2019: Ending amidst Uncertainty

0

As 2019 draws to a close amidst the reactions generated by the 2020 appropriation bill signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari for projects expenditure, which experts have described as frivolous and vague against the poor funds allocated to the education sector, experts think that mileage must be squeezed from the meagre funds, through support from some government agencies to make the sector perform optimally. Funmi Ogundare reports

One of the major challenges that has always confronted the country’s education sector is inadequate funding, which has been identified as the major reason for the rot in the sector. The allocation to education in the 2019 budget again fell below the 15 per cent to 20 per cent minimum recommended for developing countries by UNESCO.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 17 signed the 2020 appropriation bill into law. The passage of the bill was sequel to the presentation of a report by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Barau Jibrin.

The National Assembly had on December 5, 2019, passed the budget estimates presented by Buhari on October 8, 2019, by increasing the budget estimates from N10.33 trillion to N10.50 trillion.

A breakdown of the budget showed that N560,470,827,235 was budgeted for statutory transfer; N2,725,498,930,000 for debt servicing; N4,842,974,600,640 for recurrent expenditure; N2,465,418,006,955 for capital expenditure; and N2.28 trillion for fiscal deficit.

When the National Assembly passed the bill, new projects inserted into the budget moved it up to ₦10.594 trillion. A breakdown of the inserted projects showed that the country may end up spending more on what anti-corruption agents and experts have identified as “vague, frivolous, self-enrichment projects smuggled into the budget by federal lawmakers.”

The new projects are expected to cost Nigeria about ₦264 billion.
Unfortunately, the federal government’s budgetry allocation to education for 2020 is the least in the last four years falling significantly from 7.05 per cent in 2019 to 6.70 per cent in 2020. More importantly, a major issue in the annual rituals of budget presentation, however, is non- implementation.

Aside the 2020 appropriation bill, the National Assembly also passed bills seeking to establish new tertiary institutions including; Federal University of Gashua; Federal Polytechnic, Orogun, Delta State; Federal College of Education, Illo; Federal University of Education, Kotangora; Federal Polytechnic, Daura; Modibo Adams University of Technology, as well as Federal University of Agriculture and Technology, Funtua.

The outgoing year, witnessed the introduction of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), a form of identity system management which pitched the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) against the federal government. Both parties had engaged in fierce war of words over the government’s decision to make universities embrace the system.

Buhari had during the 2020 budget presentation at the National Assembly on October 8, ordered that all public sector workers must register for the IPPIS to save cost and fight corruption by blocking leakages in the federal government’s salary payment structure.

He directed that anyone who fails to register for the IPPIS by October 31 should not be paid.
However, the union opposed the president’s directive, saying that the IPPIS negates the law of university autonomy.

It argued that IPPIS violates existing laws and autonomy of the university; it is World Bank-designed exploitative template, does not make provisions for payment of arrears of promotion, study leave allowance, and responsibility allowance, among others.

ASUU also argued that it will phase out university lecturers above 60 years against the new policy where professors retire at 70 years and that it is a one-size-fits-all approach tainted with corrupt tendencies.
However, following the directive from the federal government that anyone who fails to register for IPPIS will not be paid, the union threatened to embark on a nationwide strike if the move affects the payment of salaries of its members.

In his submission and assessment, Ogunyemi told THISDAY that: “Hardly do government, both federal and states, release up to 25 per cent of the allocated funds to universities in the country.”

He expressed concern that the allocations usually come in trickles and amount to little or nothing, adding that at the end of the day, the little funds released are mopped up in the last month of the year and taken to the next budgetary cycle for the game of deciet to start all over.

According to him, the union’s strongest objection to the IPPIS has a lot to do with budgets for universities, saying that in the 60s and 70s, budgetary allocations that covered both recurrent (including personal cost) and capital expenditures were released to universities on quarterly basis to enhance their seamless operations.

“The governing councils administered the funds and there was no cause for academics to be marking attendance register in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), as in the case with IPPIS.

“What the OAGF is trying to do with IPPIS is indeed ridiculous. The Federal Civil Service can do what it likes with its employees. University academics are employees of their governing council. It is a reversal of the little gains the Nigerian university system has made over the years on autonomy and academic freedom for our academics to surrender themselves to the core civil service.”

He argued that if the civil service succeeds in the renewed onslaught against the universities through the instrumentality of the IPPIS, it is likely to take over the power of the governing councils in the appointment of vice-chancellors and even expunge the provisions on governing councils from the establishment acts of the universities as he who pays the piper must equally dictate the tune.

In the outgoing year, aside deploying technologies for the timely release of the results of its Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) recorded new financial achievements. According to its Registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, JAMB has generated N20 billion from UTME between 2016 and 2019.

He disclosed this during a two-day meeting with Computer Based Test (CBT) centre operators, state coordinators of the board, financial institutions and internet service providers in Zaria, Kaduna State, aimed at deliberating on issues affecting the board and the way forward.

Oloyede advised CBT centre operators not to worry about their investments while transacting business with the board as long as they were doing their work in accordance with the agreed registration and examination guidelines.

“You have nothing to fear and you should know that if you put your investments together, it can’t be up to N20 billion and we have accrued N20 billion in three years as an agency.”

At the meeting, the registrar announced the board’s readiness to deploy drone cameras to all the identified 700 examination centres to check examination malpractices.

“All CCTV must be wired, all cameras must cover verification areas, coding areas, walkways, examination hall, server room and entrance and exit in all centres. We will use drones to monitor the centres to check registration and examination scandals,” he said.

In the area of prosecution of those caught in the past, he said: “100 candidates caught red-handed are under prosecution; 20 jailed and 80 others are under investigation. Last year was for the prosecution of candidates. By the grace of God, it is the turn of CBT centres to be prosecuted. If you do work well, it will reduce the cost of running from one court to the other.”

In the outgoing year, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), successfully conducted three diets of its examination to curtail private candidates from registering for WASSCE meant for school candidates.

In his assessment of the sector, the former Executive Secretary of the NUC, Professor Peter Okebukola listed some of the achiements to include; some state governments’ effort in building more schools, recruitment of more teachers, provision of school furniture and equipment, school feeding and payment of SSCE and UTME fees, but expressed concern that the impact of these on quality of education is yet to be empirically documented.
“Today, not less than 90 per cent of the states and FCT have new heads of their education ministries mostly rubbishing the projects of their predecessors and cracking their brains to start theirs. The disruptive cycle continues.”

He told THISDAY that at the federal level, through a combination of strategies, the number of out-of-school children has reduced from 12.7 million to 10.2 million; there is construction of 2,493 classrooms, 2,457 Ventilated Improved Pit toilets (VIP); 19 laboratories; 91 boreholes, renovation of 1,266 classrooms, procurement of furniture for 192,985 pupils and 10,038 teachers.

“The federal government also procured and disbursed instructional materials in 36 states and the FCT; trained 4,092 special education teachers in 36 states and the FCT; recruited 4,884 teachers from the FTS and posted them to schools in 36 states and FCT; trained and retrained 488,873 teachers and education managers in 36 states and FCT; procured and distributed 13,630,191 library resource materials to schools; constructed 194 e-libraries in federal government colleges; conducted the National Assessment of Learning Achievements in Basic Education (NALABE) in 36 states and FCT; procured and supplied 185,000 Mathematics, English Language and Social Studies textbooks for ECCDE and to schools.

“At the tertiary level, JAMB continues to be a model in Africa for the conduct of matriculation examination to our colleges of education, polytechnics and universities. The deployment of technology by JAMB and the sanitisation of the examination process continues to win national applause.

“Further on tertiary education, in 2019, NUC was in the frontline of quality assurance of the processes and products of the Nigerian university system. The implementation of the 2019-2023 Blueprint for the Revitalisation of University Education in Nigeria took off to a fine start. Noteworthy is the establishment of Federal University of Agriculture at Zuru, Kebbi State; six new colleges of education and polytechnics; and the adoption of public-private partnerships and endowment as options for infrastructural development like provision of hostel accommodation to students. Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards were reviewed at all levels in line with emerging trends and best practices.”

Okebukola regretted that “the 2019 national picture of the education sector (local, state and federal) presents a tolerable showing, though still uninspiring, beclouded largely by funding constraints and the phenomenon of an election year. The impact of the declaration of a state of emergency in the sector is yet to be seen. Hopes are high that 2020 may herald better days for the sector in some states where budgetary allocation to education has received slight boost.

“Not so for the federal level where the allocation is still unacceptably low. The hope of many Nigerians is that with the quality of leadership of Mallam Adamu Adamu as Minister, a lot of mileage will be squeezed from the meagre funds, supported by UBEC and TETFund and other interventions, to push the sector a notch or two higher in terms of performance.”