Mortgaging Nigeria’s Future (1)

it is eight months after the video of the seven-year-old Success Adegor went viral on the Internet. The debate generated in the public sphere as a result of the viral video seems to have eased off. However, it is still important to portray how the video illustrates the sorry state of basic education across the nation’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Unfortunately, Success’ story is not an isolated case. The education sector in Nigeria has long been facing issues, especially regarding the number of out-of-school children. However, there is a disparity in the figures.

In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Institute for Statistics noted that there were 10.5 million children yet to be enrolled in any formal education in Nigeria. In 2014, the statistical office announced that there was a reduction in the number presented in 2010, decreasing from 10.5 million to 8.7 million.

In 2018, the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission, Ahmed Boboyi, noted that the number had increased from 10.5 million to 13.2 million. Some politicians adhere to 8.7 million, the NGO’s to 13.2 million, other experts to 10.5 million. The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, once admitted that the Federal Government has no exact data on the out-of-school children in the country.

With this lack of transparency regarding the figures, one thing clear is that the number of children who are out of school in Nigeria is worrisome. Whether it is 8.7 million, 10.5 million or 13.2 million children, the question remains the same. Why are there a large number of out-of-school children in Nigeria?

When it comes to primary education, Nigeria is the country with the most out-of-school children in the world, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Poverty, insecurity, religious and cultural beliefs are the main reasons used by the government and the media to explain this alarming number. The truth is, it is the government’s responsibility to provide basic education and educating its citizens should be one of the pillars of any government, as the UBE Act mandates. But both federal and state governments have repeatedly overlooked the importance of the education sector and neglected to use the available funds to invest in infrastructure or personnel. According to the Universal Basic Education Commission, only 13 out of 36 states and the FCT utilised the UBEC funds in 2017. Meanwhile, the Third International Conference on Financing for Development held in Addis Ababa in 2015 recommended that the amount dedicated to education from the national budget should be between 15% and 20%, but the Federal Government under the Muhammadu Buhari administration has not met this expectation. Instead, for the past three years, it has actually lowered: in 2016 it was 9.17%; in 2017 7.41%; and 2018 7.14%, according to BudgIT, an organisation that simplifies Nigerian budgets and public data for the general public. Thus, it seems that the politicians refuse to prioritise education.

A 2007 study called, The Control of Politicians in Divided Societies: The Politics of Fear by Gerard Padró I. Miquel, analyses how the presence of ethnic identities and the absence of institutionalised processes allow rulers to get support from the population despite large reductions in welfare, and shows how autocrats in post-colonial Africa have engaged in extensive redistribution of resources in “surprisingly inefficient ways”. Even if Nigeria practises democracy, the results of this study are applicable and comparable as it predicts a very strong bias in the allocation of funds in ethnically divided societies, such as the case of Nigeria. Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world with 200 million and is home to 250 ethnic groups, over 500 languages are spoken and different religions practised, which makes the country widely diverse. The study reveals government’s bias in the allocation of resources by restricting access to bureaucratic posts, to the military, or even to the education of members of selected ethnic groups. Indeed, the reason as to why 69% of the out-of-school children are found in the Northern part of Nigeria can be understood by such bias, and therefore, explained by the state governments’ desire to control the population.

In an attempt to control the population, most state governments in the country continue to give minimum attention to basic education. According to UBEC, 15 states have yet to access their grants since 2015. Only 13 out of the 36 states in the country in 2017 accessed the 50% matching grants provided by the Federal Government to states yearly for basic education while the whopping sum of 29.6bn was not accessed by the other state governments. As of September 2018, none of the states had accessed the UBEC matching grants of 982.6bn available for each state.

This has continued to be the case with UBEC matching grants from the Federal Government to states since 2005. As designed under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, access to these grants is only made possible when states provide their action plan for basic education in a year as well as contribute 50% counterpart funding for the plan. On providing these requirements, the state becomes eligible to access the remaining 50% needed to fund their plan for the year. However, due to states’ inability to fulfil the requirements, access to the funds becomes impaired hence stalling development in the basic education sector.

In the same vein, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, while speaking about this trend of non-accessibility of UBEC matching grants by states recently noted that “corruption and lack of political will have been responsible for most states’ inability to provide their counterpart fund to enable them to access the matching grants provided by the Federal Government.

If this attitude of deliberate refusal on the part of state governments to provide counterpart funding for basic education continues, then the Federal Government will have no choice than to sustain its strategy of deducting counterpart funding of states percentage from the source. It is expected that in a short while, states will commence accessing their matching grants.” The failure of the state governments to show commitment to basic education in the states continues to contribute to the teeming amount of out-of-school children in Nigeria.

Validating Adamu’s stance, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while delivering a convocation lecture at the University of Lagos last April, noted that the disparity in the number of out-of-school children across the states is as a result of ‘the attention that the states pay to these issues’.

For Gideon Olanrewaju, the Executive Director of Aid for Rural Education Access Initiative, a non-profit volunteer-driven organisation in Nigeria, the failure of the Nigerian leaders to prioritise education is self-evident: “Leadership answers everything. If you have a leader that prioritises education, regardless of what the political class is doing, it won’t affect the masses. It takes one leader to change a lot of these things.” Corroborating Adamu, Osinbajo and Olanrewaju’s stance, Yomi Ogunwale, Team Lead of Eduplana Nigeria, an organisation that advocates quality education in Nigeria, believes that the neglect of education by the government is a major factor influencing the increasing population of the out-of-school children in Nigeria.

This neglect is evident yearly in the budgetary allocations to education by the federal and state governments. At the federal level, the average budgetary allocation to education since 2012 is fixed at 9.72% of the total budget. Ironically, the figures allocated to education continue to fall below the benchmark suggested at the Third International Conference on Financing for

Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in July 2015. The benchmark, which is known as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, recommends that countries dedicate 4-6% of their GDP to education and/or 15-20% of their budget to education.

Source: The Nation.

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