By Yekeen Nurudeen
Even as the number of out-of-school children continue to rise in the country, not less than 33 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, have failed to take advantage of the Universal Basic Education Commission,UBEC, Intervention Fund domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
A whooping sum of N59,744,722,935.10 lies in the vault of the CBN as the states failed to produce their counterpart funding which would have enabled them access the fund.
The sum represents accumulated funds not accessed by the state governments between 2011 and 2016.
In 2016, only two states, Borno and Rivers states received their shares of the intervention funds while only 18 out of the 36 states of the federation and the FCT accessed the UBEC matching grant in 2015.
According to a document obtained by icirnigeria.org from the Commission, Abia, Ebonyi and Niger states top the list of states that did not access their funds in 2012.
Each of the three states has N1,945,214,679.12, N4,019,949,599.42 and N2,876,081,082.46 respectively lying fallow with the apex bank as intervention funds between 2011 and 2016. The figures were as at March 2017.
In the document, N150,031,420.94,N9,808,949,411.82, N13,922,640,340.51 and N35,863,096,845.48 are waiting to be cleared by 17 states and FCT for the year 2011-2012,2013-2014, 2015 and 33 states and FCT for the year 2016 respectively.
A further breakdown of the performances of the state governments in accessing the UBEC intervention funds since 2005 to 2016 revealed that while all states have cleared matching grants due to them between 2005 and 2010, states like Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun,Ondo and Oyo are still having funds hanging in the coffer of CBN for the year 2013 and 2014.
According to United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO and United Nations Children Education Fund, UNICEF, Nigeria with 11.4 million out-of school children, has the highest number in the world.
Kaduna state Governor, Nasir El-Rufai was reported as saying that Northern Nigeria is leading in the number of out of school children in Nigeria.
Quoting a UNICEF report, the Governor said 40 per cent of Nigerian children, aged 6 to 11 years, do not attend any primary school and unfortunately the northern region records the lowest school attendance rate, particularly for girls.
The UBEC intervention fund which was established in 2004 is expected to address this challenge. But state governments which have the responsibilities of providing counterpart funds to access the matching grants made available by the Federal Government through UBEC in order to provide educational infrastructure at the basic education level are not living up to expectation.
In a report on its official website, the United Nations Children Education Fund, UNICEF said Nigeria’s exponential growth in population in the last decade has put immense pressure on the country’s resources and on already overstretched public services and infrastructure.
“With children under 15 years of age accounting for about 45 per cent of the country’s population, the burden on education and other sectors has become overwhelming.
Despite a significant increase in net enrollment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.” The report said
The report revealed that increased enrollment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education and satisfactory learning achievement as resources are spread more thinly across a growing number of students.
“It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building because of the lack of classrooms,” It said
While it acknowledged efforts by the Nigerian government to address the situation with UBEC, UNICEF raised the alarm that the number of schools, facilities and teachers available for basic education remain inadequate for the eligible number of children and youths.
“This is more so in urban areas where there is population pressure. Under these conditions, teaching and learning cannot be effective; hence the outcomes are usually below expectation” UNICEF pointed out Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu had in 2016 launched a three year strategic plan where he enunciated problems facing the Nigerian education sector and the way forward.
According to him, with 11.4 million out-of-school children, Nigeria has the highest out-of-school children in the world.
The Minister also noted that more than 50 per cent of in-school children are not learning because they cannot read or write adding that about 63 per cent of children who live in rural areas cannot read at all. He also lamented that around 84 per cent of children in the lowest economic quartile cannot read at all.
Adamu is expected to drive the Change Agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in the education sector.
The Executive Secretary of UBEC, Hameed Bobboyi blamed the huge outstanding matching grants on inability of many state governments to raise their counterpart funds, a problem he described as recurrent.
His words: “Every quarter we meet with the states where we sit down and give a run down of who have accessed what and whose money is outstanding within the system and what were the problems that were hindering the access.
“The last one was held in Lagos. We also go out of our way to meet the executive governors, discuss with them on one-on-one basis.A lot of the states are not able to raise money to pay their counterpart funds.This has been a recurring problem”
Though he admitted that there are unaccessed funds that predate the current administration of President Buhari, he expressed concerns that a large number of states have not accessed their funds from 2015.
Bobboyi also described as ironic, the trend in which states considered as poor are the ones doing better in terms of accessing their funds while those known to be rich form the bulk of defaulters.
“You have Abia, Ebonyi, Oyo, Ogun and few other states. They are not states that are poor they could afford the counterpart funds because their revenue are coming left, right and center. They can easily afford the money for the counterpart funds.
“A lot of them talk about recession but my response is that those states that are poor are the ones that are accessing the funds. It is a bit of an irony. Fortunately now,things are changing if you look at unaccessed funds” he said.
“There are two parties involved here and I think we should understand that the major reason for instituting the matching grant of the UBE Act is to ensure that you build sufficient resources for the basic education sector where whatever the federal government brings the state governments will also match those funds and that is how the funding formula was developed.
“The idea is for us to push and ensure that people understand the initial impact of having the matching grants but subsequently also to see what could be done to see policy changes which could come from government because it involves change in UBEC Act that will facilitate or institute a lower percentage of matching grants to enable a large number of states which may be in some difficulties to access the funds.” Bobboyi added.
In March 2016, a member of House of Representatives and former Minister of State for Education, Aishatu Jibril Dukku raised the alarm over the failure of state governments despite the poor funding of education, to access their grants with UBEC.
She said it was worrisome that some states have failed to claim their grants since 2005, while over N58 billion of the commission’s fund is idling away in the Central Bank of Nigeria unclaimed, yet states moan that they do not have money to develop the education sector.”
She listed states such as Abia, Benue, Cross River, Ekiti, Enugu, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Osun and Oyo, as having an average of over N3 billion each idling away in the CBN, having failed to access their allocations since 2011, despite what she described as the dilapidated state of infrastructure in primary and secondary schools in those states.
These ten states are still having N60 billion in the coffers of CBN. They have not accessed the fund over a period of six years and that may explain why pupils are sitting under mango trees in a village in Nasarawa state.
Dukku noted that primary and secondary education were facing myriads of problems, including dilapidated and sometimes, non-existent infrastructure, lack of qualified manpower and outdated teaching aids, especially at the local government level, to the fact that many states have failed to provide their counterpart funding.
She decried the lukewarm attitude exhibited by state governments in accessing UBEC’s conditional and non-conditional funds, adding that a lot could be achieved with states paying the stipulated 50 percent counterpart funding to the commission, which in turn provides an additional 50 percent to the money presented by the states.
The lawmaker said: “The idea of UBEC has been hailed as one of the best policies to have been introduced in the education sector as it helps to provide free and universal basic education for every Nigerian child of school-going age, thereby laying a solid foundation for life-long learning.”
While the intervention funds can take care of all infrastructure needs of primary schools in the country, UNICEF lamented that the child friendly school concept, which it is advocating for, is not comprehensively adopted by the various States in Nigeria.
“A majority of primary schools, especially in rural areas, lack water, electricity and toilet facilities. For example, on average, there is only one toilet for 600 pupils in the primary school system.
Despite political commitment to trying to reverse years of neglect in the education sector and a significant increase of the Federal funding, investment in basic education is still low compared to other Sub-Saharan countries” it said.