By Festus Akinde Gerald
Reform is the engine that drives economic growth. Nigeria, conscious of this fact has successfully carried out reforms in several critical sectors including telecoms, ports, and pensions. Reforms are necessary where services and development in the various sectors are not being provided at optimal levels making it necessary for the private sector to come in and engender competition.
In Nigeria today, there are a number of sectors needing urgent reforms, but this paper will focus on 2 sectors: health and education.
It is no longer news today that access to healthcare in Nigeria is poor. Hospitals are full of patients waiting agonizingly to be attended to, with few doctors to attend to them. The lack of affordability of healthcare services means that the poor sometimes have to rely on attracting sympathy from well-meaning citizens to assist them in paying for treatment.
Therefore, if the sector is reformed by the government, with the right policies and framework put in place, there will be a positive change in the delivery of healthcare services to Nigerians.
The reform of the health sector will improve the availability, accessibility, efficiency, quality and affordability of healthcare services, by expanding the coverage of healthcare services and implementing initiatives which will fundamentally transform healthcare delivery across Nigeria.
Additional benefits of the reform include: updated and expanded medical facilities and research centres through Public Private Partnership and job opportunities for graduate doctors; while Nigerians in the Diaspora will have the opportunity to bring back their knowledge and expertise to Nigeria; and the concomitant expertise that should be attracted to Nigerian hospitals will curtail capital flight as Nigerians will no longer need to travel abroad for medical attention.
In the same vein, it is apt to reform the education system in Nigeria which is the bedrock of life. Education is the right of the child. But in Nigeria, so many children of school age, especially in Northern Nigeria are out of school.
It is common knowledge in the country that the basic educational facilities are lacking especially in government owned schools, even as unmotivated teachers in these public schools engage in marketing their personal wares in the school environment in order to make ends meet. As staaid earlier, these schools are bereft of modern facilities and textbooks and where the books are available, most of the students can neither read nor write. Yet, these students are expected to sit for the National Common Entrance, WAEC, NECO and JAMB Examinations and other forms of qualifying examinations with their counterparts from private schools.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult for these children from public schools to measure up with their peers from private schools, thus, not being able to move higher in their educational pursuit! What therefore, does the future hold for such children?
As presently obtains in public schools, the Federal Government contributes towards improving the education system at the primary level by engaging the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and its counterpart in each State to engage service providers (contractors) to provide educational materials (books) and infrastructure (classrooms renovations). However, this is not well implemented.
Private schools provide state of the art teaching aids, classrooms for the pupils/students and embrace the use of information technologically in providing quality education. The teachers are paid comfortable or living salaries but the irony is that these schools are largely for the rich. As long as the problems in the education system are not addressed, the educational disparity between public and private schools will continue to widen.
The government must therefore carry out urgent reforms in the sector to correct the imbalance in public and private schools and to enable Nigerian students compete favourably with their counterparts in private schools and other climes.
Expectedly, reforms in the education sector will bring in aggressive private sector participation in funding and investment while freeing the government from spending on the sector and focusing on other areas of needs.
Agreed, reforms create pains at the beginning but in the long run, the citizens stand to benefit more as evidenced by the successful reform of the telecoms sector.
There is therefore, no time to waste now but for the Federal Government to give the necessary impetus to the reform of these critical sectors.
Gerald is an Abuja- based public affairs writer.