‘We’ve increased budget from N16bn in 2018 to N31.3bn in 2021’
Worried by the sliding fortune of education development in Kwara State, the state government has embarked on a silent revolution that will reposition, rejig and salvage the sector from its rot. STEPHEN OLU FEMI ONI highlights the numerous challenges and government’s efforts to change the narrative
Governor: We’re determined to transform sector
Govt accesses UBEC’s N7.1bn grants
A quiet revolution that will reposition the ailing education sector, enhance the delivery of qualitative education and bolster students’ performance has unfolded in Kwara State. Leading the revolution, the state government-led by Governor Abdul- Rahman AbdulRazaq has put in place several measures that will impressively tackle the challenges of poor funding, shortage of qualified teachers in the schools, low teachers’ morale, dearth of facilities and poor students’ performance in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), among other factors, bedeviling education development in the state over the years.
Worried by the massive decay, dilapidation and depletion of infrastructure and facilities in the school system, Governor AbdulRazaq on assumption of office in May 29, 2019, expressed the determination of his administration to reverse the trend with a view to removing the sector from its woods by restoring sanity to the school system.
Though undaunted, the governor, having identified paucity of funds as the bane of education development in the state, however, swung into action to address this major concern with a view to changing the narrative and return the sector to the path of reckoning.
Given the challenges of poor funding and its attendant crisis that bogged down education development, the Governor AbdulRazaq’s first major move was to increase the state’s education budget from a paltry N16 billion in 2018 under former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed administration to N23.6 billion and N31.3 billion in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Also, as part of measures initiated to rescue the school system from its rot, the governor in November, last year, approved the release of over N2 billion for the renovation of no fewer than 31 dilapidated public schools across the state, while plans had already been concluded to recruit 5,000 teachers in order to address the problem of shortage of qualified teachers in Kwara schools so as to boost teaching-learning process in the basic and secondary schools.
According to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Mariam Garba, the first phase of the renovation exercise covered eight of the old generation schools that were given comprehensive renovation, while the government renovated classrooms and offices in 23 other schools, as well as supplied basic facilities and instructional materials.
Lamenting the level of dilapidation of the school system, the governor said: “The nature of neglect in the education sector in the state has been a total collapse. The infrastructure decay and deficit we inherited are so enormous and cannot be immediately remedied in one fell swoop due to the huge cost of resources required.
The 31 schools are the first phase project of what would be continuous rehabilitation exercise of education facilities across the state. It is a tough task because we have several hundreds of schools to fix, but it will be done gradually.”
To deepen access to qualitative education and ease parents’ burden of providing the children with qualitative education, the state government was said to have release the sum of N70 million to the state Education Ministry for the production of over one million notebooks that were distributed free to pupils and students in public primary and secondary schools across the state.
The government action, which had been lauded by stakeholders, has gone a long way in ending several years of lack of writing materials confronting the students, especially the indigent children. Also, faced with the dearth of functional libraries in the state, Governor AbdulRazaq at a meeting with the state chapter of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), had assured the students of the state government plans to inject N100 million to renovate the State Library Complex.
The plan, the governor further explained, was to use the library as a ‘Launchpad’ for e-learning and as temporary headquarters for the state’s innovation hub, adding that the renovation exercise was part of his administration’s efforts at repositioning the education sector and to prepare the youths for a brighter future built on innovative skills and opportunities to be among the best in the country.
Besides, the governor announced that his administration had jerked up the students’ yearly bursary allocation from N100 million, which he inherited from the previous administration to N200 million.
According to him, this was done with a view to ensuring that all bonafide students of the state origin in higher institutions of learning get the money, as the payment would be made directly to each student based on the online database already generated by the Ministry of Education.
He, however, decried a situation in which funds meant for the students bursary were diverted as it was the case in the past, even as he assured the students that they would always be carried along on issues affecting them, but urged them to shun drug abuse and other anti-social behaviour that are inimical to their future and development of the state.
Recently, the governor, as part of his administration’s commitment to provide qualitative education to all children of the state irrespective of their socio-economic or physical challenges, unveiled teaching aids and equipment for students at the School for Special Needs, along Old Jebba Road in Ilorin, the state capital.
Also, AbdulRazaq, who assured the people of the state of his administration determination to continue to accord priority attention to education development in order to reposition the state for the challenges of the 21st Century, pledged that the renovation of the School for Special Needs and other schools across the state would be a continuous exercise.
He, therefore, urged the management of the school to ensure proper maintenance and adequate protection of the equipment and teaching aids, while the students should make maximum use of the materials to acquire the desired knowledge and relevant skills.
Expressing delight over the efforts of the state government to improve the state’s education sector, the old students of Patigi Secondary School, one of the 31 schools renovated, had lauded the governor for the massive face-lifting of
the schools, recalling that the school had not received government attention since its establishment some 50 years ago. Some of the products of the school, during the thank-you visit to the governor, include the Etsu Patigi, Ibrahim Umar Bologi II; the Etsu Tsaragi, Aliyu Ndakpotwa Abdullahi, a former Head of Service (HoS) of the state, Mohammed Dabarako and a former Permanent Secretary, Mohammed Koro.
Similarly, another deliberate move by Governor AbdulRazaq’s administration to transform the state’s education sector was the payment of the N35 million fines imposed on the state by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), following the blacklisting of Kwara State for examination malpractice by the Council for which over 100 public and private schools were sanctioned for their involvement in the examination misconduct.
The immediate past administration of former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, under which the offence was committed and penalties imposed was alleged to have ignored the payment of the N35 million fines imposed by WAEC. However, AbdulRazaq’s administration did not only pay the fines and removed the state from WAEC’s blacklisting list; but it also ensured successful conduct of the 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) that was free of all forms of malpractice across the state.
This feat, according to the state government, was achieved through swapping of school principals across the schools, while for the first time in the conduct of the examination, the state government engaged external invigilators, who were selected among lecturers in the state’s Colleges of Education and drafted to various schools across the state.
These various measures, among others put in place by the present administration in the last two years, according to stakeholders who lauded for the governor for his proactive efforts at changing the narratives of the ailing state’ education, had gone a long way in nipping in the bud the trend of examination malpractice and poor students’ performance in the SSCE in the state.
Given the massive interventions of the state government in the education sector, various stakeholders, including parents, students, teachers and WAEC, among others, have continued to applaud the administration of Governor AbdulRazaq.
Also, confronted by accumulated Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) grants as a result of non-access of the funds, and the blacklisting of the state by the Commission due to nonpayment of the state’s counterpart funds since 2013, and for which over N450 million was alleged to have been diverted, Governor AbdulRazaq had approved immediate payment of the diverted funds in order to pave way for accessing the UBEC grants, meant to provide and boost infrastructure and development of basic education sub-sector.
The payment of the funds, therefore, has cleared the way for immediate readmission of the state into a scheme by the UBEC so as to access the funds that is supposed to have been spent to increase access to basic education in the state, as well as tackle the high rate of out-of-school children.
Going by the UBEC’s record, as at 2019, when AbdulRazaq assumed office, Kwara State was listed as one of the states with the highest outstanding or unaccessed UBEC grants following the blacklisting slammed on it for diverting the state’s funds accessed in 2013. As at 2019, Kwara State, with the diversion of N450 million, had a backlog of N7.1 billion unaccessed UBEC funds.
But, given AbdulRazaq administration’s deliberate commitment, the state government in September 2020 had received the N7.1 billion UBEC grants, the first since 2013, when the state was blacklisted and removed from the national scheme.
The N7.1 billion UBEC grants, it was learnt, was an accumulated un-accessed grants between 2014 and 2019 by the state government because the former administration failed to pay the state’s counterpart funds.
“The funds would have been used to rehabilitate dilapidated structures in the basic schools, construction of new ones, provide equipment to schools with ICT tools, training of teachers and project evaluation, among other purposes as contained in the UBEC work plan,” the governor stressed.
The state Ministry of Education further said: “The accessed UBEC funds would be spent in phases over the next two years to fix about 600 elementary schools out of over 1,400 decrepit basic education facilities across the state. The projects would be monitored by UBEC in order to ensure compliance with the work plan already submitted by the state government.”
On the payment of the state’s counterpart funds, a former Education Commissioner in the state, Fatimah Bisola Ahmed recalled: “This development has taken Kwara State out of the bottom position in the ranking of states with highest figures of outstanding UBEC grants.
The pitiful state of basic education infrastructure in our state is a reflection of the failure of the previous administration to access the UBEC funds, as well as its near-zero investments in the sector over the past few years.”
With the payment of N7.1 billion accumulated state counterpart funds as part of requirements to access the six-year backlog of outstanding UBEC funds, New Telegraph gathered that the state is set to invest the N14 billion on the basic education sector.
To fast-track the process of school rehabilitation and construction projects, the state government in November 2020 organised a threeday capacity building workshop for local contractors, who were expected to undertake the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) school projects.
The initiative was geared towards enlightening the contractors on the requirements for the successful bidding process, while procurement process and quality control topped the agenda of the workshop.
“Works are in top gear and very soon when all the processes, including bidding, are completed, massive construction and renovation works and turnaround projects would be witnessed in the basic school system across the state,” the government said.