Fashola Speaks On Protection Of Child’s Right To Education At Awolowo Free Education Lecture (Full Speech)

Lagos State Governor and Guest Lecturer, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN (middle) being presented with the distinguished Award of Life Patron of Obafemi Awolowo Free Education Order by the Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Professor Bamitale Omole (left) while the Dean Faculty of Education, OAU, Professor Phillip Jegede (right) watches during the Obafemi Awolowo Free Education Lecture  with the theme, “Protecting the Nigerian Child’s Rights to Education: A Socio-Political Emancipation”, at the Oduduwa Hall, OAU Campus, Ile-Ife on Thursday, January 15, 2015.

When the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Professor Olu Jegede, visited my office on December 13, 2014, leading a team of Dr. Mrs. Y. A. Ajibade and others to deliver an invitation letter asking me to be the Guest Lecturer at this year’s Annual Lecture to commemorate the Obafemi Awolowo Free Education Order, I did not hesitate to accept.

For me it is always a pleasure to participate in or contribute to the development of an idea such as education and the human capital development purpose that it serves.

More importantly, the subject of the lecture, which is “Protecting the Nigerian Child’s Rights to Education: A Catalyst to Socio-Political Emancipation” provides an opportunity to interrogate and ventilate my own views, and hopefully place them on permanent record about what I think we should be doing.

Significantly, Professor Jegede mentioned during his visit, how beneficial it would have been, if Chief Obafemi Awolowo were still around, for us to hear his thoughts about the way forward.

This provoked even more interest for me to accept to deliver this lecture.

I never met Chief Awolowo in person. But I have read many of the books he published.

I have argued that the idea of education was not novel to him at least not in these parts.

What was novel was the way he chose to fund it.

People argued against the possibility, but he proved them wrong by demonstrating that it was an investment choice that any leader had to make.

It was a matter of choices and consequences.

Till today the idea endures, but many things have changed. Some of the first schools where free education was started probably do not exist today.

That is the transient nature of brick and mortar.

However, the noble ideals of freedom from ignorance, possession of knowledge, the right to know, which education seeks to secure, remain undying.

So I will be discussing the subject of today’s lecture around the idea of FUNDING education for the Nigerian child, because it would seem pedestrian to be discussing whether the Nigerian child should have an education.

That matter is undebatable.

The debate should, as it is, be about  (1) how to fund it, (2) to what level, and perhaps (3) defining what is education; within the context of a right.

I have searched furtively for the speech Chief Awolowo gave on 17th January 1955 proclaiming Free Education and there seemed to be no record of it, until I asked the Director of the Lagos Records and Archives Bureau to look for it.

Thankfully in November 2014 he brought press clippings of newspaper headlines which I have reproduced for reference as Annexures to this paper, where the announcement of Free Education was reported as front page news.

I will quote some of the excerpts of what Chief Awolow said in that revolutionary speech as reported in the Daily Service Newspaper of Tuesday January 18, 1955:
“This evening I want to talk to you about the Free Universal Primary Education Scheme which begins today. You will all agree with me that we have today entered an era of great revolution in the education of our children in the Western Region.

This morning about 400,000 children started schooling for the first time under the Free Universal Primary Education Scheme of the Region.

In the absence of this scheme only about 96,000 children whose parents could afford the fees charged would have entered school this year.

In other words a large number of its parents and guardians have voluntarily decided to send our children to school because of the inducement offered in the non-payment of school fees.


The total number of Teacher Training Colleges in the Region is now 54. The number of teachers in training last year was 5,010. Plans have now been made to open 10 more Training Colleges, and start Emergency Training Courses so as to increase the output of trained teachers from 2,000 per annum to 3, 200 per annum.

Last year, the sum of £2.5m was spent on primary school buildings alone and about £1.5m will be spent this year. By the time the programme is complete, the Government of the Western Region will have spent about £9m in school building alone, and shall be spending about £8m yearly on recurrent expenditure.

The total number of primary schools now in the Western Region is 10,000 and this figure will increase rapidly from now on.


Government went to work to break down these prejudices and suspicions by means of well organized and well directed publicity. The response of parents and guardians during the registration period is proof of the success which the Government has achieved in this direction.

After registration, however, mischief-makers were at work again. Because it was said that parents and guardians would have to pay about 10 shillings for the books and school materials which each child requires for the year, those who do not want the scheme to succeed have suggested that there is an element of school fees in the cost of books.


The purpose of this arrangement is to enable children to get their books at reasonable prices and to eliminate black marketeering in the sale of school books and materials. In this connection it must be remembered that Government never at any time promised that books and other materials required by pupils would be supplied free.

But this mis-information in regard to the nature and purpose of the prices to be charged for school books and materials has gained ground so much that it was feared that it might have the effect of scaring many parents from voluntarily sending their children to school.

And as the Government is determined that no stone should be left unturned in inducing parents who might be reluctant to do so, to send their children to school, it has decided to supply text-books and other school materials free of charge to all children who are entering school for the first time this year.

£200,000 ON BOOKS

The total cost of these books and materials is £200,000. The books and materials are of 2 classes: the consumable class which will be the property of the children and will be replaced by parents or guardians if damaged or lost, and the non-consumable which will be the property of the school, and available for use by pupils in primary I this year and in successive years.

This class of books and materials will be replaced by Government if damaged or lost.

Unless any untoward event afflicts the finances of the Region, I venture to hope that it will be possible to repeat this act of generosity to children who will also be entering school for the first time in 1956.


The Western Region Government has also decided that none of the children now entering school should be compelled to wear a prescribed school uniform or to buy materials provided by school authorities.

You will all agree with me that none of us parents are so poor that we cannot clothe or feed our children. In any event we do pray to God that we may not be all that poor. Since we must clothe our children when sending them to school all that the school authorities said was: “let all the children attending the same school wear the same kind of clothing, so as to make for beauty and symmetry”.


But as the matter has been misrepresented in such a manner as to tend to deter some of us from sending our children to school, all that the Government requires of us, is that we make sure that our children go to school in clean dresses of our choice.

Those of us who like to buy uniforms for our children are free to do so, and those who don’t are free to clothe our children in any kind of clean clothing. Similarly, a child may get his mid-day meal from whatever source the parent dictates, from the food seller in the school premises, or at home when he returns from school.

In pursuance of this belief it has done everything possible to advance the cause of education in the Western Region. Apart from the Free Primary Education which begins today it has also encouraged the development of secondary education all over the Region.


Before this Government came to power in 1952, there were only 46 secondary schools in the Region. Today there are 74. Similarly, before 1952 there were less than 12 modern schools, today there are 267.

Again, before 1952 there were only 33 training colleges but today there are – as I have said before – 54 with 20 more to be opened this year. The Education Policy of the Government is such that if your child is very clever it is possible for him or her to be educated free at the expense of the State from Primary I up to the attainment of a university degree.

Because, apart from the free primary education which is now offered to all children, there are secondary school scholarships, as well as higher education or university scholarships for deserving students.


Some concern has been expressed about the future of children above the school going age who are not now in school. Such children could either be educated by regular attendance at private schools at the expense of their parents or guardians or they could benefit from the adult literacy scheme of the Regional Government.

As soon as this Free Primary Education Scheme is well under way, Government will take steps to enlarge the adult literacy scheme so as to make it possible for all persons above school age to be educated to read and write at least in their own indigenous language.”

The facts which must be gathered from these and which are very important are as follows:
a. Free Education as proposed and practiced by Chief Awolowo was limited to primary school – Basic Foundational Education;
b. The population of the Western Region at the time was smaller than it is today and 267 schools were involved;
c. It did not extend to Secondary and University education (he said they will provide scholarships for deserving students); and
d. This happened during the period when the Action Group Party was in charge of Government in the Western Region.

We must remember these facts for the purpose of comparisons as we go forward because things changed.

There was political crisis, the Action Group Government ended, Nigeria went into a civil war, the Western Region was broken up into several States Ogun, Oyo, Bendel, Ondo States and parts of Lagos.

In 1978 or thereabouts when the return to partisan politics was allowed, Action Group had been proscribed by law and the Party which was formed, the Unity Party of Nigeria was essentially a clone of the Action Group with Awolowo as the prime mover.

This time, they had extended the free education to secondary level. And this for me is where the questions began to arise.

Can there be an idea for all times and for all circumstances?

What is the definition of education that must be free and which the state is duty bound to provide, and which the citizen is duty bound to take?

These questions are important, so that those who chant Awolowo’s name in the quest for free education at all levels have probably not done the cost of educating one child at primary level, not to talk of secondary, and on to tertiary level which some people are clamouring for.

As if these omissions by the protagonists are enough, they cannot provide any data about the number of beneficiaries, yet they say Awolowo would simply have done it.

This is where they display their ignorance of the man whose name they use in vain to make loud attention seeking noise.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a seasoned thinker and planner.

He never said what he did not mean.

He prepared himself to speak in public because he knew the value of the spoken word and more importantly knew that electoral promises were a matter of very serious honour, and to break them was a matter of great dishonor and breach of trust.

Indeed nothing honours or dishonours a man like the value of his words.

In Chief Awolowo’s time, he knew his numbers, limited himself to primary schools, while secondary schools (run largely by the private sector, the Christian and Muslim institutions) and universities were largely funded by parents who could pay or scholarships.

It is instructive to emphasize this point that up until 1979, there were very few Government owned schools.

When I hear people who speak today with authority about the “good old days” of Government schools and their quality, I wonder how much they truly remembered, or whether they simply wished to mislead the public.

I do not know about other states, but in Lagos where I grew up Government owned schools were significantly in the minority.

Between Surulere, Yaba and Lagos Island, I could only remember Government Demonstration School, Government College Eric More, Kings College and Queens College.

All the others were owned by the missions and individuals proprietors, Lagos City College, Aunty Ayo Girls Secondary, Holy Child, St. Gregory’s, St. Finbars, Maryland Comprehensive (Catholic), Birch Freeman, Anglican Girls Grammar School, Methodist Boys’ High School, Igbobi College (either Methodist or Anglican or joint ownership) Baptist Academy (Baptist), Ansar ud Deen Primary and Secondary, Jubril Martins, Ahmaddiya Primary and Secondary (Ansar ud Deen and Ahmaddiya Muslim Societies).

These are the facts.

Even today many years after Government took over private schools, and with the return of some of these schools back to the Missions in Lagos and some states, the number of private schools in Lagos still outnumbers what the Government provides.

I must not be misunderstood to be uncharitably critical of the takeover. Whether it was the best decision is a matter of debate. What is undebatable is that there was an education crisis at that time. There was a compelling need to act.

The population had grown. The schools were not enough. Children were learning in 4 (four) shifts a day and receiving less than 2 hours of tuition a day, and classes were running till 6 or 7pm.

Something urgent had to be done and to the credit of the UPN Government in Lagos they found the courage to take a decision that provided at least access to schools for more children.

What they may have missed, which I will discuss later, was the question of funding.

Did anybody do an audit of how much each mission that owned those schools that Government took over, was spending to fund, operate and maintain the schools?

If they did, did Government make a budget, equal to or above that amount, to keep the schools in good repair, quality and condition?

Those questions are important because this was the gap that Eko Education Fund was devised to fill during my tenure of governance.

But for now it is important to set the records and the facts straight as I have sought to do, so that those who criticize today’s policies by comparing them to Chief Awolowo’s model, must know that they are comparing different things – Apples and oranges.

This then leads me to the heart of the matter.

Is free education possible? Yes. Is it possible at all levels? Yes. If we choose to have it.

But the point must be made with all emphasis that education is not free. Teachers who are employed to deliver education to students who do not pay for them, do not teach for free.

School blocks, teaching equipment, textbooks, laboratory and other learning aids are not free, they must be paid for.

What Government does when it declares a policy of free education, is to give it to the beneficiaries for FREE, while the cost of providing it is borne by passing it on to those who are either privileged by way of taxes, or Government chooses to fund it, by raising money or deciding to spend less elsewhere.

So to deliver free education, I think we must also decide what level is free and perhaps in this way draw an intelligent distinction that Ijeoma Nwogugwu of Thisday Newspaper, made on the matter which I find compelling; when she drew a distinction between “Education” and “Specialization”.

I will make the point more lucidly by first referring to our adopted education system the 6 3 3 4 system.

To the best of my knowledge and recollection, no argument has been made against the system.

The real discussion has been what we have done with it.

The first 6 (six) years is the foundational level where literacy and numeracy (reading, writing and cognitive capacity) is acquired. This is clearly “Education” according to Ijeoma and I agree.

The next level is the Junior Secondary School level, where children are introduced to the world and life in a broader detail. They are taught sciences, geography, history, more  details of religion, principles of heat, light, sound and basic survival skills from which the foundation for what they want to be in life is laid. This is “education” according to Ijeoma.

In my own time, it was described as Form 1-3 and as clear juniors, we were not allowed to wear trousers, which was for the senior classes, starting from Form 4.

But this was the period when we were separated from ourselves and categorized as Arts and Science students.

The former often produced the bulk of lawyers, and other experts in the humanities, like sociologists, political scientists, literacy experts, historians etc and the latter produced the doctors, dentists, pharmacists, architects and the core of engineering professionals.

From the point of the 4th Form through to Upper Six, which is now compressed into Senior Secondary Schools 1- 3, there is the legitimate debate whether it is “education” that is going on, or “career specialization”.

Those who hold the latter view (i.e. career specialization) argue and I agree that this is where Technical students, can opt for Technical Education especially in a nation that needs to build so much as therefore start their career.

While I find this argument plausible, I am willing to argue that we should still treat this period between Senior Secondary School 1-3 as “Education” and provide Free Education as we have continued to do in Lagos.

Please bear in mind that this has gone way beyond the model and objective of Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he inaugurated free education, at primary school level.

The problem at the time was different. It was a problem of pervading ignorance, and mass literacy. It was a time when the village letter writer was king; because nobody could read or write. So he wrote and read letters for a whole community.

That is not the problem of today. Chief Obafemi Awolowo has broken our bondage of illiteracy; although the problem is not wholly solved.

The last time I checked, Nigeria has achieved a literacy level of about 55%, with Lagos at over 80% but some States especially in the North of Nigeria are well below 30%.

But the matter does not end there.

So if we fund the first 6 (Six) years, the next 3 (Three) years and the second 3 (Three) years of our education system free, because we classify it as “education”, the real debate centers on the last 4 (four) years.

The first question I will like to ask is whether the last 4 (four) years where students enter Polytechnics, Colleges of Education, and Universities, and CHOOSE (with emphasis of the word “choose”) to be career professionals, is something that can really be classified as “Education” or “Specialization”.

Please let us all remember that during Chief Awolowo’s time, Primary Education was also paid for in private schools as he himself observed in his speech, and University education was largely obtained abroad, until Universities of Ibadan, Ife, Nigeria in Nsukka came on stream.

These Universities were not free. They were paid for and indigent students were supported by scholarships, bursaries and in some cases students’ loan.

So if we go back to the point I was making, about whether tertiary training is “education” or “specialization” or “professionalism”, the decision we come to may help us chart a course about how to finance it, because we would have developed a principle of defining what is obligatory.

I say so, because the debate has always been about whether or not we should have “free” education and not about free or paid “specialization” or “professionalism”.

If we define tertiary training as “education” it would perhaps close the debate. If we define it as “specialization” or “professionalism” it will perhaps help to draw the boundary of where free education should stop.

Then all our citizens, across the States, and across partisan political lines will be clear in their minds as to what to expect from their Government within the Nigerian State.

It will no longer be a matter of what one party wants to do but what the Nigerian State guarantees.

But I must not be mis-understood as suggesting that even if we define it as “specialization” or “professionalism” it cannot be free to the beneficiary.

This has happened and will continue to happen, because that is what scholarships do, that is what bursary helps to achieve.

They help to finance the training of able students who are indigent so that no child that is able and willing is left behind.

In this way, the system pays, the parents and guardians are relieved of the burden, just as in free primary and secondary education.

But there are caveats. The child must be able. As such scholarships are not at large. They are tied to performance.

The child must be willing. Are all Nigerian children willing to receive University training?

Do some not prefer to acquire only vocational skills or even go to Technical Colleges?

Indeed can we compel every child to attend University even if it were free?

Is there any nation on earth that has done so?

As I said, I am not going to prescribe any solution. My purpose is to lay the facts and realities bare, to dispel unsubstantiated assumptions and to invite the commentators to reappraise  that matter now that the facts are all known and hopefully for us as a Nation to choose which way to go.

It seem to me that if we decide as a Nation that tertiary training must be FREE, nothing stops us from pursuing it as an ideal and achieving it, in the way Chief Awolowo pursued free primary education against all odds.

What we must remember is that we will have made a choice as a people and choices have consequences.

The training will be free to the beneficiaries, but lecturers will not teach for free, hostels, halls of residence, lecture halls, learning materials will be free to the beneficiaries, but we will not get them free. They will have to be paid for.

The choice will exact pressure on public finance, our resources may not grow as big as the obligation that our choice of education will impose.
We may have to spend less in some places in order to achieve this objective.

But if we choose not to make it free, then parents must bear the cost if their children make the choice for tertiary training, and government can subsidize or support by scholarships and bursaries.

In this way, the cost may be shares, but quality must not be compromised.

I have asked the question about the quality of education that we can impart if children pay N50,000 (Fifty Thousand Naira) to get professional training, and their colleagues in private schools pay N200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Naira) upwards or £10,000 abroad to get the same training.

Will they be of the same quality in a capitalist world where quality is often determined by price?

As far as students loans are concerned, those who make that argument overlook the fact that loans have to be repaid. Scholarships and bursaries do not have that kind of financial imposition, even though some scholarships beneficiaries may be bonded to serve; as we do in Lagos, if we have vacancies that need their skills.

As a matter of fact, out of America’s US$16 Trillion national debt, US$1 Trillion is owed by students who are already in debts of between US$5,000-US$15,000 before they get work after leaving school.

I think the point was reinforced by President Obama, who mentioned that it was not too long ago that he finally paid off his student loan, many years after he left school.

The point clearly is that our students who get scholarships and bursaries in Lagos are better off than American students who take loans, because they are not graduate debtors.

The debate about how to fund tertiary training is gaining global momentum. Rich and successful countries are re-evaluating their methods.

There is a very enlightening documentary about the debate in a recent movie titled “Ivory Tower”. I recommend it to everybody who is genuinely concerned about quality of tertiary training.

Nigeria must have that debate openly, on agreed facts, that this training is a service that must be paid for, and we must decide who pays, the beneficiary or the system.

We cannot have this debate in denial; we must have it with full consciousness of our financial realities and our urgent human capital development requirement.

The answers that we come up with, and the choices that we make will be defining in our quest to fulfill the promise of Nigeria.

I will conclude by saying that as far as Nigeria and indeed any nation is concerned, socio-political emancipation is dependent on the quality of its human capital resource.

The Nigerian child constitutes the most important resource that our country has.

The failure to invest them with quality education blunts their capacity while the decision to do so, sharpens their capacity.

A child without education is as inefficient as an unsharpened and blunt knife. It will not have the cutting edge to deliver efficiently.

We must all resolve to work across all our political prejudices to honestly confront the challenge of funding education in order to secure it as a right for every child.

Thank you.

Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN

Governor of Lagos State

January 15, 2015

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