By Onyebuchi Sampson
A Lagos based rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has threatened the 36 state governors with legal over N51bn matching grants earmarked by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
The group in a letter dated February 19, 2022, urged the governors to “immediately redirect public funds budgeted to pay ex-governors undeserved pensions and other retirement benefits, and for ‘security votes’, and to use some of the savings to pay the counterpart funds that would allow poor children to enjoy access to quality basic education in your state.”
SERAP said: “Several of the 36 states have reportedly failed to pay the counterpart funds to access over N51bn matching grants earmarked by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for basic education in the country, as of July 2019.”
In the letter signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “The report by UBEC that several states have failed to access N51.6bn of matching grants suggests that these states are doing very little for poor children. It also explains why the number of out-of-school children in the country has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million.”
According to SERAP, “a violation of the right to education will occur when there is insufficient expenditure or misallocation of public resources, which results in the non-enjoyment of the right to quality education by poor children within the states.”
The group said, “states’ dereliction in paying counterpart funds is antithetical to the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, and the country’s international human rights obligations.”
The letter, sent to each of the 36 governors, read in part, “We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your state to comply with our request in the public interest.
“The enjoyment of the right to education for millions of poor children remains a distant goal. In several states, this goal is becoming increasingly remote. The persistent failure to pay counterpart funds has hugely contributed to denying poor Nigerian children access to quality basic education, opportunities, and development.”
“State governors are clearly in a position to invest more toward the progressive realization of the right to quality education for poor children within their states.
“Rather than spending public funds to pay ex-governors undeserved pensions and other retirement benefits and apparently using security votes for patronage and political purposes, governors should prioritise investment in education by immediately paying up any outstanding counterpart funds to UBEC.
“Redirecting public funds budgeted for life pensions and security votes, and cutting the cost of governance to pay the counterpart funds would be entirely consistent with your constitutional oath of office, and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution, as it would promote efficient, honest, and legal spending of public money.
“Continuing to spend scarce public funds on these expenses would deny poor Nigerian children access to quality, compulsory and free basic education in your state, and burden the next generation.
“Redirecting the funds as recommended would also ensure access to quality education for poor children, who have no opportunity to attend private schools. It would contribute to addressing poverty, inequality, marginalization, and insecurity across several states.
“SERAP is separately seeking information from UBEC about the details of counterpart funds that have been between 2019 and 2022. In the meantime, SERAP urges you to clarify if your state has paid any counterpart fund between July 2019 and 2022.”
“SERAP urges you to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of any accessed matching grants from UBEC.
“States should prioritise paying their counterpart funds over and above spending on life pensions and other misallocations of scarce resources.
“Immediately paying your counterpart funds for basic education in your state would be a major step forward for children’s rights, and show your commitment to ensure the rights and well-being of all children, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
“According to the Universal Basic Education Commission, Kwara State has failed and/or refused to pay the counterpart funds that would allow the state to access the matching grant of N6,245,355,130.05.
“This is the cumulative amount that Kwara State has failed to access as at July 2019. Notably, Kwara has failed to access the following matching grants: N952,297,297.30 for 2011-2012; N1,918,783,783.78 for 2015-2016; N1,286,343,183.55 for 2017; N1,473,832,845.21 for 2018, and N614,097,018.83 for 2019.
“According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 1 in 3 children do not complete primary school in several states. 27.2 percent of children between 6 and 11 years do not attend school. Only 35.6% of children aged 3–5 months attend pre-school.
“As revealed by a 2018 report by Transparency International (TI), most of the funds appropriated as security votes are spent on political activities, mismanaged or simply stolen.
“It is estimated that security votes add up to over N241.2 billion every year. On top of appropriated security votes, state governments also receive millions of dollars yearly as international security assistance.
“According to the UBEC, Abia State has failed and/or refused to pay the counterpart funds that would allow the state to access the matching grant of N2,988,805,613.14.
“This is the cumulative amount that Abia State has failed to access as at July 2019. Notably, Abia has failed to access the following matching grants: N26,430,893.96 for 2011-2012; N874,444,853.76 for 2017; N1,473,832,845.21 for 2018, and N614,097,018.83 for 2019.
“According to our information, basic education in several states has continued to experience a steady decline. The quality of education offered is low and standards have continued to drop.
“The learning environment does not promote effective learning. School facilities are in a state of extreme disrepair, requiring major rehabilitation. Basic teaching and learning resources are generally not available, leaving many teachers profoundly demoralised.”