By accounts of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), over N76 billion in the intervention fund set up by the federal government to help the Nigerian child access good education, especially at the foundation level is yet to be accessed by a large number of states. According to the agency, all the south east states and some more from the south west have not been accessing the fund where over N303 billion has been disbursed so far.
UBEC was established to administer a fund to all the 36 states of the federation as part of measures to standardise primary education. The major condition for drawing from the fund is for each state to provide 50 percent matching fund. In effect, by pledging a certain amount to fund primary education, each state is entitled to an equal amount as matching grant from UBEC.
The UBEC fund is an annual grant by the federal government to help the states upgrade their primary education facilities in order to provide a good education for the nation’s children. To access the fund, state governments are required to match the federal government’s grant. But many the states have ignored this facility even as children studied under very deplorable conditions, including having lessons under trees and dilapidated classrooms while the quality of teachers remain suspect in many cases.
From official records, however, only the northern states have been diligent in accessing the fund as they routinely provided the basic allocation that is complemented by the UBEC fund. Going by UBEC’s data, the states notorious for failing to meet the condition for drawing the matching grants are all the south east states. Enugu State, for instance, has its allocation of N4.2 billion idling away at UBEC. Similarly, Ebonyi State is yet to draw from its N3.6 billion still in the agency’s vault while Abia State also has N2.67 billion yet to be accessed.
In these challenging times, it is unfortunate that south east governors have not realised the importance of the facility intended to secure a solid foundation for the future of their children. It is not as if their primary school pupils are studying under idle conditions. On the contrary, many primary schools in the east, as in other parts of the country, still face the challenges of adequate classrooms, desks and requisite learning tools.
It is benumbing that while the south east governors whose states have the largest concentration of primary schools in terms of numbers are reluctant to meet the simple conditions for accessing the fund, the northern states with far fewer number of schools and pupil population have been more conscientious and diligent in drawing from the facility. It is not out of place to accuse south east governors of toying with the future of their children given the critical role of a solid foundation in primary education on the future of children.
Probably, the conditions attached to the disbursement of the fund may partly account for their lackadaisical attitude to the fund. A principal aspect of the conditions is that the money so drawn must be used exclusively for the provision of infrastructure in primary education. In 2014, governors had made efforts to amend Sections 9 (b) and 11(2) of the UBEC Act that spell out the criteria for entitlement to the funds. Specifically, the governors wanted to collect the intervention fund without providing the necessary counterpart funding, which is needed to demonstrate their seriousness. The Goodluck Jonathan administration at the time resisted the proposed amendment because of the poor handling of the funds by most state governments, which reinforced the need for strict monitoring of its disbursement and utilisation.
Education remains the best legacy that can be bequeathed to children and parents in the south east having long acknowledged this and go to great lengths to ensure their wards have access to quality education at the primary level. It does not make economic or administrative logic for governors in the south east to continue to make provisions for capital projects in their annual budgets and fail to tie them to the process for accessing the fund. The annual grant will make a huge difference in improving the quality of infrastructure and learning tools in primary schools if the relevant agencies are alive to the opportunities that abound through the fund.
Already, virtually every state has a special agency set up to administer primary education which as a matter of national policy is free. There is no logical explanation for the failure of the State Primary Education Boards to lay the framework for an unbroken access to the fund.
We urge all the governors in the south east to as a matter of urgency initiate the process for accessing the backlog of funds that have been lying idle at UBEC over the years. It does not take rocket science to meet the major but simple condition for drawing the fund – matching it with initial budgeting. And having accessed the fund, they should ensure that the money is disbursed exclusively for the purpose it was drawn.
Education, especially primary education, remains the bedrock of development of children. It has always been the basis for the continued distinction of children in their adulthood. South east governors owe it a responsibility not just to uphold the legacy they inherited but also to improve on it. Drawing from the UBEC fund is an effective way of doing this devoid of the cumbersomeness associated with sourcing for funds elsewhere.