Governors and idle UBEC funds – Thisday

UBEC should adhere strictly to its rules

The recent disclosure by the federal government that over N130 billion was lying idle with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) is a scandal, especially at a period many of the schools across the country are in dire need. But this is a recurring problem arising from the inability by some states to provide the 50 per cent matching grant to access the funds. The Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, has described the situation as unfortunate while some of the states with idle billions of naira at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) include Anambra, Ogun, Imo, Edo, and Ebonyi.

For years, many of the governors had been scheming to collect this special federal government intervention fund without providing the necessary counterpart funding, which is a needed demonstration of seriousness for entitlement. Meanwhile, the handling of the funds by many state governments has only reinforced the need for strict monitoring of its disbursement and utilisation. It is treated by many governors as no better than slush funds.

Ordinarily, primary education does not fall within the purview of the federal government and the two per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) it set aside for equal distribution to all the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to support basic education. It was a response to a felt national need. While this intervention fund is not supposed to be the main or alternative fund for that critical education sub-sector, many state governments speak about it with a sense of entitlement.

From reports of states’ performance over years, the diversion of funds to things other than basic education and the practice of some states which pay the counterpart fund, receive the grant and promptly withdraw half of it, show that the federal government is right in maintaining the existing strictures. Interestingly, the states complaining of inadequate funds to rebuild classroom, train teachers and provide instructional materials are the ones putting forward all sorts of arguments against rules for access to the special intervention funds.

Allocation per state has hardly ever gone beyond half a billion naira per state, per annum. Yet some states argue that this is too much for them to commit as counterpart fund. At some point, governors were pushing for amendments to Sections 9 (b) and 11(2) of the law spelling out criteria for entitlement to the funds. A state once requested that it be paid only what it is able to pay. That is, if the state could only afford to pay N200 million in a given year, for example, UBEC should give it the same amount and keep the rest!

The experience with the Education Trust Fund (ETF) is instructive. Just because states were required to account for previous allocations to access the next, the allocations piled up. There must be effective monitoring of the projects executed with the funds as there have been cases of classrooms falling apart even before they are put to use. The School-Based Management Committees (SBMCs) have a role to play here and should be set up with clear guidelines. Many of the governors could not understand that they were fighting a commitment to transparency and accountability to the people, whose interests they have sworn to protect.

Indeed, from what has transpired in the last 22 years of democracy, the mechanism for accountability diminishes the farther away government is from the centre. The travel budget of a state governor for example is in most cases far bigger than the education budget even when the schools within their jurisdictions operate under mango trees or at best rag-tag enclosures with squalid infrastructure.

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