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06.11.2014 Feature Article

HOW SCHOOL FEES KILLED NIGERIA

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I was recently at a jaw-jaw with a few very bright Nigerian youth where we discussed several hot topics, political and economic. I came off with a 'takeaway' (apologies to Fashola), about a much-misconstrued issue, more and more like a cliché, called “middle class”. We argued in part about how the Nigerian 'middle-class' does not have enough critical mass to swing an election and discussed extensively on how we, the so-called middle-class, can make the necessary impact by sharing our knowledge and educating those considered as 'working class' (the majority).

In fact in Nigeria, that term 'working class' is seldom used. And now, thinking about the issue, I think most people who consider themselves 'middle-class' in Nigeria are indeed working class. I will explain later. Even I had made the mistake in the past of using another term to qualify that 'class'. I think I used 'lower class', which is actually very derogatory and well…. classist. And I apologise. Classism is just the junior brother of racism. It is actually a dumber junior brother. Why? Whereas it is impossible to change one's race, and therefore a racist, in all his hallucinations, somehow has a point about evident differences at least in outward appearance between a member of one 'race' and another, a classist doesn't have even half a point, because what separates class – at least in our society - is usually access to money. Therefore a 'lower' or 'working' class today, could actually win the lottery, buy up a big house in Rancho Cucamonga, or Maitama or Banana Island, and begin rubbing shoulders with Royalty or getting awards from the government. After all, in this world, people are attracted to money as flies and maggots take to decaying carcasses!

I always find it laughable when I listen to some young Nigerian musicians talk about how they've 'hammered'. Well, I'm not privy to the kinds of monies those guys can make these days, but 'hammering' doesn't make a man. A Nigerian parent will find out lately that it requires a phenomenal amount of money to keep the family and raise children in this age and time. Especially where such a parent considers him/herself as 'middle class'. A Nigerian musician makes N10million, or let's even say N50million off an album, and goes to town regaling all and sundry that he has 'hammered'. Has he tried renting a house, or building one, or buying one? Has he ventured to move out of the ghetto to where the crème de la crème reside? Has he bought that posh car, or two or three, and seen how much is left of his “hammer”? Has he tried getting married, raising children and sending them to school? In fact, he doesn't know anything in today's Nigeria!

Let's start with the school fees. A few weeks ago, someone on Facebook posted some of the fees paid by some of the elite primary/secondary schools in Nigeria. It caused a sort of outrage, especially among those who haven't started paying for their children at such schools. But because of the way our society has evolved lately, it seems no self-respecting person who considers themselves as middle class will bother sending their children to public schools. So we are stuck with these private schools. Since everyone seems to be begging on hands and knees to get their children and wards into these schools, fees keep climbing every year, such that they double in a couple of years. A recent survey revealed that almost 70% of students in Government-run secondary schools in Abuja metropolis, were houseboys and housegirls, whose 'masters' are even 'generous' enough to consider for education.

At this point, I will love to make it clear, that the reason why most 'middle-class' people in Nigeria are actually 'working class' is really because they are still 'working' for our expensive private schools. If 50% of your salary, or even a whole 20% goes to paying your children school fees, which will keep increasing till they leave university, then you are merely a working class. Forget that if you lose your job, fall ill or something goes wrong, you, and especially your children will be in trouble immediately. But in our instance, hardly can anyone defend the fees they pay for these children as a component of their legitimate earnings. We all live in the hope that nothing goes wrong and we are strong and smart enough to continue outsmarting the system.

A below-average private nursery primary school now charges at least N400,000 per annum per child. Some charge less, but many of such don't even adhere to basic standards. For a family with say three children, with each child spending like 9 years in kindergarten/nursery/primary school, at this conservative estimate (N400,000 per child every year), and if the fees don't increase over the years, such a family will spend N10,800,000 in school fees alone on those three children just going through primary school. This is different from other fees, uniforms, development fees, and of course play clothes for children and feeding for the family. Let us not even consider, for now, the other family pressures on a man/woman who considers him/herself as 'middle class' as is so considered by extended family and friends. When I visit Nigerian public offices on Friday and see the preparations they make to attend weddings/burials etc in honour of colleagues, I see just why corruption must continue. Many see no big deal in spending N200,000 each weekend. Anyone who will curb corruption has an almost insurmountable task on his/her hands.

You can begin to see the kind of outlays we are dealing with, in terms of how much money MUST run through the hands of a middle class family in today's Nigeria. Remember that our parents never had to go through this, for we all, in my generation attended at least 90% public school up to university. This is a critical reason why some of our friends remain abroad with their families. These kinds of expenses just don't come up abroad.

Tope Fasua
Tope Fasua, © 2014

The author has 4 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: TopeFasua

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