President Muhammadu Buhari‘s directive to the governors on free and compulsory basic education for children has signalled a wake-up call for the implementation of the Universal Basic Education (UBEC) mandate, introduced in 1999 to redress the level of illiteracy, accelerate national development and improve the fallen standard of basic education in Nigeria.
The UBE Act of 2004 provides for compulsory, free, and universal basic education for all Nigerian children of primary and junior secondary school age, “between the age of 6 and 16 years, whether disabled or not to ensure eradication of illiteracy, ignorance, and poverty, through basic education in Nigeria.
However, the UBEC fund, which is an annual grant from the Federal Government to help the states upgrade their primary education facilities in order to provide a good education for the Nigeria child has been ignored over the years by state governments, leaving children to study under deplorable conditions.
BusinessDay findings reveal that out of school children (aged 1-6) menace, which is prevalent in Kano, Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Kaduna, Taraba, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, Oyo, Benue, Jigawa and Ebonyi states have reached over 10 million according to available figures.
Only about 39.4 percent of Nigerian children of primary school age are currently enrolled in school. According to a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICs) 5, of 2016 and 2017 conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, about 60 percent of children of school age are out of school.
This unfortunate trend is now raising calls for an aggressive work by all stakeholders, including UBEC, which claims it has disbursed a total of N131 billion Matching Grants to support basic education delivery at the States and Local Governments Levels within four years (2015-2018).
A breakdown of the UBE matching grant for the period shows that N15.02 billion was disbursed to 15 states and FCT in 2015; N46.6 billion to 29 states and FCT in 2016; N37.1 billion to 24 states and FCT in 2017, and N32.6 billion disbursed to 20 states and FCT in 2018.
BusinessDay study shows most states have not shown interest in leveraging these funds, possibly not seeing education as a priority and therefore inability to meet set conditions, including providing their own matching grants, experts say.
Only Anambra, Borno, Delta, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kastina, Kebbi, Kogi, Lagos, Osun, Sokoto, Taraba and FCT accessed the N15, 020,365,538 made available by UBEC in 2015.
While N46, 563,224,867 was disbursed to Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross river, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kastina, Kebbi,Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Zamfara and FCT in 2016. Similarly, N37,102,014,466 billion, disbursed in 2017 was accessed by Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Borno, Borno, Cross river, Delta, Ebonyi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kastina, Kebbi, Kogi, Lagos, Niger, Ondo, Osun, Rivers, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, FCT and a total of N32,563,237,566 billion was disbursed to Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kogi, Lagos, Niger, Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Zamfara, and FCT.
In his major pronouncement on the education sector since assumption of office in 2015, President Buhari last Thursday frowned at parents who their children of primary and junior secondary school ages out of school, saying it was criminal. He said when a government fails to provide the schools, teachers and teaching materials necessary for basic education, it leads to criminality in the society.
He quoted “Section 2 of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act which provides that every government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age”.
“This is therefore a call to action, I would like to see every governor rise from this meeting and rally his local government chairmen towards ensuring that our schools offer the right opportunities and provide the needed materials and teachers for basic education, at the minimum. If we are able to do this, the benefits will surely manifest themselves”.
The president warned that any governor who failed to provide schools, teachers and necessary teaching materials for the entrenchment of basic education would be aiding and abetting the crime of keeping children out of school.
“Ensuring proper education during the first nine years of schooling means that our children start off their lives with some discipline and education,” the president said. They will be safeguarded from roaming the streets, and protected from all the evil influences that assail idle hands and idle minds,” he had said.
An Informed source who pleaded anonymity confirmed to BusinessDay that UBEC has over the years ensured basic education funding by scaling up Open Contracting Data systems in state basic education boards, training UBEC staff and state education boards on corruption prevention strategies, monitoring implementation of state basic education projects, and improving the management systems at state and national levels as a corruption prevention strategy.
Speaking on the counter part funding, he said “To access the fund, state governments are required to match the federal government’s grant, but many states have not accessed this facility overtime”.
He further said that many state governors have not realized the importance of the facility intended to secure a solid foundation for the future of their children. “There are reckless and frivolous expenditures by the states, despite the difficulties in meeting their basic responsibilities, even in the primary education sector”.
Oriyomi Ogunwale, Co-founder, Eduplanner, told BusinessDay that the intervention program is a laudable one except for the poor level of compliance from the state governments which has over the years hindered the actualization of the UBEC mandate in states across the country.
“Maybe the government should come up with programs that will encourage the state government to access these funds and improve the education sector”.
Ogunwale further said that even though Nigeria has recorded increase in enrollment recently, it’s result is still limited as the educational system still rates very poorly in most international rankings, adding that corruption has also affected the effectiveness of the UBEC intervention.
“Corruption must be brought to the barest minimum as it has also hampered the effectiveness of the UBEC intervention, the government should carry out intensive monitoring in states to ensure that the funds are used appropriately”.
Speaking to BusinessDay, Daniel Adetoyin, Abuja based Education Analyst, said that the call of the president is timely, stressing that that each state government should run with the mandate of the government by taking advantage of the UBEC funds to deepen access to quality education at the state level. “The counterpart funding should not be a problem for any government that cares about the future of his state, each government should run with the mandate of the government, take advantage of the UBEC fund provided annually and create a better future for his people”.
Adetoyin speaking further, urged the state governments to invest their best in ensuring a conducive learning environment for the children as a way of tackling and addressing future insurgence that may arise in any part of the country.
He said “Let us not forget that our children are our future, the government should invest all they can to create a better future for the Nigeria child. This is also a way of tackling the possible rise of insurgence in the future, we are already suffering the effect of illiteracy among the younger generation as we see them being carried into bandits and being used for attacks”.
“If we must secure our future, we must invest in our children, there is a way education connects to everything, but our leaders don’t seem to see that connection,” he said.