Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states have consistently occupied the unenviable position of states with the highest number of uneducated people in Nigeria, in spite of several interventions from local and international organisations.
Records from the 2018 National Personnel Audit conducted by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for public and private schools in Nigeria also placed these states in the same unenviable position.
The audit indicated that the states have contributed largely to the high number of out-of-school children, which the Federal Government recently confirmed to be 10.1 million, with Kebbi, Zamfara, Borno, Bauchi Sokoto on top of the list.
Several measures have been taken in the past to correct the menace, but little or no success was recorded. Aside from Kebbi State, the recent security challenges in Zamfara that extended to Sokoto and Katsina states have worsened the situation.
More communities have been displaced, public school facilities destroyed and residents forced to take refuge in various internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps, with poor living conditions and little or no attention from government and other stakeholders.
The state governments are obviously overwhelmed by the increasing number of children of school age that are not in schoo and the states’ officials are soliciting urgent assistance from all stakeholders to correct the anomalies
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a Cash Transfer Programme (CTP) in Kebbi, Zamfara and some other northern states in 2018 as a means of providing additional financial support for parents to educate their children.
The idea was for parents to receive N8,000 every term for each child that they enrolled and consistently stayed in school. The money was paid directly to the mother and followed with advice and suggestions on how to make good use of the money after the child’s educational needs for the term have been met.
A few weeks ago, UNICEF officials, alongside some journalists and civil society groups, visited Kebbi State to assess the impact of the CTP on the children and how effective it has been, particularly in drawing more children to school.
The team was received by the Kebbi State coordinator of the programme, Isa Umar. He exposed the officials to empirical evidence to support the claim of the great impact the programme has made thus far, especially in increasing the number of children in schools across the state.
He said the overall goal of the project was to expand access to basic education for no fewer than 501,749 out-of-school children in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states by 2020.
Umar was happy that the programme recorded great success in its first year in three local government areas in Kebbi State. He said that plans were underway for six more local governments to be added in the second year.
The CTP coordinator said the enrolment of pupils after the first disbursement in two of the local governments increased by over 2,000. He was hopeful that the figure would double by the end of second disbursement.
He agreed that CTP addressed some underlying causes of inequality, such as poverty, social exclusion and malnutrition, and a regular source of income that allows extremely poor households to feed well, leading to improved nutritional status.
Zamfara State coordinator of the programme, Maryam Shantali, accused a commercial bank of frustrating efforts to have a seamless project implementation by repeatedly denying them funds for disbursement to beneficiaries.
She said: “Everyone involved in the project agreed on a schedule of work. But the bank, for unknown reasons, chose to operate otherwise. Usually, we write them, especially during payment, to know if they are ready with the cash, but most times they neither reply our mails nor honour their commitments. That has greatly frustrated our efforts.
“In their usual way, they would allow us to assemble parents and beneficiaries at different payment points amid security threats, and they won’t show up with the funds for disbursement neither would they explain to us the reason for their actions. It takes strong intervention of UNICEF management, most times, for the bank to react.
“It has affected our credibility and reputation before the beneficiaries. Most worrisome was that it exposes the women, children and officials to danger because of the activities of bandits that are freely operating in Zamfara and other neighbouring states.”
At Rafin Giwa Model Primary School, Kwakware, in Suru Local Government Area, a beneficiary and mother of five, Hadiza Dantani, said: “After I bought all the necessary things for my children, I used the balance to buy a female goat for them. Interestingly, the goat gave birth a few weeks ago and the children were happy.
“We would continue to rear the goats as they multiply. The proceeds would be used to cater for the educational needs of my children long after the end of CTP in 2020 or beyond.”
In the same vein, another beneficiary and mother of five, Asiya Abubakar, from Danko village, in Danko/Wasagu Local Government area of the state, appreciated UNICEF and Kebbi State government for the CTP, which she said had renewed the people’s hope.
She said the amount received in respect of her five children enrolled in primary school was a great relief. She said that, prior to the incentive by UNICEF, catering to the school needs of the children had been a herculean task.
Abubakar said she used N20,000 from the grant to purchase a grinding machine and that had turned out to be a money-spinning instrument for her. She said she saves N500 daily, just as it also helps the neighbourhood in grinding corn with ease.
She was happy with the fact that her five children were provided with befitting school uniforms, books, biros, pencils, erasers, sharpeners and other needs, to produce neat and tidy appearance each day.