The recent disclosure that N51 billion Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) fund was not accessed by the states as at August 31, 2018, is disturbing. More worrisome is the projection that the idle UBEC fund may rise to N80 billion as the 2019 election approaches.
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According to the Executive Secretary of the UBEC, Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, only 13 states; Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, Kogi, Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Cross River, Delta, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) accessed the 2017 UBEC matching grants totaling N18 billion as at August 31, 2018.
Unfortunately, none of the states from the South East zone accessed the fund in 2017. We want this ugly narrative to change. Figures released by the UBEC boss showed that N2 billion was not accessed in 2014; N5 billion (2015); N13 billion (2016); and N29 billion (2017). This is scandalous and unacceptable.
We strongly condemn the refusal of some state governments to access the UBEC fund in spite of many problems of the education sector. Every state governor should muster the political will to access the fund in order to develop basic education in the country.
We, therefore, urge the states to prioritise education by taking steps to access the fund. There is no doubt that the inability of some states to access the fund will affect the realisation of Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiative and the Education for All (EFA) objectives. It will also affect the realisation of the education component of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Those in charge of disbursing the UBEC fund must think of other strategies to make it accessible by all the states. If this measure requires the amendment of the law establishing the commission, they should do so forthwith.
It is sad that N51 billion is lying fallow while the basic education sector is saddled with so many problems such as infrastructure decay, dearth of books and other materials for effective teaching and learning in most primary and junior secondary schools in the country.
We recall that before the advent of the UBE Act of 2004, the funding of basic education was entirely the responsibility of states and local governments. But with the Federal Government’s addition of two per cent of its Consolidated Revenue Fund to the funding of basic education, which includes Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE), Primary and Junior Secondary Education, states are required to provide counterpart funding to access the UBEC fund.
We also recall that past efforts made by some governors in 2014 to ensure the amendment of Sections 9 (b) and 11 (2) of UBEC Act which stipulated the criteria for accessing the fund, did not succeed. Also, the call by a branch of the Nigeria Union of Teachers on the National Assembly to sanction any state that fails to access the fund has not worked.
It is apparent that the counterpart funding arrangement under which a state that wants to access N1 million provides N500,000 which will qualify it to get N1.5 million is no longer working. There is the need to reduce the amount a state will pay to receive the fund.
The UBEC should also make the modalities for accessing the fund very attractive. In fact, some of the stringent conditions for accessing the fund should be reviewed in such a way that the states can meet up.
The Federal Government should also examine the politics surrounding the disbursement of fund and find out why some of the states are reluctant to access it. Let all the stakeholders involved in the disbursement and utilisation of the fund meet and resolve the problems. It is not in the interest of basic education for the fund to lie idle while the standard of basic education is deteriorating.