We decry the reported failure of many state governments to access N16.2 billion Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) intervention fund for 2017, despite the glaring infrastructural deficit in our primary schools. This is probably so because the states did not provide the matching grant required to access the money. Reports say that out of the N35.2bn earmarked for the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, this year, 17 states failed to access their share, which amounts to N16.2bn. Each of the 17 states is expected to receive N953.7 million as grant from UBEC for 2017. The affected states are Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Kogi, Edo, Kwara, Kebbi, Imo and Anambra. The others are Benue, Enugu, Plateau, Gombe, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara. The remaining 19 states and the FCT have accessed grants totaling N26.5bn and their other outstanding intervention funds from UBEC for previous years.
The inability of some states to access UBEC funds in spite of the glaring need for funds in the basic education sector is worrisome. This is why the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, recently lamented that the action of these states is strangulating the development of basic education nationwide.
We agree with the minister that “the states need to have a rethink and show more commitment to primary education by taking concrete steps to access the UBEC fund in the interest of the Nigerian child.” Anwukah’s timely warning that “basic education is too important to be neglected” should be taken seriously by the affected states.
We recall that the efforts made by some governors in 2014 to ensure the amendment of Sections 9 (b) and 11 (2) of the UBEC Act, which spells out the criteria for getting the funds, did not succeed. The governors’ desire to access the fund without providing matching grants was not approved by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
To ensure that states access UBEC funds, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) has called on the National Assembly to sanction the states which refuse to do so. The NUT Lagos chapter, which made the call, blamed the refusal of some states to access the funds on “poor vision and non-prioritisation of education” by the state governors.
The reluctance of these states to access the funds is bad for the education sector, especially because of the country’s low literacy level and its growing number of out-of-school children, who are said to be over 10 million. Even if there are institutional and man-made hurdles in accessing the UBEC funds, the state governors must do everything within their power to surmount them, while the Federal Government strives to ease the conditions for obtaining the money, especially regarding the requirement for counterpart funding by the states.
The problem of matching grants and other man-made barriers in accessing the fund are walls that must be broken for UBEC to achieve the lofty goals it was set up for. It is ironical that funds for the development of basic education are lying idle while the sector suffers a dearth of funding.
We call for a review of the modalities for accessing the funds so that the states can meet up with them. Let the administrators of UBEC funds devise a mechanism which will ease access to the funds. We cannot afford a situation where the funds lie idle while the standard of education is stagnating. If the states cannot access the money, the overall aim of the UBEC fund will be defeated. Government must find ways to make the fund more easily accessible to the states.