A few weeks ago, a significant event happened in Northern Nigeria. The occasion performed by the President also grabbed some major headlines. According to newspaper reports President Goodluck Jonathan fulfilled “a campaign promise he made by commissioning the first ever Almajiris Model School in Gada, Sokoto state.” On the surface, that the President is commissioning a school for impoverished and terrorist-prone Almajiris of the North; in a region said to be the most educationally disadvantaged in the country seemed laudable enough, or so it seemed. However, Jonathan’s politically tinted action, weighed against our failure since year 2000 to pursue sustainable education policies in a sector wallowing in corruption and policy inconsistency which has sadly led to Nigeria’s not meeting UNESCO Education for All target by 2015 is all but what it is: a campaign promise! How nonsensical? Given the saddening fact that countries like Benin Republic have achieved the target of educating all their out-of-school children long before the year set by the global body in a Charter that Nigeria was signatory to.
Smiling broadly and with a retinue of aides including The Minister of Education, the President reveled in having fulfilled his campaign promises to the North; of providing a school for those of unfortunate children whose only crime is being born in a region where education is not considered a priority. That the North, which in the last fifty years has been trailing dismally in school enrollment, needs intervention, no matter how late cannot be over stated. The situation having reached an alarming situation has become a crime committed against their people by successive northern leaders and administration both at the state and Local Government levels. The question that needs to be asked is why education has been left to suffer so much, especially in the over a decade of democracy, in spite of huge financial resources, that the almajiris syndrome has been left to fester becoming a threat to the entire country. In the last three decades when violence has broken out in different parts of the North, the perpetrators have found the Almajiris a willing tool to cause the maximum destruction to political opponents or people with different religious inclination. Now with the advent of Boko Haram, the existence of almajiris has further swell the ranks of extremists who recruit hungry boys as suicide bombers.
But no matter how commendable; the intervention of President Jonathan in an educational matter that falls within the purview of local government and the states seem like populists intervention. Given also that billions of money earmarked to fight the syndrome have ended up in private pockets in the North for over a decade, the President ought to be asking for the whereabouts of the huge budgetary allocation that have since developed wings instead the resources to provide schools for the Almajiris. It is also a shame that over a decade that democracy took its root in Nigeria, the Almajiris issue continues to stick out like a sore thumb in the socio-political milieu of the North. The failure of Northern leaders in more than ten years of successive administrations to reign in the Almajiris scourge raises serious questions about the quality of leadership in that part of the country. It was thus shameful that all the Northern governors gathered in Sokoto last week to commission a school that should have been in place many years ago in all the nook and crannies of the North and one that shouldn’t have attracted the attention of the President. The action of political leaders amount to playing to the gallery. If the money had been judiciously deployed to building infrastructure and providing the structures and strategies that would ensure that more children attend school by previous administrations, the threat of Alamijiris and the hazard they now constitute would have been reduced to the barest minimum. The education of Almajiris would have also gone a long way in assisting the country reach the UNESCO Education for All targets which the country has now missed. Even with the President intervention, the sheer rot in the educational system has ensured that millions of children still roam the streets.
The point in question is why a President should be dragged into a matter that should be within the jurisdiction of Local Government and the states in the North. The Obasanjo administration introduction of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) main purpose was to achieve universal school enrolment for all school age children. In the last decade since the introduction of the scheme, the Commission whose main goal is also to ensure that Nigeria achieve the UNESCO target has failed woefully in this task. If anything, the President has willfully become complicit in the inefficiency that Federal Ministry of Education and UBEC have become. But widening access to education is not a big a thing to ask for. Providing opportunities for out of school children is a basic human right. It is not about fulfilling a campaign promise as the president had alluded to.
The point to note in all of this is that affordable basic education for the Almajiris of the North was shamefully politicized and a shameless UBEC that has failed in over one decade to guarantee the inalienable rights of Nigerian children should hide its face in shame. The Almajiri scourge would have been eradicated had all the Local Government and state government in the North built model schools or expand the existing ones rather engage in the charade as they did the other day It remains to be seen if the building of those schools will be pursued with the seriousness the scheme requires. The inalienable rights of the Nigerian child is guaranteed under the constitution and other international treaties Nigeria is signatory to. The Ministry of Education and UBEC should also be alive to their responsibilities. Four years into the deadline for achieving the global Education for all by 2015, Nigeria is one of the few countries that cannot achieve the target. Enough of these deceits. The UBEC should account for our failure to meet UNESCO target and achieve universal enrollment in education in spite of the massive resources allocated to the sector in the over one decade of its existence. The quest to widen access to universal basic education for millions of out-of-school children nationwide and meeting UNESCO Education for All target by 2015 should not be reduced to campaign promises but a fulfillment of Nigerian children inalienable right to education.