Nigeria’s former vice-president Atiku Abubakar has said the same energy with which the country persuades Nigerians to vaccinate against infectious diseases such as polio and the coronavirus pandemic, should be deployed to ensure that parents enrol their children and wards in schools.
Mr Abubakar, who said his father was once jailed by local authorities for refusing to enroll him in school as a young boy, suggested that “parents should be persuaded, even forced, to send their children to school so they, at least, acquire basic education.”
He said such is the only way to cut down considerably the country’s growing figure of out-of-school children, which he put at more than 13 million.
The politician gave the advice in his lecture at the weekend during the convocation ceremonies of Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State, where he spoke on the theme; “Diversity, Education and Autonomy: Developing Nigeria in the Years Ahead.”
He said; “We persuade parents to vaccinate their children against infectious diseases because vaccination is a good thing. Why don’t we do the same for education? Parents should be persuaded, even forced, to send their children to school so they, at least, acquire basic education. That basic education should be free and compulsory.
“I believe that if there are severe consequences for parents who refuse to send their children to have free primary and secondary education, we would not have over 13 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. Certainly not. Our per capita income would not have stagnated for 40 years. Think about it, our per capita income is today what it was forty years ago.”
What existing law says
In Nigeria, the Part 1, Item 2 of the “Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, 2004” speaks on the right of a child to compulsory, free universal basic education, stipulating sanctions against defaulters.
The law says that; “Every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age; tha every parent shall ensure that his child or ward attends and completes his – (a) primary school education; and (b) junior secondary school education, by endeavouring to send the child to primary and junior secondary schools. (3) The stakeholders in education in a local government area, shall ensure that every parent or person who has the care and custody of a child performs the duty imposed on him under section 2(2) of this Act.”
And in stipulating punishment, the law noted that; “A parent who contravenes section 2 (2) of this Act commits an offence and is liable- (a) on first conviction, to be reprimanded; (b) on second conviction, to a fine of N2,000 or imprisonment for a term of 1 month or to both; and (c) on subsequent conviction, to a fine of N5,000 or imprisonment for a term of 2 months or to both…”
However, since the law was enacted in 2004, it is not certain if any individual has been successfully tried and convicted in any part of the country, yet millions of children currently roam the streets.
Official statistics from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) says “about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school and that only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.”
In North-eastern region of the country, and particularly Borno, Yobe and Mr Atiku’s homestate of Adamawa, UNICEF says 2.8 million children are in need of education-in-emergencies support, noting that “at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms are listed as destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but repairable.”
Mr Abubakar has never hesitated to tell the story of how his father was jailed for allegedly deliberately refusing to send him to school because he was herding his cattle.
He repeated the story in his convocation lecture to drive home his points on why Nigeria must enforce what the law says about school enrollment towards addressing the socio-economic afflictions in the country.
He said; “Permit me to start with a personal story. When I was a little boy my father, who was very poor, refused to send me to school. He did not hate or dislike education of any type. And it was not about school fees; in fact, we were even paid to go to school in those days. He just needed me to herd cattle. That was normal in those days, and is still so for many families, even today. For refusing to send me to school, he was sent to jail by the local authorities. Eventually, I did go to school. Unfortunately, my father did not live long enough to see where education would take me. He drowned while trying to cross a local river. He was probably under 40 years of age by the time he died. I was an only child and was raised by my maternal grandparents.”
My investments in education
According to the former vice president, his experience informed his philanthropic interventions in the education sector, which he noted led to the establishment of basic, high schools and a university in his home state of Adamawa, and precisely in its capital city, Yola.
Mr Abubakar said he realised early in life the importance of education and how “if made available to many more young people, will also give them so much and help the country progress just like other countries that take education seriously.”
He said the quest for individual or common autonomy can quickly be achieved through education, noting that as it is for individuals so it is for nations of the world.
He said countries that value education usually invest in it and that “the nations that treat education and innovation more seriously and invest massively in them are also the leading nations of the world.”
“These are the reasons why my philanthropy has focused the most on education. After so many years of giving scholarships to students from less well-to-do families and helping friends and communities build schools across the country, I began to build a school system in my hometown, Yola, that today incorporates all levels, from kindergarten to university,” he said.
Mr Abubakar added that; “The existence of the university proved so timely and because Yola was (and remains) safe, the university assisted immensely in feeding nearly 3000 IDPs during the height of the Boko Haram insurgency. And it has been helping the rescued Chibok girls complete their education. In fact, 57 of those girls registered for undergraduate studies at American University of Nigeria this Semester. University education will prepare them and other students, just like the fresh graduates sitting here today for a life of more meaningful contributions to society and of course, more personal fulfillment.”
Advice to graduands
The guest lecturer thanked the founders of the university, and particularly the frontliner, Bode Ayorinde, a lawyer, saying their intervention in the university is a tool towards achieving enduring peace in the country.
He advised the graduands to seek to help the world solve problems through innovative skills and intellectual endowments.
He said; “Let your imagination run wild. Imagine where you would be in 10 or 20 years from now. Imagine where Nigeria would be. Would you be satisfied with it? If so, what role would you have played in getting it there? If not, what role would you play in helping to get it to where you would be satisfied with its progress? What would be Nigeria’s population then? How educated would that population be? What would be the place of crude oil in the world’s energy mix by then? What would that mean for Nigeria? Is there a role that you can play in positioning Nigeria for that trajectory? Or would you just be fighting the wars we fight today over the sharing of oil revenues? Would you rather be one of those who move Nigeria beyond oil and other fossil fuels not only to help the country’s economy thrive in a new post-oil world but to also reduce global warming and protect our eco-system?
“Would you be the one who solves Nigeria’s perennial challenge of providing electricity? Could you be the one who transforms the Made-in-Aba brands into global icons? Would you be content with debating about which region or zone should produce the next President or governor or rather organise and work to ensure that the country has governance and accountability structures, rules and processes which would ensure that where the president or governor comes from becomes less important.”
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