BY MARK ITSIBOR, Abuja
Minister of finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed, has expressed concern over the spate of attacks on schools across the country, saying the country could lose over N32 billion yearly if schools remain unsafe for learning.
The finance minister also said Nigeria has a lot of economic gains from ensuring that the schools are safe.
“It will cost us at least 32 billion per annum if we don’t keep our schools safe. Some analysis has been done and there are some numbers that have been released as to what is the cost,” the minister said during a press briefing to mark the end of a government/private sector ‘Financing Safe School in Nigeria’ dialogue in Abuja yesterday.
“When you invest in securing a child and they acquire an education, for every $2 you invest in a child, you can get a GDP of up to $20,” the minister said.
She further stated that “with an estimated 13 million children currently out of school in the country, we sit on the precipice of a socio-economic disaster and a full education crisis if we do not act in a coordinated manner to stop the current wave of systematic attacks on the fundamental rights of our children to a safe learning environment”.
According to her, parents “are increasingly more nervous about sending their children, and particularly their young girls, to school, with some choosing to withdraw existing students. The time to act is now”.
There have been series of attacks on many schools in northern Nigeria, resulting in hostage taking of students and teachers by Boko Haram terrorists and armed bandits. Some students and teachers are currently in the custody of the bandits while some have been killed. The federal government said yesterday that it had taken steps to make the schools safe for learning and teaching; it opted to raise funds from development partners and the private sector to provide security in schools.
The Nigerian government said it had got commitments from subnational governments, development partners and the organized private sector to invest in education – to provide safe and secure environment for school children.
“We have seen very high level commitment from the private sector for the first time when we had the Chibok incident. There was a fund that was set up and the private sector actually contributed to this fund,” she said.
She said the private sector was willing to support government by adding their own resources to making our schools safe, just as the development partners had helped in the past and had committed again to continue to help.
As part of the commitment, she said governments in Nigeria had agreed to devote 15 to 20 per cent of their annual budget to education.
According to Zainab Ahmed, “the chairman of the governor’s forum has made a commitment that each state will be budgeting at least 15 to 20 percent of their state budget for education and a good part of that will be for the safety of the schools.
Funding for the national plan on safe schools, the minister said, will ensure “that we will invest more in education to be able to provide our children the right type of education in the right, secure and safe environment because, indeed, investing in the education of our children is investing in the economy. That is why ministry of finance is leading this”.
She noted that in the next couple of days, the federal government will start “the development of a national plan that will have inputs from communities, school-based management committees, local governments and state governments to a national plan”.
This national plan, she said, “will chart the path of how we will make our schools safe”.
She added that the service chiefs had “committed to contributing to the work that we started today and also that they will make input as we put together this national plan because, at the end of the day, the funds that we have will also include funding for security operatives that will be supporting the security of the schools”.
Asked on what happened to the $10 million pledge for safe schools in 2014, Zainab Ahmed said “we will be looking at how much has been collected and how much was expended because it is going to inform us on what to do and what not to do”.
Four weeks after the kidnap of the Chibok girls in 2014, the Nigerian business community voted $10 million to make schools safe in Nigeria.
On that day, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that “there is a desperate need to assure Nigerians that school children are safe to go to school; as a result, the Nigerian business community has earmarked $10 million with a pilot of 500 schools”.
The initiative, he said, “wants parents and teachers to come up with what safety measures they need but government too should be involved.”
Most of the 500 pilot schools, he said, are from the North.