With sustained attacks on vulnerable schoolchildren by terrorists, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, on Tuesday, declared that Nigeria currently sits on a horrifying education crisis and socio-economic disaster, calling for an urgent multi-stakeholder solution to remedy the situation.
Ahmed, who said this in Abuja at a high level dialogue with the theme, “Financing Safe Schools: Creating Safe Learning Communities”, called on the government and the private sector to immediately join forces to stop the attacks on the fundamental rights of children to a safe learning environment.
According to the minister, if the current fractured state of education is sustained, the country would have failed to guarantee a safe learning environment, secure and protect the dignity of children, their teachers, and school administrators.
The programme is aimed at initiating a process towards renewing and reimagining the government’s commitment to maintaining learning environments that are safe and secure.
She lamented that already, 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,’ she said, calling for a comprehensive response to the insecurity challenges facing the country, stressing that they have devastating effects on the various sectors of the economy.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have posed unprecedented challenges globally and here in Nigeria, the minister declared.
‘While we have been proactive in our response to the pandemic, and have established and are implementing the Economic Sustainability Plan 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.
‘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.
‘While much progress has been made through the Safe School Initiative and other programmes, (which many of your organisations are supporting) we have a long way to go, and there is need to re-imagine, institutionalize, and scale our Safe Schools programmes,’ she added.
‘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 in 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 Finance Minister further told the gathering that financing was critical to the successful implementation of any proposed interventions that would come out of the dialogue.
‘We in Government recognise that to make the critical investments necessary to sustainability secure our schools and ensure a holistic and community-centered approach to Safe Schools programmes, we must address the longstanding challenge of domestic revenue mobilization.
‘This process is already ongoing through the implementation of fiscal reforms, including Finance Acts 2019 and 2020,’she added.
The minister said the government is working to develop the second phase of the Strategic Revenue Generation Initiatives, a multiagency programme originally launched in 2019, with prioritised initiatives across three thematic areas.
The three areas are achieving sustainability in revenue generation, identifying new and enhancing enforcement of existing revenue streams; and achieving cohesion in the revenue ecosystem.
As part of this initiative, she said the Ministry of Finance is also exploring how to make revenue administration processes more efficient, recognizing resource constraints particularly post COVID-19.
Even with these efforts, Ahmed lamented that the country’s fiscal space remained constrained with the COVID-19 response having required increased borrowing in Nigeria, as it has in other countries across the Globe.
She added that it has become imperative that the government works collaboratively with the private sector and international development partners to develop funding strategies to drive the creation of safe education environments.
Earlier in his comments, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mr Nasir el-Rufai, lamented that the state has had to grapple with various security challenges, especially the upsurge in student abductions.
He said the state government will continue to work with the federal government to boost security.
‘We took away students from troubled schools and redistributed them to safer areas. But it has led to pressure in hostels and classrooms but we really don’t have a choice,’ the Kaduna governor said.
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