Since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, disclosed that over 20 million Nigerian children are out of school over a week ago, this publication has been waiting for the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu to contradict this stat or shed perspective. This is because as recently as three weeks ago, the minister was reported as saying that “At my 2020 annual ministerial briefing, I informed the press that we have reduced the number of out-of-school children from an estimated 13 million to 6.9 million. May I inform you that we have further recorded an impressive enrolment in the last one year, especially in some of the frontline states—Kano, Kaduna, Kastina, Sokoto, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Taraba, Rivers and Ebonyi States”.
The minister was invariably saying that the out-of-school figure he gave two years has further declined as a result of the intervention of the government. Now, UNESCO did not only stop at estimating the number of Nigerian kids who are out of school at 20.2 million children, it took a dig at Nigeria by citing the country as one of those “where no administrative data of good quality has been available for over a decade”. Perhaps, this may be the reason why Minister Adamu was out of sorts with his data. Many must have applauded him when he dropped that stat. Considering that the statement was made during the State House Ministerial Briefing organized by the Presidential Communications Team, it has all the trappings of a calculated attempt to ratchet up goodwill for the administration.
It is very worrisome that Nigeria does not have an accurate number of out-of-school children. The figures have oscillated between 10.5 million and around 15 million for more than a decade, with the situation growing worse due to the degenerating security situation in the country. If this vital statistics is not known by those who are meant to act on them, how then can the country arrest the challenge of children remaining at home or hawking goods when they should be in school? There must be an explanation for the wide contrast between the government’s figure and that of the United Nation’s agency. If it is because UNESCO’s population stretches to young Nigerians who are up to 18 years of age, then this should have been clearly pointed out by the authorities. To be clear, the fact that the minister brought this up at a press conference designed to launder the administration is indicative that the government at least knows the import of eradicating or reducing the out-of-school children menace.
The matter of out-of-school children is indeed a menace because of the danger posed to society by an unschooled citizenry. For starters, it is these ignorant citizens who sell their votes for a mess of porridge and democratically enthrone the unfit leaders. It is indeed in the enlightened self-interest of all Nigerians to ensure that the number of children who are out of school is reduced to the barest minimum. A society that cares less about the education of its people risks being consumed by the monster it breeds. To better understand this, questions must be asked about what has become of the out-of-school children of 10 or 20 years ago. Are they the ones currently terrorizing the country as bandits and terrorists? The truth remains that devious and dubious elements in society have a ready army in persons who are not in school when they should be. This can be seen in the fact that despite hundreds of terrorists who get neutralized or surrender, there are still more of them.
It is against this backdrop that Naija News is worried that the Minister in charge of this sector is not entirely aware of how bad the out-of-school children situation is. His underreporting of the number of children not in school further depreciates the trust Nigerians have in their government. The authorities must learn to let the populace know the actual state of things so that they don’t dismiss every piece of information coming from the government as untrue or half-truth. Shortly after the State House Ministerial Briefing, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) went to town hailing the drop in the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria from 10.5 million to 6.9 million under President Muhammadu Buhari. Now that UNESCO has emerged with its own data, the government has to answer for this unacceptable spike in the number of out-of-school kids.
We recall that at his valedictory press conference in the life of the previous administration, Minister Adamu regretted the status of Nigeria as having the highest number of out-of-school children globally. These were his exact words, “When I attend conferences outside the country and the issue of out-of-school children is being discussed, I feel embarrassed. It is a big mark of shame to me as a person and to us as a nation. Nigeria is the highest even though we are not known for poverty. We promised to reduce out-of-school children by half. I must apologize, we have failed in that. I am hoping that the next minister will address it.” He ended up as the next minister yet failed to cut down the number of out-of-school children, instead, the opposite was the case.
It is a shame that despite the second chance he has to correct this anomaly, the situation has deteriorated. The various state government cannot be excused from this blame since this is a concurrent matter. As the government closer to the grassroots, Nigeria wouldn’t have been in this shameful situation if they hadn’t dropped the ball. This newspaper expects them to be passionate about child education. No Nigerian child, including those who are sent for trade or vocational apprenticeship, should be denied basic education! The billions spent by the government on the school-feeding programme must live up to its billing of luring more children to attend classes.
Naija News insists that all hands must be on deck to reduce this scary number of out-of-school children. It is for this reason that we expect a more emphatic onslaught against bandits and terrorists whose incessant target of schools and pupils has discouraged many from education, including parents who withdraw their precious wards from schools to prevent them from being kidnapped, maimed, or killed. The worrisome thing with the latest UNESCO figures is that it indicates that Boko Haram is winning the ideological war. Given that their name literally means that western education is forbidden, the country may just have played into their hands by allowing the outrageous number of out-of-school children in the country. This must not be allowed to continue!