President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday in Abuja urged state governors to "enforce very vigorously" free and compulsory basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.
A resolute enforcement of free and compulsory education in the country would mean parents failing to enroll their children in school up to junior secondary school, would be arrested and prosecuted as provided by law.
Under the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act of 2004, it is criminal for parents to fail to send their children to minimum of JSS3.
Section 2(2) of the law says, "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."
Section 4 of the same law says, " 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 fme of N5,000 or imprisonment for a term of 2 months or to both."
The law derives its stipulations from the constitutional provision for free education for all children in Nigeria.
President Buhari's remark came months after the education minister, Adamu Adamu, repeatedly warned that the government would begin to prosecute defaulting parents in a bid to reverse the country's embarrassing huge number of out-of-school children.
Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. The Univeral Basic Education Commission announced in October 2018 that 13.2 million children were not in schools as they should be.
Despite the high numbers, some state governments have yet to take advantage of billions of naira in counterpart funding provided by the federal government for free basic education.
In March, Mr Adamu said parents were "frustrating" the government's efforts to reverse the shocking figures.
Speaking on matching grant and other intervention funds for basic education in Nigeria, the minister said N350 billion had been expended on the sub-sector by the Buhari administration in four years, while the preceding government spent N360 billion in six years.
"In the six years preceding the Buhari Administration, between 2009 and 2014, the federal government spent about N360 billion worth of intervention on Basic Education covering textbooks, teacher professional development, construction of classrooms and library resources among others."
Inaugurating the National Economic Council (NEC) at the Presidential Villa on Thursday, President Buhari reminded the governors that providing free and compulsory education is a constitutional provision.
"Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended places on all of us here an obligation to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education," presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina quoted the president as saying.
"Section 2 of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act provides that every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.
"It is indeed a crime for any parent to keep his child out of school for this period. In my view, when a government fails to provide the schools, teachers and teaching materials necessary for basic education, it is actually aiding and abetting that crime.
"This is, therefore, a call to action. I would like to see every Governor rise from this meeting and rally his local Government Chairmen towards ensuring that our schools offer the right opportunities and provide the needed materials and teachers for basic education, at the minimum.
"If we are able to do this, the benefits will surely manifest themselves," the President said in his 24-paragraph speech at the inaugural session of NEC.
The president told the governors that successes in the four key areas of education, security, health and agriculture would go a long in lifting Nigerians out poverty, and securing the future for sustainable growth and development.
The president also urged the governors to pay special attention to security, health and agriculture in the next four years of this administration.
Accessing UBEC Fund
The UBEC fund is an annual grant by the federal government to help states upgrade their primary education facilities in order to provide quality education for children.
To access this fund, state governments are required to match the federal government's grant. But many states have not accessed this facility even as children studied under very deplorable conditions, including having lessons under trees and dilapidated classrooms while the quality of teachers remains suspicious in many cases across the country.
In 2017, UBEC said while many of the northern states were paying the counterpart fund and accessing the facility, the southeast and southwest states have basically indulged in the "act of self-harm."
Particularly notorious, going by UBEC data, is Ondo State which has failed to access matching funds worth N4.6 billion and Enugu State which had N4.2 billion idling away. Oyo, Ogun and Ebonyi states have N3.6 billion each while Abia and Bayelsa states had N2.67 and N2.65 billion lying waste respectively.
Senate President Speaks
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported how the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, said the increasing number of out-of-school children in the country will continue to be a burden and a source of insecurity to Nigeria.
According to him, education is compulsory for every Nigerian child and the government must do its best to see that this is accomplished.
"The major source of insecurity is the neglected section of our society particularly children out of school. Our children of ages 14-18 have been found to be involved in insurgency and all manners of criminal activities including drug abuse,' Mr Lawan said
Also, a study by UNICEF showed that Nigeria has an estimated 13.2 million out-of-school children, the highest in the world. About 69 per cent of the country's out-of-school children are in the northern part of Nigeria.
Statistics from the study also showed that about 13 per cent of these children are in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.