Failure by many state governments in the country to access their entitlements from the Universal Basic Education Fund is making it increasingly impossible for a growing number of children of school age to access education, in contravention of the UBE Act, Lagos-based lawyer and human right activist, Femi Falana, has said.
In a statement at the weekend, Falana said many state governments had refused to pay the counterpart funds needed to access funds in the UBE Fund, a situation that has affected their ability to deliver free and compulsory education to school age children as required by the UBE Act.
He said if the situation continued: "We shall have no other alternative than to approach the court for mandamus to compel them to comply with the law."
Under the UBE Act enacted on May 26, 2004, every government in Nigeria is to provide "free, compulsory and universal basic education for every Nigerian child of primary and junior secondary school age."
To finance the scheme the federal government contributes not less than 2 per cent of its Consolidated Revenue Fund to the UBE Fund, to which states are expected to add not less than 50 per cent of the total cost of projects to qualify for grants.
But Falana said many states had failed to access the necessary funds to carry out their statutory responsibility of providing free and compulsory education for Nigeria's teeming school age children, leading to a situation where "over 12 million Nigerian children of school age are roaming the streets as beggars, vendors and urchins."
He said, under the UBE Act, "Any parent who fails to ensure that his child receives full-time education suitable to his age is deemed to have committed an offence and is liable on conviction to fine of N10,000 or imprisonment for a term of three months or both. So far, no parent of guardian has been brought to trial under the law."
Worried by the situation, Falana said a civil society group, Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project, had sued the Nigerian government at the ECOWAS court to challenge the failure of the government to implement the free education programme. The court, he said, affirmed the right of every Nigerian child to free education in line with the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
According to Falana, to ensure compliance with the judgement, SERAP sought information from UBEC, which revealed that the federal government had between 2005 and 2011 contributed N148 billion to the UBE Fund out of which the states had yet to access N34 billion due to failure to provide the counterpart fund.