Facts have emerged on how the government of Kwara State, in 2016, diverted part of the matching grants released to the state by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) instead of spending it to upgrade primary and junior secondary schools' infrastructure as provided by the law governing the funds, and an agreement entered with UBEC.
According to a letter addressed to PREMIUM TIMES and signed on behalf of the commission's executive secretary, Hamid Bobboyi, by the director of physical planning, Sadiq Sa'ad, the N1.83 billion released to the state on July 14, 2016, as the state's grants for 2014 and 2015, was returned to the commission unspent.
Though the commission did not state the reason the money was returned unspent, PREMIUM TIMES' investigations revealed that the government of Kwara State had diverted its counterpart fund of N1.45 billion, which it had earlier paid into its accounts with Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) and Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank). The N1.83 billion from UBEC was supposed to complement the amount earlier paid by the state government.
The UBEC fund is an annual grant by the federal government to help the states upgrade their primary education facilities. To access the fund, state governments are required to match the federal government's grant.
Subsection 2 of Part III of the UBE Act 2004, states "for any state to qualify for the Federal Government block grant pursuant to subsection 1 (1) of this section, such state shall contribute not less than 50 per cent of the total cost of projects as its commitment in the execution of the project."
However, several states have fallen short of this provision compelling UBEC to withhold the federal government's contribution due to such states.
Funds diverted for non-educational purpose
A source at the commission, who does not want to be named, told this reporter that the administration of the immediate past governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed, withdrew the state's UBE contribution for "non-educational" matters.
Disappointed by the state's action which it described as a breach of contract and trust, UBEC barred the state from accessing all funds due to it from 2014 till date.
As a result, Kwara State has N7.1 billion meant for upgrading primary and junior secondary school facilities it cannot access, making it the state with the highest amount of frozen grants in the country.
The last time the state accessed UBEC grant was December 17, 2013, when it received a total of N1.03 billion for the first to the fourth quarter of the year. This implies that throughout Mr Ahmed's eight-years tenure he could only access UBE fund for two years.
However, speaking through an aide, Muhideen Akorede, Mr Ahmed denied that the funds were misappropriated. He explained that he merely terminated loans taken to attract the grants due to piling interests paid on them. Mr Ahmed also said biting economic recession that had struck his state at the time left him with no choice but to discontinue the loans.
"At the height of the 2015 recession, the former administration secured a N1,045,050,604 bank loan to counterpart-fund a N2b matching grant in favour of KWSUBEB. The loan was to enable access to the 2013 tranche of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) grant.
"However, faced with hefty bank repayment from already dwindled federal allocation, which will have further pressured finances, the government terminated the loan. KWSUBEB, on the other hand, drew down on the balance of N1,045,050,604 for school rehabilitation projects. But when it became aware of the situation, UBEC demanded repayment of the N1,045,050,604.
"Subsequently, the government repaid N595,050,604, leaving a balance of N450m, with the administration committing to clear the balance from expected inflows by the end of its tenure. Unfortunately, the state accounts were frozen at the administration's twilight, thus preventing it from fulfilling the budgeted expenditure," Mr Akorede said.
How Kwara State flouted the law
Sources at UBEC told this reporter that in 2016, Kwara State government deposited N1.45 billion in different accounts with GTB and Polaris Bank. The fund was meant to be the state's own contribution towards the funding of Universal Basic Education in the state. This contribution would have cleared the way for the state to access, UBEC's grant of N1.8 billion for 2014 and 2015.
However, shortly after UBEC deposited the grants with the financial institutions, the administration of Mr Ahmed approached the banks for the withdrawal of its contribution allegedly to be spent on other things other than the agreed infrastructural upgrade of schools.
A highly placed source at UBEC, who does not want to be named, said UBEC got wind of the state's action through its intelligence networks.
"They have forgotten that we have our own networks for monitoring each kobo we put anywhere. So they were shocked when we confronted them with the fact of their fraud. In fact, we accused the banks of collusion and we gave them an ultimatum to either refund the entire money diverted or we would withdraw our money," the source told PREMIUM TIMES.
According to the source, as at the time the funds were allegedly diverted by the government, contractors that were awarded projects across various schools, were yet to be paid.
When the state did not refund the money it withdrew, as requested by UBEC, the agency retrieved all its contributions for the two years and placed a restriction on funds due to the state until the money is refunded. as of January 8, the accumulated fund due to the state but which it cannot access was N7.151 billion.
This reporter learnt that Ogun State, which has a similar problem as Kwara, has recently had its withheld funds unfrozen after the federal government decided to be paying the counterpart contributions on behalf of states from their Paris Club refund.
"But not all the states were entitled to Paris Club refund. Four states of Kwara, Osun, Taraba and Adamawa had no refund, so there was nothing the federal government could remove from.
"But even prior to the refund issue, Kwara had misused our funds earlier granted them. So we had recovered all our funds up till 2015," the source said, adding that; "The 2013/2014 was paid them but we recovered the whole 2014 because they misappropriated the 2013 grant. We simply told them to use the state money to execute the projects based on the action plan."
How action has badly affected education in the state
Established in 1997, Government Day Secondary School, Oja Gbooro, Ilorin East Local Government Area, looks like it was built a century ago. In May 2019, in the heart of the rainy season, when this reporter visited, pupils deserted their classroom as water poured uncontrollably through its blown roof.
The office of the school's vice principal was a repurposed lock-up store. Visitors who want to see him would have to cross a swampy field. Inside the office, all important documents were placed on raised platforms in order to keep them beyond the reach of floodwater.
"Whenever it rains, we always wrap our books in polythene bags. If the rain is much, teachers may not come to our class again because everywhere will be very rough," said Abeeblahi Hammed, 13, a junior secondary school pupil taking refuge from the in a crowded classroom with senior pupils.
A teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, took our reporter to an uncompleted building which she said has been abandoned for more than 15 years.
"These pillars here are part of the foundation for another block of classrooms but they have been like this for years. They are already dilapidated," the teacher said.
At Budo-Aiki, the headteacher of Baruten Local Government Education Authority School- a primary school, Mohammed Bawo, required the cover of a tree in the middle of the school compound to attend to official matters.
Mr Mohammed said the roof of the main block of four classrooms built by the State's Universal Basic Education Board, was blown off by strong wind in 2019.
"Since then, we have been managing these three classrooms, and as the headteacher, I no longer have an office. That is why you could see me sitting at the open field here," Mr. Bawo explained.
Before midday the same day, at a primary school in Kiyon, another community in Baruten Local Government Area, this reporter approached a group of pupils playing under a tree.
According to a primary 6 pupil, identified simply as Yahaya, their only teacher had come that morning and had left. The pupils would not learn anything for the rest of the day.
The situation is similar across many schools visited both in Ilorin metropolis and other remote communities of Patigi, Lade, among others, within two of the three Kwara senatorial districts.
From Baboko Community Junior Secondary School to Sheikh Alimi Junior secondary School and Sheik AbdulKadiri College, all in Ilorin West Local Government Area, it is the same story of dilapidated structures, inadequate facilities and teachers. In one instance, one teacher takes English Language and Mathematics from class one to three.
What statistics say
According to official data obtained from the state government, Kwara currently has a total of 1,578 primary schools, 473 junior secondary schools and 341 senior secondary schools.
Across these schools, a total of 289,019 pupils are enrolled in primary schools; 105,490 students in junior secondary schools, while 84,313 pupils are enrolled in senior secondary schools.
The data further added that distributed across these schools are 28,345 teachers with 12,869 in primary schools; 8,979 in junior secondary schools and 6,497 across the senior secondary schools.
However, according to the National Personnel Audit carried out in 2018 by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), in conjunction with National Population Commission (NPC), and the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), roughly 84,247 school-aged children are currently out of school in the state,50,392 are boys and 33,855 girls. This is more than 20 per cent of the entire school-aged children population in Kwara State.
Kwara State has no reliable data - NUT
But the principal of Sheikh Abdulkadri College, Ilorin, who doubles as the chairman of Kwara State's chapter of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Toyin Saliu, warned that any figure provided by the Kwara State Government should be taken with a pinch of the salt.
Mr Saliu said the number of teachers provided by the government was concocted, "with each administration choosing statistics that favour different needs and circumstances."
He said; "What we used to hear is that we have 24,000 teachers at both primary and junior secondary schools, and about 7,000 in the senior secondary schools. They are all imaginary because there has not been any credible headcount in the last decade or more. What you see are just fraudulent attempts to cook up figures through questionable screening exercises which have always been based on local government levels."
Speaking further on teachers' welfare in the state, Mr Saliu said things have been bad "especially for those at the primary and the junior secondary schools."
The NUT boss said for more than a decade, no teacher had training opportunity in the state, and the training programmes seldom conducted by non-governmental organisations for teachers, are only targeted at marketing products.
He said state funding is so poor that some "schools have no toilets," "We only teach under dilapidated infrastructure. When storm blows off your school's roofs, we rely on parent-teachers' association (PTA) for support because letters written to the ministry are never replied."
The incumbent administration said it has mapped out strategies to access the accumulated grants, claiming the N450 million the state owed has been paid.
Rafiu Ajakaiye, the chief secretary of the incumbent governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, told PREMIUM TIMES that about N2 billion has been earmarked for counterpart fund in the state's 2020 budget.
Gov. Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara State [Photo: Daily Post Nigeria]UBEC confirms efforts by the incumbent administration to pay the pending contribution. Another official, who does not want to be named, said what is left in the matter is for the officials of UBEC to inspect the facilities fixed with the 2013 grant and payment of counterpart funds before the state's grants would be unfrozen.
Stakeholders seek reform
Stakeholders in the state's education sector including the leadership of the parent-teachers' association (PTA) in the state, and a civil society group, Network for Sustainable Development (ENetSuD), have canvassed for improved reform in the education sector.
The chairman of PTA in the state, Ibrahim Oniye, said different administrations had done their parts in lifting the state's education sector. He, however, urged parents to support the government in providing a conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning.
But the leadership of ENetSuD is much more vocal and categorical in its demand for transformation in the education sector.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, the group's coordinator, Abdullateef Alangbonsi, expressed disappointment in the infrastructural collapse and moral degeneration noticed across schools.
Mr Alangbonsi said his organisation's tour of select schools across the state's three senatorial districts revealed massive rot in the schools, and linked the situation to misappropriation of scarce resources.
He said; "The state government needs to prioritise funding of the state-owned schools and declare a state of emergency in the educational sector. We have dedicated ourselves to reviving the battered education sector and our campaign has involved both civil and legal options."
Also speaking, the director of operations, Lygel Youths and Leadership Initiatives (LYLI), Lekan Oladapo, said the recent suspension of about 165 schools in the state by the West African Examination Council (WAEC), over cases of examination malpractice, is a reflection of the rot in the state's education sector.
He said, "When students have no access to relevant tools, sit on bare floors or under the trees to learn, and teachers are both owed salaries and untrained, the consequence is the urge to cut corners. The public shame the development has thrown the state into is enough for heads to roll."
This report is with the support of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, and MacArthur Foundation.