Nigeria Will Develop if Budget Meets UNESCO Recommendation, Say Varsity Dons

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Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent presentation of the N13 trillion 2021 budget to the National Assembly, with only a fraction of it allocated to education, university dons explained to Funmi Ogundare why it is imperative for the sector to meet the UNESCO recommendation of 26 per cent so as to boost the economy

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari, presented a record N13 trillion-budget for 2021 to a joint session of the National Assembly, tagged ‘Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience’.

The spending plan is about 21 per cent rise from the revised 2020 spending plan of N10.8 trillion. Out of the total budget, N545.10 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Education.

In his presentation speech, the president said the ministry of education’s capital allocation has been increased by 65 per cent to improve the education of children, adding that funds had been provided for the provision of scholarships to Nigerian students at home and abroad.

“We have provided funds for the upgrade of security and other infrastructural facilities in our unity colleges nationwide. To improve access to education, we have made provision for the establishment of five new federal science and technical colleges. We have also provided for the payment of allowances to 5,000 teachers under the Federal Teachers Scheme (FTS).

“The 2021 Budget was prepared amidst a challenging global and domestic environment due to the persistent headwinds from the Coronavirus pandemic.”

He said the resulting global economic recession, low oil prices and heightened global economic uncertainty have had important implications for the economy, adding that the Nigerian economy is currently facing serious challenges with the
macro-economic environment being significantly disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Real Gross Domestic Product (‘GDP’) growth declined by 6.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. This ended the three-year trend of positive, but modest, real GDP growth recorded since the second quarter of 2017. I am glad to note that through our collective efforts, our economy performed relatively better than that of many other developed and emerging economies.

“GDP growth is projected to be negative in the third quarter of this year. As such, our economy may lapse into the second recession in four years, with significant adverse consequences. However, we are working assiduously to ensure a rapid recovery in 2021. We remain committed to implementing programmes to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over the next 10 years.”

As skills deficits limit employment opportunities in the formal economy, President Buhari said various skills development programmes are being implemented simultaneously to address this problem frontally.

“For instance, the government is implementing the special public works programme to provide employment opportunities for 774,000 youths across the 774 local government areas of Nigeria. We have also recently introduced the N75 billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund, of which N25 billion have been provided in 2021 budget.”
With the 65 per cent increase in the allocation to education, university dons who have been monitoring the development, argued that such increase is grossly inadequate, as it will further bring affliction to the nation’s development.
In his submission, the Vice-Chancellor of Glorious Vision University, Ogwa, Edo State (formerly Samuel Adegboyega University), Professor Idowu Babatunde, described such trifling increase as much ado about nothing.
According to him, “this kind of allocation will never take Nigerian education sector to anywhere. The government’s stand on IPPIS is even an indication that education sector is in trouble. I have listened carefully to some commentaries about the 2021 budget proposal presented to the National Assembly by the president. Expectedly, allocation to the education sector got my interest.

“Some of these commentaries were suggestive of the fact that allocation to education sector was increased by 65 per cent as mentioned by the president during his presentation. For me, this trifling increase is grossly inadequate and deserves no commendation. In fact, the so called 65 per cent increase is shockingly misleading.”

He explained that the touted 65 per cent increase is for capital expenditure in the education sector, compared only to the 2020 reversed budget that was terribly inadequate.

“Don’t forget that in the revised 2020 budget, the sector secured only N50.95 billion for capital projects. To further appreciate the analysis, the increase is less than 35 per cent of what other small African countries like Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Benin Republic, etc dedicate to capital projects in their education sector. In fact, a country like Benin Republic allocates more than three times the percentage of the funds we spend on capital projects in the sector. This is embarrassing, to say the least.”

Babatunde expressed concern that other ministries got more allocations for capital projects compared to that of education, saying that this does not show that the country takes education seriously.

“While we appreciate that the security situation in the country may have forced the government to maintain higher budget for security, it is embarrassing to see Ministry of Water Resources getting almost the same amount as Ministry of Education. Ministry of Works and Housing got even more than twice the amount allocated to education. Don’t forget that health secured 157 per cent increase in the current budget, ahead of education. This is not the markings of a country that takes education seriously. “

Since the return to democracy in 1999, the VC said the country has never met UNESCO minimum benchmark of allocation to the education sector, adding, “the entire allocation to education in 2021 budget proposal is less than 9 per cent. You will recall that this has been the pattern. For example, 10.7 per cent was allocated in 2016, six per cent in 2017, 7.1 per cent in 2018 and 5.9 per cent in 2019. Undoubtedly these allocations to the education sector can only bring affliction to the nation’s development. However, in other African countries, allocation to the sector is between 20 per cent to 25 per cent.”

In his submission, a Professor of Political Science and Chairman of the Board, Achievers University Flexible Academic Programmes, Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State, Ibiyinka Solarin, said though the country has often failed to meet the percentage benchmark of UNESCO on education, but such significant increase should be welcomed.

“We don’t even need the UNESCO or any extraterritorial organisation to set any benchmark for us in this country because Nigeria is a sovereign independent state that ought to know her priorities for national development and education is fundamental to that.”

He said any budgetary allocation is only as good as its implementation, adding, “Nigerians are cautiously optimistic while we await the faithful and diligent implementation of the 65 per cent increase in the budget of the education sector.”

The Deputy Vice- Chancellor, Management Services, Babacock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Professor Sunday Ajao Owolabi described the move as a positive signal to the development of the education sector in Nigeria, while commending the efforts of the president to increase the new budget by 65 per cent compered with last year’s budget.

“However, we still have a long way to go because the UNESCO recommendation is 26 per cent for any serious economy to grow, but we are still far below 10 per cent which means we still have a long way to go. That is a positive response to the yearnings of the people.

The government is beginning to recognise the importance of the education sector. If you look at the budget, you will see that security carries a lot of money and I cannot blame it because with all the crisis in the country, that will not go into it, so it is a positive signal, we are moving forward.”

He said there is need to jumpstart the education sector if the country’s economy is to develop, noting that many of the issues the country has on security matters, education will solve them.

“If young people are constructively engaged, you will discover that many of them will not find any joy in vices or going into crimes, but because many of them are not constructively engaged in education, that is giving us a lot of challenge in Nigeria.

“In the last Big Brother Naija show, the young man that won, you will see the quality of education in him in his discussion. So Nigerians know what is good and that is why many people voted for him, he graduated from the University of Lagos (UNILAG). There is nothing you can compere education with.”

He appealed to the federal government to ensure that by next year, the allocation to education should not have anything to do below 10 or 15 per cent of the budget.