Johnson Oko, a cobbler, said after his primary school, his parents could not afford to enrol him in secondary school and he was asked to learn a vocation.
"I decided to go and learn how to make foot wears. The plan was for me to learn only for some time; before returning to school. But long after I started, no one talked about returning to school and when I started realising some money from it, I decided to remain in the work," he said.
Johnson, who said he has a dream of becoming a lawyer, lamented that he is no longer thinking of going to school but how to help his younger siblings continue their education.
"I know education is important, but you need money to go to school. If there is free education, I may reconsider going back to school," he said.
Oko is one of the millions of Nigerians, especially adolescents, that have failed to return to the classroom after completing their primary education.
A report released by Global Education Monitoring Report, developed by an independent team and published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, has estimated of out-of-school rates for 192 countries since 2000.
It is estimated that the out-of-school population stood at 244 million in 2021, including 67 million children of primary school age (about 6 to 11 years); 57 million adolescents of lower secondary school age (about 12 to 14 years); and 121 million youth of upper secondary school age (about 15 to 17 years).
Worldwide, it showed that 9 per cent of primary school age children, 14 per cent of lower secondary school age adolescents and 30 per cent of upper secondary school age youth remain out of school.
"The decline in the out-of-school rate appears to have slowed down earlier, and more visibly among adolescents of lower secondary school age: while the rate fell by 9 percentage points in the 2000s, it has only fallen by two percentage points in the 2010s."
Low-income countries have continued to bring down the out-of-school rates among children of primary school age but have struggled in the 2010s to reduce the out-of-school rates among those of secondary school age - one in three adolescents and more than one in two youth remain out of school.
"Sub-Saharan Africa is not only the region with the highest out-of-school population but also the only region where this population is growing. Since 2009, the out-of-school population has increased by 20 million, reaching 98 million in 2021. Out-of-school rates among primary school-age children have been consistently declining, albeit by only 0.3 percentage points per year in the 2010s, with the result that one in five children is still not enrolled.
"But the main challenge is among adolescents and youth whose out-of-school rates have stagnated since 2010 at 33 per cent and 48 per cent respectively," the report stated.
Nigeria is among the sub-Saharan countries with a huge burden of out-of-school population.
In Nigeria, out-of-school rates among adolescents and young people of secondary school age have hardly changed in 20 years, with the result that the out-of-school population in this age group increased by 61 per cent from 6.3 to 10.1 million.
The number of out-of-school children of primary school age also increased by 50 per cent from 6.4 to 9.7 million, as the out-of-school rate has remained constant at 28 per cent since 2010.
Speaking on the issue, the Head of Department, Special Education and Director General Studies, Kwara State University, Malete, Prof. Olubukola Christiana Dada, attributed the situation to a variety of issues.
She noted that "more than 150 million children aged 5-17 are victims of forced labour and often leave school because of this, adding that 73 million work in hazardous jobs, according to the International Labour Organization. These children spend long hours in these jobs, which affect their schooling."
She also identified "sickness, death of parents, hunger at school, lack of fees, lack of school supplies, and poverty generally, among others, as causes."
Prof. Dada further noted that "Many parents who have more than three or four children in school and living just above the poverty line will have no choice but to watch some of them drop out to learn a trade.
"But we cannot distance the attitude of society from all of these. Now ASUU is on strike for several months and some students are or will not go back to the classrooms.
"After COVID, we saw a lot of changes in our studies as some who could hardly talk or engage in class became very different after being exposed to money. They were looking down on lecturers, coming to school with exotic cars.
Prof. Dada called for more enlightenment and sensitization about school and for successful old students to be brought to talk to students who they in turn look up to as role models and mentors.
"The parents, society, school and government should come together to ensure that students do not drop out of secondary school but complete their education," the professor said.
On his part, a former Director of the Institute of Education, University of Ilorin, Prof. Lasiele Yahaya, told Daily Trust that all stakeholders must play their part to address the menace.
"The school should provide support or counselling services to encourage students to stay in school because dropping out may be due to family or parental problems, but with such support, the affected student will see the school as a second home.
"It can also be due to beating or flogging by the teacher instead of encouraging the students. Most of them will run away. We can also attribute it to poverty, leading to not getting the desired materials, or paying fees late, which may ultimately lead to dropping out.
"Some parents, I must say, don't even know the value of education and have more children than they can cater for. Some students also drop out and become bullies, especially if the school is not properly organised.
"The society itself is not helping matters as there are no support services for orphans as we have in other climes," Prof Yahaya noted.
The don said parents should be more responsible, as the government has many responsibilities and may not be able to cater for everything.
"Then there should be counselling services and every school must have one counsellor to take care of students' emotional challenges. The school must be well monitored and the provision of learning facilities must be a priority.
"It's not every time that teachers should flog or punish students. And it is very necessary for parents to plan and then work, and engage in farming. That somebody is a politician does not mean they should not work. Poverty, I don't think, should be used as an excuse. People should plan harder and work harder," he said.
While several government policies, including the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA), have helped return several children to school, teenagers, like Joy Angu (not real name), who left school in Abuja after junior secondary education, have failed to return to school.
Her plan to raise some money did not go well as the N10,000 she got through her nanny was spent on her ailing father, who later passed away in 2021. Since then, she has been fending for her siblings and "the last thing on my mind right now is education," she said.