President halts privatisation of Unity Schools

President Umaru Yar'Adua's administration has halted an initiative of his predecessor to privatise 102 elite public secondary schools across Nigeria.

See IRIN NIGERIA: Privatising schools and national unity

“The manner and rush in which the pubic-private partnership arrangement was put in place did not give room for consideration of wider views and ideas on how best the schools could be effectively and efficiently managed,” said Education Minister Igwe Aja-Nwachukwu in a 27 September statement.

He said the Yar’Adua administration’s move reversed a reform policy that “threatened public interest”.

The 102 schools, known as Unity Schools, were established in 1970 following the end of the country's civil war, with the aim of fostering greater unity among future leaders from different parts of the country.

But the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced a public-private partnership that would see the private sector manage the schools for profit, enabling the government to end its subsidy of the schools.

Obasanjo said the aim of the reforms would be to make the schools more efficient.

The move was opposed by parents' and teachers' unions, who argued it would put quality education beyond the reach of the poor.

The reversal of the policy by President Yar'Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo on 29 May, was welcomed by Solomon Onaghinon, leader of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria which had challenged the privatisation plans in court.

Onaghinon said that the private sector was not synonymous with efficient management. “Many privately managed organisations like banks and public companies have either collapsed or been involved in poor utilisation of financial resources in this country.”