National

Infrastructure, education and Abia example

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is a pedestrian knowledge that Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Kashim Shettima some weeks ago inaugurated the 188-megawatt geometric power plant in Aba, Abia state, to accelerate power supply to industrial clusters in the region.

The power plant is a private sector-driven initiative and described as the first and biggest integrated electricity facility in Nigeria, located in the Osisioma industrial area of the south-eastern state and it is understood that Aba Power Electric Limited, a new electricity distribution company (DisCo), will take electricity from the plant and supply it to nine local government areas — out of 17 — in Abia state.

While this feat is celebrated, what  appears very interesting is the remark by the state governor that “When he first saw the proposal for geometric integrated power plant, he knew that he had to be involved immediately because, if just 50 percent of what had been proposed could be achieved, the industrial output from this great city and it’s environs would triple and millions of new jobs will be created directly and indirectly in the short to medium term. The success of the power project will send a clear signal to local and international investors that Aba is open for businesses.”

Indeed, while the state governor’s decision to associate with the initiative and his laudable efforts in other sectors, particularly as infrastructural provisions in the state remain commendable, this piece believed and still believes that Governor Alex Otti’s recent allocation of 20 percent of the state’s 2024 budget to the education sector remains a positive development in the country that deserves our collective praise. 

Aside from demonstrating a government’s unwavering commitment to elevating these crucial sectors to their utmost potential, ultimately benefiting our citizens, allocating 20 percent and 15 percent of the state’s 2024 annual budget to education and health, respectively, marks a historic milestone in Nigeria’s budgeting.

The facts are there and speak volumes for the governor’s decision. Successive administrations at both Federal and State levels have done very little when it comes to funding education. These have led to multi-faceted challenges that confront us today. 

Take as an illustration, a particularly mind-numbing report in 2013 that about 10.5 million Nigerian children of school age were not enrolled in schools. Out of this number, the report explained that about 9 million were children of beggars, fishermen and other less privileged people in the society.

Again, in 2018, a survey showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world.

The survey says something else: there is still a huge number of those who are in school, but are learning nothing, noting that schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school, the report stated.

A similar study expressed worry that with the nation’s current population of about 200 million, 45 per cent of which are below 15 years, there is a huge demand for learning opportunities translating into increased enrolment. This has created challenges in ensuring quality education since resources are spread more thinly, resulting in more than 100 pupils for one teacher in most of the public primary and secondary schools in the country. 

Basically, there exists in my opinion about three major troubling realities that characterize the situation as a crisis.

First is the awareness that Nigeria is not in short supply of policy measures and laws to ensure that no child is left behind in education. Yet, the number keeps swelling each year. As argued elsewhere, there is free and compulsory primary and junior secondary education to cater for children aged five to 14 years. 

To explain this point, the Universal Basic Education Act 2004 is the legal framework that provides for compulsory, free and universal basic education of all children of primary and junior secondary school age in the country. There is also the Child Rights Act, which reinforces this as a basic human right by prescribing schooling up to junior secondary school.

UBEC intervention funds as we know are focused on collaboration with other state actors towards improving access to basic education and reducing Nigeria’s out-of-school children. The budgetary allocation for education for example in 2020 is N671.07 billion constituting 6.7 percent. Of the N671.07 billion allocated to the Federal Ministry of Education, the sum includes the statutory transfer allocated to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which is N111.79 billion.

Yet, most of the states cannot draw from this fund as a result of their (states) inability to provide the counterpart funding. So, what benefit is the fund?

It was such encumbrance I presume, that some years ago, prompted the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, to call on the Federal Government to remove counterpart funding as part of basic requirements for states to access Federal Government funding of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC)

The second factor fueling the challenge of out-of-school children in Nigeria stems from the awareness that despite the UN Universal Declaration of education as a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education, Nigerian governments, particularly the northern governors, failed to focus their energies on the useful things that will translate to empowerment of the people.

They made policies that viewed education as very narrow and restricted.

Presently, what Nigeria needs is a restless determination to make the idea of governance a reality. At this critical point of our nationhood, Federal and State governors must draw a lesson from the Abia State government. They need to do this work, and in doing it, stimulate their people, particularly the youths, to learn and acquire higher levels of skills and techniques for economic independence.

There are certain technical steps that must be taken.

First, it is time to recognize that any nation desirous of securing the future of its people must invest in education. This is more urgent in the north where it is agreed that historical underdevelopment in Western education is responsible, more than the diversity in religious loyalties, for the social imbalance between the region and the south.

Similarly, the hour has come for state governors in Nigeria  to adopt and support the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals –  a United Nations initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – with a collection of 17 global goals formulated among other aims to promote and cater for people, peace, planet, and poverty. And has at its centre partnership and collaboration, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.

The reason for this assertion is barefaced. Few years ago, it was reported that Mathew Hassan Kukah – a well-informed, self-contained and quietly influential Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto had during a four day workshop tagged ‘’Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement’’ for Christians and Muslims in Minna, Niger State said that The Kukah Centre (TKC), promised to introduce skill acquisition centres in the Northern part of the country where about 10 million Almajiri children would acquire vocations of their choice.

For sure, with the slow economic but high population growth in Nigeria particularly in the north, such a programme would have been an effective tool for fighting unemployment and consolidating economic growth. But for yet to be identified reason(s), no governor from the north bought into that opening provided or encouraged their youth to access such opportunity.

Regardless of what others may say, it is in the interest of the government to educate its people on different skills that create jobs for the youths as a formidable way of curbing crime and reducing threatening insecurity in the country. It should be done not merely for political consideration but from the views of national development and sustenance of our democracy and the best place to start from is adequate funding of the education sector and  deliberate effort to drastically reduce the number of our school children.

When this is achieved, it will in turn bring about sustained peace; result in improved hygiene and medical care, greater educational opportunities. Like Abia state, other state governments are hereby enjoined by this piece to embark on aggressive education of their people, ensuring its compulsion to a certain level.

To catalyze this process, a shift in action is important as ‘we cannot solve our socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it’. The governors need to bring a change in leadership paradigm by switching over to a leadership style that is capable of making successful decisions built on a higher quality of information.

Utomi, Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA) writes from Lagos.

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