In this piece, WINIFRED OGBEBO takes a look at the challenge of accessing the huge amount trapped in the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Funds amidst the poor state of the country’s basic education sector.
The state of the basic education sector is disheartening because of the many challenges confronting it. Ordinarily, this should not be for obvious reason. The objective of instituting the matching grant in the UBE 2004 Amended Act is to ensure sufficient resources for the sector. It has not changed. The funding formula was structured such that the Federal Government contributes a certain percentage while the state governments provide counterpart funding.
At present, about N64.8 billion is said to be trapped in UBEC’s coffers because many states cannot access it as a result of the failure to meet the key condition, which is the payment of 50 percent counterpart funding. This is even as the country contends with the embarrassingly high number of out-of-school children, poor quality of teachers and inadequate infrastructure, which are crucial in sustaining the quality of basic education. In the face of these challenges, it becomes very difficult to understand why some states still have refused to take basic education seriously.
At the presentation of ‘Education For Change: a Ministerial Strategic Plan (2016-2019)’ to stakeholders in Abuja last Monday, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, said Nigeria has the highest number of out- of- school children in the world with 11. 4 million out of the 20 million out-of-school children worldwide. He explained that only 3.1 million or 17 percent nomadic children of school-age had access to basic education despite decades of intervention. He listed the out-of-school children to include the girl-child, Almajiri-child, children of nomadic pastoralists and migrant fishermen, and more recently, the children displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
The executive secretary, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Dr Hameed Bobboyi, told journalists at a meeting with state chairmen of State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in Abuja recently that for states to be able to access the funds without meeting the requirements, the UBE Act 2004 had to be amended.
He said: “The Federal Ministry of Education and the relevant agencies have been doing quite a lot to ensure that the funds that are unaccessed are accessed by the states. This case is before ministry of education which is taking up the issue with the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and I think when the FEC makes its decision these things will be available for each and everywhere person to know just where we stand on this issue.
“There are two parties involved here and I think we should understand the major reason of instituting the matching grant of the UBE Act is to ensure that you build sufficient resources for the basic education sector where whatever the federal government brings the state governments will also match those funds and that is how the funding formula was developed.
“The idea is for us to push and ensure that people understand the initial impact of having the matching grants but subsequently also to see what could be done to see policy changes which could come from government because it involves change in UBEC Act that will facilitate or institute a lower percentage of matching grants to enable a large number of states which may be in some difficulties to access the funds.”
The minister said government was worried about the high number of out-of-school children in the country and the poor quality of teachers in the basic education sector, pointing out that teacher development was crucial to sustaining the quality of basic education in Nigeria.
He added: “But unfortunately because of certain factors, even before the economic crisis that people are talking about, there are some states, perhaps who have not taken basic education very seriously. UBE has a road map for the development of basic education in this country. Any executive secretary who comes will look at this and see what the priorities of government at any moment are.
“This government from the discussions and mandate that was given to us when we were inaugurated is to look at such key areas and ensure those concerned areas are addressed.
“The worrying areas of out-of-school children, issues of teacher development are crucial to sustaining the quality of basic education in Nigeria because if we don’t develop the teacher it becomes very difficult for us to realize the quality we are looking for.
“You know the key area that concerns this government is that area of accountability and transparency in the use of funds. And I think UBEC is going to improve its monitoring processes to ensure that whatever funds that come from UBEC are utilised in a transparent and accountable manner so that we can realise the core mandate of the organisation that we have been put in charge.”
The dean of State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Prince Stephen Alao also expressed worry that some states have been unable to access funds for quite some time.
He said education is a collective responsibility to ensure that value is added to it.
Perhaps, it is in this vein that President Muhammadu Buhari will be seeking emergency powers from the National Assembly to push his planned stimulus for the economy.
An executive bill entitled: “Emergency Economic Stabilisation Bill 2016” is to be presented to the National Assembly when the lawmakers resume from vacation on September 12. In the bill, the executive will be asking for the president to be given sweeping powers to set aside some extant laws and use executive orders to roll out an economic recovery package within the next one year.
Buhari will be seeking powers to, among others, amend certain laws, such as the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Act, so that states that cannot access their cash trapped in the accounts of the commission because they cannot meet the counterpart funding, can do so. The government is seeking an amendment to the law so that states will pay only 10 percent as counterpart funding. By this, states that have not been able to access the N64.8 billion UBE fund for the development of basic education in the country will have access to it.
The overall objective is for the state governments to develop education. No doubt, when this is realized, it will facilitate creation of jobs since contracts will be awarded for the projects and the country and the people will be the better for it.