It is most regrettable that N86 billion earmarked by the federal government for the Universal Basic Education [UBE] scheme has not been utilised. This is because state governments have refused to provide matching grants that will enable them draw from the fund to service basic education in their respective states. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria [SAN] and civil rights activist, Femi Falana, recently decried this attitude of some state governments. He criticized the 36 states in Nigeria for failing to access the billions of naira lying fallow at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Falana said “only Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Lagos, Rivers and the FCT out of the 36 states have accessed the funds up to 2017.”
The UBE Act of 2004 provides for compulsory, free and universal education for all Nigerian children of primary and junior secondary school age “between the age of 6 and 16 years, whether disabled or not.” The UBE funds are to be used for the provision of books, classroom blocks and furniture. Executive Secretary of UBEC Dr. Hamid Bobboi had in 2017 appealed to state governments that had not accessed the N76 billion due to them for 2017 projects to do so. The figure represents 20 percent of the total matching grants of N380 billion released to the Commission as at October 31, 2017.
According to Falana, the refusal by many state governments to provide counterpart funds in order to access UBE grants is responsible for driving up the number of out-of-school children. UBEC recently announced that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has increased from 10.5m to 13.2m, one of the highest in the world. State governments’ dereliction of constitutional responsibility is a major obstacle to achieving UBE’s main goals. This is happening at a time when pupils in public basic schools, especially those located in rural communities across many states, study under tree shades or thatched roofs or even sit on bare floors. Because of failure by many states to access UBE funds, textbooks are not available to basic education pupils even in the core subjects of English, Mathematics and Basic Science.
Two days after Falana spoke about unutilized UBE funds, the National Economic Council [NEC] rose from a meeting in Abuja on Thursday last week, October 18, with a call on state governors to declare a state of emergency in the education sector in their respective states. Deputy Governor of Edo State Philip Shaibu, who briefed reporters, said the decision was sequel to the consideration of an interim report of an ad-hoc committee on the “National Education Policy: Prospects, Challenges and the Way Forward for the Education Sector.”
Shuaibu said the NEC meeting, which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo chaired, resolved that federal and state governments should allocate a minimum of 15 percent of their annual budgets to education in order to reform the sector. Shaibu also said “it’s not going to be one of those documents that will be kept aside, and we are all unanimous in addressing it and all the states have agreed on this.” It sounds unrealistic that states can set aside this much for education when they could not set aside five percent of their annual budgets to access UBE funds.
It would be recalled that Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu said in January this year when he received Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello that the federal government was working to declare a state of emergency in the education sector in April, this year. That target has long passed and the country still awaits the blueprint of this declaration. Given the pervasive problems in the country’s education system, this all-important sector which has already missed many global deadlines including the 2015 “Education for All” requires more than just appealing to governors to increase their funding to it. The sector requires a comprehensive and all-inclusive blueprint which implementation is fully backed by law.