OLABISI DEJI-FOLUTILE writes on the need for Nigerian leaders to invest in the education of children in order to ensure a future free of child bandits among other problems.
Finally, the chickens have come home to roost! The misdeeds of Nigeria’s leaders are coming back to haunt them. Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State painted a vivid picture of this during the week when he spoke about the horrors locked in the Northern forest, where anyone could get hundreds of armed men almost for free. He said that the children abandoned in the forest across the north were now coming back to fight the society as bandits. He didn’t stop there. He warned that unless the education of children in this region is addressed, the situation might become worse in future as the level of insecurity in the country today would be child’s play compared with what is likely to happen in another two decades from now. In the governor’s words: ‘’we have problems now with the forest people because they have no education of any kind. They do not have Islamic education and they do not have western education because they have been abandoned in the forest and forgotten. So these are the kind of children who have come up today, fighting us, fighting the society…. since the children are not educated, they only know one pleasure-the pleasure of the flesh, so they keep on producing children in large numbers.’’
In August last year, I wrote an article on Nigeria breeding children of anger every day. In that article, I emphasised that as long as the law of sowing and reaping subsisted, what we were currently witnessing in the country today in terms of security challenges would be child’s play when compared with what would happen in future if we continued to breed these children of anger. I also noted that the only escape route was for Nigerian leaders to sit up and invest in these children as being done in other progressive societies. This is still my stand today. We can talk about the problem from now till eternity, but nothing will change until we begin to take appropriate actions. Unfortunately, Nigeria is still reluctant to own its problems. It thinks solutions to them will one day drop from the sky. One of its governors is even asking world bodies to come and resolve the country’s educational crisis. I am referring to Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, who recently asked the United Nations and the World Bank to give Nigeria bailout to solve its education problem. This was his response to the World Bank’s recommendation that developing countries should spend $700 per pupil, at least for the proper running of their primary schools. The governor, who thinks this is not achievable in a country like Nigeria, argues that institutions like the World Bank and the UN were set up to share global prosperity and since Nigeria has paid its dues by contributing to global peace, it should be helped to bridge the gap in its education sector. Imagine that sense of entitlement! Should a country rich enough to provide a presidential jet for its President’s daughter to go on a private photo shoot complain of being unable to budget ordinary N250, 000 on a child to run a proper primary school?
People like Bagudu have become so used to freebies that they have lost their sense of decorum. They don’t know that the fact that Nigerian leaders engage in certain abnormalities and get away with them does not mean that such behaviours are accepted as global best practices. That the Federal Government gives states bailout to pay their workers’ salaries even when such states complaining of lack of money have more than enough to spend on their former governors and their deputies, does not mean that reasonable international agencies will engage in such weird practice.
Of course, we know that Nigeria has become a burden to the world, especially in the area of child welfare. These world bodies are the ones championing the fight against killer childhood diseases in the country. Nigeria has the likes of Belinda and Bill Gates to thank for its successful fight against polio, otherwise, many more children would have become crippled. In the area of education, particularly in the Northern part of Nigeria, the country owes lots of gratitude to organisations like the UNICEF for their efforts. Some people probably do not know that UNICEF pays some parents in the North to send their children to schools. The Qatar Foundation through UNICEF pays mothers to send their children to school in Zamfara. UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) is currently working towards improving enrolment in the north through its cash transfer programme. Outsiders are more concerned about our problems than we are about them. Just recently, UNICEF promised to mop out over 500,000 out-of school children in four northern states namely Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states by 2020 in its Educate a Child (EAC) programme. It is currently paying to educate 31,000 pupils in Kebbi State alone where parents are getting N8, 000 on each child per term to encourage them to be in school. These world bodies are making these investments, because they know that for the world to enjoy peace, the army of burgeoning out-of-school children in Nigeria must be well taken care of. If not, these children will grow to become a terror to the whole world. Meanwhile a state like Zamfara that cannot invest in its children’s education, can conveniently budget N7bn for construction of a new government house. Talk of misplaced priorities. Many former governors in the north are still unashamedly feeding fat on their states in spite of these states’ claim of lacking fund to educate a child.
Perhaps, these governors should be reminded that part of the money being spent by UNICEF and the rest of the world in Nigeria are donations from many poor people abroad. These people pledge their dollars to eradicating certain diseases in Africa; they are not doing this because they are rich, rather they are doing it because they want to be part of reducing the world’s problems. Sadly, the only language some of our leaders understand is give me give me. They need to change this mindset. Leadership is about responsibility. One of the reasons why developed countries do proper census is to enhance planning, not for political manipulation. When state governments know the population of their states, it helps in planning towards effective distribution of resources. Our leaders should move pass the era of encouraging population explosion for electoral gain. The repercussion of such manipulation is too costly on the entire system.
Right now, the statistics on Nigerian children is discouraging. One out of every three Nigerians lives below the poverty line, this proportion surges to 75 per cent among children, according to UNICEF. Similarly, reports by Muffled Voices say 60 per cent of internally displaced persons in Africa are children. These children were forced to flee from their homes due to Boko Haram and herdsmen attacks. Of the over 1.78 million IDPs in Nigeria as of February 2018, children and women constituted 79 per cent of the population, with 28 per cent of them under five, according to the World Food Programme.
All of this is happening in a nation so rich in human and natural resources. Nigeria has earned trillions of Naira from its oil deposit alone not to talk of earnings from its other rich natural resources. This country is not poor by any standard. The problem is the mismanagement of the nation’s resources by its half-baked leaders who lack the capacity to mobilise natural and human resources for maximum growth and development. Sweden spends $11, 400 per student from primary to tertiary education and devotes 7.3% of its GDP to education. This funding goes to both public and private educational institutions. No wonder the country enjoys 81.5% employment rate for all levels of education. In 2014, Finland spent $13,865 per student in its lower secondary schools. The country’s Ministry of Education allocates additional funds for immigrant students, low-income students, students in single parent families and those who have unemployed or undereducated parents. In the same vein, South Africa spent R246 billion or 16.7 per cent of total government resources on basic education programmes in 2018/19. Overall, the country spends more than 20 per cent of its resources on basic and higher education and its combined education spending is more than 6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). How much is Nigeria devoting to educating its children? It made so much noise about allocating 6.7% of 2020 budget to the ministry of education. The bulk of that allocation will go into taking care of overheads, payment of pensions, travels and execution of capital projects without any direct impact on students.
Smart countries are making deliberate and intentional investments into their educational sector. This is what the Bagudus and the Masaris in Nigeria should be doing-not just talking about the problem or looking for someone else to solve the nation’s problems. It is high time Nigerian leaders started seeing leadership positions as means of discharging responsibilities and not a way of milking the nation dry. They are not being fed and kept by the state for nothing, they are in government to think and proffer solutions. Enough of this their peculiar mess!
*Olabisi Deji-Folutile is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org