THE careless attitude to education by Nigeria’s political elite is once more in the limelight. A recent report by The PUNCH revealed how some state governments have failed to follow the due process required to access N33.6 billion funding provided for rehabilitating basic schools by the Federal Government through the Universal Basic Education Commission. These state governments thereby demonstrate their disinterest in the imperative of providing qualitative mass education as the bedrock of development. This is courting disaster.
According to the report, UBEC, a federal interventionist agency established to provide critical funding for basic education in the country, has been sitting on N33.6 billion provided for that purpose as of February 2022.
This is a criminal negligence given that most public schools across the country are dilapidated; they suffer from insufficient classrooms, equipment and basic facilities. Many rural communities lack schools. Where schools exist, their buildings are often rundown, roofs blown off and pupils learn in the open.
Nigeria suffers very poor leadership at all levels. The obvious neglect of education from the primary to the tertiary levels proves this. The state governors miss the point: adopted as a basic human right by the United Nations, basic education stresses UNESCO, is the bedrock of formal learning that “transforms lives, eradicates poverty and drives sustainable development.”
It is the foundation of the world’s most successful economies and a fundamental agent of change in economies transiting from underdevelopment to societies with the best human development indices. Alas, Nigeria falls behind in HDI due in part to the mess its leaders have made of the education sector. The fulcrum of the storied welfare programmes of the defunct Western Region was anchored on universal free primary education.
The foundation of the education system is the primary sector. To fortify it, under the Universal Basic Education programme, each state is supposed to provide counterpart funding and adhere to a template formulated for its judicious use to qualify for accessing its annual allocation through UBEC. Many states fail the test.
In 2018, Ogun State failed to provide the sum of N491.26 million as counterpart funding for the fourth quarter of that year. In 2019, five states – Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Niger and Ogun – combined, failed to lodge N6.53 billion. Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kaduna, Kwara, Niger, Ogun and Osun owed N715.07 million each, bringing the total owed by the states to N17.86 billion in 2020.
For 2021, UBEC said only eight states – Bauchi, Benue, Edo, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Nasarawa and Taraba – lodged their counterpart funds up to Q4 by paying N946.64 million each.
Recently, embarrassing videos of primary school pupils learning in an open field and under trees in the Wuiwui community of Gombe State were published on YouTube. The school only had two teachers, one for English language and the other for Arabic. The pupils lack books and other learning amenities. In an age where pupils learn with computers in other parts of the world, Nigerian pupils are at a disadvantage.
In Enugu, the roof of a dilapidated school building collapsed on 70 pupils and injured 10 at the Idaw River Primary School in June 2021. In September 2021, pupils of Dajin Community Primary School, Bogoro, Bauchi State, were seen without chairs and tables. They used stones as seats! This is scandalous.
These absurdities are not in sync with global developments. Nigeria’s educational system identifies primary class one to six and the first three years in secondary as the basic level of schooling.
Experts say that the right environment must exist for learning to take place. But the objective reality in most state-owned schools do not promote this necessity; a reason UNESCO classified Nigeria among countries where “teaching takes place, but without learning.” This paradox should be vigorously tackled.
The corrosive culture of corruption is also at work. Some governors allegedly collected UBEC allocations and either diverted, or embezzled them. The Governor of Kwara State, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, recently stated that the state was barred from accessing UBEC funds due to the mismanagement of previously released funds by past administrations. A former governor of a North-East state was put on trial for misappropriating UBEC funds but walked free after the Federal Government dropped the charges in a disgraceful nod to private political party interests.
State governments should get serious with education beginning at the primary stage. “Access to primary education provides the foundation upon which the talents of a nation’s youth may grow,” declares the Borgen Project, a non-profit. The country’s national literacy rate of 62.02 percent is poor compared to its peers. Besides, it hides wide disparities among the six geo-political zones with the three southern zones averaging over 80 percent, and the three northern zones barely 50 percent. In contrast, South Africa has 87.05 percent literacy rate, Egypt 71.2 percent, and Ghana 79.04 percent.
Education for All is a global development agenda that has to be sustained in Nigeria. The UN’s then Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, while launching the “Education First” initiative in 2012, reminded leaders “to ensure that every child goes to school, receives quality education and imbibes values of global citizenship.” A former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, now a UN Special Envoy for Global Education, extended the concern further, stressing that it was imperative “…in view of the scale of wasted talent and potential worldwide.”
There are almost 13 million out-of-school children in Nigeria; the world’s highest, according to UNICEF. This is a shameful distinction the governors should be desperate to reverse. It is also a time bomb. Frustrated youths can easily turn to criminality, kidnapping, robbery, drug abuse and banditry.
State governors past and present, that have tampered with UBEC funds should be identified, investigated and prosecuted by the anti-graft agencies. UBEC should assist by effectively monitoring the use of funds and alerting the law enforcement agencies with details and in good time of identified malfeasance. Governors should behave more responsibly by according topmost priority to education beginning with strong fortification of primary education. Every effort should be made to meet the requirements and access, and properly utilise the idle funds.