No Education — No Economy, By Nick Agule
June 22, 2021
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations is a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations which sets out the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Article 26 of the UDHR states unequivocally that — Everyone has the right to education and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. Other international and regional human rights bodies have provisions on the right to education, including UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Convention Against Discrimination in Education (CADE, 1960). Furthermore, Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also makes provisions on Right to Education.
Recent data released by the Minister of State in the Federal Ministry of Education of Nigeria, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, revealed that Nigeria has over 10 million out-of-school children, which is a continental record or perhaps even a global record. This is a debilitating statistic, to say the least!
There is no economy in the world that will thrive with such record numbers of out-of-school children as obtainable in Nigeria where there is a peculiarity in the penchant to fight the symptoms of national malaise while leaving the causes unattended. The country is committing huge sums in the fight against all forms of security challenges and criminality ranging from the dreaded Boko Haram, banditry, kidnapping etc without understanding that millions of poorly educated or out-of-school children form the recruitment pool for these criminal activities.
To underscore the lack of attention given to Education in Nigeria, the Federal Government budgetary allocation to the education sector has been poor over the years. In the 2021 Federal budget, the total allocation to Education is N771.46 billion with recurrent expenditure standing at N545.24 billion and capital allocation at N226.22 billion. This is a paltry $1.5 billion to fund education from the secondary to federal polytechnics, colleges of education and universities. This is a non-starter as this allocation can hardly change the face of education in Nigeria as it is evident with the dilapidating conditions of infrastructure and the perennial industrial disputes by university teachers and other employees in the educational sector.
Globally, Governments do not pay lip service or treat with levity the education of their citizens because there is no economy without education. An uneducated population is a danger to society as evident in the growing state of insecurity in Nigeria. It is on this note that it becomes disheartening to see the recent decision by the authorities of the Benue State University (BSU) in Makurdi, North-Central Nigeria, to bar their students who are behind in the payment of school fees from taking the semester examinations. Some of the students are in their final year of studies and this decision, if not reversed inevitably, will cost them an additional year in school. To think that this is coming after the students were made to remain at home for a year (as the university teachers and the Federal government engaged in a face-off in a confrontation bothering on conditions of service and Government funding of the universities) makes matters even worse.
If education is a right as clearly enunciated in international conventions and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it behoves on Government to do everything to keep children in school. To think that the Benue State Government will take the opposite stand by withdrawing students (who are willing to continue with their studies) from a government-owned and funded school goes contrary to the primary duty of government to provide welfare to the citizens. Security, which is the second primary objective of government, is also jeopardized if we have a multitude of young people who feel aggrieved from being deprived of getting an education to change their lives for the better. There are those who have argued that some of the students of BSU are from well-to-do families and deliberately do not want to pay fees or they were given fees by their parents, but it was squandered. While there could be some merit in this argument, it behoves on the University and the Government to have gathered enough data to identify students who are truly from poor background so that they can be supported while students from well-to-do families would have been sent home to ask their parents to pay their fees. As the University and the Government were unable to gather this data, then, for the sake of the students who genuinely are unable to pay their fees, all defaulting students would have been allowed to take their exams else the University has now thrown the baby and the bath water away!
In a pandemic year where family finances have been put under pressure or wrecked, even banks and other financial institutions are granting moratorium on loan repayments to their debtors to enable them to recover. To think that this is the time BSU as a government-owned and funded institution has decided to throw her students under the bus on account of fees owed is rubbing salt into injury already being suffered by the students having stayed at home for a year due to no fault of theirs.
And to cap the reign of impunity by the BSU Management, their agents are trolling their students online and a list of students who have voiced out their displeasure with the actions of the Management of the University have already been compiled and summoned to appear before a kangaroo disciplinary panel, which has been set up by the University. One would expect a university to know that Article 19 of the UDHR guarantees everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The freedom of expression is also protected by section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The University authorities must listen to the voice of reason and not add further emotional injury to their already traumatised students and must stop this witch-hunting exercise immediately!
In places such as the UK, once a child is born, the Government begins to pay the parents child benefit as Government’s support to raise the child. These payments continue until the 19th birthday of the child at which time the child has only 2 years to graduate at university. If the parents decided to save this money for 19 years, it will pay the child’s school fees up to PhD levels. Not forgetting that education is FREE up to A levels so only university is paid!
If the parents of a child are working but on low income, the Government does not take tax from their salaries, instead the Government taxes the rich heavily and pays some of that money to the poor parents in what’s called child tax credit. So instead of tax taking from the salary, the Government credits the salary by augmenting it. In the case of Benue, even the salaries of workers are not being paid as at when due!!!
Also, a child from a poor background in the UK who has got admission to university has all sorts of grants and scholarships open to them offered by charities, Government, the universities etc.
If all funding options above fail, the Government has a student loan scheme called student finance. All UK children who have a university place are offered student finance if they apply. There is enough money for all who apply. The student finance office pays the school fees directly to the universities and then pays to the student’s bank account money for their accommodation and upkeep for every year they are at university. After graduation, the student must not only start work but begin to earn at a particular level before the deduction of the loan from their salaries begins. If the student never earns to the threshold, then they will not pay back of the loan.
This is the length to which Governments elsewhere go to keep children in school.
The Governments at all levels in Nigeria must take education more seriously with adequate budgetary allocation and ensuring every kobo spent counts towards the provision of qualitative education to the children. It is a primary responsibility of government and perhaps the most important duty of government. The Benue State Government must also wade into the crisis at the state University and impress on the Management to administer examinations to the students who were denied entry into the examination halls. This is the minimum required for the government to show that it is taking education seriously!