What would you put first? A new suit, or your nation’s education?

Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank
Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank

News has reported this morning that the new National Assembly in Nigeria is to receive $43 million in a clothing allowance, meaning that each of the legislators is receiving over $91,000. According to the latest costing estimates by the EFA GMR team, that amount of money could help 112,000 children access a quality, equitable primary education.

We should remember that over two thirds of people living in Nigeria earn below $1.25 a day, according to 2011 figures. The allowance just received by the 469 legislators for new suits, skirts and shirts, therefore, is equal to the amount that almost 34.5 million people exist on per day.

Aside from clothes, of course, the National Assembly is set to receive all sorts of other allowances, including for furniture and for cars. Those in the House of Representatives will receive the equivalent of $9 million for new chairs and tables, for instance, which could send almost 23,000 children to school. It could be spent on chairs and desks for schools, alternatively.

Nigeria remains, with Somalia, one of the only two sub-Saharan African countries never to have reported its education expenditure since 1990. While we don’t know what share of the national income goes to education, by many accounts it remains very low. And this despite Nigeria’s GNP per capita growing substantially since 1999.

Click to view full data
Click to view full data

As a result, the most basic of resources for education are limited: an additional 220,000 primary school teachers, 15% of the global total, are needed. In Nigeria, primary attainment among the poorest households actually fell, from 35% in 2003 to 22% in 2013, with the gap between the average and poorest households increasing by about 20 percentage points.

Legislators should not be distracted from the task in hand. The fact is that Nigeria houses the largest population of out of school children of any country in the world. Our latest EFA GMR provided the verdict on countries’ progress towards the six global Education for All goals. It concluded that Nigeria lacks progress in almost every EFA goal, with the number of out of school children – already the highest in the world – increasing since 2000.

Recently, we wondered on this blog whether the arrival of the new President might present new hope for the future of education in the country.  This bit of news, as a symbol of misplaced priorities, casts a shadow over that hope.



  1. The correct answer is ‘a new suit’. Officials have dozens of family members depending on them, including multiple children to send to private schools. Corruption is one important way to fulfill these needs. Giving money formally may feed 25 relatives for a month or send 5 children to private schools. Then it is hoped that the officials will have more time to devote to education (or other policy).
    The other reason for preferring clothes over education is that English-language education delivered in a small fraction of the time poor students need to process information does not work. We can advocate and write dozens of blogs, but we can’t change the brain processes necessary. So, allocating the money for various school-related necessities will not educate anyone.

  2. I will definitely say my nation’s education first like improving on teachers salaries, provision of learning materials( chairs,tables, a good library & laboratory) But most importantly as more money is put into the education sector, somebody needs to follow through its implementation. Seriously our leadership need to begin to make some personal sacrifice,if we intend to make any “serious change”. Then we can build a better future for the Nigerian child.

    1. Wow this is a very good response! I definitely agree that teachers should be paid with a higher salary. I believe that these children are the future of the country. We should be able to support them by giving them good education systems for them to continue in their studies. There does to be change and I believe the nation should begin to noticed that. Very wise post.

      1. Very unfortunately the more money the donors put into the education system, the more severe the corruption becomes. The officials who handle the donations have to take care of their own family needs. And their own children are not in public schools, so improvement of that system does not personally impact them. (In fact they need kickbacks to pay for their children’s private schools.)
        Furthermore, officials are accountable to those who appointed them, who also have such needs. They need to pass proceeds upwards and downwards. One wrong move, and they are kicked out.

        There have been studies on the causes of corruption, and it’s wise to digest them. Mere idealism about the education of the poor ensures that they won’t get served. At the same time, the donor funds are being spent, and disappointment is setting in.

      2. I agree with the first statement about the corruption. I think that any time money is involved in huge amounts, there always seem to be more corruption. I will have to look more into those studies to gain more knowledge in this topic. I see where you are coming from and I completely understand your point of view. As I mentioned before, I will have to look more into this topic to educate myself more.

  3. I recently spent an academic year as a Fulbright Professor of Education and Qualitative Research at the University of Calabar in Nigeria. My admiration for my colleagues and for the public school teachers with whom I worked was and is immeasurable. They work with a deep sense of commitment and boundless energy for the cause of education in their country. They work in buildings that would be condemned in the U.S., without electricity much of the time, under leaky roofs. When the room goes dark, they make a momentary groan and keep working. When the rains come, they set buckets out to catch the rain that falls beside the desk or chair and keep working. They work without textbooks, without materials, without databases that give them access to research and teaching resources. When I left, databases were supposed to be “coming soon,” but it was my observation that much of what was announced to be “coming soon” came at great delay or not at all. ….. Would I put first a new suit or the nation’s education? The answer is self evident. But the practice of “a new suit” is deeply engrained in the culture of Nigeria and dates to the time of colonialism, when the colonial masters set exactly that precedent. I’m not sure how this can be undone, but it must be undone if Nigeria is to thrive.

  4. It’s frightening! And particularly for the developing countries such as Nigeria where an enormous number of people have their hopes and choices being dismissed due to the lack of quality and equitable education. My hope and great belief is that the Nigerian government will try to deeply figure out on this issue.

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