How Nigeria is Failing Her Children
On January 29, 2020, the Nigerian airwaves were filled with the news that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the payment of N33,000 as monthly allowance for members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). (1) A lot of people rejoiced. I was not one of them.
The reason I did not rejoice is not for the reason(s) you may think. Granted, I do not like the NYSC scheme but today is not the day I will write fully about that, however the running of the NYSC shows how much neglect the lower cadres of our education have suffered.
UNDERSTANDING THE LEVELS OF EDUCATION IN NIGERIA…
There are four levels of Education in Nigeria (2), namely:
i) Early childhood (pre-primary);
ii) Basic Education (9 years) — comprising Primary and Junior Secondary Education;
iii) Senior Secondary Education (3 years); and
iv) Tertiary Education.
While the National Policy on Education (3) specifies the guidelines for operating early childhood education in Nigeria, it did not specify the care and support requirements for children 0 through 5 years of age. This is a major gap that has left the operation of early childhood care and pre-primary education more in the hands of private operators without adequate guidelines or standards. In fact, in my analysis of the national spend on education, there is no budget for early childhood education in Nigeria. So let’s agree that the nation spends little or nothing on childhood education.
On to Basic Education. The UBE Act (4) mandates state and local governments to take responsibility for providing education for their citizens. Basic education is a 9-year free education for all Nigerian children. Of course it’s the program has been a mirage. When the UN reported in 2018 (5) that the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world, it’s referring to children who are in the basic education bracket.
Even though the federal government is not responsible for education at this level, it has set up the UBEC intervention fund (6) for states but it comes with the condition which mandates states to put down 50% counterpart funding to access this fund. Unfortunately, Nigerian states being Nigerian states, according to a report by the Punch Newspapers last year (7), N84bn has not been claimed by state governments due to their inability to provide their share of 50%. So you can now make sense of the dilapidated state of public primary schools in Nigeria. The states are in charge.
On to the Senior Secondary Education Category. The federal government funds the public secondary schools, precisely the 104 unity schools in Nigeria. While the 2019 budget allocated N50.15bn to the schools, I could not get a detailed breakdown, but I have the breakdown of the 2018 education budget of N52.61bn (a decrease) so we do a fair extrapolation. Out of this budget of N52.61bn, 74% (N38.79bn) was targeted at recurrent expenditure while a breakdown of the capital expenditure (N13.82bn) produces N132.8m for each unity school.
A point to note is that not every child who finishes primary school goes on to junior secondary school. The dropout rate for primary school in Nigeria is put at 36%. (8) and not every junior secondary school graduate moves on to senior secondary school. A 2010 report puts the number of children who drop out of school between the ages of 15 and 19 to be 7.2 million. We can be sure it’s much higher now, 10 years later. Going from the junior to the senior school has proven a particular challenge with some states reporting an enrolment of just 16% transition from junior secondary.
To state the obvious, while lesser and lesser Nigerian children are going up the cadres, more and more funds are spent on the fewer remaining in the system.
On to the tertiary education. According to the 2018 budget, (9, Page 21) N278bn was earmarked for 40 federal universities. (10) In 2019, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) says that while 2 million Nigerians sat for the UTME, only 443,624 were admitted across the federal, state and private universities in Nigeria. (11) That’s an acceptance of 22%.
Apart from the federal budget, there is the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). (12) In 2019, President Buhari approved a N161bn budget for tertiary schools. (13)
Can you now see that the people who need the funds the most do not get it? Nothing is spent on preschool children, who are at the stage that will determine the rest of their lives. Very little is spent on the primary school children. Some money is spent on the secondary school students. While much more is spent on anyone who reaches tertiary school, those in universities get the best pie. Does this seem fair to you?
NYSC…THE FAVOURITE CHILD
Like I said earlier, I can write a separate article about the ‘useless’ institution called NYSC, but today is not the day. My concern here is to show you how those who make it up to this scheme benefit the most from our educational budget.
The figures are not out for 2019, but in 2018, NYSC spent N83bn for only 350,000 corps members. (14) With the increase in allowance to N33,000, an 83% increase, we can expend the NYSC budget to skyrocket. One of the things that irks me about the allowance is the lack of analysis. Why should the nation pay the child of Dangote N33000 per month for 12 months? Why should we pay the child of Muhammadu Buhari N33000 per month? Whether you need the funds or not, you are paid. It’s such financial recklessness.
Also, there are hundreds of thousands of higher education graduates who are not interested in the scheme, but the government compels them. Have we even wondered if there are graduates who would gladly pay to forfeit NYSC? I know a few. But no, the tradition of doling out cash to graduates whether they are interested or not continues.
Well, congratulations to the corpers, even if the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has come out to say the increase is useless and demand more. (15) But my question is, who will fight for our children who have no opportunities to attend even primary school? Remember, 13 million of them are currently out of school, the highest in the world.
FAILING THE FUTURE…
To summarize, Nigeria spends nothing on preschool children. It spends little to nothing on primary school children. It spends N50bn on secondary school students. It spends N278bn on tertiary school students. And spends N83bn on NYSC participants.
While the Ministry of Education says Akwa Ibom has the second worse out-of-school children menace in the country (16), the state has spoken about increasing the allowances of corps members serving in the state. (17)
Is it fair that the country is spend more on lodging and paying (whether they work or not) corpers than it spends on its vulnerable secondary school teens? Is it sensible that the country has left its primary school education in the hands of governors and local government chairman who have shown little concerns for the education of the most important segment of our population? What about those tens of millions who cannot even get into primary schools? Again, Nigeria has the highest out of school children in the world.
Whether by design or accident, it is obvious that Nigeria does not care about the future of its children.
You do not need to look at a Rand Corporate research on Early Childhood Education (18) to see its effects. Simply take a tour of the North East and the Niger Delta. If that’s too far away from you, take a tour to an educational disadvantage community in your state. Experience often resonates more than studies.
Once, Sir Randall Churchill, Winston Churchill’s father, was asked, “Whose descendant are you?” Churchill replied, “I am not a descendant. I am an ancestor!” (19)
Would we be proud of what kind of ancestors we will be to these children we have all but forgotten?