The Nigerian Educational System: a Legal Perspective


The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things. Over the years the Nigerian educational system has fallen in standard and quality. The reoccurring strike actions, the poor state of the teaching facilities and the lack of adequate budgetary allocation for the educational sector are pointers to this fact. According to Transparency International, 30 per cent of Nigerians surveyed said they had paid a bribe in the education sector. Owing to these corrupt and fraudulent activities, only one Nigerian university, the University of Ibadan is among the top 1000 universities in the world. Are there ways in which the Nigerian educational system can be reinstated back to its former glory? In this write up the writer examines inter alia the legal framework, administration, structure, challenges and expounding on various legal opinions as regards the educational system in Nigeria using a doctrinal research methodology.

Keywords: Educational system, Legal, Perspective, Legal framework, Legal opinions.



According to Late Nelson MandelaEducation is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world no country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.” The Education is thus an act or process of developing and cultivating (whether physically or mentally or morally) one’s mental activity or senses; the expansion, strengthening, and discipline of one’s mind, faculty, etc; the forming and regulation of principles and character in order to prepare and fit for any calling or business by systematic instruction.

The educational sector which at the long run remains the key to the development of Nigeria is seemingly neglected by the government. This has left many of its citizens bemoaning the government’s inability to read the warning signs. The standard of education in the country is falling as corruption like a cankerworm continues to eat deep into the once vibrant and promising educational system left in the hands of the government by the colonial masters after independence.  As a result of the current economic crisis plaguing the Nigerian economy, the federal government has in recent years failed to meet the United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) educational budget benchmark of 26 percent.[1]

The Nigerian educational system is ostensibly moving in a downward spiral which calls for necessary measure to be taken in order to rekindle the hope of the upcoming generations and restore the efficacy and development to the Nigerian educational sector.

The Legal Framework of the Nigerian Educational System

Inherent in the Nigerian constitution is section 18 which includes the educational objectives of the fundamental obligation of the government.[2]

Asides these constitutional provisions there have also been decrees by the military government which have been transformed into acts. Some of these acts have formed administrative agencies delegated with power by enabling acts to ensure the implementation of these acts and assist in the administration of the educational sector. The national policy on education was enacted in 1977 and has evolved over time due to various reforms on the educational systems with 2004 being the most recent development.

The National Commission for mass literacy and adults and non-formal education was established by decree No.17 of June 1990and formally inaugurated on July 5 1991.[3] The decree no.96 of 1993 re-established the national primary education commission (NPEC) in the country. It also provided the arrangement for funding primary education in the country.[4]

The educational National Minimum standards and establishment of institutions Acts No 16 of 1985, together with the 1999 constitution empowers the minister of education to ensure minimum standards are set, maintained and constantly improved in all schools of the federation.[5]

The Administration of the Nigerian Educational System

The federal structure of Nigeria also affects its educational system. Education is administered by the federal, state and local governments. The administrative mechanism devolves some power to the state and local government. The Federal Ministry of Education is responsible for the overall policy formation and ensuring quality control, but it is primarily involved with tertiary education. School education is largely the responsibility of state (secondary) and local (elementary) governments.

Some of the organization which serves as a mechanism for the actualization of the policies of the Nigerian government are as follows:

The Federal Ministry of Education

It is responsible for the unification of educational policies and procedures of all the states of the federation. The ministry is responsible for the formulation of national policies on education, collection and collation of data for the purpose of educational planning and financing, controlling the quality of education throughout the country, and the development of curricula and syllabuses at the national level in conjunction with other bodies.[6]

The National Council of Education (NCE)

 It is the highest policy-making body for educational matters in the country. It consists of the federal minister of education and the state commissioner for education. It is assisted by the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) which is made up of professional officers of the federal and state ministries of education. The committee advises the NCE on a wide variety of educational matters.[7]

The National Universities Commission (NUC)

This is an administrative entity under the federal ministry of education. The commission is responsible for: approval of course and programmes, the determination and maintenance of minimum academic standards, monitoring of universities, accreditation of academic programmes, and the provision of guidelines and processing of applications for the establishment of private universities.[8]

The National Examination Council (NEC)

This body conducts examinations for some junior secondary schools and for senior secondary schools in collaboration with the West African Examination Council (WAEC). The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and other organisation are responsible for the examination of students and they play a key role in the maintenance of the standard of education.[9]

Structure of the Nigerian Educational System

The structure of the Nigerian educational system could be arranged in a 6-3-3-4 formation. The aforementioned can be construed as nine years for basic education, three years for senior secondary school education and four years for the tertiary education depending on the course of study.

Basic education begins at the age of 4 for the majority of Nigerians. Students spend six years in primary school and graduate with a school-leaving certificate. Subjects taught at the primary level include mathematics, English language, Christian Religious Knowledge, Islamic knowledge studies, science and one of the three main indigenous languages and cultures, Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo. Private schools often also offer computer science, French, and Fine Arts. Primary school students are required to take a Common Entrance Examination to qualify for admission into the Federal and State Government Secondary schools, as well as private ones. In May 2004, the Nigerian legislature passed the UBE bill into law. The Compulsory, Free and Universal basic Education Act 2004[10] represents the most significant reform in the Nigerian educational system. Basic education in Nigeria can be seen as early childhood development and education as well as compulsory primary and junior secondary education. The UBE’s main policy is to provide nine years of universal, free and compulsory education. Secondary school education is divided into three years’ cycle cumulating in the basic education certificate examination and senior secondary leading to the senior school certificate examination. The junior secondary school graduates can enrol in vocational enterprise institutions or in technical colleges offering three-year programmes leading to the award of national technical/commercial certificates.

Higher education is provided at colleges of education, universities and polytechnics and colleges. Colleges of education offer three-year programmes leading to the award of the Nigerian certificate in education. At the university level, programmes leading to a bachelor’s degree normally last four years depending on your course of study. Although the federal government owns a large proportion of universities in the country, in 1993 the National Minimum Standards and establishment of institutions amendment Decree No.9 was promulgated. This decree provides for religious bodies, non-governmental organisations and private individuals to participate in the provision of tertiary education.

A more dramatic growth occurred in the late 1990s when the Nigerian government began to encourage the establishment of private universities.  Since then, private institutions, which constitute some 45 percent of all Nigerian universities as of 2017 have proliferated at a rapid pace, from 3 in 1999 to 68 in 2017. About two-thirds of these institutions are estimated to be religiously affiliated schools.[11]

Challenges Facing the Nigerian Educational System

One of the predominant challenges that have plagued the Nigerian educational system is underfunding. Although Nigeria education spending fluctuated in between 2003 and 2013 from 8.21 percent of the total budget in 2003 to 6.42 percent in 2009, and to 8.7 percent in 2013.[12] Recent reports suggest that current spending levels have already decreased well below 10 percent.[13] The reasons are not farfetched considering the countries present economic status. One of the consequences of underfunding the educational sector is an increased student to teacher ratio. For instance, the University of Abuja and Lagos State University reportedly had lecturer to student ratios as high as 1:122 and 1:114 respectively.[14] This has lead to the education of students in unfavourable environments ranging from crowded classrooms to living in dilapidated hostels and other university facilities which are often described as being in a state of decay. Another outcome is the incessant strikes by the lecturers spurred by the inability of the government to pay her lecturers or increase their salaries.

Another key challenge is the conduct of corrupt and fraudulent activities. The limited access to education, especially in the tertiary institutions, has led to the use of bribes and connections such that many people are admitted not solely on merit but on the ground of the connections they have or the bribes that they have paid. Australian scholar Tracey Bretag summarized the conditions when describing  Nigeria as a country where “academic fraud is endemic at all levels of the … education system, and misconduct ranges from … cheating during examinations to more serious behaviours, such as impersonation, falsifying academic records, ‘paying’ for grades/certificates with gifts, money or sexual favours, terrorising examiners and assaulting invigilators”.[15] Also Transparency International reported that about 30 percent of Nigerians surveyed said they had paid a bribe in the education sector. Owing to these corrupt and fraudulent activities only one Nigerian university the University of Ibadan is among the top 1000 universities in the world.

Legal Opinions on How to Revamp the Nigerian Educational System

It is a most salient point to note that in the light of the aforementioned the law can play a vital role in the transformation of the Nigerian educational system. Law should be made by the legislature, in favour of the ever-declining technical and vocational education system. The Nigerian educational system is more of theoretical rather than practical in nature. Although in recent times the government through various agencies have made some policies one of them being the inclusion of trade as a subject in the senior secondary category, more should still be done to enforce the effectiveness of such policies. For instance, the federal ministry of education can place more value on the certification derived from these schools in contrast to the university certification. This would incite parent to encourage their children to attend vocational and technical schools, reduce the number of students seeking admission in universities and help the production industries in Nigeria.

Affordability of education and funding of research programs is sine qua non to strengthening youths. It is sad that some political opportunists still assume that education is a privilege, after two decades of United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaration that education is a right.  Deliberate efforts must be made to improve the general wellbeing of school systems to safeguard our teeming youths from social vices. Funding of researches will help us find cure or remedies to our environmental and endemic medical challenges that are plaguing Nigeria.

The federal structure of the Nigeria government affects its educational policies. Although the federal government devolves power to the state, more power should be given to the state in terms of the generation of internal revenue. Those who have mineral resources should be given the power to generate revenues from those resources or get some additional benefits from the money gotten from the exploitation of those resources. This has helped the United States of America and it would be beneficial to Nigeria, as funds accrued to the state government can be used for the creation and maintenance of universities it would also encourage healthy competition amongst various states.

In order to revive the educational standard of the country, it is suggested that the stringent measures put in place before students are admitted into the universities should be maintained. In other words, students should go through examinations such as the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and Post UTME so as to ensure that only the qualified are admitted into universities.


In conclusion, instead of dwelling in the past, we should move on and we can only do that if concrete efforts are made towards the restoration of the educational structure in Nigeria. It is about time Nigeria pays attention to its declining technical and vocational education system. More money should be pumped into the funding of research activities in tertiary institutions, this can be facilitated if more power is given to the state to generate revenue internally so as to increase their budgetary allocation for the maintenance and establishment of educational institutions in these states. According to Malcolm X “Education is the passport to the future for tomorrow belonging to those who prepare for it today”.

About the Author

Mattu Ofe Bemigho is a 500 Level Law Student, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti; Email: [email protected]; Phone: 08092873933.


[1]. Ibanga Isine, ‘How to Reinvent Nigeria’s Educational System’ <>, accessed  17 March 2017.

[2]CFRN 1999.

[3] International Bureau of Education, `World Data on education- Nigeria`, 2010 -2011, 7th edition </> accessed 15 March 2017.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] International Bureau of Education, `World data on education- Nigeria`, 7th edition <> accessed 15 March 2017.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Compulsory, Free and Universal Basic Education Act, 2004.

[11] <> accessed on 17 March, 2017.

[12] Saliu,G.H `Assessment of funding in federal universities in Nigeria evidence from Ahmadu Bello University`[2015].

[13] <http// budget fails to meet UN benchmark on education/accessed on 17 March, 2017.

[14] International Organization for Migration (2014). Promoting Better Management, .21.

[15] <> accessed on 17 March, 2017.

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