OPINION: The Ownership Of Schools In Nigeria

Certain events in recent days make it imperative to clarify the issue of who owns schools in Nigeria. This search is complicated by the antecedents that define the history and development of Western education in the country. It is useful therefore to open the search with a brief digression into the history of that type of education with the view of gaining an understanding of the forces that shaped their development from their inception till today.

It is pedestrian to repeat that Western-type education was an import of European missionaries and that the environment in which they propagated their type of education was entirely their personal or collective business, that is until government started meddling in the missionaries’ affairs. That movement started in England where some mainly rich do-gooders felt greatly concerned about the appalling conditions in which children of the poor worked and lived. Coupled with that was the horrendous imagery of the inhuman trade in slaves that filtered to these Christian countries to disturb the serenity of their conscience and awaken the humane elements in them that drove some to seek redemption in Christian deeds that included stopping the slave trade and making legal provisions to assist missionary schools at home and abroad. It must be acknowledged that saving the souls of those poor children was a professed and serious reason of those do-gooders who were so damn serious about that fixation that derived from the fervor of their religion.

Education in England was not planned. Ordinances and education codes that were enacted as when needed were the main sources for policy formulation over a period of about 130 years from about 1820 to the time of Nigerian self-government. Some years after they were established and applied in England these bills, codes and ordinances found their way to the colonies where the colonial governments were obliged to adopt and apply them.

Concerned and interested missionary and other groups took the initiative to establish schools and government’s concern was that the purpose for which they were established should be fulfilled. This development implied that sufficient assistance needed to be given to the schools to ensure that they survive to fulfill their dual role of harboring those freed from slavery along the West Coast and providing skills that would serve more the needs of the missionaries than the provision of life skills for those who were lured to go to, and who stayed long enough at school. The children in these institutions provided the fodder for missionaries to use in order to benefit from the fiscal intervention of governments in the form of badly needed grants.

Whichever face one puts on it, the bottom line was that governments became the major sources of funds without which the missionaries would have to go begging at home or abroad. They never adopted the option of closing schools; they persevered and made do with whatever they had. Under those conditions ‘schools’ could sink to any depth of badness. It was to obviate that possibility that governments at home and in the colonies accepted responsibility for ensuring that what was offered to the children especially of the poor in England and the converted in Africa would at least be of some benefit to them. That was how government got dragged into the business  of assisting schools.

The promise of grants-in-aid ensured that schools had reliable sources of funding if they attained defined standards.  So the giving of grants was a crucial factor in the rate at which new schools were opened and old ones expanded or improved qualitatively. The fact that schools did desperate things to get listed for grants speaks the obvious that grants have always been the lifeline of almost all missionary schools.

We are lucky that the whole grants-in-aid saga is properly documented in the Phillipson Report. However, since that document is not widely available to the generality of people I have taken the liberty to use some segment of my writings (Chapter 2 of my unpublished book DEFINING THE FUTURE OF NIGERIAN EDUCATION, November, 2012) here.

The Grants-in-aid Report

This brief highlight is about the financial assistance that government gave to schools across West Africa as an instrument for improving the quality of instruction being offered to the children in those areas. 

The first purely Nigerian Education Ordinance was enacted in 1887. The Board of Education that assumed prominence at this time was empowered to use certain criteria to give grants to different levels from infant, through primary and secondary, to industrial schools. The Board even had the discretion to offer the sum of £10 to poor students to further their education at the secondary level. This and most of what follows come from the Phillipson Report,

As early as 1890 the familiar problems arising from the use of untrained ‘teachers’ in schools had become pronounced and problematic. Not only did demand outstrip supply, but many areas that also wanted schools could not be serviced. The consequence was that government had to step in to fill some gaps by establishing its own schools in areas where missionary influence was negligible. By so doing those schools became ‘models’ for the fund-strapped mission schools to copy.  (The Education Code of 1908).

There were therefore generically three types of schools; the government, the mission, and the assisted schools.  Although the so-called government schools were government ‘owned’, the reality was that the local chiefs and Native Courts as appropriate were responsible for the buildings and their maintenance.  In fact, the recurrent cost for which government was supposedly responsible was covered in part by public funds.

The 1916 Regulation abolished the ‘payment-by-result’ procedure of making grants to schools. That was replaced with a better one that took cognizance of the overall efficiency of schools. The immediate effect of this change was a rapid increase in the number of assisted schools. The carefully spelt-out conditions included visit(s) from inspectors. This in turn led to the increased and improved capability of the Department of Education to monitor the appalling and dubious quality of schools in the regions that the Governor-General had commented upon

What is of importance in this narrative is that from as long ago as 1887 public fund had gone into the running costs of assisted schools. Second, government had actually transferred some of its own schools to the missions in the mid-fifties of the 19th century as contained at p.24 of that very authoritative report. This information has been ignored or denied by the missions when government had cause to reverse this trend more than 80 years later when the grant-in-aid system was being grossly exploited and abused mainly by private proprietors.

After a thorough review of the grants-in-aid system which included one of the best documented and most authoritative writings on education for the period 1842 to 1946, Phillipson made his landmark and well received recommendations under the following heads (pp.93-98):

  1. Division of the grants-in-aid vote
  2. A national teaching profession
  3. Separation scheme for non-Government certificated teachers
  4. Staff and organization of the Education Department in relation to the new grant-in-aid proposals
  5. Procedure in connection with the report: implementation.


He then went out specifically to make the following recommendations (p.99):

  1. That, in suitable areas and as an experiment, Native Administrations should be encouraged to introduce local education or school rates. (Paragraph 41 (b)).
  2. That the Native Authority Ordinance, 1934, be amended so as to allow of local education or school rates being applied to the support of approved Voluntary Agency schools (Paragraph 41 (b)).
  3. That grants in aid of the recurrent recognized expenses of schools and teacher training institutions under regulations 1 to 32 and 34 of the grant-in-aid regulation be classified as Nigerian expenditure and that grant-in-aid of capital and “special purposes” expenditure under regulation 33 should be classified as regional expenditure. (Paragraph 41(f)).
  4. That, subject to further consideration in connection with the first allocations of revenue to the Regions due to take place in July next, the special vote ( E150,000 in the 1948-49) Estimates) for Northern Educational Development should also be classified as Nigerian expenditure.
  5. That the provision in the Nigerian Estimates for grants in aid of recurrent recognized expenses of schools and teacher training institutions should constitute a division of the Nigeria Estimate under Head 32-Education, the arrangement being as proposed in Paragraph 48.
  6. That the question of establishing national scales for certificated teachers, whether employed by the government, Native Administrations, Local Authorities or approved Voluntary Agencies, should be considered by the Director of Education in consultation with the authorities concerned.(paragraph 49)
  7. That the general procedure after the publication of this report should be as outlined in Paragraph 52
  8. That for the better administration of the scheme proposed, the Senior Service establishment of the Education Department should be strengthened, particularly at the Provincial level. (Paragraph 51)
  9. That the method of payment of grants in aid of primary schools should be as outlined in paragraph 45 (n) and that action should be concerted accordingly between the Education Department and the Accountant-General’s Department as part of the work preparatory to bringing the regulations into effect on 1st January,1949.
  10. That the Government should definitely accept liability for the retiring benefit of non-Government teachers under the proposed superannuation scheme. (Paragraph 50)  


The most relevant part of the Phillipson Report for the 1960s was

That the question of establishing national scales for certificated teachers, whether employed by the government, Native Administrations, Local Authorities or approved Voluntary Agencies, should be considered by the Director of Education in consultation with the authorities concerned.(paragraph 49)

Even today, that dream has not been actualized because, strictly interpreted, our schools should have only specially trained personnel as teachers working in them.

These were important issues that were highlighted, discussed, and resolved in the Phillipson Report recommendations which should be kept sharply in view since their vital importance as the precursors of Adefarasin and Asabia for instance, could otherwise be lost.

If Nigerian education had taken cognizance of Phillipson’s Report and had actually worked on the specific recommendations quoted above that:

  1. A national teaching profession be set up and
  2. Separation scheme for non-Government certificated teachers be worked out


the many justified but disruptive strikes by the NUT that led to the setting up of the Adefarasin Commission would have been obviated.


The VANGUARD of 22 August, 2013 throws more light on the size of the problem and what ensued from the national view-point of industrial unrest in Nigeria. The timing and other consequential activities about the teachers’ strike that changed the face of education forever is better portrayed by quoting the OPINION page in that paper on that day.  It said:

So strong was the JAC’s influence and so successful was this strike that four months later, the traditionally conservative unions in the education sector formed their own JAC, and went on a country-wide strike “for the first time in the history of Western education in Nigeria.”

This teachers’ strike which ran from October 1-9, 1964 was over their insistence that a national joint industrial council be established for the education sector in accordance with the agreements on the Morgan Commission Report. The teachers won and the council comprising sixty members was established under the chairmanship of Justice J. A. Adefarasin.

The clue to the ownership of schools in Nigeria can be traced to the Adefarasin Report and more to its sub-committee headed by Asabia. The main report addressed, to the satisfaction of teachers, the issues of parity (equal pay for equal work) with their contemporaries teaching in government schools and the unification of conditions of service for all teachers that would allow the best teachers being appointed to any post anywhere purely on merit. That recommendation implies that at least in a state all teachers should be fairly treated by opening all avenues of upward mobility within that state equally to them.

That type of commitment presumes the availability of a central dynamic record of service of teachers. If teachers were still tied to the apron strings of proprietors who had full control over them it would be very difficult to evolve an organization that would request and get the proprietors to keep records in standard formats and submit returns on time. Secondly many records from the various sources could be incomplete, deliberately falsified, not properly or consistently kept, and more.  Finally, the scarce expertise to assess and impartially appoint key personnel will be spread thin if each agency were free to do so.

As the adviser to the Asabia commission the experience from years of supervising schools and teachers and seeing the wastefulness that was visible as one went around and within the system, I had no choice than to open the eyes of the members to such abuses. The practice in Ghana of having a central School Board that devoted itself to sorting out teachers’ problems centrally advised my determination to point the members in the same direction that I thought was the right one.

I had to leave the committee for further studies abroad and Sofolahan took over as adviser. Because the top professionals at the Ministries of Education had exhaustively discussed and exchanged views on this matter the view which I had expressed was endorsed by both Sofolahan and (I was told) Ihejerika both of who completed the assignment as advisers to the Asabia Commission.

The case for take-over was quite simple. Grants were computed uniformly for schools based on experience and market value of goods and services. The funds were deemed adequate to run schools, with the proviso that where applicable and approved, tuition fees charged would just be sufficient for schools to meet all their financial obligations. Most schools lived within their means as was expected but the demand from many schools for increase in the grants made to them became deafening from some of the powerful missionary proprietors.

Ajuwa Grammar School, Oke-Agbe; Mayfair College Ikenne, and Molusi College,Ijebu-Igbo flaunted their innovativeness and stretched their grants to cover things like the cost of new classroom blocks almost every year while some others were always complaining of the inadequacy of the funds. It was therefore clear that something was amiss and that whatever it was, it was not that the grants were inadequate. That was the smoking gun that triggered the search. At the end of our study at the Ministry of Education it became clear that the proprietors who were NOT paying the piper were actually dictating the tunes to be played rather recklessly. That type of attitude was seen as being unfair to the tax payers.

The take-over of schools has not been reported upon sufficiently for most people to understand the nefariousness and Machiavellian dimensions attached to it. To start with, it meant loss of income to some proprietors who were actually milking the people while pretending that they were magnanimously making sacrifices for them. Next is the falsehood that the governments did not pay compensation to proprietors. Another was that it was the federal government’s decree that made takeover final and legal. Last but not the least is that by retaining their names government had conceded that take-over was just in name alone. There are other false assumptions that will be dealt with as they are made.

The takeover of schools was a final act of dissociation of former proprietors from ownership of their schools. The schools no longer belong to them. To talk of Muslim or Christian schools that are run with public funds is absolute nonsense. Any school that is run with public money is a public school. All others are private institutions at whatever level and by whatever name.

The question of compensation was raised by the proprietors of most of the Christian- and Muslim-based schools. In the West the only bodies I clearly remember as handing over schools voluntarily and with no conditions attached were the Seventh Day Adventist group and Adeola Odutola who owned a fairly good secondary school at Ijebu-Ode. The noisiest ones were sole proprietors who individually owned schools. The discussions were preliminary and informal exchanges to advise both sides before the final decision was taken. The government of the Western State was glad to oblige but what silenced the demand were the conditions put to the proprietors based on government’s sense of fairness to the taxpayers whose funds had been utilized. They were as follows:

1.      Proprietors would calculate their investment on all structures in the school including the land (x) which by the education laws of the time must be registered in perpetuity in the name of the school (at least in the West)

2.      Proprietors would compute the total amount they had incurred in running the school from inception to date of takeover (y)

3.      Proprietors would compile a list of the value of all gifts and donations the school had received (p)

4.      Government would compile the value of all grants (general and special) that it had paid to the school up to the time of takeover (q).

5.      Compensation to proprietors would be C = [(x + y) – (p + q)]

When the discerning proprietors among them did the Arithmetic and found out that they would be seriously indebted to government at the end of the exercise they blinked and went silent. A funny footnote to the exercise was the demand of one or two proprietors who wanted to be paid for their ‘brand’ name. Government had no use for their names anyway and when they eventually lost, they pleaded with government to kindly retain those names, a demand which was graciously granted.

Heritage has at least two dimensions. Your child can only make claims to what belongs to you. That is one form of heritage. The other like UNESCO’s heritage, relates to values. The pleasure derived from listening to Sonny Ade’s music or reading Achebe’s books are golden gems they have bequeathed to the world. Achebe collects his royalty forever, which means that it is a heritage of his children. We who acclaim and cherish the books are not beneficiaries of the pecuniary offerings. Similarly UNESCO helps preserve those monuments in Egypt say, but it is the Egyptian government and people that own the monuments. The government, when it took over schools took over the land, the structures on them, and the responsibility to continue to run schools. Those who are capitalizing on Heritage can be assured that it is their’s to cherish and share with the world. They are free to do so.

A few students imported the Dancing Club from the Higher College, Yaba to the University College, Ibadan. We started the Bug and later others started the original Cult that was not malevolent. They are part of the history of that institution. The good things keep going from generation to generation and those who cherish them regard them as part of things to be retained forever. Heritage in the sense people are talking about it will survive on its own if the generations want them. There is no law that new influences cannot add their own quota before they pass away. There is nothing stopping those being locked out today from leaving their imprints that will be cherished behind.

The form for the annual census of schools provides for three categories of ‘girls only’, ‘boys only’ and mixed schools. It is the responsibility of government to determine which of its public schools will be designated in any of the three categories. As a part of the process of development if it becomes necessary to alter the gender status of any school especially from a mixed to a single gender and vice-versa, it may be necessary to do some juggling of names. For instance a St. Agnes Girls’ School cannot become mixed and still retain its name. However it could become St. Agnes High School or something equally appropriate without much loss of identity. While the use of adjectives like Junior, Senior, Middle, High, and Primary are helpful indicators of level, those of gender like boy’s, girl’s, and mixed are pointless tautologies as names go. A St, Agnes should have no trouble ministering to both girls and boys, or doing whatever saints are supposed to do for both genders.

Government should not exert any serious effort to take on the trivial exercise of changing the names of schools for the mere fun of it. There must however be rhyme and rhythm in naming schools. Changing the name of an institution will always generate some heat. University of Ife alumni protested to the heavens but UNIFE is today OAU and the heavens have not fallen. It should be possible to reconcile all views with no ulterior motives through dialogue.

The claim that the federal government enforced the takeover is false. Those who are old enough will remember that the exercise was not uniformly executed across the country. The Catholics put up a very tenacious resistance in the East that slowed implementation. Some states only half-heartedly carried it out simply because Education has always been on the concurrent list and no central government could successfully enforce such a complex maneuver at a swoop even under the military. Decrees merely backed the intention of governments and the people who had spoken through Asabia. Each state is free to do what is best for its people.

One lingering and unfortunate consequence of the takeover of schools is the undeniable fact that standards of education have fallen over the years since the takeover. It is in no way a direct consequence of the proposal but one of implementation by government. In fact the takeover was to be a new beginning whereby the following would take place in the spirit of Adefarasin and Asabia:

a.      All existing and new schools would be registered: that implied that the basic minimum requirements for providing good education would be provided in all schools irrespective of who was the proprietor. That would satisfy the demand of the NUT that all educational institutions should provide equal facilities for the children to learn and the teachers to teach

b.      All schools would be bound by the same rules and treated equally when being assessed in respect of management, number and quality of staffing, and other areas that deal with the evaluation of the outcome of learning. I had the unpleasant duty of writing to the government of the Western State to give notice of closure in respect of the famous Government College, Ibadan of which I was by law the stand-in proprietor on behalf of the government, due to poor accommodation and general neglect. That decadence as it developed had shown that governments could default in providing fully for their schools and that any measure to avoid that unfortunate situation must be a corner-stone of any changes.

c.       All schools would have properly constituted Boards of Governor to oversee the management of the schools as outlined in law. That body would be independent and good enough to get governments to act appropriately in funding schools.

At the primary school level in particular, the Local Education Authorities have been greatly handicapped to the extent that it is difficult to believe that they exist at all. The truth is that governments have increasingly been unable to fund education adequately and though the rates might have been perhaps slower, the rot would have set in anyway if even schools had not been taken over.

In concluding it should be reiterated that public schools belong to the people and that government as the representative of the people has the responsibility to determine the future of education and the direction and shape schools take. There is no problem of education that cannot be solved through dialogue if those involved are sincere and have no hidden agenda. And for the sake of our children let us take interest in education and make constructive inputs. Government should take the lead and we should walk and work with it all the way.

Dr. Amiel M. Fagbulu (amiel.fagbulu@ymail.com)