What is happening to the UBE in Nigeria?

In 1999, the Nigerian government introduced the Universal Basic Education (UBE), as a reform programme to provide nine years free, compulsory and qualitative primary and junior secondary education to all Nigerian children. The thinking behind the programme was that no Nigerian child, no matter the location and socio-economic status of the parents, should be denied qualitative basic education. It also mandates every parent or guardian to ensure his/her child or ward attends and completes primary and junior secondary education. It further delegates the duty of ensuring that this duty is performed to “stakeholders in education” in the local government areas.

In 1990, primary school enrolment was put at 86 percent, but enrolment dropped to a mere 25 percent by the time the children reached secondary school. Education infrastructure was also decaying without any attention being paid to it by policy makers. M.T. Liman, the federal minister of education, in 1997, on a nationwide tour of the country’s schools stated, “the basic infrastructure in schools such as classrooms, laboratories, workshops, sporting facilities, equipment, libraries were in a state of total decay. The physical condition of most schools was reported to be pathetic.”

Although there has been noticeable improvement in enrolment since the beginning of UBE, the results have been limited and Nigeria’s educational system still rates poorly in most international rankings

Consequently, the government set about creating structures to overcome the dearth of facilities and create a robust infrastructure to support basic education. It created the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to promote uniform, qualitative and functional basic education as well as coordinate all aspects of the programme implementation, and also set up an intervention fund to be accessed by states upon providing their matching grants.

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Although the programme ran into legal difficulties soon after, it effectively took off in 2004 upon the signing into law of the UBE Act.

Results have been mixed. Although there has been noticeable improvement in enrolment since the beginning of UBE, the results have been limited and Nigeria’s educational system still rates poorly in most international rankings.

In fact, the failure of states to place a high premium on basic education has found vent in their refusal to access intervention fund from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). According to the agency, as at August 31, 2018, a whopping N51b was not accessed by states, while as at same date, only 13 of the 36 states and Abuja accessed the 2017 UBE matching grants totalling N18,008,804,569.70.

In fact, during elections, more states ignore the UBEC intervention funds altogether. States and governors are more concerned with funding of elections than the funding of basic education.

As at 2015, Nigeria ranked 103 out of 118 countries in UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) Development Index, which takes into account universal primary education, adult literacy, quality of education and gender parity.

As a plus, UNESCO’s review found that enrolment at primary and junior secondary schools had greatly increased since 2000. However, transition and completion rates remained below 70 percent.

One of the greatest obstacles to the success of the UBE obviously, is the weakness of the local government as an order of government. Since the 1999 constitution decided to place the local government under the control of the states, the state governors have stifled all forms of democratic and accountable governance in the local governments. The state governor can appoint and dissolve local government councils at will and for as long as is convenient for the governor. Even when elections are eventually held, the governor’s party wins 100 percent of all local government and councillorship seats in the local governments.

With grassroots democracy effectively stifled and local government councils accountable to the state governor who can hire and fire them at will, local accountability is abandoned for pleasing the “Oga at the top”. Therefore, the local government education stakeholders that should ensure all parents and guardians comply with the free and compulsory education of children are not empowered or even allowed to perform that function. For instance, a world Bank 2018 survey of 435 private and public primary schools in Nigeria, that covered 2,968 teachers, showed that a teacher was absent from class for approximately 25% of the scheduled teaching time. With no effective supervision by the Local Government Education Authorities (LGEA), schools and teachers are left to do as they want.

Another major challenge is that of security especially in the Northeast and Northwest states where the Boko Haram insurgency and banditry has effectively forced children out of school. What is more, with the targeting of schoolchildren by the insurgents and bandits, schooling becomes a dangerous game and parents will prefer to keep their children at home.

A survey conducted by UNICEF and the Nigerian government shows that Nigeria has the highest number of out of school in the world at 13.2 million, an increase from the 10.5 million children a decade ago. This is not to mention the huge infrastructure deficit and depreciating teacher quality plaguing most of the schools in Nigeria.

Even with the grim statistics above, more and more states are failing to access their UBE intervention funds because they could not afford to make their matching grants, and those that access the funds either mismanage them or divert them to other uses aside improving basic education in their states.

This is the sad fate of Nigeria. No country in the world has been known to develop without developing its human capital. But in Nigeria, despite the efforts made to promote education, some states are showing that educating their people is not their priority.

Of course, as I have stated previously on this page, most high government officials have mentally checked out of the country and are building an alternative life for themselves and their children safely outside the country. They only remain in the country to exploit it, steal from it to fund their alternative lives and pay their children’s school fees abroad.

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