The fraud called ‘free education’

Last Updated on May 22, 2022 by Memorila

Adamu Muhammad Nababa writes that governments who sing about ‘free education’ are dubious politicians who drag the education sector into abyss

Stories are sometimes told as fictions, but also in some instances they are gospel truths. Just like the story I am about to relay as part of the misfortune that has befallen us today disguised as free education.

When I got admitted into one of the secondary schools in the late seventies in the far north, the desert part of the North-Eastern Nigeria to be specific, I was full of misgivings because of the long journey of about three hundred kilometres, and also more nervous and frightened because I have never been far away from my mother for even five kilometres, for all of my almost fourteen years old at the time.

There was little provision for me. But what was so abundant was the encouragement from relatives, especially my brothers who were all my seniors. I was made to believe that I can make it, all I need to do was to be brave and confident, read my books and above all, say my prayers and be a good son. The school, my mother was told, will provide all my essential daily needs, so she shouldn’t bother getting all the assorted items she felt I must carry with me to school.

The journey was indeed difficult. And for every kilometre we took, I felt drifted from home, away from friends and relations, uncertain of those I will meet, unaware of who will feed me, or what I will be eating. I didn’t have answers to any of my personal needs and how I can handle them. Yet my mother allowed me to go to the school I qualified for, to start my secondary education.

“Did my mother really care for me?” “Did my brothers really care for me?” “Were they sure I could make it when they sent me to a school far away from home where I knew no one?” “Why?” All these were my thoughts. I was in tears as I lost my way into the journey, not knowing exactly where I was going, without any one I knew as my escort, or even a companion? Well, I had no option but to accept their counsels.

I arrived the school with some students of same age and perhaps the same mentality. I was received by staff of the school who took me to a student hostel along with others, and each of us to different rooms. He also introduced to the head dormitory who was a senior student and leader in the room. We were eight in the room, two each shared a double bunk with most juniors, like us, taking the bed on the top. I was given a bunch of keys for my lockers and a wardrobe under it for my belongings. I was also shown how to stock my items into them conveniently.

The Head Dorm, as he was simply called, briefed me on the daily routines and warned me to strictly comply, otherwise I will be punished for failing to do so.

The next morning, we were assembled and instructed on how to adjust to life in a boarding school. A week after, we have become accustomed to the routines, especially how we relate in our classes and understand from where each of us came from.

More perplexing was the co-education system where boys mix with girls in everything except when we retired to our hostels, and the order in the dining hall where we cannot start eating until a prayer is said by the order of the kitchen prefect.

We also found it difficult to eat with a spoon, fork and knife, which you must eat with. The order in our eating manners changed us a lot and the menu is nothing similar to what we were used to at home.

When we were served butter and sardines with bread, tea and sugar cubes, we felt a bit awkward on how to follow the order of eating such a breakfast like foreigners. But that was the way of our life, now a wonderful memory.

Every week, we were also given sanitary items, tinned Geisha and Sardines as well as butter (Blue Band) for weekend. By the end of our first term, we have generally become acclimatized to the orderly requirements of the school.

The drama of the JJC was indeed in the hostel. Having come from different backgrounds, some of us, like myself for instance, met a situation where a senior student was Yoruba or Igbo or Igala, wanting to show off to the junior that he/she must communicate in English or be shut up. But for how long can you keep quite?

Some of our prefects were from the southern parts of Nigeria and many from other regions. The mix was tolerated and the competition to excel above everything. The head student in my final year was an Igbo and my best games captains were a Hausa and a Yoruba whom we idolized to date.

Lest I forget, on the second day of your arrival, you will be given two sets of white class uniforms, a set of sportswear of the colour of your hostel, and a set of outing dress with a cap.

Furthermore, on your first day in the class, your form master will issue you textbooks and exercise books to keep in your class locker on which you take lessons. Anytime the exercise book gets filled up, the form master will gladly issue another one to you.

Indeed, we lacked nothing and we attended lessons without having a situation where we had no teacher for any subject. Our teachers were our role models and we felt so secured and relaxed with them.

Decline sets in

We understood when we were in the intermediate class that it was the Second Republic politicians who were in charge of the country, but we were unaffected by their flaws at the time. School fees or PTA dues, day schools or private schools were alien in those days. With everything that we had, no one ever mentioned that it was the government’s gratitude of giving free education to its citizens.

Of course, we knew a lot have changed in terms of national resources and population, but the extravagance and greed by leaders, self-aggrandizement and self-centeredness that suddenly gripped Nigeria in the late eighties have withered all the glory and order that Nigeria was known for.

The rot

Today, the category of schools we attended are what are referred to as public schools, neglected and in the shadow of their former selves. There are private schools from kindergarten to the university levels where you pay your way and get the certificates you want.

The public schools, neglected as they are, are for the poor, the private for the rich. The rich run the government while the poor give the votes. The rich refuses to fund the public schools and steal from the government coffer to pay the exorbitant school fees of the private schools for their children.

Pupils learning under the tree

The children of the poor receive less qualitative education and end up as political thugs and hangers-on, drug addicts and unskilled labourers. Pained to the bone, they resort to crimes and scandalous behaviours while the rich further move their wards out of the shores of Nigeria to study in faraway countries, away from the incessant ASUU strikes whose universities as public ones are underfunded and their entitlements held for years.

The primary and secondary education rungs have systematically been left to rot, without funding and order, without merit or completion time. It is still in shambles.

It is in the wake of all these educational maladies, that a dubious politician will come out to pronounce that he is giving free education to the citizens. Some state governors, who are so mean and disrespectful to their followers, even tag the free education mantra and deception as compulsory!

It also needs no stressing that those of us who enjoyed everything free without even forced to say “Thank you”, are the ones at the helms of affairs of education today, telling lies without let, who deny basic qualitative education for the poor and who educate their wards outside the shores of the country.

If there is anything worth fighting for, it is to fight these ingrates who enjoyed everything free but now makes it compulsory for the populace to pay for everything.

I feel distressed to see that I am a stakeholder in a system that I cannot pay back handsomely the good that was given to us gratis, where the education system is harsh and uncertain, where the poor is denied a chance and further deceived that a government is giving it free education.

If I didn’t buy my uniform, sportswear, books, feeding and provisions, and was taught every subject I chose, how can I today claim I am giving free education to a child whom I asked its parents to buy books, uniform, provisions, and exam registration, that it is free?

Adamu Muhammad Nababa writes from Kano, Nigeria

M. A. Nababa

M. A. Nababa is an essayist with deep interest in education and history. He has written on several topical issues for decades. And he is the co-founder of Memorila.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.