By Kazeem Ugbodaga
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, on Tuesday lamented that the 36 state governments in Nigeria have refused to access the sum of N86.5 billion lying fallow in the Universal Basic Education, UBE, Account in the Central Bank.
Falana, who is the National President, Peoples’ Alternative Front, PAF, said with these fund, every child in Nigeria should have free access to primary and junior secondary education as prescribed by law.
According to Falana, in a statement, pursuant to the ratification of the United Nations’ Child’s Rights Convention by the federal government in 2001, the National Assembly enacted the Child’s Right in 2003, saying that since then, 25 out of the 36 states of the Federation had adopted the Child’s Rights Act, stressing that under the Act applicable in the Federal Capital Territory and and each of the Child’s Rights Law applicable in the 25 states which have adopted the Act, every child was entitled to free and compulsory basic education from primary to junior secondary school.
“In order to fund the basic education programme in the country the National Assembly enacted the Compulsory, Universal, Free Education Act in 2004. To ensure adequate funding of the basic education programme the federal government is required to allocate 2 per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the UBE Fund while the state governments and the federal capital territory shall contribute counterpart fund to access the UBE Fund. It is further provided that parents and guardians who refuse to allow their children and wards to acquire compulsory basic education are liable to be arrested by the Police and prosecuted,” he said.
Falana said with other welfare laws applicable in the country, the federal and state governments had refused to implement the provisions of the Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education Act, the Child’s Rights Act and the Child’s Rights Laws, saying that the said governments had refused to comply with the judgments of the ECOWAS Court and the Federal High Court which had upheld the right of every Nigerian child to basic education.
“Hence, there are 13.2 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, the highest number in the world. According to the UNICEF, 60 per cent of the children are in northern Nigeria while majority are girls due to early marriage. However, while all the 17 states in the south have adopted the Child’s Rights Act only 8 out of the 19 states in the north have adopted it. Meanwhile, government officials who are opposed to the Child’s Rights Law in the North on alleged religious ground are educating their children in private schools at home and abroad.
“It is disturbing to note that education is not a priority of any government in the country. Hence, no state government has accessed the UBE fund up to date. Having failed to fund public education the children of the poor are roaming the streets hawking goods while the rich are educating their children in private schools at home and abroad. But to the detriment of the society, the abandoned children of the poor are being recruited to criminality by terrorists, kidnappers and other criminal gangs,” he lamented.
Falana stated that the irony of the crisis was that a government which claimed that it lacked money to fund education was spending several billions of Naira to fight insurgency, kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry, warning that to arrest the dangerous trend, it was high time the Nigeria Police Force embarked on the arrest and prosecution of parents and guardians who refused to allow their children and wards to acquire basic education.
“At the same time, pressure should be mounted on the authorities of the federal capital territory and the 36 state governments to access the sum of N86.5 billion lying fallow in the UBE Account in the Central Bank,” he said.
He said to end the national shame of having the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, the PAF had resolved to carry out publishing the FG-UBE Matching Grant Disbursement to the federal capital territory and the 36 state governments from time to time; filing an application for the writ of mandamus at the Federal High Court to compel the Nigeria Police Force to arrest and prosecute parents and guardians who refuse to allow their children and wards to acquire basic education at public expense; ensuring that the 13.2 million out-of-school children are enrolled in public schools in all the states of the federation; extracting a firm commitment from presidential and governorship candidates of all political parties that not less than 26 percent of the budget is set aside for education in line with UNESCO Recommendation and finding below the UBE Matching Grant Disbursement by state governments and federal capital territory up to January 2018.