The worrisome state of malnutrition and prevalence of child killer diseases, some of which have been successfully eliminated in other climes but still prevalent here, tend to raise doubts about Nigeria’s readiness to accord the deserved attention to issues of child survival. Indeed, Nigeria has appalling statistics as far as indices for child survival are concerned, fuelling uncertainties over the type of future generation the current leadership across all strata will leave behind. One incidence that has further aggravated such concerns, just as it underscored the disdain with which attention is accorded to issues of child survival, is the recent statistics on the number of out-of-school children in the country.
The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) recently said that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million between 2010 and 2015. This was contained in a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) jointly conducted by the Commission, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education. Nigeria’s out-of-school children record, in our opinion, portends a time bomb waiting to explode because deprived of education, these children will grow up to become illiterate young adults who are easily used as pawn in the hands of self-serving politicians and other unpatriotic elements in the society. The rising spate of insecurity resulting in killings and subsequent displacement of families in some states within the Benue Valley, Zamfara, Plateau and, areas ravaged by Boko Haram insurgency have contributed to exacerbating this situation by forcing children out of school. Also, crises in the North Central states of Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and, Southern Kaduna and Taraba, among others, which have rendered so many families refugees, no doubt makes this phenomenon even worse.
Other equally contending factors responsible for this dismal outlook include government’s poor budgetary allocation to the education sector or outright mismanagement of funds allocated to the sector. This statistic released by a government agency that is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing primary education has further exposed the fallacy of a sustained investment in education just as it lays bare the falsehood being peddled by government at states and local levels about an aggressive enrolment drive.
Based on the 1999 Nigerian constitution, as amended, education is in the concurrent list, which means the three tiers of government have responsibilities of overseeing it. It is worrisome that no state of the federation has ever met the 26 per cent of budget requirement set by UNESCO for the funding of education. Yet, successive leaders are conversant with the cliché that no nation develops beyond the level of its education. As a nation, Nigeria cannot claim to be serious about working to ensure child survival for development when the nation parades wobbly and indeed embarrassing indices like enrolment and retention of children in school.
We are compelled to interrogate the nation’s investment in education even as we note with nostalgia the fact that UBEC funds running into billions of naira are lying idle waiting for states to access. Sadly, states are not willing to make available their counterpart contributions, which is a precondition to accessing the fund. The fawct that about N86 billion UBEC fund which could have repositioned primary education is lying fallow at the Central Bank because states deliberately refused to access it tells much about the priorities of the state governments.
This, in our view, is a contributory factor to the high rate of out-of-school children. As a nation, Nigeria cannot afford to look the other way while a sizeable number of its children are roaming the streets without education in this age of science, technology and innovation. Perhaps, disturbed by this ugly statistics, Emirs from the North, an area with an alarmingly high number of children not in school, have committed to an action plan on combating the menace. It is a good thing that this statistic is being made public on the eve of the election year. We believe this should provide the electorate with the template with which to cast their votes. We urge the electorate to vote for or reject candidates based on their plans, or lack of same, for the enrolment, retention and completion of at least basic education for all children regardless of the social status of their parents. All those seeking elective offices at all levels in the forth coming elections must commit to providing free, functional and accessible quality education.
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