The future of the South-East is obviously under a threat of systematic collapse. This is because its five governors have jettisoned what they ought to do to secure a strong educational foundation for current and unborn generations.
Their attention seem to have been shifted to politicking ahead of 2019 and other things that would, perhaps, grant them instant gratification or political advantage against their opponents, thus relegating critical issues like investment in education and other critical ventures that would create empowerment opportunity for the people.
Education, unarguably, is the bedrock of any development, be it individual or country, hence the persistent call for increased investment and attention to the sector, especially the basic education which is the foundation of education.
This, perhaps, necessitated the establishment of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), few years ago by Federal Government to champion the course of basic education development in Nigeria.
At the beginning of every year, UBEC disburses matching grant for the preceding year to the 36 states and FCT in the provision of physical infrastructures, instructional materials and other peculiar needs of the school, but not without conditions.
Matching grant is 50 percent of the gross revenue realised by UBEC in a preceding year. The balance of 50 percent is also disbursed to states in accordance with sharing formula approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), mainly for teachers’ development and other peculiar needs.
A document obtained from UBEC indicated that N47,594,697,791.35 was disbursed to states as 2017 matching grant, as against N70,995,000, 000.12, disbursed in 2016 for same purpose.
In 2005/2006, states received N1,036,378,378.38 as matching grant. In 2007/2008, they got N1,464,797,296.00. N1,153,903,587.26 was disbursed to each of the state in 2009/2010 as matching grant.
In 2011/2012, they received N1,725, 464, 020.62 and N1, 983, 094, 594.60 in 2013/2014 as matching grants. In 2015/2016, N1, 918, 783, 783. 78, was also disbursed to the states. Even though many education stakeholders had accused the states of misusing the funds.
A breakdown of the 2017 figure indicated that each state of the federation and FCT was entitled to access N1, 286, 343,183.55, as matching grant. But accessing the fund has been the major problem for some states especially the South east states.
Officials of UBEC told newsmen that the Southeast states show no interest in the payment of their counterpart funds as well as meeting the other requirements that would give them access to the funds.
Investigations revealed that as at April 5, Jigawa, Kebbi, Borno, Lagos and Osun states have paid their counterpart funds and had also met all other requirements that gave them access to the N1. 2 billon, 2017 matching grant.
Sokoto, Gombe, Kogi, FCT and Rivers states were said to have also paid their financial commitment but was yet to finalize other requirements that would guarantee them access to the funds. Regrettably, no South east state had made effort to access the funds, not even the previous ones.
Stakeholders are of the view that the action could be an indication that they are not interested in the funds even when their public education systems have collapsed totally, with students taking lecturers under tree and unhealthy environment. The case is different with other states, as virtually all of them are up-to-date in their financial records in UBEC.
The development, obviously, has posed a big threat to the education destiny of South east children especially those from “poor parents” that could not afford private education, but rely on public education system to give knowledge to their children.
It has also become a source of concern for the UBEC Executive Secretary, Dr. Hamid Bobboyi and the entire UBEC. They were forced to embark on campaign to draw the attention of the state governors on the need to access these funds for educational development of their states.
Bobboyi told newsmen in Abuja that he had used every opportunity of meeting with South east political leaders to speak about the need to access these funds to develop basic education system in their states but it was a case of several promises and no response.
He added: “I have raised same issue at our quarterly meetings with SUBEB chairmen but there was little or nothing they could do if the state governors are unwilling to make financial and logistics commitment.
“But we have come to realize the reason for their discouraging interest in accessing the fund. This was because little or no investment was made in public education system in the region and some part of South South region because of the huge private investment in education provision in the regions.
“Unfortunately, the reverse is the case in the North. That could, perhaps, be responsible for their interest in the funds. In Northern Nigeria, governments are more involved in the provision of basic and secondary education than what individuals offer. Regrettably, UBEC lacks the power to make interventions in privately owned educationfacilities.”
Nevertheless, he said the commission will continue to encourage and support the states to access these accumulated funds and use them wisely to the benefit of those who could not afford private education facilities.
Records at UBEC revealed that many states of the federation, particularly those in the North are not only up-to-date with their previous financial records in UBEC but have begun to access N1. 2 billion 2017 matching grant.
The case with states in the Southeast, for instance report indicate that Ebonyi state could not access UBEC fund throughout the eight years of a former governor.
The records also indicated that as at August 2017, Abia state was yet to access N1.7 billion (2011-2012) and N1.9 billion (2015-2016) matching grants and they are yet to begin the process of accessing the N1.2 billion, 2017 matching grant.
The story was not different for Enugu state which has accessed N1.9 billion disbursed as 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 each as matching grants but are yet to also begin talk for 2017 matching grant.
Anambra and Imo states have backlog of 2015-2016 and none has commenced moves to access the recently disbursed N1.2 billion 2017 matching grant.
An educationist, Mr. Kehinde Adedayo, said the development is a threat to basic education in the affected states. “It is not only in South east region. In South west, children are forced to study under unhealthy environment in spite of billions of Naira received from UBEC.
He said the implications were that children would grow with weak education foundation. “Their teachers give little because they are not motivated financially and otherwise.”
Chairman, Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education, Chief Hycient Ikpor, admitted that the state had backlog of matching grants because the previous administration failed to access the funds.
“But governor, Dave Umahi, came with hope and commitment in 2015 when he was elected. He is determined to improve education particularly at the basic level. The good news is that Ebonyi state has paid its counterpart funds, met other requirements and had access the funds up to 2013.
“We have paid our 2014-2015 counterpart funds even though UBEC was yet to send us the matching grants. We will commence the process of accessing 2016-2017 matching grants as soon as we receive 2014-2015 matching grants from UBEC.”
The Commissioner for Education, Prof. John Eke, also confirmed that the matching grants have been extremely helpful in transforming basic education system in Ebonyi state.
“We obviously inherited backlogs of unaccessed matching grants running into billions of Naira. The governor is committed to providing good and quality education to the people and that made him to complete the requirements for accessing the funds,” he said.
The media aide to Imo state governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, could not comment on the UBEC grant as it affects Imo state arguing that it is outside his job description.
He however promised to link newsmen with the state chairman of SUBEB and as at press time, he never did. He neither responded to text messages nor returned several phone calls.