When American billionaire and businessman, Bill Gates, criticised the Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan for “prioritising physical capital over human capital” during his visit to the country in 2018, his comments were taken with a pinch of salt. Gates had faulted the Federal Government’s decision to anchor Nigeria’s long term economic growth on investments in infrastructure, saying investments in people must go hand-in-hand. To him, “people without roads, ports and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy.” Logical, isn’t it?
The co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had advised the Nigerian government to focus more on human capital development to save the horde of the youth population facing poverty and other social malaise. But instead of taking this advice in good faith, the federal government went on the defensive. We probably know better now that bandits and other criminal elements prevent people from moving freely on many popular Nigerian roads. After all, we all see pictures of road users abandoning their cars on highways due to kidnappers’ attacks. Just a few days back, Kaduna-Abuja bound passengers were forced off the road as bandits took over the highway, kidnapping dozens of passengers.
Gates had also advised Nigeria to channel more investment towards health, family planning and education as a means of human development to alleviate poverty on the continent. According to him, Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad.
Sadly, we haven’t seen much difference in the level of attention given to human capital development in Nigeria since Bill Gates offered his unsolicited advice. If there is anything, the level of poverty has deepened; more Nigerian children are now out of school with the number of youth engaging in banditry, kidnapping and all sorts of crimes increasing daily. While the Nigerian government put the figure of out of school children at 6.9million as of January 2021, an analytical statistics organisation, SBMorgan Intelligence, says the figure as of August 2021 stood at 12,320,529. According to the body, Bauchi State had the highest number with 1,239,759 out-of-school children, followed by Kastina with 873,633 and Kano with 837,479. It further stated that Edo State had the lowest number with 79,446.
In the South-West, the report said Oyo State had the highest with 463,280, Osun State 260,222 and Lagos State 229,264. In the South-South, Rivers State has the highest number of 196,581 and in the South-East; Ebonyi State has the highest with 151,000. The analytical body clarified that it didn’t manufacture these figures, stating that it got them from the Federal Ministry of Education. The truth is Nigerians know who to believe between the analytical body and the Federal Government. They see the army of kid beggars and child labourers on their streets. They see the child criminals among bandits and Boko Haram insurgents not to mention the ones involved in ritual killings, cultism, etc. They know that the population of these kid criminals are increasing - a proof that the number of out of school children is increasing. So, the Federal Government can continue to downplay the problem, but Nigerians are not deceived.
Just last week, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, warned that the dreadful Boko Haram insurgents will soon target out-of-school children and recruit them as fighters. He said the solution to security and poverty should start from education. Addressing participants at the presidential youth mentorship retreat held at his Presidential Library, he blamed security challenges in the country for the increasing rate of out-of-school children. According to him, “A situation today where we have 14 million children that should be in school that are not in school, does anybody need to be an oracle to say that 10 years or 15 years from now, those will be where you will recruit pure Boko Haram.”
Well, it’s a vicious circle. Nigeria is already reaping the reward of what was sown in the past years. The kids have already been recruited as bandits and fighters. Perhaps, what the ex-President meant was that the situation would grow worse which in any case is a no-brainer. As far back as January, 2020, I wrote an article titled, ‘On Masari and child bandits in Katsina forest.’ As of that time, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State painted a vivid picture of the horrors locked in the Northern forest, where anyone could get hundreds of armed men almost for free. He said that the children abandoned in the forest across the north were coming back to fight the society as bandits. He didn’t stop there. He warned that unless the education of children in this region was addressed, the situation might become worse.
In the governor’s words: “We have problems now with the forest people because they have no education of any kind. They do not have Islamic education and they do not have western education because they have been abandoned in the forest and forgotten. So these are the kind of children who have come up today, fighting us, fighting the society…. since the children are not educated, they only know one pleasure-the pleasure of the flesh, so they keep on producing children in large numbers.’’ The governor rightly analysed the problem. But, what has he done to reverse the trend in his state? It’s amazing how our leaders are good at analysing our problems without corresponding action in proffering solutions. Otherwise, Katsina shouldn’t today be listed as the state with the second highest number of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
In September 2019, I had written an article on ‘Nigeria breeding children of anger every day, where I emphasised that as long as the law of sowing and reaping subsisted, what we were currently witnessing in the country today in terms of security challenges would be child’s play when compared with what would happen in future if we continued to ignore these children’s education. Although our leaders may hate to hear this, we can’t help but make it clear to them that investment in human capital is vital to building a successful economy.
That is why smart countries make deliberate and intentional investments into their educational sector. Nigeria has many examples to follow across the world. So, this is not a case of anyone reinventing the wheel. Sweden spends $ 11, 400 per student from primary to tertiary education and devotes 7.3% of its GDP to education. This funding goes to both public and private educational institutions. No wonder the country enjoys 81.5% employment rate for all levels of education. In the same vein, South Africa spent R246 billion or 16.7 per cent of total government resources on basic education programmes in 2018/19. Overall, the country spends more than 20 per cent of its resources on basic and higher education and its combined education spending is more than 6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Now, we come to the crux of the matter. I know some people will argue that comparing Nigeria with Sweden is like comparing an orange with an apple. I agree. Nigeria is lagging far behind the developed nations in terms of resources committed to education. But I have also come to realise that the situation in our country is not as bad as the picture being painted. As I pointed out some weeks back, Nigeria currently imposes a two per cent education tax on the profit of all registered companies operating in Nigeria which goes into funding education at the tertiary level. How are we spending this huge money? It is very easy to jump on the bandwagon and regurgitate the common narrative that our education sector is in a mess because government is not committing enough resources into the sector and conveniently overlook how we are managing what is available. It is high time we began to ask questions as regards what we do with the resources allocated to the education of Nigerian children!
Let’s take a look at our basic education for example. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme was introduced in 1999 to provide greater access to quality basic education throughout the country. The Federal Government sets aside two per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) for equal distribution to all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to support basic education.
This is how it works. The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) provides a sum of N500million to each state per annum to improve infrastructure at the basic education level. But, to access this fund, states are expected to provide a counterpart funding of N500million. The assumption is that there would be at least a minimum of N1bn intervention fund to every state per annum to improve on their basic education. The money is strictly for basic education, so projects are monitored to ensure they are in line with the objectives of the programme. Imagine what would have happened if our states have been investing this money in basic education in the last 22 years! One would have expected the state governments to grab this opportunity. But that has not been the case. Rather, UBEC has always been the one pleading with them to come and access their money.
As at March 2021, UBEC said about N41.06 billion matching grant was still with the commission because the states and the FCT failed to access the fund. According to its Executive Secretary, Dr Hamid Bobboyi, only 30 states and the FCT implemented the 2018 (matching grant projects). Six states namely; Anambra, Imo, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun, and Plateau are yet to implement. For 2019, only eight states implemented the matching grants projects, 28 states and FCT are yet to implement. In 2020, no state implemented the matching grants projects. As we speak Ogun State is yet to access its 2018 allocations. Likewise, Niger, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Edo states are yet to provide matching grants for 2019.
The governors are more interested in how they can be collecting the money without providing the necessary counterpart funding. Yet, these are states contending with serious issues of decay in their primary and junior schools. Clearly this is not a case of lack of fund but that of misplaced priorities. The governors would have accessed the money if there was no law forcing them to spend it on education. Since they are not allowed to spend the money as they like, they don’t mind leaving it with the Federal Government. The money as it were is useless to them. Should this be the case if we are truly serious about our education sector?
UNICEF worked hard towards mopping out over 500,000 out-of school children in four northern states namely Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states in its 2020 Educate a Child (EAC) programme. It paid to educate 31,000 pupils in Kebbi State alone where parents got N8, 000 on each child per term to encourage them to be in school. These world bodies are making these investments in our country because they know that for the world to enjoy peace, the army of burgeoning out-of-school children in Nigeria must be minimised. If not, these children will grow to become a terror to the whole world.
Meanwhile our state governors are foot-dragging in accessing available funds that will not only make a difference in the lives of millions of children, but guarantee a better future for all. My conclusion is that the problem with Nigeria’s education sector goes beyond lack of money; it is simply a case of lack of interest in the sector by the political elite!
Olabisi Deji-Folutile (PhD) is the editor in chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email [email protected]