Opinion…     Under Buhari, Bogus Cost of School ‘Food’ Higher Than Budget for Education Sector   


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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

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

Although Nigeria share 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 have not a single best of intentions.

The above is no exaggeration neither is it an attempt to elevate skepticism to a lofty height.

Humanity for well over two thousand years or more, have come to appreciate politics as a special field which must as a matter 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 my country Nigeria, those who have dominated the political fields are far from practicing altruism and based on their outputs so far in nearly sixty years, it has come to manifest that the greater percentage of persons manning the different offices in the political fields are really involved in politics for what is there for them. 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 served as the Peoples Democratic Party’s sponsored governor of Akwa Ibom state for eight years, and also got elected as Senator, recently moved camp to All Progressives Congress 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 100million USD by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) headed by the rabidly partisan policeman Alhaji Ibrahim Magu who has acted for three years and more because he couldn’t be confirmed by the senate for the simple reason that the Department of State Services (DSS) wrote to the senate accusing him (Magu) of not being a fit and proper person to hold such a high office.

The Akpabio of a man, 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 party (The Peoples Democratic Party) in the same fashion that late Nazist leader Adolph Hitler invaded and conquered Poland. A political godfather in Lagos Bola Ahmed Tinubu was quoted in the media that he is richer than Osun state. Bola Ahmed Tinubu before he became governor of Lagos state 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 and therefore can’t be accused of trying to foist his surrogate as governor.

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

These briefs, bring us to the issue of the day which is education of the people of Nigeria and its place in the affairs of state with specific reference to the funding status and more specifically with the big irony that Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is claiming to be feeding school children with humongous amounts of public fund than the entire budget of public education in a given year. We will answer the interrogatory which seeks to know the global benchmark in educational funding in the public sector.

International benchmarks 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 percent of each member state’s annual budget to funding public education.

In the forward page of the Education for all, global monitoring report endorsed by the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, it says as follows: “In the forward page of the EFA global monitoring report signed by the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, it says, “many governments have increased spending but few have prioritized 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 toward 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 said.

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 titled, ‘Beyond the lncheon: rising up to the challenges of implementation’ 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 PremiumTimes.

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

In other climes, investments 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 amongst some of the nation’s whereby public funding of education remains top priority. In some countries whereby higher education is expensive, their youngsters are awarded credit schemes and are allowed to settle these sponsorship when they are gainfully employed.

This global best practice in the area of funding public education is not replicated in Nigeria whereby 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 few of the Ivy league schools in Europe and America that are extremely expensive.

Majority of Nigerians who are poor get poor public education.

I will return to speak about the neglect of the education sector by the president Muhammadu 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 I said, education has remained an orphan in Nigeria. As recent as the mid-1990s, Nigerian universities, especially the first generation ones, attracted student from Cameroun, South-Africa, Kenya and Ghana, among others as well as foreign lecturers, so wrote 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 like Ghana and Benin Republic, Clifford 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 the education in the last 10 years has been miserly. Out of a budget of N55.19 trillion, only N3.90 trillion or 7.07 percent was allocated to the sector.

In 2009, the Federal Government allocated N221.19 billion (7.25 percent) of its N3.049trillion budget to education. The figure was reduced to 4.83 percent 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 percent) of the N4.972 trillion budget. The marginal improvements continued in 2012 (8.20 per cent), 2013 (8.55 percent), and 2014 (9.94 percent) until 2015 (7.74 per cent) when a significant drop in allocation to education was recorded.

In 2016, President Muhammadu 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 percent) was appropriated for education.

However, there was a slight rise in 2017 (7.38 percent) and if the 2018 proposed N8.612 trillion is approved, education will get N605.8 billion or 7.03 percent.

But wait for this: the vice president Professor Yemi Osinbanjo 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.

However, the vice president said that the programme has been, by all accounts, a remarkable success.

He said 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.

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

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 183million dollars has been invested so far in the programme.

“The programme employs 95,422 cooks, and over 100,000 smallholder 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 program 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 these 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?

The other day, I drove round the FCT and 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 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 community i could see public school pupils who still go to school starved 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 invest in primary education of millions of Children?

So much for stomach infrastructure and so little for eductional infrastructure.

* Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @: www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; w ww.huriwanigeria.com; www. huriwa@blogspot.com

 

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