The general collapse of education in Nigeria is hardly news. However, any attempt to address the issue is of interest to those trying to improve the hapless lot of Nigerian students. There was therefore a purr of approval on Twitter yesterday that this year’s Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) event would focus on “Transforming Education Through Partnerships For Global Competitiveness.”
The NESG is Nigeria’s premier think tank on private sector development and is best known for its annual conference in Abuja, which brings industrialists and entrepreneurs together with government figures to discuss Nigerian private sector concerns. At last, people felt there might be a commercial solution to a sector in terminal decline.
It was ironic therefore that yesterday was the day it became widely known that the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has imposed a 62.5% tariff (a mix of levies, duties and VAT) on imported printed books, where previously there has been none. The tariff was approved in a ministry circular on the 28th February but applies from the 1st January 2014. Needless to say, Nigerian publishers had not been consulted. For six decades, Nigeria has kept to a UNESCO agreement (signed in 1950) “on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials” which in its first Article states that signatory countries will not impose customs duties or other charges on importing books, publications, educational, scientific and cultural materials.” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala therefore has the distinction of being the first Nigerian Finance Minister in over sixty years to break this convention.
An outsider’s devil’s-advocate response to the news might be, “well, this might contravene a UN agreement, but ultimately it’s good news that Nigeria protects a sector that it wants to develop. Nigeria should try to stimulate the production of its own books in country.”
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By Jeremy Weate – Africa is a country