Former President Olusegun Obasanjo Tuesday declared that the issue of 20 million-out-of-school children in Nigeria might culminate into another monster of Boko Haram insurgency if the students were not sought and put back to school.
He said that the number constituted 10 percent of the country’s population which should not be ignored.
Obasanjo spoke as a panelist at the National Summit on Tertiary Education Reform with the theme “Reimagining Tertiary Education in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges and Solutions” on Tuesday.
He said: “The greatest resources we have in this country are the people. How many are we today? We are about 216 million and that is a great resource. Tertiary education is very important. But education, particularly education that has left 20 million of our children out of school and those twenty million have no access to education.
“They cannot be effectively part of nation building because they have not had the opportunity to develop their innate capacity to the extent that they can be useful to themselves, to their families and to their community let alone their nation, let alone Africa.
“Now tertiary education is important and my emphasis is on education properly, because the five points I have taken from your speech are zeroed on education in general, although we have the issue of ASUU and the government. And that would be an unending. In my time we had it. And if any government had done anything for ASUU my government did. They all started buying cars and building houses. Even primary school teachers were buying cars. But we must find a solution.
“So, what are the issues? The issues to me are that we are cutting more than we can chew. Who is looking at our population ahead of time, five years from now and ten years from now, and what can we do about it? And apart from food which is very important, who are the people thinking about that and working forward on that.
“After food and after health, the next important aspect of our life is education. Now, if this is the position and these are rights that we must have, what do we do? We know that if we continue the way we are going, by the year 2030, 2040, 2050 what our population would be. We have to think about it and how we would sort it.
“And I believe, that you ask where did we miss the road? We missed the road when the whole world is talking of free education. Education for all. And we did not follow that. It was bad news. We today we have 20 million out of school children. Almost 10 percent of the population. We continue to miss and we are still missing. That is a very bad one. Can we do anything about it? I believe we can.
“Those 20 million children that are out of school, we can get them back to school. If we do not get them back to school, we are preparing for Boko Haram of tomorrow. It will happen as sure as daylight. What can we do? Where are these 20 million children? Where are they located? Can we have schools in the morning and afternoon to get them in at least for six years.
“In the period of six years where this is happening, we would prepare for the transition from primary school to secondary school. And if we are able to do that, we have started the process of lifting education, an instrument of nation building.
“I believe anybody who is able to go through secondary school has the basic to prepare himself as a working person. And that is possible, and that must be the minimum. And I believe that Nigeria has the resources to able to get all the children of Nigeria through secondary education. All the children, no exception. Male and female.
“Tertiary education requires attention, but also primary and secondary education. I believe to a large extent that is our problem. Education is not responsibility of government alone. It is responsibility of all. What of parents religious leaders, community. They all have responsibility on education of the child. I believe the starting point is this.
Responding to a disclosure that a loan bill was still in the works to help indigent students fund their education, Obasanjo wondered if the right people would have access to it.
“Any Nigerian child should never be derived of the right of education for lack of means. Hon. Speaker said to us that he has initiated a bill for loan. I believe it is very important. The point is that can we run it without corruption? Can we bring integrity into it? Can we really make sure that only those who deserve get the loan? Now, my own children should not go to university and be asking for loan.
“I believe that we cannot say at the university level everything should be free. There will have to be certain amount of money to be paid. If they do it in private universities why not in government universities? And if you don’t have money, there has to be loan that at the end of the educational process, you can start paying back”, he said.
Also speaking, the minister of State for Education, Goodluck Nana Opia said increasing population was affecting the funding of education.
He said that the Universities have misused their autonomy.
He said: “Tertiary Education Trust Fund TEFUND had released over N2.3 trillion to the various institutions to create more infrastructure, support research and improve documentation but with the increasing population there was no much impact.
“On behalf of the federal ministry of education, I extend all my sincere appreciation to the the Right Honourable Speaker, Femi Gbajabimila and his team for passionately intervening in face- off with ASUU and organising this summit which I believe is continuation of the speaker’s commitment to ensure that the legislature contributes to creating stable environment for our tertiary education sector.
“As more universities were established to improve our access to the growing population, the dwindling economic realities made it difficult for government to sustain the adequate funding, to maintain the quality of teaching and learning, infrastructure as well as maintain the structures necessary for attracting global talents needed to sustain intellectualism. This opening of opportunity for the private sector to become engaged in university education.
“Several attempts to reform the funding structure by TEFUND (released) over N2.3 trillion to the various institutions to create more infrastructure, support research and improve documentation.
“However, the increasing population with its associated increased demands for tertiary education has made it difficult to satisfy the various demands for funding by government. Funding of tertiary education is undoubtedly, the underlined reason for their decline.
“I wish to inform this gathering that there are 2015 universities, 4 inter-university centres , 219 Polytechnics/Monotechnics, 115 Colleges of Education, 147 Innovation/Enterprise Institutions in Nigeria. Of all these, there are 49 federal universities, 40 federal Polytechnics, 27 colleges of education, 19 Monotechnics, 25 vocational enterprise institutions, 7 innovation institutions under the purview of the federal ministry of education.
“The image of Nigerian public universities has over the years most significantly distorted. We can remember with nostalgia how Nigerian universities used to citadel of learning and attracted scholars and student from all over the world.
“Federal government enacted the Universities autonomy act which amongst others made new provisions for autonomous, management and reorganization of university in Nigeria, provide for a governing council with freedom to exercise powers in good management, growth and development of the university. However in practice, administrative, political and financial autonomy…as government is responsible for almost 100% funding of public universities.
“Disagreement between federal government and Unions led to a number of strike whose cumulative effect includes dysfunction of academic calendar, dwindling quality of teaching, learning and researching, dwindling trust in our tertiary education system, increasing appetite for education in other climes, reducing researching development”, he said.