MONDAY EDITORIAL

The states may do well by accessing the UBEC fund in the interest of the Nigerian child

 
It is depressing that even as primary education in the country remains in a shambles, a whopping N60 billion meant to tackle some of the deficiencies is lying fallow in the vault of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). According to the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, state governments have consistently failed to access the intervention fund simply on account of inability to come forward with their counterpart funding.
 
The UBEC fund is an annual grant by the federal government to help the states upgrade their primary education facilities in order to provide a solid educational foundation for the nation’s children. To access the fund, state governments are required to match the federal government’s grant strictly for primary education expenditure. But virtually all the states have ignored this fund even as children studied under very deplorable conditions, including having lessons under trees and dilapidated classrooms.
 
Figures available from UBEC revealed that only two states, Borno and Rivers, accessed the grant for last year, meaning that 34 others, including the desperately educationally backward Ebonyi and Bauchi States, have distanced themselves from picking up the much needed cash to uplift their children. In fact, Ebonyi State is the least performing state in terms of access and utilisation of the fund as it currently has up to N4 billion “idle” fund with UBEC. Closely following Ebonyi’s despicable indiscretion are Enugu and Ondo with over N3 billion each un-accessed; while Bayelsa, Niger, Ogun, and Oyo, each has N2.8 billion un-accessed fund lying idle with the CBN.
 
More annoying is the dishonesty of some states that not only refused to access the intervention fund but went ahead to divert their allocations. Five states, according to UBEC, were involved in illegal withdrawal of counterpart fund after the federal government would have released the matching grant to them. That sort of behaviour is to say the least criminal.
 
It is unfortunate that many state governors have remained lukewarm towards a facility intended to secure a solid foundation for the future of their children, claiming not to have the financial muscle to match the grant. Yet records abound of reckless and frivolous expenditures by the states, despite the difficulties in meeting their basic responsibilities, even in the primary education sector.
 
In 2014, the governors made spirited efforts to amend Sections 9 (b) and 11(2) of the UBEC Act that spell out criteria for entitlement to the funds. Specifically, the governors wanted to collect the intervention fund without providing the necessary counterpart funding, which is needed to demonstrate their seriousness. The Goodluck Jonathan administration resisted the amendment because of the poor handling of the funds by most state governments, which reinforced the need for strict monitoring of its disbursement and utilisation.
 
The states need to have a rethink and show more commitment to primary education by taking immediate and concrete steps to access the UBEC fund in the interest of the Nigerian child. As the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, has said, the refusal, and or inability of states to access their share of the UBEC fund is strangulating the development of basic education nationwide.
 
We agree with him that the absolute necessity for states to access this fund cannot be over emphasised because doing otherwise is not only counter-productive to the education of our children, it is also depriving Nigerians of thousands of employment opportunities that could be generated if the N60 billion is injected into the economy through productive activities.
 
We, therefore, urge the governors to reprioritise basic education, which is too important to be neglected. The lesson is all too clear: once the foundation is faulty, whatever we build on it would be permanently defective.