Students of the University of Ibadan check their graduation gowns at their campus in Ibadan, south west Nigeri
In Nigeria, about a million students pass the college-entrance qualifying exam every year, but most never attend a college class. Nigerian universities can accommodate about 300,000 students yearly, leaving many of the country’s brightest without hope for the future. The situation leaves many would-be students poor and frustrated.
Hamzat Lawal is a political science student at the University of Abuja. After he finished secondary school, he spent four years trying to get into college, despite the fact that he passed his qualifying exam with good grades – all four times he took it.
Wheeling and dealing
Lawal says most students who pass, but do not have connections or hundreds of dollars for under-the-table payments, can spend years wheeling and dealing their way into college – and even that might not work. “You want to gain admission even with your good grades or your low grades if you have that money they will secure admission for you,” he said. So as a poor man, if you don’t have the money, where do you go to?”
Corruption watchdog group Transparency International ranks Nigeria at number 143 out of 183 countries, with education being perceived as one of the most corrupt departments after police, political parties and the legislature.
Not enough accommodation
Kabir Mato, the director of the Institute for Anti-Corruption Studies at the University of Abuja, says it is not just corruption that keeps students out of school. He says most qualified students do not get in to college because there is simply no room. Mato says roughly 700,000 young people pass the university qualifying exams every year, but are not admitted. He says that means that some of Nigeria’s brightest students never move beyond secondary school. “Most of those young boys and girls who have passed very well will not be accommodated and so they will grow hopeless,” said Mato.
Mato says if more young people had access to higher education, there would be more development and less violence in Nigeria. Within the past week alone, attacks at a market in Potiskum, a Christian service in Kano and newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna have killed dozens of people. Mato says many of the fighters are teenagers.
“In Nigeria today, whenever you have this crisis – religious crisis, ethnic crisis or whatever you call it – and you move to the streets and you see the fighting force, you see the soldiers and you’ll be amazed that they are 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20-year-olds,” he said.
Mato says the fact that the Nigerian elite can send their children to private schools or abroad for university widens the income gap between the rich and the poor. In February, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reported that poverty is on the rise, with 61 percent of Nigerians living in “absolute poverty” which means they lack basic needs like adequate food, shelter and health care. Mato blames the security issues, like the growth of the Islamist sect Boko Haram, on widespread poverty.
Azeez Akokhia has taken his entrance exam three times since he finished secondary school four years ago, passing with high scores every time. He says he wants to study economics, but does not have much to do at the moment. He says every year more people like him are added to the list of unemployed, unoccupied youth.
“You sit for the exams, you pass and you are not able to go in and the next year the same thing happens, people keep piling up, piling up and it’s a problem now,” said Akokhia.
Akokhia agrees that lack of access to education, in general, contributes to security problems in Nigeria, but says most would-be students do not turn violent. He says some give up hope and others, like him, fight only to get into university.
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