Why millions of Nigerian pupils may remain out of school

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Olabisi Deji-Folutile

Seven weeks into the second term of the 2009/2010 academic session, Peace and Bunmi, both children of same parents are yet to resume in school. Peace, 13 years old, and a JSS1 pupil, is in a private secondary school where tuition is N7, 000 per term. Though he finished his primary school education three years ago, he was forced to stay at home for two years because his parents could not afford to pay his way through secondary school education in a private school. The public schools in his area are overcrowded and getting him a space in one of them was difficult. As a result of this, Peace and his nine-year old sister, also in primary five, have been following their mother to farm. She also failed to resume with her mates in January this year because there was no money to pay her school fees.

In addition to going to the farm, Peace cuts grasses around his neighborhood at the Federal Government Sites and Services, Isheri, Lagos, where his parents live in a one-room apartment to augment the family‘s income. Now his mother has decided to take him to the village to reduce the burden on her.

There are more than 10 million Nigerian children that are currently out of school, according to the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation. Peace and his sister are just two out of these millions. Even, Nigeria‘s Minister of State for Education, Hajia Aishat Dukku, believes the figure is higher considering the number of almajiris out of school in the North and children of fishermen in the Niger Delta region that are not getting formal education. The almajiris are mostly Northerners receiving Islamic education from clerics and religious leaders.

Apart from overcrowding, the state of public schools in many states of Nigeria is appalling. Because of this, many parents are reluctant to send their children there. There have been reports of school buildings collapsing and children losing their lives in the process.

This, coupled with other expenses required in public schools, according to Mrs. Felicia Ikuopayi, the mother of Peace and Bunmi, is one of the reasons why she has refused to enroll her children in public schools. Most parents still pay for exercise books and school uniforms in a country where the Federal Government pays a minimum wage of N7, 500 monthly. Many states pay less than that. People like Ikuopayi live on less than the minimum wage.

The Federal Government has long abolished fees for primary education, but this was extended to junior secondary school in 2003 when the National Assembly enacted the Universal Basic Education Act. This Act was expected to increase enrolment in public primary schools and ensure nine years of continuous education for every Nigerian child.

The UBE is a holistic approach by government to achieve the target of Education for All by 2015. The Federal Government has claimed that the enactment of the UBEC Act and its domestication by all the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory is a proof of its commitment to providing access and quality basic education to every Nigerian child.

The UBE Act mandates every state government to provide free and compulsory education for every Nigerian child of primary and junior secondary school age while parents are to ensure that their children enrol and complete the basic education cycle. Penalties are prescribed for parents that failed to comply with the demands of the act.

Although primary and secondary education is largely the responsibility of states and local governments going by Nigeria‘s constitution, the UBE Act makes provision for Federal Government‘s intervention in basic education to assist states and local governments to provide uniform and qualitative basic education throughout the country.

The Act provides three sources of funding for the implementation of the UBE at the federal level. They are Federal Government‘s grants of not less than two per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund; funds or contributions in form of Federal Guaranteed Credits; and local and international donor grants. These funds are shared on 50/50 per cent basis with states in this order. Seventy per cent on 50/50 basis, 14 per cent to correct educational imbalance, five per cent as grants to performing states, two per cent to support physically and mentally challenged children, five per cent for school feeding programme and four per cent as UBE Implementation fund.

Seventy per cent of the accessed fund must be spent on infrastructural development; 15 per cent on classroom construction, furniture, renovation and rehabilitation; 15 per cent on textbooks and workshop materials; and the remaining 15 per cent on teachers‘ professional development. To have access to the money, the states must have developed and submitted action plan to UBEC for approval.

But to access the UBEC matching fund, a state is expected to contribute not less than 50 per cent of the total cost of projects to be executed. In addition to this, states are also mandated to establish state universal education boards in compliance with section 11[2] of the UBE Act. Also, the states must open separate bank accounts with the CBN titled, ‘UBE Matching Grant Account,‘ and provide evidence of lodgement of their counterpart funding with the CBN.

Unfortunately government‘s efforts to increase enrolment in school through the UBEC Act have not achieved much result partly because parents whose children are not in school are never punished as prescribed by the law. The Deputy Governor of Lagos State and the state‘s Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Sarah Sosan, said it was difficult to punish parents because government would not want to send wrong signals to the public. According to her, enlightenment programmes will work better than outright punishment though she does not rule out applying the law as the last resort. In addition to this, most states have refused to access funds made available to them by the Federal Government.

As at August 2009, over N40bn belonging to various state governments was lying idle at the Central Bank of Nigeria because the states failed to contribute their counterpart funding to access the funds.

Ironically, states like Borno, Edo, Imo, Kaduna, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory which still have a large army of school-age children out of school are some of those yet to access this money. In 2006 alone, the states failed to access over N917m.

The Secretary of Education, FCT, Alhaji Halilu Pai, admitted that the territory needed additional 3,719 classrooms if it must meet the required standard of education. He said the FCT would need N40bn to raise the standard of education to acceptable levels.

UBEC document shows that Borno is yet to access over N1.7bn; Edo, over N2.4bn; Imo, over N2bn; Kaduna, over N265m; Lagos, over N1.7bn; Rivers, over N1.4bn; and FCT, over N330m. The document also shows that Edo State is yet to access its counterpart allocation of N178, 851,351.73 for 2005.

Two years ago, 16 states and the FCT failed to access matching grants totalling N7, 670,024,689.30. These states included Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi and Edo. Others were Enugu, Imo, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Rivers, Sokoto, Zamfara and the FCT.

Only seven states and the FCT accessed the UBEC matching grants for 2008 as at August 31 last year. The states are Abia, Adamawa, Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi and Ondo. Other states are yet to access matching grants for the last quarter of 2008 totalling N22, 105,265,095. The document also shows that neither the FCT, nor any state government has accessed the sum of N9.826, 750 available with the UBEC for the second quarter of 2009.

The Minister of State for Education believes UBEC should collaborate with the Governors‘ Forum with a view to encouraging the states to take what duly belongs to them to improve enrolment in primary and junior secondary schools. Dukku adds that integrating non-formal education centres into formal education sector will increase enrolment. But stakeholders are of the view that government should be able to bear the full cost of education including purchasing school uniforms and books at the first nine years of schooling, to increase access to education.


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