It has become vitally important to enrol out- of- school children in school for their sake, and national security, argues.Wole Osinupebi

About 18.5 million Nigerian children of primary school age have never stepped into a school and are not likely to do so unless hard actions are taken. It’s tragic but it appears we do not see the potential impact of this ugly situation.

Education, apart from teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, is used to socialise people. What is acceptable in the society is passed down from one generation to another. Reading and writing help develop the ability to think and make valid decisions. At a higher level, educated people provide health care, build and maintain infrastructure required to run society. Educated parents will produce educated children.

Populists and demagogues love uneducated people because they believe anything they are told. They have no other references apart from what is given to them. When you add gullibility to extreme religion you have an explosive mixture. All that combined with our economic challenges is a tinderbox awaiting a spark.

So why are so many children out of school? One reason for children being out of school in Nigeria is poverty. Their parents simply can’t afford to pay. In some parts of the country poverty adds to early marriage as an impediment. Children between ages eight and12 are given away in marriage and can no longer go to school. Some children are engaged in farm work rather than school. Another reason is a lack of schoolrooms. Teacher shortage is also a problem. Teachers are very poorly paid, at times they are not paid at all.

We have a monster of a problem but the good thing is that we can turn the situation round. Each community with significant numbers of out of school children should first find out why their children are out of school. And then work at removing the obstacles keeping the children away from school. The Girls Education Project (GEP3) sponsored by UNICEF gives us an indication of how the out- of- school challenge can be reversed.

The Federal Government of Nigeria, UNICEF and the British FCDO ran an incredible project for about 10 years where the outcome was estimated at 1.5million girls going back to school. Using various levers including providing cash, the children were encouraged to get education. It has been established that training girls has a multiplier effect on the entire community as the education of the next generation is assured. Mothers who went to school will usually ensure their children go as well.

But the problem is not a Ministry of Education matter alone. Some 18.5 million children out of school is a national security red flag. All agencies of security, the National Assembly, governors and all those involved with governance and security should take a close view. Lagos State for example. Every day impoverished and unemployable, uneducated youths come into Lagos and find residence in undeveloped plots and slum areas. Many find employment as operators of commercial vehicles and motorcycles. They are not documented in any way and have zero knowledge of driving rules or law. This mass exists in most of our urban areas and are available to be deployed into any social unrest to cause maximum damage. We saw this on Adeniran Ogunsanya Street in Surulere in the aftermath of the #EndSARS demonstrations. At the peak of things when the police was harassed away from the streets the hordes from nearby slums invaded Adeniran Ogunsanya and looted all the stores, destroying everything they could not carry away.

Cities like Lagos and Abuja and others that attract internal migration due to their relative urbanisation and appearance of prosperity should take an interest in this matter of out- of- school children too. Because a significant percentage of the 18.5 million number will end up with them. Governor Ambode was reported to have said hundreds of people enter Lagos daily with the firm intention of staying.

The African Cities Research Consortium in a recent podcast pointed to the fact that Lagos State has Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. And the people there are mainly from an agrarian background with memories of what chased them from their homes. Most of the out of school children are from the northern part of Nigeria, most especially the areas that are rife with insurgency. At the present time the challenges to Lagos due to rural urban migration is not only related to security alone but also refuse disposal, healthcare, transportation and also education. Making it necessary for the state to take an interest in getting out of school children back to school and reversing the trend.

Religious and or political demagogues easily take hold of the minds of an uneducated mass of people. Armed with weapons and drugs and tuned by false doctrines they become a formidable and sustained opponent to law enforcement and constituted authority. Police or military interventions will make little impact. Or the impact wears off after some time because their numbers are self-renewing. By watching the number of out of school children grow without meaningful plan to change the situation we have created a force that is potentially a threat to our national stability. It gets worse because the situation is festering and moving to a second generation. By the time it deepens to a third generation of people who do not have any notion of nation, unable to self analyse current affairs, and have perhaps found a demagogic leader, we would have a horrible situation in our hands.

What can be done? What did we learn from GEP3 (Girls’ Education Project Phase 3)? We need more teachers and head teachers. We need more school rooms. And we need to work with community leaders. In some cases direct cash grants must be made in order to enable children attend school. Also, it will cost money. Over a 10- year period enrolling 1.5million children in school cost USD109million. About USD73 per child is affordable.

Finally, we must find a way of documenting these daily visitors to Lagos (and Abuja and other centres). And because many of these new arrivals end up as operators of commercial vehicles, drivers’ licenses is one place to start.

Osinupebi is an RCCG pastor

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