The revelation by the West African Examinations Council that the Sokoto and Zamfara state governments failed to register students in public schools for the ongoing West African Senior Secondary School Examination (May 16 to June 23), poses grave concern that resonates beyond the two North-West states. It demonstrates the insufferably careless attitude to education by Nigeria’s political leadership and the resulting underdevelopment. Alarmingly, however, it is not an isolated issue, but an emerging pattern of visionless governance in many states.
According to the Head of the WAEC Nigeria National Office, Patrick Areghan, Senior Secondary School III students in Sokoto and Zamfara states will not be participating in the ongoing May/June diet of the WASSCE. It emerged that both state governments did not register or pay their candidates’ fees for the examinations. Like other states, they are responsible for paying the examination fees of candidates in public schools. Inexplicably, both have issues of paying the examination fees with WAEC; while Zamfara has accumulated unpaid fees for years, Sokoto and the examination body are in dispute over tax rules and fees.
In practical terms, the 23,000 final-year students in Zamfara’s public schools have missed out of this year’s WASSCE, and 30,000 in Sokoto. WAEC said Zamfara had a backlog of N1.6 billion in unpaid fees for 2019, 2020 and 2021. It also failed to register or pay for 2022. This is sheer carelessness.
In the case of Sokoto, this is the second year running that it will present no candidates. In its defence, the state government said it did not register students following WAEC’s refusal to furnish it with details of its Tax Identification Number code as stipulated by law.
The state’s Commissioner for Education, Abubakar Gwuiwa, explained that Sokoto’s insistence on the TIN code “was in compliance with the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability Programme, which stipulates for correctness in all financial dealings embarked upon by states and local government areas in the country.” He said the government rejected WAEC’s proposal that it should pay 40 per cent of the fees for its candidates this year.
Its stance that it registered its students for the rival National Examinations Council and the National Board for Technical Education certificate examinations is unsatisfactory. Most students routinely take WASSCE and NECO’s SSCE, some all three. By this action, Sokoto has narrowed the choice of its students, especially as the WASSCE is the older and more internationally recognised certificate.
Denying their youth of all opportunities available to their counterparts nationwide for self-improvement and competitive testing is inexcusable. Zamfara simply does not care; Sokoto is similarly reckless. Truly, the insistence on compliance with its fiscal laws cannot be faulted and no agency, including WAEC, should be exempt from legitimate tax and revenue regulations. However, the government’s narrative strongly suggests an underlying dispute between both parties over mutual indebtedness. For the sake of the 30,000 hapless students, the Sokoto government should have done everything possible to arrange a truce, including litigation or alternative dispute resolution, to facilitate their sitting the examinations.
But the behaviour of the two states is not surprising. Across the northern states, education suffers. In October 2021, NECO stated that Zamfara, Adamawa, Kano, Gombe, Borno and Niger states combined owed it N1.8 billion for the students they registered in 2019.
It is definitely not for lack of resources; it is evidence of the flawed priorities of some state governors. The sad reality, for which the country is paying an increasingly high price, is that education takes a distant backseat to the politics of religion and elite privilege. While it could not pay for the examination fees of its students, in 2021, Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, spent N2.9 billion to purchase commodities as “Ramadan packages.” Last month, he reportedly distributed 260 assorted cars to traditional rulers in the state. These are his priorities.
The Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, approved N566 million in 2017 to build 189 mosques and religious schools across the state. Yet, the 1999 Constitution, which all the governors swore to uphold in Chapter 11 Section 18, compels the federal and state governments to eradicate illiteracy, stipulating that to this end, when practicable, they should provide free tertiary and adult literacy education.
But for political reasons, many northern governors ignore this. Instead, while the basic law expressly forbids the adoption of any religion by the states, they sink resources into promoting religious activities. The results have been catastrophic.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria currently has 10.19 million out of schoolchildren with the North-West having the highest percentage of 34.3 per cent. The seven states in this region, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano and Jigawa collectively have 3.5 million children out of school.
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board revealed that while over 1.7 million candidates registered for the 2022 Unified Tertiary and Matriculation Examination, majority of the northern states had far fewer candidates. Zamfara had only 6,668.
An NBS survey in 2017 showed literacy rate in Sokoto at 15.1 per cent, and 19.16 per cent in Zamfara, compared to the national average of 62.02 per cent. Frustrated, confused illiterate youths have turned to criminality, kidnapping, robbery, drug abuse and banditry. Religious extremism flourishes.
Adopted as a basic human right by the United Nations, UNESCO stresses that education is the bedrock of formal learning that “transforms lives, eradicates poverty and drives sustainable development.” It is the foundation of the world’s most successful economies and a pivotal agent of change in economies transiting from underdevelopment to societies with the best human development indices. Nigeria falls behind in HDI due in part to its leaders’ gross mismanagement of the education sector.
Governments at all levels should get their priorities right. Education should be treated as a right. The Sokoto and Zamfara elite should pressure their state governments to behave responsibly and ensure that henceforth, their children would never miss out in external examinations.