to see cases where there are 100 pupils for one teacher, or where students learn under trees because of a lack of classrooms.

In north-eastern Nigeria, conflict has deprived many children of access to education. Teachers have been killed and schools burned down or closed for security reasons.”

Education in Nigeria has over the years fallen into a parlous state as a result of historical abuses, mindless impunity and corruption. 

We have an estimated 13.2 million children out of school, a high level of illiteracy, infrastructural deficit and decay, unqualified teachers, inadequate instructional materials to mention a few of the apparent problems we face.

In the 2018 budget, the F.G.N has made provision for only 74% of the =N=8.6 trillion for the education budget. The UNICEF recommendation is 26% of National budgets.

Disturbing images have gone viral about the bad state of our educational facilities with pictures showing (1) Cattle invading and sacking teachers and pupils at Ohovbe Primary School, Ikpoba, Edo State, (ii) Pictures showing 135 Students sitting under one roof in a class with only one teacher, (iii) Children wading through a river to get to School everyday as there is no school in their immediate community, (iv) Lagos State University Students attending a lecture under a tree. Yes in Lagos that purports to attain a mega-city Status (v) Classrooms in Bauchi State with no windows, furniture, doors or ceilings. 

The same floor sitting classrooms were photographed in Akwa-Ibom and Nasarawa States while the students in Ajuwon High School, Akute in Ogun State have fared better, they actually sit on used tyres as their classroom furniture.   

In an article published on Bloomberg this September the pitiable State of the Ibadan Municipal Government Primary School is highlighted.

There is a shortage of books, chalk and teachers have not been paid for several months. There are thousands of teachers struggling to train the next generation in a ramshackle school system gutted by corruption, lack of investment and a flight of qualified instructors to private sector jobs.

The results are clear to see. In 2016, the UN Human Development Index ranked Nigeria, a nation with almost 200 million inhabitants, 152nd in educational achievements out of 188 countries. 

"When Nigerian recruiting company Phillips Consulting requests applications for job vacancies these days, about 3 percent of the candidates have the required qualifications”. 

The Bloomberg Article continues “Now businesses increasingly rely on their own training programs to prepare ill-equipped graduates. 

“There is a risk that if we don’t improve it very quickly the employers will actually be spending much more resources in training,” said Abubakar Suleiman, Chief Executive Officer of Sterling Bank Plc, which has a Learning and Development Centre for new hires. “We can train people on the job they’re coming to do, but I shouldn’t be training them on basic issues like communication, etiquette and how to do team work. It wastes time.” 

During a visit to Nigeria in March, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates told government officials that while its economic recovery plan is emphasizing physical infrastructure, there’s little on human capital development, particularly education and health. 

“People without roads, ports, and factories can’t flourish,” Gates said. “And roads, ports, and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy

Families who can afford the cost are increasingly abandoning the state school system, shifting their children to private schools or sending them abroad. At least 257,000 currently study in six top recipient nations: the U’K, Ghana, the U.S., Malaysia, Canada and neighbouring Benin, according to data compiled by the Institute of Statistics at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

As a result, Nigeria made $1.66 billion in official foreign-exchange allocations to pay tuition between 2015 and April this year, according to central bank data. 

There were 11,710 Nigerians studying the U.S. university system in 2017, a 9.7 percent rise over the year before, representing almost a third of Africans there, according to the Institute of International Education”. 


We have a penchant for throwing our worst forward. The solution lies in a leadership determined to serve with integrity and purpose. The Golden years can be re-enacted. In the past and before the fall, the first six Nigerian Universities (University of Ibadan, Ile Ife, Lagos, Benin, Nsukka and Zaria) had their products competing favourably with any other University in the World as their products were sought for by University of Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and London for admission into their post-graduate courses. 

These students achieved record breaking performances and when they graduated they were employed by the best multi-national companies and corporate bodies globally unlike today where no Nigerian University is among the top 6,000 Universities of the world. We can not give up but have hope. I fully align myself with the recommendations suggested by the Civil Society Action in Education for All. These are:

    Adequate resourcing which will be needed to build new schools, train more teachers etc

    Implementation of the universal Basic Education Act and ensuring that all forms of user fees are abolished.

    Dealing with the quality issues including size of classes, number of teachers and provision of materials.

    Massive investment in infrastructures in all levels of education

    Promotion of child friendly and teacher friendly school environment

    Respect and protection of the rights of children in school including protection from violence in schools especially of the girl child.

    Review of school curricula to promote critical and relevant learning

    Proper governance of schools and implementation of Schools Management Committees (SMCs).

    Tracking of resources to ensure proper, adequate and accountable utilization of resources budgeted for education.

    Improvement of teacher quality through employment of professional and qualified teachers, in service training and retraining and implementation of the teacher salary structure.

    Dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the education sector

    Completion, popularization and utilization of Education for All [EFA] plan

    Empowerment approach to education

You may have better suggestions and you may wish to actually set up a standing committee of GCIOBA to continue to deliberate and make recommendations to our Governments at all levels. 

After all GCIOBA is all about education, education and education.

Thank you for listening.


For events coverage, breaking news and advert placement, contact us today on our hotlines: +2348033599492, +2348022717838 or send us an email on 


All rights reserved. This material and any other material on THE NEWS ACCELERATOR NETWORK  should not be reproduced, published, broadcast, written or distributed in full or in part, without written permission from the Editor-In-Chief.

No comments