FG: More ‘food’, less education

Posted by News Express | 3 November 2018 | 2,170 times

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As a voracious reader of orthodox and unorthodox books and materials with an impressive record of previous trips to, at least, four out of the five or so continents around the globe, yours truly can state without a shadow of doubt that Nigeria is a very peculiar place, where the unusual are “usualised “and the abnormal normalised seamlessly.

Although Nigeria shares some of the negative traits with other African nations, but Nigeria seems to be perfectly a case-study on how not to run political offices, because those who are driving the process do not have a single best of intentions. This is neither an exaggeration nor an attempt to elevate scepticism to a lofty height.

Humanity, for well over 2,000 years or more, has come to appreciate politics as a special field; which must, of necessity, be clothed with the fundamental functional essence of good governance.

For instance, almost all adherents of the mainstream political philosophy schools of thought are of the near-unanimous opinion that politics should be by the best brains; and that the business of politics should be essentially concerned with how so well a given society is to be governed in such a good way that justice, fairness, equality, equity and rule of law become the major frameworks.

In Nigeria, those who have dominated the political scene are far from practising altruism and, based on their outputs so far in nearly 60 years, it has come to manifest that the greater percentage of persons manning different offices in the political fields are involved in politics for what is there for them. Former US president, John F Kennedy, was credited with tasking politicians and citizens to ask for what they can do for the greatness of their nations and not what material benefits that they can derive. But my people who crowded the political space are in it for what they can grab. Some even accumulate wealth that even the next five generations after them wouldn't be able to waste. Also, contest for political offices has become a do-or-die battle. 

Take for example, a serving Senator Godswill Akpabio who left office as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor of Akwa Ibom State for eight years and also got elected to the Senate under the same platform. He recently moved camp to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in a move that was generally believed to be an attempt to save his neck from the over-bearing threats of arrest and prosecution over charges of alleged diversion of 100 million USD by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), headed by the rabidly partisan police officer, Alhaji Ibrahim Magu, who has been acting for three years because he couldn’t be confirmed by the Senate for the simple reason that the Department of State Services (DSS) wrote a letter accusing him (Magu) of not being a fit and proper person to hold such a high office.

The same Obong Akpabio - who benefitted so much from his people by way of votes - was recently quoted as threatening to take over Akwa Ibom State from his former the PDP in the same fashion that late Nazist leader Adolph Hitler invaded and conquered Poland. A political godfather in Lagos, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, was quoted in the media that he is richer than Osun State. Bola Tinubu, before he became governor of Lagos State in 1999, was an averagely struggling business man who couldn't be credited as a billionaire. But here he is after he went in and out of politics and he is reportedly “stinkingly rich” to an extent that he was alleged to have bragged to be richer than Osun State and, therefore, can't be accused of trying to foist his surrogate as governor. 

So, in every sphere of politics in Nigeria, avarice - selfish pursuit of pecuniary benefits by those elected or appointed to serve and overwhelming greed - has become synonymous with civil governance.  Those who should serve in accordance with the legal prescriptions of their offices have suddenly become lords of the Manor, behaving like emperors, thereby subjecting their fellow citizens as a conquered people.

This brings us to the issue of education of the people of Nigeria and its place in the affairs of state, with specific reference to the funding status. But more specifically, the paradox that President Muhammadu Buhari's administration  claim to be feeding school children with such a humongous amount of public funds than the entire budget for public education in a given year. We shall answer the interrogatory, which seeks to know the global benchmark in educational funding in the public sector. 

The international benchmark on educational funding as stated and recommended by the United Nations’ agency that oversees education is that states or nations should dedicate, at least, 15 to 20 per cent of each member state’s annual budget to funding public education.

The forward to Education For All - a global monitoring report endorsed by the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova - says as follows: “Many governments have increased spending, but few have prioritised education in national budget.”

The report, released for 2000-2015 tagged “a Dakar framework for action”, called for significant increase in financial commitment by national governments and donors to the education sector, to accelerate progress towards the EFA goals.

According to the document, the Dakar framework recommended governments to take lead in increasing financial commitments to EFA, with the EFA high level steering committee proposing that 15 per cent to 20 per cent of annual budgets be earmarked for education.

“In 2006, the High level Group on EFA proposed that governments should spend between 4 per cent and 6 per cent of GNP on education and that, within government budgets, between 15 per cent and 20 per cent should be earmarked for education.” (Chapter 8, page 241 of the EFA report.)

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).

“Some countries, including Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Pakistan collect 10 per cent or less of their national income in tax,” the report stated.

Similarly, the World Education Forum 2015 final report, which is also referred to as The lncheon Declaration in chapter 4, page 26 said: “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 monitor progress, highlight remaining gaps and provide recommendation for the global sustainable development agenda to follow in 2015.”

These much were facts unearthed by a reputable online medium in Nigeria known as Premium Times

However, empirically, successive Nigerian governments have made sure that the educational sector remains the least funded, going by the fact that the annual budget hovers between 6 per cent and a little more, and no more. 

In other climes, investment in education is massive, even as the youngsters who receive these generous educational sponsorships are known to have contributed tremendously in raising the global profile of their nations. 

Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom are among some of the countries where public funding of education remains top priority. In countries where higher education is expensive, their youngsters are awarded credit schemes and are allowed to settle these sponsorships when they are gainfully employed.

This global best practice in the area of funding public education is not replicated in Nigeria where those who are in political offices enrich themselves from public till and use some of those ill-gotten public wealth to sponsor their children and wards in the Ivy league schools in Europe and America that are extremely expensive. Conversely, children and wards of majority of Nigerians who are poor get poor public education.

I will return to speak about the neglect of the education sector by President  Buhari, who has taken dramatic turn for the worst. I will also bring out the illogicality of the current government that claims - based on some officially manufactured but phantom statistics - that government has outspent so much in feeding poor school children than the budget spent entirely on education.

As stated elsewhere, education has remained an orphan in Nigeria. As recent as the mid-1990s, Nigerian universities, especially the first generation ones, attracted students from Cameroun, South-Africa, Kenya and Ghana, among others, as well as foreign lecturers, so reported Mr Clifford Ndujihe of Vanguard Newspapers.

Today, the reverse is the case. Apart from lecturers, in large numbers, leaving Nigeria for greener pastures in what has come to be referred as “brain drain”, thousands of students are also leaving the country to study abroad, even in neighbouring countries - Ghana and Benin Republic - Ndujihe reported. 

The Director, Centre for Open, Distance and e-Learning, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Musa Aibinu, said recently, that about 23,000 lecturers leave Africa every year, with Nigeria accounting for the bulk of the number. Poor funding has been identified as the major reason for the rot and challenges in the education sector, especially tertiary education, which has led to frequent strikes by teaching and non-teaching staff, since the early 1990s.

Indeed, the Federal Government’s allocation to education in the last 10 years has been miserly. Out of a cumulative budget of N55.19 trillion, only N3.90 trillion or 7.07 per cent was allocated to the sector.

In 2009, the Federal Government allocated N221.19 billion (7.25 per cent) of its N3.049 trillion budget to education. The figure was reduced to 4.83 per cent in 2010 when education got N249.09 billion of the hefty N5.16 trillion appropriation.

There was a marginal improvement in 2011 when education got N306.3 billion (6.16 per cent) of the N4.972 trillion budget. The marginal improvements continued in 2012 (8.20 per cent), 2013 (8.55 per cent), and 2014 (9.94 per cent) until 2015 (7.74 per cent), when a significant drop in allocation to education was recorded.

In 2016, President Buhari’s first full year in office, the sector had its second-worst allocation in 10 years when, of the N6.061 trillion budget, only N369.6 billion (6.10 per cent) was appropriated for education. However, there was a slight rise in 2017 (7.38 per cent) and if the 2018 proposed N8.612 trillion is approved, education will get N605.8 billion or 7.03 per cent.

But wait for this: Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was recently quoted as claiming that over $183 million has been invested so far in the National School Feeding Programme in Nigeria. Osinbajo made the disclosure in Tunis, Tunisia, in a keynote address at the closing ceremony of the 20th Annual Global Child Nutrition Forum held at Four Seasons Hotel in Tunis.

He said that over nine million primary pupils are benefitting in 26 states already. What a staggering statistics, if you ask me. But these are not empirically supported. Yet, the vice-president said that the programme has been, by all accounts, a remarkable success. He added that by the end of 2018 - with more states in the country joining the National Homegrown School Feeding Programme - it was set to become the largest school-feeding programme in Africa.

Osinbajo told the 353 delegates and experts from nine countries that the programme is strategic to human capital development.

His words: “Nigeria took the decision to embark on a school-feeding programme as an important part of our human capital development agenda. By tackling the broader issues of eradication of poverty, food and nutrition security, and increasing school enrollment. It is becoming clearer that the 21st century will be defined by knowledge and skills.

“The nations that are best able to present the most knowledgeable and most skillful citizens will prevail in commerce, in science and technology and, of course, will enjoy the greatest prosperity and the longevity to enjoy the prosperity.

“Nations that do not invest enough to produce the required level of talent and skills will be left behind; a farther distance than ever before in the history of mankind.”

The delegates include experts in nutrition, United Nations officials from World Food Programme, Global Child Nutrition Fund, the World Bank and stakeholders.

Osinbajo said at a cost of 0.19 dollars per child per day, a balanced meal was provided for every one of the children as 9,300,892 million pupils in 49,837 public primary schools in 26 states across Nigeria benefitted daily.

According to him, at current numbers, “the programme costs $1,767,169.48 per day and over $183 million has been invested so far in the programme.”

“The programme employs 95,422 cooks, and over 100,000 small-holder farmers linked to the programme, supplying locally sourced ingredients.

“This translates to 594 cattle, 138,000 chickens, 6.8 million eggs, 83 metric tons of fish that are procured, prepared, and distributed each week. As you can imagine, the quantity of starch and vegetables required for this programme on a weekly basis is equally impressive.”

He told the audience that the success of the programme in a short time was due to factors such as unequivocal political will, transparency and accountability.

All that an observer needs to do to find out if the above politically-tainted claims are correct is to conduct just a research to find out how corruption, lack of transparency and accountability has dogged this initiative.

At the last count, in states such as Niger and Kaduna, amongst others, cases of diversion of materials meant for the school feeding programme made headlines.

But why should government commit so much as it claimed to feed school children who stand the existential threats of being killed by collapsing debris due to poor, substandard and neglected educational facilities? When you claimed to be overfeeding children and they are educated in poorly maintained facilities are you planning mass murders of these so-called over fed pupils? 

During the week, I drove round the FCT and travelled to Imo State to see for myself how the educational facilities are, but what I could see were derelict structures that are not even habitable by goats. In the 36 states of the federation, facilities for public primary education are derelict and worn out

The current government should come clean on what it has done with the humongous sums it has claimed to have invested in the school feeding programme, when in actual fact, pupils in public schools in Kaduna are said to be fed with just N50 per meal per day which is even lower than what is spent feeding prisoners. In my Arondizuogu, Imo State community, I could see public school pupils who still go to school on empty stomach, and not a single meal is offered to them. How can politicians tell lies with school feeding and end up lining their pockets from the proceeds that they should have invested in primary education of millions of children? 

So much for school-feeding infrastructure and so little for educational infrastructure.

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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