Worried by the growing number of Nigeria’s out-of-school children, currently estimated at 20 million, former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has described the development as a ticking time bomb. According to him, having such a high number of children outside the school system will create a breeding ground for future insurgents and terrorists.
The former leader, who spoke at a National Tertiary Education Summit organised by the House of Representatives, as part of efforts to address the challenge in the educational sector, expressed dismay that the country was unable to key into the global “education for all” initiative. He warned that Nigeria would be putting her future at risk with such a number of out-of-school children.
Obasanjo’s concern should not be neglected by those in charge of the education sector. It is, indeed, a wake-up call on them to prioritise the education sector, especially the education of Nigerian children. We say this because the country cannot achieve meaningful development when millions of its young ones are outside the school system. There is no way these children can effectively participate in nation-building. Without bringing these children to the classroom, they will constitute a security threat to the nation. That is the import of Obasanjo’s timely warning.
Some of the factors responsible for the rising number of out-of-school children include lack of national planning and the exponential growth in the population. That is why it has become necessary for our economic planners to be mindful of the nation’s rising population. They need to make conscious effort to control it.
The rising number of children outside the school system is no longer acceptable. Fortunately, we have the resources to bring these children inside the school system. Before Obasanjo’s alarm, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), had in its global data on out-of-school children released in September 2021, indicated that Nigeria had about 20 million out-of-school children. Considering the spate of insecurity in the country, economic hardship and displacement of families, the number must have increased.
The report contradicted the claims by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, in January 2021 that the number of out-of-school children had dropped from 10.1 million to 6.9 million. Adamu claimed that 3.2 million children, who were not in school, were enrolled within the space of a year and seven months, due to several activities undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Education.
The out-of-school challenge is a potential danger to Nigeria. The 20-milion figure represents 10 per cent of the country population. The trend, which is more in the North, can also be triggered by insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other criminal activities. Some archaic cultural practices, which impede literacy and education of the girl-child, must have exacerbated the menace. Poverty is also a contributory factor to the ugly development as well as misplaced values by parents who consider the acquisition of material wealth more important than education. Tackling the out-of-school challenge should be seen as major priority by the federal and state governments. Increased funding for the education sector remains the most effective way to check the development.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan did a lot to reduce the number of out-of-school children through the Almajiri school programme. However, the laudable initiative was later abandoned immediately Jonathan left office. It is laudable that President Muhammadu Buhari has in his 2023 budget, proposed N1.79 trillion for the education sector, which represents about 8.8 per cent of the N20.5 trillion budget. We hope that with this allocation, the problem of out-of-school children will be frontally addressed. .
The warning by Obasanjo is ominous and should not be ignored. Nigeria needs to come up with more sustainable programmes to rehabilitate its out-of-school children. No Nigerian child should be out of school. Education is a right, not privilege. Basic education should be made compulsory in the 36 states and 774 local government areas in the country. Let the government tackle the monster of insecurity and make school attendance attractive by intensifying the school feeding programme as well as other incentives. Vigorous enlightenment campaigns should be initiated on the need for the children outside the school system to return to the classroom. Parents of the affected children ought to be encouraged to allow them return to school.