The National Assembly has just passed the 2018 budget which will soon be assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari baring any political hiccup. A preview of the budget reveals that Education and Health sectors were allocated N15.7 billion and N57.15 billion respectively while the Works, Power and Housing sector got a whopping N105. 50 billion. Many stakeholders, in their analysis of the budget in relation to the two sectors, have expressed their reservations particularly with the assumed importance of education and health to the nation’s development.
We have no issues with the decision of the government to allocate more funds to the Works, Power and Housing sector which can also improve access to health and educational services. We are only disturbed by the tendency on the part of policymakers to play down the precarious position of the country on the international human development index.
In April 2001, the African Union countries met and recommended the allocation of at least 15 per cent of their annual budget to improve the health sector and urged donor countries to scale up their support in this regard. Years later, only one African country met this target. Twenty-six countries had increased the proportion of government expenditures allocated to health and 11 had reduced it. In the remaining nine countries, there was no obvious trend up or down. Current donor spending varies dramatically. In Nigeria’s education sector, the story remains the same, as allocation to it keeps fluctuating perilously. The forward page of the Education For All (EFA) global monitoring report signed by the former director general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, stated that many governments have increased spending but few have prioritised education in national budget. The document recommended that governments should take the lead in increasing financial commitments to EFA, with the report’s high level steering committee proposing that 15 per cent to 20 per cent of annual budgets be earmarked for education.
The EFA document also indicates that at least 20 per cent of a nation’s national income must be raised in tax revenue for such countries to finance the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, now Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.
Similarly, the World Education Forum 2015 final report which is also referred to as ‘The lncheon Declaration’ said that most governments fall short of allocating the recommended international benchmark of 20 per cent of public expenditure needed to bridge education funding gaps. UNESCO initiated the EFA global monitoring reports to keep a tab on progress, highlight remaining gaps and provide recommendation for the global sustainable development agenda to follow.
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu recently lamented that none of the E9 (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan) or D8 countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey) other than Nigeria, allocates less than 20 per cent of its annual budget to education. Indeed, even among sub-Saharan Africa countries, the country is trailing far behind smaller and less endowed nations in terms of investment in education. A recent international retreat on education, which was attended by Nigerian ministers of Education, ended by asking the President to increase revenue allocation to the education sector to about 15 per cent of the 2018 budget.
The sector, without doubt, remains one of the most important social services of any government. The cost of not educating the citizenry is huge as inadequate funding reduces literacy level and increases public spending on crime prevention and other anti-social behaviours that impact negatively on economic growth. It is our opinion that no country can afford to leave many of the young ones or deny them the opportunity to attain the competence they need for self-fulfilment. The federal government needs to pay more attention to human capital development by mobilising efforts in a coordinated way to give Nigerians standard health care and functional education to enable everyone compete effectively in the emerging, knowledge driven-world order.
With the nation’s population assessed by experts as growing geometrically, without education and skill to compete in a globalised world, then this huge population will become a liability and a major setback to national aspirations.
We have already acknowledged that it is good to invest in roads and other infrastructural projects. Still, it is the opinion of this newspaper that if the government fails to invest in capacity building, then it is most likely that the other investments will definitely have to wait as the human development efforts drag. The danger, in our view, is that the rest of the world will not wait for Nigeria as she plays catch up regardless of the perceived important position she occupies in the world and especially in Africa.
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