By Ruth Oketunde
Human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana has called on the National Assembly (NASS) to step into Nigeria’s worrisome out-of-school crisis, to save the future of the country.
Falana made the appeal in a speech he read at a Summit on Nigeria’s Out-of-School Crisis, hosted by the UK charity, IA-Foundation in Lagos at the weekend.
The outspoken activist said that refusal of state governments to make counterpart contributions to the Universal Basic Education Fund in the country was hampering access to basic education in Nigeria.
A 2022 UNESCO report had said that approximately 20 million children are out of school in Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation.
Falana in his speech, made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Sunday, stressed the need for the NASS to act fast, lamenting that the number of out-of-school children in the country was alarming.
According to him, in pursuant to Section 2 of the Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education Act, it is important for the states governments to make counterpart contributions to the Universal Basic Education Fund, which has continually been ignored.
The activist argued that the NASS should ensure an amendment of the constitution to empower the accountant-general of the federation to deduct the counterpart fund payable by every state government from source.
“In June last year, the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Mr Hamid Bobboyi, bemoaned the refusal of state governments to provide counterpart funding and access the annual matching grants given by the commission to develop their basic education system.
“The commission was particularly concerned that about N110 billion of the intervention funds accessed from UBEC were not utilised by the states in 2021, with the money left in the coffers of State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs).
“Sometime in 2017, we learnt that the Federal Government had decided to refund state governments all monies so far deducted from their accounts to meet the London Paris Club obligations.
“We were able to convince the Federal Government to deduct the counterpart fund that the state governments had failed to contribute to the Universal Basic Education Fund.
“The suggestion was accepted by the Federal Government and that was how the sum of N71.3 billion was deducted from source and remitted to the account of UBEC.
“Thereafter, UBEC added the matching grant of N71.3 billion and the states received a total of N142.6bn for the provision of needed facilities in public primary and junior secondary schools in the country.
“What the National Assembly should do is to address the refusal of state governments to make counterpart contribution to the Universal Basic Education Fund pursuant to Section 2 of the Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education Act.’’
According to him, the National Assembly should as a matter of urgency, ensure the amendment of the constitution to empower the accountant-general of the federation to deduct the counterpart fund payable by every state government from source.
Falana explained further that since each of the 36 states of the federation had adopted the Child’s Rights Act and enacted a Child’s Right Law, it had become the joint responsibility of the federal, state and local governments to ensure that every Nigerian child was given an opportunity to acquire free and compulsory education.
He added that the Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2019 guaranteed free education up to senior secondary school level for every person with disability.
“In the same vain, all public schools, whether primary, secondary or tertiary shall have at least one personnel trained to cater for the educational development of persons with disabilities or special facilities for the effective education of persons with disabilities.
“These laws have been observed in their breach because the members of the political class, drawn from all registered political parties have not demonstrated any commitment to the education of every child in Nigeria.
“The members of the legislative and executive organs of governments have failed to appreciate the danger of having 18.5 million out-of-school children, the highest in the world.
“Therefore, amending the Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education Act to make it more stringent for parents will not work in a poverty-stricken environment,” Falana stated. (NAN)(www.nannews.ng)
Edited by Silas Nwoha