Only about half of Nigerian adults are literate.[i] The nation’s education problems start at the primary school level: every year, more than 17% of Nigerian children drop out of school at the primary six level.[ii] Nigeria operates a ‘1-6-3-3-4’ education structure: one year of pre-primary school, six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school and four years of tertiary education.[iii] But it is harder to get an education if you are female: about 60% of out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls.[iv] Only 36% of females aged 20–29 have completed secondary school, compared with 54% of their male peers.[v] It is even tougher to get an education if you live in the North, and there are wide disparities in education between Northern Nigeria (in particular the North East and North West zones) and Southern Nigeria. An estimated 51% of children in the North East and 47% in the North West are currently out of school, compared with only 3% of children in the South East and 2% in the South South.[vi] Fewer than half of Nigerians aged 15–24 in the North East (43%) and the North West (47%) complete primary school, while nearly all of their peers in the South do so (96% in the South East, 95% in the South South and 92% in the South West).[vii]


Poverty accounts to a significant extent for the country’s appalling education indicators: only one in every five of the poorest Nigerians aged 15–24 completes primary school, but virtually all of the wealthiest Nigerians do.[viii]

Gaps in legislation further exacerbate inequalities. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act of 2004 stipulates that: “Every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.”[ix] However, the exclusion of the last three years of secondary education from this requirement means that little attention is paid to the funding or management of senior secondary schools. It is worth noting that state governors and local governments are responsible for education until senior secondary school level. Nevertheless, the Federal Government has the power and the responsibility to coordinate policy and make sure that it works. Without compulsory and free education, poor children tend not to complete secondary school. With further pressure in the form of gender stereotypes and traditional practices (including child marriage), poor girls suffer the consequences of this the most. If regional trends continue on their current trajectory, the richest boys across sub-Saharan Africa will achieve universal primary completion in 2021, but the poorest girls will not catch up until 2086.[x]

Education in Northern Nigeria was already fragile before the attacks by Boko Haram militants began, and in the North East over the past few years this fragility has resulted in an entire generation of children being robbed of their right to education.[xi] Boko Haram (the name in Hausa means ‘Western education is forbidden’) has specifically targeted the education sector, and successive governments have failed to protect schools: between 2009 and 2015, at least 611 teachers were deliberately killed and 19,000 forced to flee.[xii] In the same period, attacks in North East Nigeria destroyed more than 910 schools and forced at least 1,500 to close.[xiii] By early 2016, an estimated 952,029 school-age children had fled the violence.[xiv] Notoriously, Boko Haram has targeted schoolgirls with mass abductions, including large groups of female students in Chibok (2014) and Dapchi towns (2018).

Across regions, the quality of education in Nigeria is troubling. Population growth has put pressure on the country’s resources, public services and infrastructure. With children under 15 years of age accounting for 45% of the population, the burden on education is enormous.[xv] Increased enrolment rates have created challenges in ensuring quality education, as resources are spread more thinly.[xvi] Teachers at the basic education level are required to have a Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) at the minimum. However, according to the Ministry of Education, over 50% of teachers do not have this qualification.[xvii] In 2017, the Kaduna State Government tested 33,000 primary school teachers: they were required to obtain a minimum score of 75% on a primary four examination, but 66% of them (21,780) failed.[xviii] Many teachers, especially in public schools, are compelled to work in overcrowded classrooms with 80–100 pupils and without electricity or adequate chairs and tables.[xix]


Invest in Better Data

Nigeria needs better education data. In 2006 the Federal Ministry of Education was using a statistic of 10.5 million children out of school for its planning[xx] and over a decade later it was still basing its planning on this same statistic, despite estimates showing that the figure is now higher.[xxi] Given the impact of population changes, economic recession and attacks by Boko Haram, the new Federal Government in 2019 should prioritise a reassessment of Nigeria’s education indicators. The journey to address the education crisis must begin with better data collection, storage and usage. How can we plan if we don’t know how many people we are planning for?

Amend the Universal Basic Education Act

ONE is working with the Malala Fund, the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA) and other national civil society actors to advocate for an amendment to the 2004 UBE Act. Amending the Act would extend the duration of basic education from nine years to 12 years. This would bring all senior secondary classes (SS1–SS3) into the free education framework [xxii] and could lead to much-needed changes for Nigeria’s poor and for girls in particular.

A sticking point that ONE has identified with regards to amending the Act is the issue of counterpart funding by states. As part of the goal of ensuring uniform education across the country, the UBE Act of 2004 mandates the Federal Government to provide support to states and local governments amounting to 2% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.[xxiii] However, to qualify for this financial support, states must contribute 50% of the total cost of education projects themselves.[xxiv] As of 2018, very few states are accessing the matching grants available to them.[xxv] Why are state governors not prioritising education? The UBE Programme was launched by the Nigerian president in 1999;[xxvi] the incoming president in 2019 needs to assess what is working with this programme and what is not.

Improve National Enrolment Rates

In its 2016–19 Ministerial Strategic Plan, the Federal Ministry of Education set a target of enrolling 2,875,000 children annually between 2017 and 2019. It intended to do this by conducting community and household mapping of out-of-school children in 774 LGAs, conducting mass sensitisation campaigns in 19 focal states, providing schoolchildren with a meal each day, constructing 287,500 classrooms, reactivating 14 vocational training/special schools and recruiting and training 287,500 additional basic education teachers and 21,562 additional female basic education teachers.[xxvii] The 2019 administration should assess the status of these targets in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and other relevant departments and agencies.

Furthermore, changing demographic trends and increasing enrolment will continue to put pressure on the education system, especially in terms of providing quality education. These ambitions must be matched with investments in infrastructure. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of primary schools in Nigeria increased from 59,000 to 61,000 and the number of junior secondary schools increased from 10,000 to 12,000.[xxviii] While this shows increased governmental effort to improve the education system, these investments are not enough given the growing number of children and the large number who are out of school.

Invest in Quality Teachers

The foundation of any quality education system is its teachers. In Nigeria, teaching has been described as the “ungrateful trade,” a profession for the “never-do-well” and “an occupation for the down-trodden”.[xxix] Such perceptions have been shaped by a number of factors, including the poor salaries that teachers receive, the poor quality of graduates produced by teacher training institutions and the poor quality of teaching in Nigerian institutions. The incoming president can spearhead much-needed reform in the education sector. Ensuring adequate salaries and benefits and life-long teacher training would encourage the recruitment, regular attendance and retention of teachers.[xxx] The president could support states to ensure that teachers lacking qualifications are retrained or removed from the system. Additionally, the Federal Government should support the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) to improve the quality of the teachers that the nation produces.

Rebuild the North

According to a 2016 report by the Federal Government in partnership with the World Bank, the United Nations and the European Union, rebuilding the education sector in Northern Nigeria will cost $721.38 million.[xxxi] In September 2015 the government announced the merging of various presidential initiatives to improve the delivery of services to victims of violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, including the Victims Support Fund and the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative. In January 2016 the government established a new social protection plan which focuses, amongst other things, on improving the quality of teachers by directly hiring 500,000 university graduates and by providing cash transfers to extremely poor parents across the country on the condition that they enrol their children in school. The plan, which has a budget of ₦60,000 billion (about $302 million), is supported by the World Bank.[xxxii] The incoming president elected in 2019 should assess and sustain the momentum of such initiatives.

Schools across Northern Nigeria need to be made conflict-free zones, and the trust of parents and girls in the North East region needs to be restored. Steps towards achieving this could include: 1) impartially investigating and prosecuting Boko Haram leaders for attacks on schools, students and teachers; 2) taking immediate steps to stop the military occupation of schools, in line with the Safe Schools Declaration[xxxiii]; and 3) reviewing relevant legislation (including the UBE Act and the Child Rights Act of 2003) and adopting strategies in compliance with international humanitarian law to clearly establish schools and learning environments as zones of peace.[xxxiv]


[i] The adult literacy rate, population 15+ years (2003–08), ranges between 51% and 55%. UNESCO (2017). UIS Database. (last accessed 5 August  2018)

[ii] UNESCO (2015). ‘Nigeria: Education for All 2015 National Review’, p.51. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[iii] Ibid., p.v.

[iv] UNICEF Nigeria. ‘The situation’. (last accessed 16 August 2018)

[v] UNESCO WIDE Database. ‘Global Education Monitoring Report: Nigeria’. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid. Of the poorest Nigerians aged between 15–24 only 20% have completed primary school, while 98% of the richest Nigerians have done so.

[ix] Federal Government of Nigeria (2004). ‘Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, 2004’, Part I, Section 2(1). (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[x] British Council, (2014). ‘Girls’ Education in Nigeria. Report 2014: Issues, Influencers and Actions’, p.10. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[xi] Human Rights Watch (2016). ‘“They Set the Classrooms on Fire”: Attacks on Education in Northeast Nigeria’. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] UNICEF Nigeria. ‘The situation’, op. cit.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Federal Ministry of Education. ‘Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan: 2016–2019’, p.50.

[xviii] Vanguard (2017). ‘Shock as 21,780 Kaduna teachers fail primary four exam’. 10 October 2017. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[xix] Vanguard (2016). ‘World Teacher’s Day: Where is the Nigerian teacher globally?’ 5 October 2016. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[xx] Vanguard (2017). ‘Before Adamu Adamu’s Education Strategy Plan becomes a missed opportunity’. 20 November 2017. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[xxi] Federal Ministry of Education. ‘Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan: 2016–2019’, p.3.

[xxii] Development Research and Projects Center (DRPC). ‘Extension of the 9-Years Free Compulsory Education Policy to 12-Years’.

[xxiii] Federal Government of Nigeria (2004). ‘Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, 2004’, Part III, op. cit.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) (2018). ‘Appendix II (Matching Grant Releases from 2005–2018 as at 28th August 2018)’, ‘Appendix III (Disbursement of Matching Grants to States from 2005–2018 as at 28th August, 2018)’, ‘Appendix IV (Unaccessed Matching Grants from 2005–2018 as at 28th August, 2018).

[xxvi] Universal Basic Education Commission website. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[xxvii] Federal Ministry of Education. ‘Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan: 2016–2019’, p.22-23.

[xxviii] UNESCO (2015). ‘Nigeria: Education For All 2015 National Review’, op. cit., p.49.

[xxix] T.E. Akinduyo (2014). ‘Teaching Profession in Nigeria; Issues, Problems and Prospects’. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Vol. 4, Issue 11. (last accessed 17 August 2018)

[xxx] UNESCO (2016). ‘The World Needs Almost 69 Million New Teachers to Reach the 2030 Education Goals’. (last accessed 20 August 2018)

[xxxi] Federal Republic of Nigeria et al. (2016). ‘North-East Nigeria: Recovery and Peace Building Assessment: Volume II’, p.74.

[xxxii] Human Rights Watch (2016). ‘“They Set the Classrooms on Fire”’, op. cit.

[xxxiii] See, for example:

[xxxiv] Ibid.