“Every parent shall ensure that his/her child or ward attends and completes primary school education; and Junior Secondary School education,” the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 declares.
However, this is not actually the case in most places where due to poverty, ignorance and other socio-cultural issues, many children are left to roam the streets instead of being in the classrooms. This is in spite of the concern about the rate of ‘out-of-school’ children in Nigeria, which is the highest, as recent revelation has shown.
Experts in the education sector have warned that Nigeria is only waiting to harvest a crop of destruction if necessary actions are not taken against this drift. They have identified strict enforcement strategies at ensuring that parents and the states enroll children in at least primary and junior secondary schools as an antidote for the increasing illiteracy resulting from the out of school children syndrome.
Data from the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS5) headed by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has put the figure of out-of-school children at about 11 million in the country. But the Executive Secretary of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Dr Hamid Bobboyi, has said recently that the number has increased from 10.5 million to 13.2 million between 2010 and 2015.
The data shows that over 60 per cent of these children are in northern Nigeria while the south and west share 40 per cent.
Sani Ibrahim wants to be an electrical engineer when he grows up but he is yet to get any opportunity toward pursuing his dream.
Found in one of the busy streets of the Government Reserved Area (GRA) of Kano city, 12-year-old Ibrahim who has four other siblings is engaged in child labour as a sweeper in one of the posh houses in the GRA.
With no opportunity for basic education in his Badawa community where only one public primary school exists, he now attends only his Qur’anic school classes.
He told Daily Trust that he has no option to his job which he does after the Qur’anic classes daily. He earns about N300 daily from his job which is about N9,000 monthly, he said.
But he has his dreams: “I want to go to school and become an electrical engineer in future, fixing heavy power faults. But my father said I have to finish Qur’anic school before thinking of going for western education,” Ibrahim said.
“So far I have spent four years and I need to spend another three years to graduate from Makarantan allo (Qur’anic school). Besides, I don’t think we can afford it (western education),” he added.
Like Ibrahim, 13-year-old Aminu Abubakar was walking along Ahmadu Bello Way, off Hadejia road, when our reporter met him. Asked why he was not in school, Abubakar said he was just returning from Qur’anic school and was heading to the meat seller’s shop where he was an apprentice.
“I have never been to a conventional school but I attend a Qur’anic school in Badawa. My father only took me to the Qur’anic school but not to a conventional school. So far, I have spent five years in the Qur’anic school and I am learning a lot to become a scholar,” he said.
“If I can get sponsorship, I can combine both Qur’anic education and conventional school study. But I am under the care of my Qur’anic teacher who will not allow me to go to any other school,” Abubakar said.
“For now I am also selling grilled meat (suya) as an apprentice. We go to Qur’anic school from 5am and we close by 11am. From there, I proceed to the business spot where I assist in preparing and selling meat. I get a stipend from there to cater for some of my needs,” he explained.
For Aisha Umar, a nine-year-old girl who is a pupil of a government primary school in Tudun Wada area of Nasarawa Local Government Area, lack of resources has sent her out of school for weeks when Daily Trust spoke with her.
As she displays her ware, tiger nut drink (kunun aya), by the roadside on Hadejia Road, Aisha said: “I’m in primary four but I have not been to school for four days because we were told not to come if we don’t have our exercise books.
“I am assisting my mother this week to sell kunun aya so she can raise at least N1,000 to buy the books,” little Aisha said in Hausa.
‘Given access to education, young Afo changed’
A Jos-based Education and Development Consultant, Dr. Dayo Ogundimu, demonstrated why the Federal Government must ensure equity in access to education as he narrated the story of Afo.
Afo is a little girl from a rural area of Niger State with no access to education when she joined the Ogundimu’s in Jos five years ago when she was 12 years old.
He said the girl was enrolled after learning some English at home and she was placed in primary two. “When she graduated from primary school in July 2018, she got all the prizes in all the subjects and she was the ‘Head Girl’ of the school. Today, she is in a private secondary school,” he said.
“With her performance assessment, we discovered that she is not only an ‘A’ student but has strong interest in Mathematics and Logical Reasoning. She aspires to become either a nurse or a medical doctor. She proved her mettle because she was given the opportunity, that’s the difference between her and the street children you mentioned,” Ogundimu concluded.
Consequences of rising number of out-of-school children
On the consequences for the rising number of out-of-school children, an educationist and public policy analyst based in Abuja, Chikwendu O. Ogbonnaya said: “It is becoming obvious that there is a time the country will become insecure because the person you didn’t train cannot take rational decision, and a poor person is a hopeless and desperate person attaching no value to his life.”
According to Afo’s mentor Ogundimu,
the signs of the consequences are already manifesting in increasing cases of youth violence and more across the Niger Delta, the North-west and Lagos.
He said: “These out-of-school children, some of who have grown into adults now, have to survive. They have needs and they have every right to aspire for good life but we have failed to prepare for all the crises that we are now battling with.
“Unfortunately, we think that by recruiting more policemen and other people in uniform, that we can solve it. We cannot because when the poor is hungry, the rich will not enjoy his sleep.”
Best ways to end the menace
Ogbonnaya said the rising rate of out-of-school children is a deliberate act by the rich in the society to keep others permanently disadvantaged.
“Until we resolve the social contradictions about life, the figure will remain that way. It has been designed by certain elite so that they hold their grip on the society,” he averred.
On lack of enforcement of the UBE Act, he said: “Any law that has no enforcement background is not a law because it’s just a law of morality not binding on parents. If they are saying for parents who send their children to school, government will give them incentives, it will make parents to enroll their children in school; if they say states that contribute higher quota of school children will get rebates, you will see more states working hard to have more children in school.”
He said to reduce the rate of out-of-school children, there is need for a caveat during marriage where couple will sign undertaking to ensure they give basic education to their children.
Ogbonnaya called on the Federal Government to make the act stronger by infusing some enforcement action into it.
“We have been hiding under the global aggregates for the figures of out-of-school children. Government should disaggregate it so that each state can see their performance so that it becomes a yardstick to assess states’ development drive,” the educationist said.
Also, Ogundimu said, “I am not better than those children you saw on the streets, the difference is that I had the opportunity; that’s what is missing. If everybody is given the opportunity to develop intellectually, educationally, that is equity in access to education. You will be surprised by the result they will produce.”
“It is the height of ignorance for government officials and politicians not to be able to see that we have a harvest of young brilliant minds who because of poverty and location are not given the opportunity to prove themselves.”
The Communication Specialist of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Geoffrey Njoku, who also spoke on the issue at a recent media dialogue, joined other voices in making calls for urgent actions to reduce the alarming figures.
“Without focusing on the most deprived, Nigeria will continue to have bad indicators because of inequity,” Njoku noted.