Nigerians’ quest for overseas studies

A new report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), a foreign-policy think tank, to the effect that a significant percentage of the £30 million contributed annually to the United Kingdom’s education sector by politicians in West Africa come from Nigeria is a cause for concern by the managers of Nigeria’s economy. The situation is not only dire but also deplorable, considering the fragile state of the nation’s economy and its often slide into recession.

The report, which  also found that at least 40 per cent of governors — present and past — have sent their children to UK universities from 1999 till date, with only 10 states missing from the list, said Nigerian politicians, including the president, often send their children to school abroad, while the country’s public education system battles with lack of adequate funding.

The CEIP publication explored how such studies overseas are potential sources of financial illicit flows from prominent politically exposed persons (PEPs) and politicians, some of who have been accused of corruption. Authored by Matthew Page, a former US intelligence community expert on Nigeria, the report revealed how PEPs in West Africa have channeled unexplained wealth into the UK education sector.

“It is not easy to estimate the overall value of this flow, yet it likely exceeds £30 million annually. Most of these funds emanate from Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, Ghana; compared with these two countries, only a handful of students from elsewhere in West Africa seek education in British schools. All of Nigeria’s presidents and vice presidents, for example, during that period had done so. Likewise, roughly 40 per cent of Nigeria’s current and former state governors have educated their children in the United Kingdom.”

Page said the “most compelling red flag” relating to West African PEPs’ payments to UK educational institutions is “how greatly the payments exceed their official salaries”. Citing Nigeria as an example, he raised questions on how government officials who are able to afford the high tuition fees for their children overseas become “inexplicably wealthy”, whereas the public service rules prohibit them from running private businesses.

“They appear to use a wide range of self-enrichment tactics that include misappropriating public property, engaging in various forms of contract fraud, collecting fraudulent allowances, accepting inappropriate gifts, soliciting bribes or kickbacks, and obtaining land grants for themselves and their associates, among many other schemes,” he said.

The research called on UK officials to conduct more scrutiny on the conditions under which the children of politicians enrol in British schools, arguing that this would help realise the UK’s global anti-corruption objectives and “close a troublesome anti-money laundering loophole”.

According to new public opinion poll in Nigeria released by NOIPolls, the poor perception of Nigerians towards the country’s educational system is currently fueling an upsurge in the number of citizens seeking to pursue foreign degrees abroad. This was followed by the perception that foreign certificates are granted higher value than local certificates; and the consideration that foreign environments tend to be more conducive for studies due to the availability of modern educational facilities and absence of incessant strike actions.

Although, Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world, there is little to justify its humongous wealth in terms of the provision of  infrastructure like roads, power, water, etc as well as the provision social services like education, job creation, healthcare delivery, security, among others. This undesirable state of affairs has largely been attributed to corruption and its attendant capital flight, through medical tourism and the quest for overseas studies by Nigerians.

It is an indubitable fact that Nigeria’s education sector is at its nadir, following decades of systemic neglect and the concomitant dilapidation in the sector. The deplorable state of the nation’s education sector has been largely attributed to corruption and the lack of political will by government at all levels to ensure adequate funding for the sector.

The collapse of public schools in Nigeria necessitated the proliferation of private schools and the resort to foreign universities by some rich Nigerians, including public office holders, especially state governors. The phenomenon where Nigerians, mostly the ruling elite, send their wards to schools abroad has a backlash in a prostrate economy, owing to the massive capital flight and a free fall of the nation’s currency, the naira.Nevertheless, Blueprint is of the considered opinion that although the decay in the education sector is quite enormous, the situation is redeemable if all the major stakeholders, particularly government at all levels, muster the political will to move Nigeria’s education to greater heights in tandem with the template of the 21st Century. Accordingly, the Nigerian government must strive to meet the 26 per cent budgetary benchmark for education stipulated by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); the present eight per cent is a far cry from this template. Certainly, Nigeria cannot afford to continue to toy with her education sector and, by extension, her future.