The protest over the propriety of writing the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) by Nigerian students seeking admission into universities and those desirous to work in the United Kingdom is deserving and highly commendable. A right step in the right direction. An online petition on Change.org against IELTS championed by Policy Shaper, demanded for immediate changes in policy of UK Universities, Companies and Organisations asking for proficiency in English test before admission or employment. The petition has continued to gather momentum and support of Nigerians from all walks of life. It garnered over 40,000 staggering number of signatures.
Interestingly, it was reported that the petition had got the support of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who thinks Nigeria is overdue for exemption from IELTS test considering her status as former British colony. Those who genuinely and stubbornly kick against the policy consider it a total rip-off. It is nothing short of commercialising an official language well written and spoken by a nation colonised by Britain under the pretext of writing a competency test.
Among the disturbing and contentious issues trailing the test in include. First, the high cost implication. The cost of writing the test, rigours associated with it and the two years duration of its validity smacks more of exploitation and this is unacceptable. The test is almost three times the country’s minimum wage of N30,000 as reported by Premium Times Online.
While The Diplôme d’études en langue française (DELF) and Diplôme approfondi de langue française (DALF) taken by countries colonised by the French has no validity limit, IELTS has to be taken after every two years. In fact, the cost of the IELTS stands between N 83, 000 ($200) and N89, 500 ($216.2) for students and others in Nigeria, when juxtaposed with DELF and DALF which cost N16,000 ($38.55) and N19,000 ($45.7). From the cost implications of the two, one wonders why Britain should exhibit such shenaniganism? Nigerians rightly demand for immediate reduction of the fees charged. Responding to the charges Britain maintained that test providers set the fees individually but they must be comparable to what is obtainable or charged globally.
Second, Nigerians demand that the country be exempted from the test. While citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, and 10 other countries are exempted from taking the test, the petitioners wondered why none of the anglophone countries did not qualify for exemption even though they are former British colonies and members of the Commonwealth.” Different strokes for different folks.
Third, the 12 number centre locations for the test is inadequate for a nation of 36 states and Federal Capital Territory. Every state should have at least one test centre.
Fourth, I also dare to add that the “test” should be changed to “exam” with a corresponding certificate at the end. The validity of the test passed should also be relevant as the certificate.
However, as part of her Visa application requirements, the UK insists that citizens of any country willing to relocate to the country for work or study opportunities must take the IELTS). According to the petition, the Head of Communications at the British High Commission in Nigeria, Dean Hurlock, the UK home office said; “it is important that anyone willing to either work or study in the UK shows evidence of language competence to integrate in the country.”
Surprisingly, in 2020 when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) made inquiry on this same issue, the response from UK Home office stunned the world. The office said; “We do not have the required evidence that shows the majority of people in Nigeria speak English as their first language. It added: We must have evidence that at least 51 per cent of the population speaks English as a first language for a country to be included in the Majority English Speaking Country list.” However, the truth remains that more than 51% of Nigerians speak English as first language of the country. As a matter of fact, 53% of Nigerians speak and are proficient in English Language. It must be noted that bearing in mind the population of Nigeria, the country speaks English more than the English people.
Nigerians who studied English Language both at home and broad have distinguished themselves in their chosen area of studies. Those who teach the subjects at home and abroad have also on different occasions distinguished themselves in their field of endeavours; even to the point of beaten their English counterparts to the game of their mother tongue.
After independence, Britain has evolved neo-colonial measures and or antics aimed at perpetually putting Nigeria and other Commonwealth nations under undue pressure and the control of the ex colonialist. If not, why should a country which adopted English as her lingua franca for over sixty years be subjected to such odious ridicule? British policies on colonised African territories run short of basic altruistic intentions. The British policy of association views colonised nations as strangers in Britain despite the pretensions while French policy of assimilation offered warm embrace, acceptance and free national identity and unfettered access to France to the colonised nations.
In the 60s nationals of countries like India, Philippines, Srilanka and other African nations were students of premiere Universities in Nigeria. One can say with all certainty that Nigeria cannot measure up with the standard of education of those countries today. What went wrong? The nation failed to build and consolidate on the early gains and opportunities of her growing and glowing nationhood. It was wasted on the altar of ineffective leadership. The inability of Nigerian and African leaders to put into good use abundant resources at their disposal for the benefit of their citizens is a major shameful cause of this disgrace.
The common and globally accepted maxim that education is the bedrock of societal development is only for the mention in Nigeria and Africa. Suffice it to say that; little or no attention has been paid to education in Nigeria and most African countries. The long incursion of the military into the political space paid little or no attention to the import of education. After the exit of the military and eventual return of democratic governance in 1999, budgetary appropriation on education never met the the required UNESCO benchmark of 26%. Thus, both infrastructure and teachers are dilapidated and cannot deliver the required standard of education needed for the growth of the sector.
The above have led to the large numbers of prospective students seeking university education in the UK and other foreign lands. Most of all these students are children of the high and mighty in Nigeria. Children of the rich, politicians and corrupt leaders who destroyed the local education system but chose to send their wards abroad for quality education. This is the height of wickedness!
The premium placed on education in Nigeria is nothing to write home about thus should be increased. Areas like increased budgetary provision and implementation, increase in school enrollment, quality infrastructure and conducive learning environment as well as trained teaching personnel deserves urgent attention. These in place will reduce the quest for UK degrees. Test providers which supply evidence of the level of qualifications in skills, and migration and or English language proficiency for the UK Home Office is in business of making money. In any case, the company must do everything at its disposal to convince the authorities why IELTS has to be sustained. However, its role in relation to public interest is key and should be reviewed.
Previous concerns raised by Nigerians about the policy was completely ignored by the UK. Nigerian government should deploy its diplomatic processes in getting Britain to pay attention to the demands of Nigerians. Finally, the UK Home Office should also look into the protest and demand dispassionately and act in the interest of justice, equity and fairness. The existing cordial and symbiotic relationship between the two nations should not be sacrificed on the altar of IELTS.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Development Communication Specialist, wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org and could be reached on 08060901201