by Abigail Anaba
It is that time of the year again. The Federal Government has again come out to blast state governments for not accessing the UBE funds. The supervising minister of education is disappointed that there is 41Billion naira worth of funds lying in government coffers not accessed by the states.
It does seem unjustifiable that such funds should be left lying fallow when it can be used to improve the quality of primary education. A quick trip to the UBE website will show the states that have consistently not accessed these funds. Find details in the chart below.
A situation whereby funds to improve the quality of education sits idle while the states and federal government trade words over who is to blame for the situation is totally unacceptable. Something has really got to give. It is not enough for the supervising minister of education, or any minister of education for that matter to blast the states for not accessing the funds, the question is: what should be done to address this lingering issue. Why are the states that have had difficulty accessing these funds finding it difficult to do so?
First, these funds are not just lying in the UBE coffers waiting to be picked up. They are called matching grants for a reason. Each state has to provide counterpart funding. This counterpart funding must be up to 50% of what they want to pick up from the Federal government. So if a state wants to pick one million Naira for instance, it should have 500,000.0 to show as matching grant. Aside from this, the states have to show, be accountable if you please, for what they have already collected. In other words, if a state picks one million naira to build a block of classrooms, it cannot go back for another one million if it has not completed the block of classrooms. So, some states have taken UBEC funds which they cannot account for and some other states cannot provide the counterpart funding needed and basic education suffers.
Is it really that difficult to resolve this issue?
The way I see it, the issue actually depends on who cares more about the result of this lack of funding of basic education. If the Federal Government really cares as much as they would like us to believe, they will find a way of providing this funds to these states and making them account for them without requiring the matching funds. If the reason for asking for matching grants is to ensure that there is a minimum amount dedicated to funding education in each state, is it not possible to go about this through some other form of legislation instead of tying this fund to it?
For instance, is it possible to forward a bill to the national assembly requesting that certain percentage of the Federal Government Allocation to states be used to directly fund basic education? After all, the Federal Government does not ask States what they do with the counterpart funds they provide. They are only interested in how they use the matching grants they are provided.
Concerning states who cannot account for the funds they have been allocated, are there not individuals whose jobs are to manage these funds? I cannot imagine the owner of a building suspending the building of his house because the supervisor he appointed has mismanaged the funds. The sensible thing to do will be to remove and prosecute the supervisor while he provides more funds to continue his project. How many people have the Federal Government prosecuted for mismanaging UBEC matching grants?
Everything keeps going wrong for basic education in general. Poor quality teachers who may not be able to improve no matter the level of retraining you give them; insufficient classrooms, let alone special rooms and laboratories, for studying; poorly structured curricular that makes it even harder to work with up to date teaching methodologies where they can be practised; insecurity in certain parts of the country which keeps children away from school altogether; Would it not make more sense if the Federal government made it easier for States by taking out the ‘matching’ from these grants and simply made it grants available for use which will be properly monitored by UBEC through their state agencies?