The Dangers Of Reading UBEC Books By Its Cover, By Ugo Jim-Nwoko
Apart from the incursion of the military into politics and national life in the late 1960s, which eventually led to the Civil War, no other social crisis has threatened and weakened the social and moral fabric of the Nigerian society like the crises at every level of our educational system.
Every society is as good as its educational system. So, the anti-corruption war and moral rearmament crusade of the President Muhamamadu Buhari government will not be effective and result oriented in the long term, if the searchlight fails to be on the education sector and the new transparent order instituted in our curriculum of studies and management of public affairs.
The Nigerian education is riddled with unbridled corruption. This situation has affected negatively every aspect of our national life. The sector over the years has been managed in a manner most unbecoming of a system with a responsibility for the building up of young minds and empowerment of the society for technological advancement and breakthrough. It is a cesspool of malfeasance to the extent that the masses of the Nigerian people who ought to benefit from an efficient and good standard of education from public schools have been short-changed. Private citizens who have had the privilege of occupying public offices have used the opportunity to loot the public resources meant for the education of the children of the poor, while theirs patronise private academic institutions mainly because such individuals have the capacity to pay based on their ill-gotten wealth.
President Buhari needs to direct his anti-graft searchlight on the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). It is the most abused public institution; among all others, set up for the educational good of the poor and the ordinary citizens. The UBE Act 2004 makes provision for basic education comprising of Primary and Junior Secondary Education. The financing of basic education is the responsibility of States and Local Governments. However, the Federal Government has decided to intervene in the provision of basic education with 2% of its Consolidated Revenue Fund. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo flagged off UBE on 30th September 1999 in Sokoto. The UBE Programme is Nigeria’s strategy for the achievement of Education for All (EFA) and the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This is why the event of Thursday, the 7th of June 2012, wherein the Federal Ministry of Education through its then Ministers, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai and Nyesom Wike told the Nigerian people that a total sum of N68.6 billion was to be spent by the Federal Government in the purchase of text books for the Universal Basic Education Programme still baffles Nigerians. It was the national flag-off ceremony held in a government-owned secondary school in Maitama, Abuja for the distribution of primary one and two text books and library resource materials for junior secondary schools nationwide. From an innocuous point, this policy appeared well thought out, intended to advance the cause of the poor.
However, the painful fact is that public policies like this were used under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan as channels of looting public resources by the occupants of public offices in the education sector. Going by the 68.6 billion naira which the ministry claimed was spent on UBE books for primary and junior secondary schools nationwide, when the UBE statutory allocation in 2012 was 68 billion naira; one wonders why and how the federal government was spending more than the budgetary allocation and only on books?
In 2012, development workers in the country raised relevant budgetary and transparent issues concerning this project and the issue of other sources of revenue to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which may have come mainly from the development partners without the commission showing due disclosure as required by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. Civil society groups also questioned the logistic framework for the implementation of this seemingly laudable programme for the improvement of standards in the much scandalised and violated educational sector in Nigeria.
Since the inception of UBEC, statutory transfers are made to the commission without any breakdown in their budgetary allocation for the Nigerian citizens interested in monitoring the spending of public resources and the work of the Commission to effectively follow up. This was violations of the relevant sections of the Freedom of Information Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. Specifically, Section 48 (1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007 requires the Federal Government to ensure that its financial and fiscal affairs are conducted in a transparent manner and accordingly ensure full and timely disclosure and publication of all transactions and decisions involving public revenues and expenditures and its implications for its finances.
President Buhari’s administration should endeavour to investigate financial transactions in most educational agencies of the federal government with the aim of revamping the sector especially as it concerns public educational institutions. Federal and State government owned institutions on annual basis have more budgetary allocations , be they primary, secondary or tertiary institutions than the privately-owned ones but despite this fact, the resources meant for the public institutions are looted by those who have the responsibility to ensuring judicious use of these resources in the interest of the common good. Private academic institutions are more efficiently and effectively managed with lesser resources because of the optimal use of available resources. That way they attract better patronage while public institutions are prostrate leaving the masses of the Nigerian children with poor quality education.
On the implementation mechanism of most UBEC policies and programmes like the notorious Purchase and Distribution of textbooks for Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme Nigerians were worried that a project that guzzled up to 68.6 billion of tax payer’s money and meant to uplift the standard of education was kicked off in a high brow school in Maitama, Abuja where only the Nigerian elites’ children have access to.
According to the then minister of education, Professor Ruqayatu Ahmed Rufai, “the distribution of books and library resources and materials to primary and secondary schools had become imperative as basic education was a guaranteed entitlement for every Nigerian child…basic education can be costly and discouraging especially for socio-economically disadvantaged parents hence the policy thrust of the federal government to procure text books in the core subject areas of the basic education curriculum and library resource materials to primary and secondary schools nationwide.” The, then, Minister of State for Education and now Governor of Rivers State, Ezenwo Wike, noted that scarcity of appropriate text books and instructional materials remain one of the most serious impediments to the quality of education as the books would complement the efforts of state governments in addressing the challenges of basic education.
I was worried by the superlative claims of the Federal Ministry of Education to the extent that the Nigerian taxpayer may have ended up buying books for the elite children under the guise of supplying books to UBEC for distribution to schools. We, in the civil society movement in Nigeria did not see the school children in Kaura-Namoda, Ehime Mbano, Nsukka, Iseyin, Ngor-Okpala, Michika, Ahoada, Zungeru, Nembe, Boki, Owu, Iseyin and in several other communities in Nigeria have access to these books beyond the drama that were acted in Maitama, Abuja and other state capitals in Nigeria.
The Ministry of Education and its policy makers did not ensure transparency in their spending habits and the award of contracts so that the people can have the full benefits of their commonwealth.
Ugo Jim-Nwoko, development policy and budget analyst writes from Abuja