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Education: A Right or Privilege?

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LECTURE DELIVERED BY DR ALAMU MISBAU ON 11th August, 2017 on Iwoland Development Coalition’s WhatApps Page.


You have asked me to discuss whether or not education is a right or priviledged in Nigeria. To start with, let me say I appreciate the PRIVILEDGE of this invitation. I recognise that the invitation is not a RIGHT, at least for me.

Now, let's us make a brief conceptual clarification of the terms in the topic. That is: EDUCATION, RIGHT and PROVILEDGE.

I will address each in that order. Education is generally the process of acquiring knowledge or impact it. That is, some form of knowledge implantation or reception. Education can be formal or informal. At any rate, it is generally a process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or some formal or informal institution. Without much ado, I will proceed on the assumption that we all agreed that the type of education envisaged by your topic is formal education. The sort that is given or received in Schools. Some synonyms of education include: training, coaching, tutoring, guidance and etc.

A major antonym is: ILLITERACY. That is, lack of everything said above education above. The stark opposite of education. Meanwhile, education is not restricted to any language or culture or tribe. Thus, ILLITERACY does not necessarily mean the inability to understand a particular language or learning. For example, a Yoruba man is not necessarily an illiterate merely because he cannot speak English language. I think enough is said about education now. So let's examine the next concept in our topic.

RIGHT. So what is a right? Ultimately, the concept of right is a very wide and complex one. However, it can be interpreted in this context to mean entitlement. The exercise or enjoyment of right is generally personal. Something that a person does not the permission of others to enjoy or exercise. It is said to be inherent in every human being by the very fact of being a human being. Rights are therefore generally referred to as FUNDAMENTAL and Universal. These are fundamental because they go to the root of existence of individuals and cannot be violated without just cause. They are also universal because it is agreed by all across board that all humans deserve them.  Rights include the right to life. In fact, this is the most important of all rights. Without life, other rights are simply inconsequential. And that is why the deprivation of life (killing) is generally seen as a crime against humanity.

This belief also have support in most, if not all, religions. Thus, the unjust taking of one life is regarded in Islam, for example, as killing the whole humanity. The same logic applies to the saving of life. So right to life is the mother of all rights. Other rights include: right of association, right of movement; right to own property and etc. All of these are generally regarded as rights. Rights can also be classified into political, socio and economic rights. The most common are political rights. They include right to vote in an election and etc.

Socio/Economic right on the other hand are the most difficult to realise because their attainment depend on other factors. They include right to a home; right to education; right to shelter, right to portable water and etc. All of these have also been recognised as rights even if theoretically to a very large extent. I shall say more on this soon. So let examine the next concept in our topic: PRIVILEDGE. What is a priviledge?

It's simply not an entitlement. It's some form of benefit or advantage that is wholly within the control of a person. A priviledge will depend on whether others are ready to confer it. It can be denied or withheld or not even available. For better understanding; let me draw some examples between right and priviledge. Remeber that a right is enjoyed by personal choice. That is you can decide personally to enjoy it. A priviledge is not. The enjoyment or denial of priviledge often depends on the consent of others. My being here is a PRIVILEGE for example. This is so because I cannot claim the right or entitlement to be here as a member. So a right is essentially the ability to decide for one’s self; to make a choice. Exercising a right is always a matter of personal choice therefore. I can decide to vote or not to vote in an election simply because it's a right. No one can deny me except I chose not to enjoy it. And that is the core of all inalienable rights. This is what fundamentally distinguishes a right from a privilege.

On the other hands, a privilege is something that cannot be done without permission. The Freedom of Speech, of Religion, of the Press, and to Peaceably Assemble are not privileges. No man, woman, or child need ask for permission to exercise these rights. Nor does any government has the right or authority to deny or circumvent such rights. Governments do not grant rights, since governments are a creation of the people, but rather are meant to protect those rights for all people. Now that we have attempted to clarify these terms, let us ask whether education is a right or priviledge in Nigeria. I will start by saying that education is a form of socio-economic right that has been recognised as far back as 1948 by the United Nations. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several other international conventions regard education as a Right. So it's clear at least that access to education is a right. I mean a fundamental human rights.

However, Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution contains several rights and EDUCATION is not among them. To that extent, it is easy to conclude that the Nigerian Constitution does not guarantee education as a human rights. In other words, it can be argued that it is perhaps a priviledge since it's not declared among the human rights. But then, that will be incorrect. In another section of the same constitution, section 18, education at all levels is regarded as a right and guaranteed for all Nigerians from primary to tertiary. In other words, section 18 contains mandatory words which compel government at all levels to provide for and fund education, FREE EDUCATION, from primary to tertiary. Sadly, however, this noble section 18 is regarded as NON-JUSTICIABLE by section 6 of the same Constitution. That is, they are mere decorations to stimulate or guide policies of Government but no one can sue government based on that section 18.

In effect, we can safely conclude that FREE and COMPULSORY education at all levels is not as yet a JUSTICIABLE right under the Nigerian Constitution.  Thankfully, Nigeria is a member of the International Community and it is bound by all treaties entered into by it such as the article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human Rights. To the extent of those international obligations, it can be argued yet again that education is also a right in Nigeria. So as a way out from this logjam what the Nigerian government has done over the years is to create a wedge between universal basic education and TERTIARY EDUCATION.

For the UBE, GOVERNMENTS have since accepted that education is a right of every child. That is, primary or elementary education up to secondary schools.
There are also legislations such as the UBE ACT and the Child Rights Act 2003 which recognise education as a Right only for children.

In effect therefore, there is now a dichotomy in Nigeria which makes elementary education a RIGHT and TERTIARY EDUCATION a PRIVILEDGE.

It follows that any child or his parent can sue any government for not providing school or for not funding it or for not making it accessible to the Child. This is simply because it is a right. No one can do that as yet in respect of tertiary education. This is also because tertiary education is presently a priviledge.

In conclusion, I think it is safer to say that education is a right and not a priviledge.

As a matter of fact, a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice John Tsoho just this March 2017 has declared in a case that the every Nigerian child has the constitutional right to free and compulsory primary education, and free junior secondary education. Please note the emphasis on "Child".

The court further declared that the federal and state governments have constitutional duties to provide adequate fund for the said free and compulsory education, warning that failure to respect the ruling will constitute a breach of the Nigerian Constitution.

How In effect, that Federal High Court has simply given life and hope to the estimated over 28 million Nigerian children who are currently out of primary and junior secondary school or who are at risk of being withdrawn from school because of the inability of their parents or guardians to pay the tuition fees and school expenses, or who are withdrawn from school so that they can be given out in early marriage or be sent to the streets to hawk or beg for alms.

I wish to thank you all for this PRIVILEDGE of sharing my thoughts with you on this important subject.

God bless you all.



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