Mr. Sunday Adebayo Babalola is the Founder of Bayo and Bunmi Foundation. In this interview with STEPHEN OLUFEMI ONI on the sideline of the Foundation’s 2021 scholarship award at Omu-Aran in Kwara State, he speaks on sundry education issues, ranging from the Foundation’s scholarship scheme, insecurity to other challenges bedevilling the education sector
What is the motivation behind the scholarship scheme? The scholarship scheme is the humble effort of our Foundation to be a change and solution agent. Many children are out of school, not because they don’t want to go to school, but because their parents cannot afford the school fees and other logistics.
We know it would be practically impossible for us to accommodate all such children, however, the little we could, we are doing and we would continue to do because we know that the government alone cannot fund education.
We recognise the fact that there are other stakeholders, such as philanthropists, donor agencies, corporate organisations, socio-cultural and religious groups, as well as the government that have contributed and are still contributing to educational development and advancement.
When was the scholarship scheme instituted?
We actually commenced the scholarship scheme in 2015, precisely six years ago, which covered the 2015/2016 academic session. The last edition of the scholarship award was held in 2019.
But due to the impact of COVID-19 and global disruption of socio-economic, political and educational activities, we could not hold the scholarship in 2020. We are grateful to all those who have been organising the scholarship events since its inception till date.
We thank God and appreciate those who have recently joined the team as a result of our expansion of the programme. They are all as important as the financiers of the Foundation, and as a matter of fact, their organisational skills are excellent and quite appreciated.
How much has so far been spent on the scheme and how many beneficiaries?
In the past, before 2021, the Foundation had offered scholarships to a total of 813 beneficiaries, comprising 522 primary school pupils and 291 secondary schools students and tertiary institutions. In actual fact, we are happy with the testimonies we are receiving from the recipients.
As a non-governmental organization, we have spent a total of N19.4 million. The amount comprised N17 million as scholarship offered directly to the beneficiaries and N2.4 million on logistics between 2015 and 2019.
And, for the 2021 edition a total of N10 million, exclusive of organisation costs and logistics would be invested on 549 students, comprising 95 pupils from the Junior Secondary School (JSS 3); 64 beneficiaries in Senior Secondary School (SS3); while 169 students will benefit from tertiary institutions and 221 others.
Meanwhile, in this year’s edition, we increased the amount to N10 million to compensate for our inability to hold the award in 2020 because of COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, to date, we have invested a total of N29.4 million in the project, excluding logistics. We have made this huge investment, not because we have all the money but as our willingness to sacrifice and a show of commitment to the educational advancement of the younger generation. We believe firmly that every child should have a good education as education is the bedrock of societal growth and advancement. Education is instrumental to the emergence of outstanding professionals, business tycoons, local government, state, national and world leaders. Without education, the society, and the world at large, would not only stagnate but also retrogress. Crimes, poverty, sickness, insecurity, and total darkness would overwhelm the society without education.
Today, banditry has taken its toll on the nation’s education sector. What is your reaction to this?
It is sad that the education sector has become a major target by kidnappers and bandits for their wicked and nefarious onslaughts. Reports abound of kidnapping of pupils, students, teachers, lecturers and other support staff in our nation’s education institutions.
It is still fresh in our memories that on April 14-15, 2014; about 276 female students, mostly Christian female students were kidnapped from the Government Girl’s Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State by the Boko Haram Islamic terrorists. Although some of the students later regained their freedom, some are still in the captivity of the insurgents.
Some of them have even given birth to children and lost their direction in life. Also, on 19th February, 2018, Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped 110 girls from the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, though some of the girls have also regained their freedom.
The pathetic case of Leah Sharibu still rings a bell in our ears. Sad stories of such cases abound across the land, particularly in the North-East and North-West.
According to reports, more than 1,000 pupils and students had since December 2020 been kidnapped from schools in some states in Northern Nigeria by bandits, who demanded huge amounts as ransom from parents of the victims.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, there had been 20 attacks on schools in the country by bandits with 1,436 children abducted and 16 children killed so far in 2021, while more than 200 children remain missing.
UNICEF reports that over 13.2 million school children are out of school in the country
Yes, the UNICEF report is mind boggling and heart rending. Such development is sad and retrogressive. In this time and age, every child should be educated. That is what would move our nation forward. Having over 13.2 million out-of-school children is not good.
A country that cannot educate its citizens is bound not to progress; it is bound to go down. Education is the bedrock of development and so having over 13 million out-of-school children is the height of retrogression.
The development would further worsen the nation’s already heightened insecurity. Insecurity has already exploded and things are not normal. There are robberies, banditry, killing, and kidnapping all over the country. Nigeria is no longer sitting on a keg of gun powder; the gun powder has already exploded.
What do you think could have been responsible for this unwholesome development?
A number of inscrutable factors, I believe, can be adduced. An important factor for these 13 million out-of-school children is lack of planning, while insecurity and lack of patriotism are also germane factors.
The resources we have in this country are enough to make all sectors functional and people comfortable. Most of our leaders and Nigerians are self-centred. We have enough resources to grow all sectors of the nation. If we plan things very well, we can have a good balance, but lack of patriotism and lack of planning are inhibiting factors.
Simply put, the over 13 million out-of-school children are part of insecurity in this country as some of the children have either become or could become tools in the hands of insurgents and bandits.
What do you think could be done for the country to come out of this mess?
The people in government should start thinking out of the box by ensuring that they do the right thing. There was a time when nomadic education was implemented in this country. If they could educate nomads, I do not see why the 13.2 million out-of-school children cannot be educated.
The Federal Government said it has spent billions of naira on its National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme in 35 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), according to President Muhammad Buhari in his address to mark the country’s 61st Independence anniversary.
The President added that over 103,000 women have been engaged as cooks under the programme, while about 10 million pupils are being fed across public primary schools in the country. It is therefore sad, or rather ironic and pathetic that the country is said to have 13.2 million outof- school children while some are attending school and are being fed. This puts the future of the country in jeopardy. The said population of out-of-school children is actually more than the population of some countries. And these out-of-school children would eventually make living in Nigeria very difficult for those being educated and the children of the elite that are sent abroad for schooling.
What is your take on another UNICEF report that no fewer than 1 million children are likely to abandon schooling amid banditry and kidnappings?
This is another mind boggling issue, to say or imagine that one million Nigerian children were afraid to return to school for fear of attacks by bandits.
The report put the numbers of children who were supposed to be in school as 37 million, but lamented that families and communities were fearful of sending them back to their classrooms due to the spate of attacks on schools and students’ abduction over the past months.
According to UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, whom I totally agree with; “A child’s first day of school should be an exciting event for parents and children, a landmark moment in their young lives, signaling new learning and new friends that would impact their future.
This moment is being stolen away from about a million children as insecurity threatens their safety and education. It is unacceptable that communities should be worried to send their children to school over fears that they would be abducted from what should have expectedly been a safe space for the children.
Insecurity must end so that children can return to their normal lives and benefit from all the important things that attending school brings to them.”