Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto State) and Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti State) on Tuesday pleaded with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, to shelve deduction of loans obtained by states from the federal government via the apex bank’s budget support facilities.
The governor spoke at a national dialogue with the theme: “Financing Safe Schools in Nigeria: Creating Safe Learning Communities,” organised by the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning in Abuja.
Apparently speaking for their colleagues, the two governors, who are officials of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) said the deductions would worsen the fiscal positions of the states.
Tambuwal, who is the deputy chairman of the forum appealed to the CBN and the federal government not to deduct the loans from states’ monthly allocations at this time.
The Sokoto State governor, whose appeal was echoed by Fayemi, the chairman of the forum, said such deductions at this time would compound the states’ fiscal problems.
Meanwhile, the federal government is to develop a national plan on safe schools as stakeholders from the public and private sectors of the economy, donor agencies and development partners across the globe rose on Tuesday to galvanise financing support in the renewed effort to ensure safe schools in Nigeria.
A former British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, who was part of the discussions on the Safe Schools Initiative launched in May 2014 in the aftermath of the kidnapping of over 270 Chibok schoolgirls promised to rally global support for the programme.
Converging on Abuja at the national dialogue on financing safe schools in Nigeria participants described the increasing abduction of schoolchildren in the North as a dangerous trend for the present and future well-being of Nigeria that must be addressed forthwith.
Participants at the event included governors, ministers, service chiefs, United Nations agencies, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard; a former British Prime Minister, Dr. Gordon Brown, and representatives of donor agencies, among others.
In her address at the event, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, said the dialogue recognised the need for a decisive action and for a coordinated approach to the financing and implementation of an integrated safe school programme across the country, which is government-led and is tailored to the current realities on the ground.
The minister, who observed that the citizens are looking to the government to lead the way added that “we must heed the call to action, and we must all work together to realise the promise of safe school environments.”
Providing a background to the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI), she stated that it followed the abduction of over 200 girls by Boko Haram from a secondary school in Chibok in 2014, stressing that the Nigerian government alongside the then United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, and development partners and private sector stakeholders launched the initiative.
She said while much progress had been made through the SSI and other programmes, much still had to be done to achieve the objectives.
She also stressed the need to reimagine, institutionalise and scale up the safe school programmes.
Ahmed stated that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant economic crisis have posed unprecedented challenges globally as well as in Nigeria, stressing that while the government has been proactive in its response to the pandemic by establishing and implementing the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) and other interventions (including the scaling up of social safety net programmes, and increased investments in health and education), the pandemic has deepened insecurity across the country and resulted in an alarming spate of school attacks and mass kidnappings.
She said: “These actions are a direct attack on our children’s fundamental human rights to an education without fear of violence or attack, as described in the Safe Schools Declaration, to which Nigeria is a signatory. In fact, we were amongst the first 37 United Nations member states to endorse the declaration.
“Even before the pandemic, Nigeria accounted for approximately 20 per cent of the global out-of-school population. With an estimated 13 million children currently out of school in the country, we sit on the precipice of a socio-economic disaster and a full education crisis, if we do not act in a coordinated manner to stop the current wave of systematic attacks on the fundamental rights of our children to a safe learning environment.
“Parents are increasingly more nervous about sending their children, and particularly their young girls, to school with some choosing to withdraw existing students. The time to act is now.”
The minister said the current effort to reinvigorate the safe school initiative would be holistic and would cut across the country, adding that her ministry will develop a national plan on safe schools, defining the roles of and contributions of all stakeholders.
Such stakeholders, she stated, include the federal and state governments, security agencies, communities, donor agencies and development partners.
Although she would not divulge the cost implication of the national development plan, the minister said such a cost could only emerge after all the stakeholders, including the security agencies, had done their cost analysis.
She, however, stated that the implication of not putting such a plan in place and ensuring safe schools could cost the nation N32 billion annually.
In his contribution, Brown who joined the event virtually said he was happy to be part of the discussions on the Safe Schools Initiative.
He said: “Safe schools started from investments from diverse business fellowships for education across the globe and supported by the charity, raising funding from business meetings, governments and government donors.”
Brown assured the gathering that such donors were all already and willing to help in the latest move to re-energise the initiative.
He said the Safe Schools Initiative was able to help 2,400 students relocate from high-risk areas from some of the states to 43 unity schools.
Fayemi said what the country was facing was a much more serious and complex security issue that needed every collective approach to handle.
Fayemi stated that governors were facing the direct heat of the security problems in the country amid tough economic pressures.
Lamenting that before insecurity compounded the problems facing the country, one of the biggest challenges confronting the nation was how to ensure enough enrolment in schools, he added that adding insecurity to the mix was a far more complex problems to grapple with.
According to him, the abductions and kidnappings in schools have provided enough excuse for parents to keep their children away from schools, and called for urgent steps to stem the tide.
He said: “At the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, we are committed to working with other partners to ensure that we keep our schools safe. In all our states, we are conducting vulnerability assessment of all our schools. The state security services have been helping in the states on this.”
He regretted that over N41 billion is sitting idle with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) because of part-funding, adding that a pathway to surmount that challenge must be found.
In his submission, the Chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, (NESG), Mr. Asue Ighodalo, lamented that insecurity has been fuelled by a high unemployment level.
He appealed to the government to put measures in place to create employment for the youth.
While expressing the support of the private sector for the Safe Schools Initiative, Ighodalo said the economy is over-regulated and needs to be loosened to attract investment.
The event was also attended by the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral A.Z Gambo; Chief of Air Staff, Air-Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao and the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Usman Alkali Baba.
Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja