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Buhari must spend UBEC funds himself

Must Buhari spend Universal Basic Education funds himself? I ask this question because I am convinced, left as matters are, State Governors would rather see…

Must Buhari spend Universal Basic Education funds himself? I ask this question because I am convinced, left as matters are, State Governors would rather see the continuing decay in education infrastructure than do the glaring needful.

Kpengti is a quiet little village in Lamurde Local Government of Adamawa State. For nearly the whole of Kpengti Primary School,  the pupils sit on cold ground, exposed to the vagaries of the weather.  Their windows have no covers, the ceilings all eaten up, roofs half pilfered and clearly, there are no teaching and learning materials. The teachers do not have a furnished staff room, the whole edifice is a disgrace. This may be just one, but for hundreds of thousands like it in not just Adamawa State but the whole of Northern Nigeria, the story is the same.

As the year 2019 comes to a close, what should be a hot topic for the Buhari Administration is that while basic education for Nigerian children is bedeviled by a myriad of challenges, billions of Naira meant to address those challenges lie idle in the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria. At the end of 2018, the idle funds stood at a whopping N67bn, and could be much more than that as UBEC moves to release its report for 2019. As at June 2019, over N87bn lay idle at the Central Bank of Nigeria for the simple reason that States were unable to meet conditional counterpart funding that would enable them access the funds. The Federal Government forcefully utilised N71.3bn of Paris Club debt refunds belonging to the States, to pay counterpart funds on their behalf and force utilisation of the funds for needed infrastructure. Yet States failed to go through the process of providing credible action plans that would facilitate release of the funds, thereby forgoing their Paris Club refunds.

The full import of this disturbing development may not sink in unless we look at the statistics. According to UNICEF, “one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is a Nigerian. There are between 10.5 million and 13.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria and over 80% of that number (about 10 million) is in the North. This is apart from the deplorable level of infrastructure decay that pervades the entire landscape. Tree shades serve as classroom, and stones or broken cement blocks from collapsed classrooms serve as chairs. How can it be driven home to our Northern Governors that we have an emergency in this sector?

It is hard on conscience when we compare what our parents struggled to make of our public schools immediately after independence, with what we are in turn providing for our offspring today. Education was free, and even at that, governments provided learning materials uniforms and in fact feeding in boarding facilities. For Secondary education, bursaries were enjoyed via transport and pocket money. I recall the old “Bedford” trick that toured to pick students home from schools. Of course this is no longer tenable now given the humongous growth. Yet I still wonder if public officers today reminisce on this or even as much as undertake trips to their old schools to see for themselves what has become of the legacy bequeathed to us.

Governors have several reasons for being unable to commit themselves to paying the conditional counterpart funding. For many of them emoluments of the civil service and running costs take up for the 80% of their budgets, themselves relying only on Federal statutory funding. This makes it hard to place priority on addressing the challenge of education as required, given competing demands. Other challenges include lack of political will, poor governance standards, sectoral mismanagement, and of course the leviathan – corruption.

Primary Education is the reserved responsibility of the States and the Federal Capital Territory. Federal Funding of Universal Basic Education is through a 2% deduction from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for equal distribution to States and the FCT. As it is, the challenges are that States are unable to provide their conditional 50% counterpart funding, a guarantee that the statutory input would be applied to education infrastructure. The States are also unable to put together, required ACTION PLANS in conformity with UBEC precepts, that show targets and deliverables. And when the States do access the funds, there are diversions to non educational sectors, contract mismanagements and in many cases, outright embezzlement of the funds. It is disheartening that from 2015 to date, over 24 states out of 36 and the FCT do not even go by the UBEC Headquarters for being unable to give proper account of accessed funds. President Buhari must break this deadlock even for the sake of the over 10 million out-of-school children in Nigeria.

Obviously, the decay will not only continue, but worsen because States are like cows. You can lead them to the water, but you can not force them to drink. And so Kano State sits with its over 3.2 million out-of-school children, and other States of the North, harbouring their share of remaining 7 million, while over N80bn lies fallow at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Something has to be done, even as drastic as a constitutional amendment that enables UBEC intervene directly in States to advance Unity Schools to Mega Schools. Borno State has a workable template for well secured boarding mega schools. Sadly as it is the billions belong to the States, yet we must admit, that the problem of out-of-school children is decidedly a national one and must be viewed as such. There should be an amendment to the UBEC law that helps to release funding fully to the development of infrastructure for basic education. Bad enough that other challenges or teaching staff, curricula and textbooks are just as equally deplorable, President Buhari must find a way to ensure that UBEC funds are applied purposefully for education, and immediately.

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