RECENTLY, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) bemoaned the refusal of state governments to provide counterpart funding and access the annual matching grants given by the commission to develop their basic education system. The commission was particularly concerned that about N110 billion of the intervention funds accessed from UBEC were not utilised by the states in 2021, with the money left in the coffers of State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs). This was revealed by the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Hamid Bobboyi, who said that the agency had earmarked N2 billion for the proposed national personnel audit of all basic education institutions in the country.
The concern over unutilised UBEC funds is actually not a new one. The problem has persisted over the years, apparently because of the poor attitude of state governments to education. For instance, in March last year, the House of Representatives had to reiterate that all states of the federation were under obligation to access UBEC funds to provide basic education in their respective domains. Chairman of the House Committee on Basic Education, Professor Julius Ihonvbere, gave this charge during a session with the Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in his office while the committee carried out oversight functions. As a matter of fact, in April last year, UBEC disclosed that the 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had refused to access the N41.06 billion matching grant provided by the commission. According to the UBEC Executive Secretary, only N143 billion out of the N184.8 billion set aside by the commission was accessed by states between 2017 and 2020. While no state had by then accessed the 2020 matching grant, Bobboyi said, Ogun State was yet to access its 2018 allocation, while Niger, Ogun, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Edo states were yet to provide matching grants for 2019.
It is not hard to see that with their failure to access intervention funds, state governments have been putting the future of millions of Nigerian children in jeopardy. This is, to say the least, distressing, especially when the fact that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world is taken into consideration. Statistics by the United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF) shows that over 13.2 million Nigerian children are out of school. Amid other saddening figures, the 2018 National Personnel Audit (NPA) report showed that up to 13 million Nigerian children lacked access to primary education due to gross infrastructure and personnel deficit in basic schools across the country. Just how can N100bn be lying fallow when most public schools in the country are in a deplorable state?
Most of the schools lack potable water, restrooms, sick bays and even staff rooms. It is a fact that in most of the schools, pupils learn in extremely harsh conditions. The situation is so bad that they are virtually exposed to the elements, consistently and without reprieve. If there is any cogent reason state governments have consistently failed to pay UBEC counterpart funding over the years, they are yet to articulate it. And that’s very sad. For one thing, politicians have not failed to award stupendous sums to themselves, often by way of corruption. They have also not failed to live opulent lifestyles at the public expense. And as we have said in a previous editorial, by their convoys you shall know them. If you do not have counterpart funding for education, why do you have money to rent political crowds and purchase prohibitively expensive nomination funds? And if you cannot even provide basic education to young children, just what can you do? The conclusion is unavoidable that the state governments only mouth quality education as a campaign gimmick. They are not really interested in changing the fortunes of their citizens through the provision of quality education.
State governments must change their attitude to education. That is when their UBEC story can change. Hopefully, this will be very soon.