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Nigeria: Can Buhari’s 100% education budget pledge be met?

By Ruth Olurounbi
Posted on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 13:35

Freed schoolboys look on during a meeting with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, on Friday Dec. 18, 2020 in Katsina, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

With Nigeria accounting for more than one in five out-of-school children in the world, and hidden fees locking girls out of education, Nigeria's pledge to double to the budget for education by 2025 is welcome. But, despite that catalytic role of schools on the economy, campaigners say education funding rarely gets disbursed.

President Muhammadu Buhari, recognising that Nigeria needed to increase spending on education, pledged to increase the budget going to the sector by 50% by 2023 and to 100% by 2025.

“We commit to progressively increase our annual domestic education expenditure by 50% over the next two years and up to 100% by 2025 beyond the 20% global benchmark,” the president said at the Global Education Summit in the UK in July.

He continued: “We fully endorse the call for more efficient use of resources and to significantly increase investment in education by strengthening institutions, promoting greater adoption of technology, building the capacities of our teachers and mobilising additional financial resources through legal frameworks and deliberate intervention on a sustainable basis.”

What effect will this have on girls’ education?

While those who have spent years campaigning for bigger funding and increased access to girls’ education see the promise of increased funding to education alone as bringing hope, they don’t see the promise as being transformative. This may be because the education budget has been declining for years, the most recent being a mere 5.6% of the 2021 budget, much below the recommended benchmark. Additional factors such as raging insecurity that has seen hundreds of school children kidnapped in the northern region, as well as gender-based violence in schools across the country.

Still, “increased funding at the state level is critical, as it would address so many important aspects of education. It would significantly reduce the need for hidden fees which has a detrimental effect on girl child education. Such findings have been documented in Kaduna and Borno state by Gulmakai Champions Network Nigeria,” Olabukunola Williams, CEO, Education as a Vaccine, said in an interview with The Africa Report.

Her non-profit, supported by the Malala Fund, is working to increase access for young girls who are out of school to get an education in Kaduna state.

“And research has also shown the impact of increased funding on quality of education; however it needs to be spent and targeted appropriately for it to have the intended impact. And with the current state of education, we need more than hope, we need action,”  she added.

Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children anywhere in the world, said UNICEF. “Although primary education is officially free and compulsory, only 67% of eligible children take up a place in primary school,” the agency said.

To Williams’ mind, if the government was going to increase funding for education, it had to be deliberate in ensuring that it took care of the “overcrowding, lack of safety including gender-based violence, lack of water and sanitation facilities,” in many schools across the country. The government needs to make sure that the funds are actually accessible and used by schools, she added.

“Increased funding would mean providing alternative sources for learning such as sending education materials to homes, use of radios and, where possible, virtual learning platforms. Increased funding is not the silver bullet but as mentioned previously when targeted properly in the best interest of learners, it can be truly transformative for a failing sector,” Williams said.

Should insecurity be tackled first?

While the government’s proposal to increase the education budget is commendable, Rotimi Olawale of YouthHub Africa, whose non-profit advocates for education and community developments in Nigeria, feels that “stemming the tide of violence and abduction we have witnessed” in the sector must be a priority.

“Addressing the challenges around insecurity requires a multi-sectoral approach, including supporting the military, building early warning systems with community participation, and tackling poverty and unemployment. Government hasn’t shown the required commitment to lead on finding answers to these challenges beyond mere rhetoric,” he said.

Schools in Kaduna are currently closed due to insecurity challenges, Williams said, adding that: “This is a setback because this is in addition to closure during the pandemic. This increases the likelihood of girls not being able to return back to school and increases the number of out of school children.”

A study from ONE Nigeria, an arm of a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030, showed that “the violent extremist group Boko Haram (which translates as ‘western education is forbidden’) poses increased obstacles to girls completing their education. Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014. As of 2016, over 1,000 schools in the region had been damaged or destroyed and 1,500 schools had closed. This means that … at a regional level North-East Nigeria is a tougher place for a girl to get educated than other regions in the country.”

While some see hope in increased access to especially girls’ education in Nigeria, others don’t see the promise as bringing any concrete development.

For instance, Kayode Ajayi-Smith, CEO of Smithswork Limited, which provides business advisory to private businesses on innovation and technology, said antecedents in government spending on education does not bring “any hope whatsoever.”

Citing current events in which many public school teachers lacked access to online learning especially in the middle of the pandemic, as well as stubborn infrastructure decay, Ajayi-Smith wondered how much of immediate impact the funding increase would have on quality education in the country.

Is Buhari’s pledge feasible?

Williams said she doesn’t see the feasibility of the proposed funding increase seeing as “budget cuts and lack of political will at all levels” remain prevalent.

She added: “This is in addition to the cultural and social norms that serve as barriers to education especially for girls and children with disabilities. Until we are willing to invest in education in terms of commitment, expertise and safety, I don’t see the promise being fulfilled.”

Funding for the troubled sector has been declining since the year 2014, when the sector received N494.7bn or 10.5% of the total budget. Subsequent years, budget cuts saw the sector receiving only 10.7% (N484.2bn) in 2015,  7.9% (N369.6bn) in 2016, 7.4% (N550.5bn) in 2017, and 7.04% (N605.8bn) in 2018. Although 2019 saw a marginal increase of 0.1% from 7.04% to 7.05%, budget cuts saw a further decline t0 6.7% (N671.07bn) in 2020, and 5.6% (N742.5bn) in 2021.

Bottom line

“If we are to improve our economy, data has shown that investments in education, especially girls education yields returns in maternal and newborn health, household income, maternal mortality, and nutrition as well as hygiene and health of the family, especially children. The investment by government in education, therefore, has a catalytic effect on other sectors,” Olawale said.

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