States and Education funds – Leadership

By The Citizen

Education has been on the front burner in much of recent discourse in Nigeria. This is understandably so because, of all the social sectors, it is the most neglected. Yet, it is most important in terms of resources that would drive the country's future development. The sector has been bedevilled by myriad problems - from lack of physical infrastructure, learning materials, poor quality of teachers and lack of funding.

It is therefore ironical that available funds that would help propel states' quest for improvement in the education sector have been lying fallow for many years. About a week ago, during the 11th quarterly meeting of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) management meeting with executive chairmen of state Universal Basic Education boards, SUBEBs, supervising minister of education Nyesom Wike lamented state governments' refusal to access the federal government's UBE intervention funds.

Statistics from UBEC have shown that between 2005 and 2013, out of N238.53 billion available, only N190.53 billion was actually accessed by state governments for the development of education. It also showed that, from 2011, there was a steady decline in the number of states that deemed the education sector important enough for them to access the funds. Ironically, if Nigeria were a country where performance matters in election to high office, the number of states accessing the funds would have, instead, been steadily increasing as 2015 approaches.

Some state governments have complained that the conditions attached to accessing the funds are too stringent for them to bother, but there are suggestions that some states have not accounted for previous funds, which is a condition for continued utilisation. If that is true, the states must note that, in the first place, it is their responsibility to provide free, compulsory and universal basic education (from primary to Junior secondary school) for their citizens. They have no right to now squander funds for intervention in a sector they are neglecting.

Whatever the case, though, as the federal and state governments continue to bicker over whose fault it is that the funds are not being utilised, the deterioration of our education sector continues.  We are therefore happy that education will be this year's focus during the 20th annual Nigerian Economic Summit holding in March. Acknowledging the sector's importance in re-positioning Nigeria to become a major player in the global economy, the summit's goal is to influence and determine what the future of Nigeria's education should be. Perhaps when the issue of funding for the sector arises, the contentious matter of the UBEC funds will be thoroughly discussed, and meaningful recommendations that would ease access made. Still, with much of the education sector in dire straits, and more than N40 billion unutilised funds, state governments must put in some more effort towards following procedure and accessing the funds.