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Crisis of basic education in Nigeria


In 1999, the Nigerian government introduced the Universal Basic Education, as a reform programme to provide 9 year free 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.

By 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. The federal minister of education, in 1997, on a nationwide tour of the country’s schools stated that “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.”

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 aspect of the programme implementation, and also set up an intervention fund to be accessed by states upon providing their matching grants.

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 totaling N18, 008, 804, 569.70.

In fact, as politics take centre stage, stakeholders are worried that the UBEC intervention fund not accessed could jump to over N80b as things may take a while to settle down. For now, some states may be concerned with draining their treasuries to fund election, and it might take a while to stabilise their economies, post-election.

UBEC is an intervention and regulatory agency saddled with the task of promoting uniform, qualitative and functional basic education, as well as, coordinating all aspects of Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme implementation.

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.

But Nigeria’s out of school children remains a huge challenge. 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, a trend has emerged where states fail to access the 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. Feelers from UBEC suggests that as at August 2018, about N51 billion was not accessed by states, while only 13 of the country’s 36 states and Abuja accessed the 2017 UBE matching grants totaling N18, 008, 804, 569.70.

This is very sad. 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.

We propose a review of the UBE Act to make it compulsory for states to pay their matching grants, outlaw the mismanagement and or diversion of UBE funds and provide for stiff penalties for violators.



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