The future of millions of Nigerian children is consistently being put into jeopardy following the failure of state governors to access the Universal Basic Education Commission’s (UBEC) intervention fund in the face of poor state of many primary schools across Nigeria.
Despite having the highest number of out-of-school children put at over 13.2 million by the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF), state governors have failed to make the development of basic education a priority as nearly all the states have shown inconsistency in accessing UBEC matching grant for several years.
Experts that spoke with BusinessDay have raised serious concerns that the lack of political will to invest in basic education is denying millions of Nigerian children right to education, and putting the country’s future at risk.
The 2018 National Personnel Audit (NPA) report shows that up to 13 million Nigerian children lack access to primary education due to gross infrastructural and personnel deficit in basic schools across the country.
It also shows that over 2 million children lack opportunity to enrol for primary 1 when they become 6 years old, and over 8 million still lack access to junior Secondary School nationwide.
The report shows that enablers such as the availability of schools, classrooms and teachers for primary education nationwide are still grossly adequately, despite interventions. 33,214 public Early Childhood Care Development Education schools, representing about 50 percent, are not in good condition, while the teacher deficit in Nigeria is about 72 percent.
Findings show that despite this level of decay, many states consistently refuse to access UBEC funds. While some state governors attributed their failure to their inability to provide their own 50 percent matching funds, many experts including the commission attribute their failure to lack of interest.
UBEC Act 2014 empowers it to disburse matching grants for the preceding year to the 36 states and FCT for the provision of quality and quantitative free and compulsory education for six years of primary and three years of junior secondary education.
The recipient states are expected to provide counterpart funds, which is the condition tied to the collection of the grant.
Hamid Bobboyi, executive secretary, UBEC, said till date, N41.06 billion matching grant in its coffers remained un-accessed by the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). He said no state had accessed 2020 matching grant.
In 2017, for instance, 24 states failed to access the UBEC grants. A total of N47.5 billion was set aside for states, only a total of N1.8 billion was accessed in that year.
Between 2015 and 2017, Abia, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ogun, and Plateau failed to access their education funds.
Others are Anambra, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Ondo, Yobe and Zamfara states.
By the end of 2018, no state had accessed the N36.4 billion allocation, as some of them had backlogs of allocations not accessed.
Ebonyi State could not access UBEC fund throughout the eight years of a former governor.
By 2019, some states that had backlog since 2014 were: Anambra – N4.2 billion, Enugu – N4.3 billion, Abia – N3.8 billion, and Plateau – N3.1 billion, among others.
The commission in March 2021 informed that only Ogun State is yet to access its 2018 allocations, while 10 states have not accessed their 2019 grants. The states include Kebbi, Niger, Ogun, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo, Edo, Abia, and Lagos.
The executive secretary had decried that even states that managed to pay their matching grants do not have action plan on how those funds would be utilised.
Consequently, funds could not be released to their state Universal Education Board (SUBEB) for deployment. In some instances, some other states could not provide evidence of proper utilisation of the funds released to them.
There was also a case of misappropriation of the fund. Kwara State was barred from accessing N7.1 billion fund for allegedly diverting part of the money released to it in 2016, instead of spending it to upgrade primary and junior secondary schools’ infrastructure.
Available records show that the worst states in accessing part or all of UBEC matching grants include, Abia, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Benue, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kwara, Ogun, and Plateau states.
Princewill Anyalewechi, an education expert, said the inaction of state governors would exacerbate the already deteriorated basic education and worsen the burden of out-of-school children in the country.
He said the situation would further widen the illiteracy gap in the country, increase poverty, which would consequently heighten criminality.
“There is a serious lack of political will on the part of government. The children of these governors are enjoying quality education off the shores and they are busy toying with the future of the citizens, the children of the poor who have no option.
“The condition of most basic schools is nothing to write home about. No facilities, no security, the quality of education is so terrible and that is why you have a lot of unproductive graduates, because they have missed the foundation,” he told BusinessDay.
Daniel Omofoman, another education expert, said the failure of states to access the funds meant for critical infrastructural projects was jeopardising access to basic education sector.
He blamed the inconsistency in accessing the funds on poor cooperation between the commission and the states, however, noting that the development of quality basic education was non-negotiable if Nigeria must enjoy sustainable peace and record meaningful economic growth.
If government does not make education its priority, more children will end up in the streets, insecurity could worsen and the trend will stall the growth of Nigeria’s knowledge and digital economy, which he notes is the future.
He advised governors to focus seriously on reducing the number of out-of-school children, and this can be achieved by developing digital learning.