Being an invited Lecture delivered during the Golden Jubilee of AREWA HOUSE , Kaduna by Prof. Suleiman Elias Bogoro, The Executive Secretary, TETFUND, Abuja on Saturday October 31st, 2020 at 4.00 pm.




That Northern Nigeria is glaringly trailing the Sothern part of the country in most education comparative parameters is not in doubt. While the indices are many with which to assess the North, at a time the UN is aggressively promoting free and compulsory education, the key indices remain Access, Inclusivity, Affordability and Quality. Yet, despite the political pronouncements and sometimes huge funds that have been committed for Basic, secondary and tertiary education in the region, the very low enrolment rates of between 35 to 47% in the North compared to 75 to 85% rates in the 3 Geopolitical zones of the South speaks to the disparity. Furthermore, the fact that no Northern State was among the top 10 States in the country in respect of literacy rate depicts the sad reality of the worrisome indices for the future development of the North in the near future.

Yet, in the face of these stark reality, all is not lost, as there is the potential for reversing these negative indices, if the right measures and attitude are adopted, not just by governments, as though government is managed by ghosts, but the citizenry, with the educated elite have the real opportunity to rise to the occasion and do many things the southern elites and political leaders have done right sine independence.


Some Facts that speak to the Challenges of Access to education in Northern Nigeria:

  • According to UNICEF statistics, Even though education is supposed to be free and compulsory, about 10.5million children nationally aged 5-14 (Basic School Classes) are out of school.
  • Of the total number of those who are registered in lower basic and middle basic i.e. age 16-11 equivalent to primary 1-6 only 61% are regular.
  • Still of the number registered, only 35.6% 36-59 months (3-5 years) have access to early childhood education.
  • In the north, the picture is even bleaker.

The school attendance rate is put at 53%.

  • The North West and the north east have school attendance rates for the girl child put at 47.3 and 47.7 respectively.
  • Meaning that more than half of the girls are out of school (Nnadu, Avidime, Oguntunde,Dashe, Abdulkareem and Mandara (2010) ) agree with the statistic.
  • It is further estimated that 35% and 29% of school aged children in North West and north east respectively receive koranic education which does not include basic skills in literacy and numeracy in the Nigerian official language of communication and because of that government does not consider them as out of school children officially. This may be the reason for the attempt made to integrate the koranic/Tsangaya Almajiri School into basic school.
  • This realities are indeed worrisome to every one of us when we consider the fact that education and in particular Formal education has consistently, right from the colonial days to today, remain the key socio-political as well as socio-economic means of advancement and empowerment.
  • The child right act (UNICEF 1999) stipulates: “every child (male or female) is entitled to receive free and compulsory basic education and equal opportunity for higher education based on individual ability”. This has since been domesticated and captured in the Nigerian nation policy of education

Access to education in Nigeria is driven by various factors, includes, economic barrier and socio-cultural norms and practices that discourages school enrollment, retention and completion especially in formal education for both the gender but that of the girl child is worst.

  • Of recent, the north has witnessed series of security threats of different types and varying magnitudes. From Boko haram in the north east to herder-farmer conflict in north central and the increasingly rising incidences of banditry in the north west. These have also negatively impacted in no small measure access to education and especially quality education.
  • In the north east, states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, UNICEF estimates that over 2.8 million children are out of school and are in need of education in emergencies support centers.

In these states alone,

       802 schools closed

       497 classrooms listed as destroyed

        1392classrooms damaged but repairable.

  • Image credit: Borgazine of April 19, 2018 reports attacks by Boko haram in the North East have decreased the stability, forcing schools to close and increasing dropout rates with over 2million IDPs and about 209,000 migrating to neighboring countries- Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
  • USAID launched a 3 year education response initiative that ended in 2017, which initially targeted the large population of IDPs in Adamawa, Bauchi and Gombe, later expanded to Borno and Yobe. The focus of the programme was to provide both male and female students with vocational skills to improve their present and future economic status. The project asserts that it benefited 80,000 and 1,400 in basic and non-formal learning in the centers it established.
  • It is common knowledge that internally displaced persons (IDPs) continuously struggle for basic survival needs such as food, shelter clothing and medical care, Placing education to a lesser priority list. This is the challenge not only by victims not only in the North East but also in the North West and North Central who are equally victims of banditry and herder-farmers conflicts.
  • The covid 19 pandemic challenge deserves some comments too as it affects education in Northern Nigeria.

While in most South Western and South Eastern states of the country, virtual classrooms were opened for students especially exiting classes in public and private schools in all the subjects that cannot be said for most of the states in Northern Nigeria. Where there were attempts, these were mostly by private schools that are also only paid in urban centres and they are proportionately few to the large majority in the rural and semi urban centres where ICT infrastructure is still a challenge. This call for reflections and action.




Out of School Children by Subnational Regions

  • The subnational region with the highest percentage of out of school children is North East (53%). South East has the lowest rate of school non-participation (6%).
  • The highest numbers of out of school children are located in North West (4,123,834). South East has the lowest numbers of out of school children (200,348).


Rates of Out of School Children by Subnational Region (%), with 95% Confidence Intervals, DHS 2008





Numbers of Out of School Children by Subnational Region (# in thousands), with 95% Confidence Intervals, DHS 2008




Why Ages 7-14?

Education Policy and Data Center (EPDC) presents data for ages 7-14. This age group captures the bulk of basic compulsory education in most countries, aids cross-national comparability of estimates, and conveys the normative international frameworks set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and supported by the ILO Minimum Age Convention.




Out of School Rates by Age and Sex

  • The official primary school entry age in Nigeria is age 6. At that age, 47% of girls and 42% of boys are out of school.
  • School participation is highest for girls at age 10 and for boys at age 10.
  • At age 15, 31% of girls and 23% of boys are out of school.

Out of School Rates, by Age and Sex









North Central State Federal Private Total
Benue 1       1 1 3
Kogi 1 1 1 3
Kwara 1 1 4 6      
Nasarawa 1 1 1 3
Niger 1 1 0 2
Plateau 1 1 0 2
FCT Abuja 1 0 4 5
Total 7 6 11 24


North East            State          Federal        Private    Total
Adamawa 1 1 1 3
Bauchi 1 1 0 2
Borno 2 1 0 3
Gombe 1 2 0 3
Taraba 1 1 1 3
Yobe 1 1 0 2
Total 7 7 2 16











North East State Federal Private Total
Jigawa 1 1 0 2
Kaduna 3 1 1 5
Kano 2 2 1 5
Katsina 1 1 1 3
Kebbi 1 1 0 2
Sokoto 1 1 0 2
Zamfara 1 1 0 2
Total 10 8 3 21



South East             State            Federal        Private    Total
Abia      1 1 3 5          
Anambra 1 1 4 6
Ebonyi 1 1 1 3
Enugu 1 1 4 6
Imo 1 6 1 8
Total 5 10 13 28



South-South State Federal Private Total
Akwa Ibom 1 1 2 4
Bayelsa 1 3 0 4
Cross River 1 1 1 3
Rivers 1 2 2 5    
Delta 2 2 5 9
Edo 1 1 4 6
Total 7 10 14 31



South West State Federal Private Total
Ekiti 1 1 1 3
Lagos 2 1 5 8
Ogun 1 2 12 15
Ondo 1 3 3 7
Osun 1 2 8 11
Oyo 1 2 7 10
Total 7 11 36 54



TOTAL 43 52 79 174



Summary of distribution by Zones

Geopolitical zone Federal          State     Private     Total Percentage
North Central 7 6 11 24 13.79%
North East 7 7 2 16 9.19%
North West 10 8 3 21 12.07%
South East 5 10 13 28 16.09%
South South 7 10 14 31 17.82%
South West 7 11 36 54 31.04%
TOTAL 43 52 79 174 100%


A look at the data shows that 35.05% of the Universities in Nigeria are located in the North, while 64.95% are in the South. This has corresponding effect on the access to education at this level. Similar scenario can be found in other type’s tertiary education. This is not withstanding the policy of federal character and catchment areas


Geopolitical zone: North Central       

State Total Percentage  
Benue 63,116 3.82%
Kogi 61,975 3.75%
Kwara 63,497 3.84%
Nasarawa 36,225 2.19%
Niger 26,208 1.59%
Plateau 43,601   2.64%
FCT Abuja 6,438 0.39%
Total 301,060 18.22%

North East

State Total Percentage  
Bauchi 24,902 1.51%
Borno 28,536 1.73%
Gombe 25,295 1.53%
Taraba 22,354 1.35%
Yobe 15,536 0.94%
Total 116,623 7.06%


North West

State Total Percentage  
Jigawa 18,365 1.11%
Kaduna 65,992 3.99%
Kano 64,818 3.92%
Katsina 29,582 1.79%
Kebbi 15,341 0.93%
Sokoto 13,493 0.82%
Zamfara 10,090 0.61%
Total 217,681 13.17


South East

State Total Percentage  
Abia 47,848 2.89%
Anambra 72,871 4.41%
Ebonyi 29,842 1.81%
Enugu 62,639 3.79%
Imo 93,048 5.63%
Total 306,248 18.53%



State Total Percentage  
Akwa Ibom 57,857 3.5%
Bayelsa 19451 1.18%
Cross River 30,584 1.85%
Rivers 42,560 2.57%        
Delta 80,181 4.85%    
Edo 66,552 4.03%
Total 297,185 17.98%


South West

State Total Percentage  
Ekiti 43,280 2.62%            
Lagos 31,437 1.9%    
Ogun 80,453 4.87%  
Ondo 63,950 3.87%
Osun 86,065 5.21%
Oyo 86,687 5.24%
Total 391,872 23.71





Geopolitical zone Total %Total
North Central 301,060 18.22%
North East 116,623   7.06%
North West 217,681 13.17%
South East 306,248   18.53%
South South 297,185 17.98%  
South West 391,872 23.71%


A distribution of UTME candidates by Northern and Southern Nigeria

North 635,364   38.97%
South 995,305   61.03%
Total     1,630,669         100%


A look at this table shows that the North with 19 states plus FCT had 38.97% of the 1,630,669 UTME candidates for the year 2018. This is below 61.03% recorded in the Southern part which has 17 states.


It is recalled that a former Minister of Finance and National Planning, Dr Usman Shamsudeen, while speaking to World Bank statistics in 2011, said the North had the highest number of out -of-school children in the world. Dr. Shamsudeen himself a Northerner, blamed the northern leaders for showing marginal commitment to developing education in the region. Many years after his admonition, the literacy level in the north remains stunted as reflected in recent statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). These facts reflect in many comparative national education statistics that depicts the glaring dichotomy between the two regions of the country. Since access, standard and quality of education are the key parameters for competitiveness of all nations in contemporary knowledge economy, leaders and citizens of the region have every reason to be concerned when the figures don’t add up. Precisely why the title of this paper dwells strongly on the role of elites in the north, at a time more of their children are studying either in private educational institutions within the country, or they are in more expensive educational institutions abroad, ostensibly because they can afford to pay. Therein lies the question as to what extent the present public schools where majority of the children of the less privileged study meet their expectations.

The following personal communication by Prof Salihu Mustapha, former Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Technology (Now MAUTECH) Yola, speaks to one of the main causes of the drawback to improved access to education in the north. In the LETTER TO NORTHERNERS TOWARD FINDING LASTING SOLUTION TO THE RECURRENT PROBLEMS OF ALMAJIRI AND ALMAJIRANCI, he proceeds as follows: “ It has been long since we have discussing and lamenting on the recurrent and adverse effect of problems caused by the ever increasing population of Almajiri children (aged between 3-17 years) estimated at between 3-4 million, and Almajiranci mostly in the north. I have since been mulling the idea that those with the means need to evolve a long term philanthropy project , solely aimed at addressing the problems. However, there will be need for support, guidance, reflection and participation by all , and show concern and long commitment to the plight of these hapless children. With concerted effort, we can give them dual education and technological and vocational training and transform them to becoming self-reliant, self-employed and useful citizens to eventually contribute to the socioeconomic development of the society. ………….The proposal is still at the discussion stage for which your opinion is solicited.”    

Many commendable responses have been received and recorded, including one from no other elite personality in the North than the former Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof Munzali Jibrin.

I decided to share above laudable idea with all of you because we don’t really have the luxury of time to slumber any longer. It is a classic thought shared with fellow elites of the North.

Accordingly, and because I deeply appreciate the position of my very senior academic colleague, and in order not to bore you with long gramer, I wish to reflect on the lessons of the title of my paper as follows:


  1. The evident education problems of the North is a perfect mirror of our larger society, shaped and controlled by we the elites
  2. It is time to stop the blame game and engage in self judgement of we the elites
  3. For too long, we have acted as if throwing money at any development challenge solves it. It is evident from the facts and data before us, that , in identifying the numerous solutions to addressing the problem of access, inclusivity and justice towards EDUCATION FOR ALL in the North and indeed the entire country, we must look beyond the excuse and challenge of funds. Our problem is more attitudinal than financial
  4. We must take seriously the social and demographic facts related to, and/or consequent to population explosion and endemic cultural practices that negate educational development and overall progress
  5. We must reflect and address the Northern paradigm of systemic educational exclusion of segments of our local communities as the face of rural, suburban and even rural North.
  6. Where political will has failed our communities, peoples and pupils, let patriotism and conscience guide our actions and policies.
  7. Let we the elites generally, and especially the privileged elites rise, mold, groom and inspire a new generation of Northern youths and future leaders of the North that will dwell more on our common humanities , common cultures, common geography, common needs and aspirations rather than the sad situation where elites promote and emphasize our weaknesses, misfortunes, artificial barriers and differences.
  8. When we the elites of today come together and collectively promote common good, empathy, social justice to all manner of co-habitants and neighbors, poverty will disappear from our communities, and together, both haves and the have-nots of our society will work together to reverse all the negative references about us, reminiscent of the good old days of the North.
  9. If there are affordable quality schools and Education For All in the spirit of the UN, the largard status of the Northern girl or boy child as well as the unfortunate high out-of-school rate in the North, will soon be a thing of the past. And like South Korea, Singapore. Malaysia and Rwanda of the past, the North will rise to take its rightful place and lead in the Knowledge Economy of the 21st Century, because all our citizens and people s will be contented regardless of their status, conscious that we the elites are fair to them. If we build more quality public schools, and ensure that in line with President Buhari’s recent bold decision to professionalize and incentivize the teaching profession, the children of nail cutters, truck pushers and drivers , etc will see their children study without tears and aspire to be medical Doctors, Engineers or Lawyers like children of the privileged.
  10. For the North to close the gap in education access between the privileged and the less privileged, and let each of us go out to rural communities of especially underserved communities. If we do, we shall be given credit for unveiling potential Professionals, Pilots, Generals, Professors, Presidents, Governors and Space Scientists from the remotest villages of villages. Who says those village boys and girls we have ignored are not God’s creation like the rest of us? Afterall it is share providence some of us found ourselves emerging from literarily so called “forgotten communities“ so to say. In other words, we should as a regional policy go out there and adopt 3 to 5 communities for assistance through scholarships and other forms of assistance that could save the career, profession or indeed the future of many less privileged children and wards. If we do, we can be guaranteed of sleeping with clear conscience.


The above are what I can call the 10 pills required to resuscitate the sadly ailing education sector of the North in respect of education opportunities and inclusivity that guarantees the future of the youths that we must be nurturing to take over from us.



  • Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2008
  • Ishaq A, Ali M (2014) Non-Formal Education and the Girl Child in Northen Nigeria: Issues and Strategies, In Journal of Education and Practice
  • Mustapha Salihu (Personal Communuication) 2020
  • Nnadu G, Avidime S, Oguntunde O,Dashe, Abdulkareem B, Dashe V and Mandara M (2010), Girl child Education: Rising to the Challenge in African Journal of Reproductive Health