Nigeria’s Out-of-School Children

In this season of high wire politicking, it probably means nothing to the Nigerian ruling elite. But the social consequences might sooner, rather than later, come to consume them.

According to statistics of UNESCO, there are about 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school. This is the largest population of such out-of-school kids anywhere on earth and in fact, Nigeria accounts for 47 percent of the world’s population of out-of-school children.

We are said to lead 12 other countries, ranging from Pakistan, through to Yemen and Niger. UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, analyzing the survey, further revealed that 20 percent of African children have never attended primary school or left without completing primary school.

We have been inundated with different types of depressing statistics in the past on the Nigerian condition.

In recent days, even the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was said to have recently held up a sponge cake to illustrate the infamous GDP growth of the Nigerian economy, in order to show the fabulous growth she said the Nigerian economy has recorded.

This is against the backdrop of growing disquiet about the jobless growth and the failure of the ‘trickle down’ propensity so beloved by defenders of contemporary capitalism.

Contemporary capitalism

In a season of vicious rivalries between and within factions of the political elite; at a time when they are positioning for positions and are mercilessly cutting themselves to pieces and therefore cannot contemplate the taking of prisoners, the last issue that will make any sense to those who rule our country is the statistics about children out of school.

Wired into the DNA of the Nigerian ruling class is the inability to develop a sense of shame about the nation’s condition. But when we have to be at the top of the rung of infamy, in respect of the number of children out of school, then there is a lot that is wrong indeed.

It comes home even closer, that the majority of such children are likely to be in Northern Nigeria. There is interconnectedness in social phenomena. Today, our region of the country is virtually in socio-economic lockdown, as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency.

The foot soldiers of that insurgency are those young people who have no hope in the complexities associated with the post-modern world with its brutal insistence on education and skills.

If we think this problem is not serious enough, please give a thought to the ridiculous cut-off marks recently released by  the Federal Ministry of Education, for admission of Nigerian children from the different states, into the unity schools around the country. While students from Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Lagos or even the Northern states of Kwara and Benue need the following cut-off marks: Male (130) Female (130); Male (123) Female (123); Male (139) Female (139); Male (133) Female (133); Male (123) Female (123); Male (111) Female (111), respectively. For Kebbi it is 9 for male and 20 for the female; Sokoto, 9 for the Male and 13 Female; Yobe 2 marks for Male and 27 for the Female and Zamfara 4 for the Male and 2 for the Female.

These are ridiculous and can only deepen resentment and prejudice in the country; but they underline the pitiful state of education in Northern Nigeria, further exposing the general state of rot that facilitated the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency.

In truth, there is no other way but to take our children off the streets and into schools that have adequate infrastructure and teachers that are not only well-trained but are highly motivated and have a professional attitude.

This is a very serious challenge today and it was no surprise when the media reported President Jonathan’s worry about teachers who have become traders in the school system. At the lowest, primary school level, the situation is even worse!

The teachers are often unable to even pass primary four level examinations as was discovered recently in Kaduna state and a few years back in Kwara. It is partly in response to the state of rot that we now have a surfeit of private primary schools of uneven quality all over Nigeria.

Yet, no nation can develop, that neglects the public primary school system, because it is only through the public school system that the greatest aggregate of children all over the country: from Bayelsa to the remotest parts of Borno, can be brought into a national loop of education and skills acquisition, which might give potential geniuses in these outlying and far-flung parts of our country, the possibilities to contribute to the development of our country.

Education is far too serious a tool to fight underdevelopment, that it is absolutely criminal, that we can contemplate a situation where our country will have the largest population of out-of-school children in the world. It revolts the patriotic feeling and should fill us all with indignation.

If those who rule us can lock their gaze on to the more serious issues which can assist our nation’s development process, starting with the education of our children, they might well discover that they will be able to play their politics with a greater sense of purpose. As things stand now, they are locked in political duels to the death, precisely because the issues for them are about power without responsibility to the people.

And in case they do not realize it, the Nigerian people today are overwhelmingly young; 75% percent of the population is under the age of 35, while 45% are under 15. It is from this young population that the 10million out-of-school kids have been sourced.

So when the colonial-era policeman, Tony Anenih perfects schemes to win an automatic second term ticket for President Goodluck Jonathan while Bola Tinubu waxes lyrical about social security for those over 60 years of age, they both miss the point about the priorities that meet the demographic profile of our country today.

And between Anenih and Tinubu lies the deep chasm dividing our ruling elite from the young people who make up the majority of the Nigerian people today. They scheme about power while the young people need education, skills and jobs! The gulf is very wide and really deep.

FCT’s Bala Muhammed, privileged access and consequential Abuja matters

LAST week, I spent almost five hours in discussion with Bala Muhammed, Minister of the FCT. It was at that level of privileged access that every reporter worth his professional calling would have cherished. Let me confess that Bala Muhammed is my friend, but I have not seen him in months; a period during which a lot of accusations have accumulated against his performance as Minister of the FCT and at a point when the din of politics has risen many decibels higher than normal.

The FCT minister is a really “juicy” preferment of Nigerian political life and whoever has that privilege is the real gold fish in a bowl. But Bala Muhammed is a stubborn customer; he would rather shrug his shoulders at every accusation thrown at him, preferring to get on with the job and trusting in his own good intention.

Sit down to have a discussion with Bala Muhammed, if you get the opportunity, and you immediately feel that he genuinely has a sense of commitment to the difficult duty that he took up. But it is not altogether a wise attitude to lean only upon your own good intention, because even the road to hell, especially the hell of Nigerian political life, is paved with good intentions.

Bala Muhammed’s administration has received a lot of flak about the implementation of the new transportation policy which banned the ‘Araba’ buses from the central areas of the FCT and the inadequate number of buses to bring in people from the satellite areas. But it is also clear that while there are initial glitches, things are going to ease in the long run and movement will eventually be sanitized in Abuja.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the transport infrastructure is undergoing a massive development just as other municipal services are undergoing renewal. But I think the issue closest to his heart is the Land Swap programme which is a major paradigm shift, programmed to involve private sector operatives in a massive investment plan to open and develop new districts of the FCT.

Intentions of government

It remains largely misunderstood and at a point when Nigerians are even more cynical about government, the FCT minister is at the heart of that distrust in the intentions of government. For Bala Muhammed, the missiles come from all directions, including those aimed from his Bauchi homestead, where he is locked into the battle for positioning, as the 2015 elections rumble with raised dust, towards all of us.

When we sat down to discuss last week, I learnt a bit more about how things work at the FCT administration. It is not altogether easy to run as complex an institution as the FCTA but a lot is being done to deliver on services to the people of the federal capital. The daytime population of the city is said to have reached over 6million and given the perceptions of availability of opportunities and the security, a lot of people relocate into the FCT everyday, further increasing the pressure on infrastructure and deepening the demand for opportunities.

Resources available to provide services are severely limited and the administration has to increasingly think out of the box, innovate and find ways to generate the resources to continue the development going on all around us.

It is the challenge of development that Bala Muhammed prefers to face and is most willing to discuss, if he can cut away from meeting with members of his staff; spending long hours consulting at the Aso Villa or balancing the needs of political denizens, businessmen of all descriptions and citizens who troop into his office that sees literally no moment of respite.

I left Bala Muhammed’s office last week wiser about the way things work in the city that has been my home since 2002, but still unable to understand how he balances the exacting demands of so many people and deal with the mountains of accusation that he navigates each passing day of his political life. Everybody has a story, but the glitters of office can often mask the personal pains people deal with in the silent moments of their lives.

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu | Published in Vanguard on June 20, 2013

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