Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Thursday said he was pained by the high number of out-of-school children in the country.
The former President said this as the Federal Government disclosed that it would start an open schooling progamme in July as part of efforts to solve the problem of the out-of-school children.
Obasanjo, during a meeting with the national leadership of the National Youth Council of Nigeria at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, said the youth within the age bracket of 30 constituted over 60 per cent of Nigerian population, adding that they should be regarded as leaders of today and not tomorrow.
The former President said, “When I see what youths in other countries are doing and I see the people who are in charge, most of them are young, but Nigerians, especially the youth, are not better endowed.
“Whatever I have done, I did it because I am educated and for the love I have for Nigeria. If I didn’t have education, I would not have been able to do what I have done and today, it pains me that more than 13 million of Nigerian children who should be in school are out of school.”
Recall that the Federal Ministry of Education had on April 12, 2019, said it conducted a national personnel audit of both public and private schools in the country and discovered that there were 10,193,918 out-of-school children nationwide.
The former Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had noted that the audit was part of the 2018/2019 annual school census, which was carried out by the Universal Basic Education Commission, the National Population Commission, the National Bureau of Statistics and other stakeholders.
The minister said the census showed that the most endemic states affected by the out-of-school children syndrome were; Kano, Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Kaduna, Taraba, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, Oyo, Benue, Jigawa and Ebonyi states.
Out-of-school children: FG begins open schooling programme July
To tackle the out-of-school children menace in the country, the Universal Basic Education Commission said on Thursday that it would commence an open schooling programme across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory by July.
The UBEC Executive Secretary, Dr Hamid Bobboyi, stated this in Abuja at a one-day national stakeholders’ meeting on the open schooling programme, attended by representatives from the Federal Ministry of Education, National Teachers’ Institute and the National Commission for Nomadic Education.
Bobboyi, who was represented by the Director of Teacher Development, Mr Unwha Ismaila, said the issue of the out-of-school children was receiving greater attention from the government.
He said, “The Federal Government is thinking about putting an end to the issue by sending these children back to school, which is not only formal but non-formal education. UBEC has other initiatives for better basic education in the country; the out-of-school issue is multi-directional and has to be solved through a multi-directional approach.
“We have a programme, Education Delivery for All, which is ongoing in states and we want to reach as many out-of-school children as possible. The Open Schooling programme will start by July because a lot of things need to be put in place as planned; we need to start as early as possible.
“We are working on what the cost elements involved in this programme would be, but what we are sure of is that the Commonwealth of Learning in Canada will give us technical support. Such support from the Commonwealth will push this programme, but we also need to know which activities to be involved in, equipment needed to buy and other things we need to do. If all these are done, we can now disclose the estimated amount that the programme will cost.”
Also, the NMEC Executive Secretary, Prof Abba Haladu, represented by Mrs Afiniki Achi, said, “We are in this fight together and we hope this meeting is going to give us a fruitful deliberation that will bring about the importance of basic education.”
However, Obasanjo said the country should employ more teachers and motivate people in the teaching profession.
Urging the young Nigerians to rise up to the challenge of nationbuilding, Obasanjo said, “I am very much concerned about the youth. Let nobody tell you that you are too young, I started making contributions to the world when I was serving in Congo in 1960. I was only 24 years old then. By the time I went to the warfront, I was still under 35 years of age. When I became a head of state, I was under 40 years of age.
“If you are not given an opportunity, you will not have the chance to show what you have. I was lucky. I was given an opportunity for training and an opportunity to face challenges. You must accept an opportunity.”
NUT backs Obasanjo, says ex-President waking up from slumber
Also, the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the Academic Staff Union of Universities supported Obasanjo on the danger of the high number of out-of-school children.
The NUT said it supported the submissions of Obasanjo on how the government must find urgent measures to tackle the alarming number of out-of-school children, noting that the ex-President appeared to have woken up from his slumber.
The NUT Secretary-General, Dr Mike Ene, in an interview with The PUNCH, noted that Obasanjo talked about issues, which could have been better addressed when he was in power for eight years.
The NUT Secretary-General said the Federal Government must provide “21st century class of equipment in public schools and do everything possible to rake in the out-of-school children.”
He said, “We cannot agree less with the submissions of the former President. But I have one worry and it is that many times, when someone is out of power, he will begin to explain a lot of things that ought to have been done or those things that could have been done during his time.
“If the past President was in power for eight years, one will begin to wonder how much of value and what welfare they gave to teachers? If you study the education policies of countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Finland, Canada and others, you will discover that teachers are better taken care of. They place a lot of premium on education.
“For this man to suggest this, it means that they have woken up from their slumber and that they did not get it right during their own time. We have always told the government to put the 21st century class of equipment in public schools and do everything possible to rake in the out-of-school children.
“Beyond that, there are even sorry situations where teachers’ salaries are owed by some state governments. This is not acceptable.”
Out-of-school children in Nigeria a time bomb – ASUU
Similarly, ASUU said the alarming number of out-of-school children in the country was a time bomb, noting that the “cycle of inter-generational illiteracy must be broken.”
ASUU National President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said, “It is obvious that the way to go on out-of-school children is for the government to seek tangible solutions in providing infrastructure and suitable socio-economic conditions. Otherwise, we are just planting a time bomb in the country.
“What we see is a cycle of illiterate parents giving birth to illiterate children who will also produce illiterate children and the cycle continues. That cycle of inter-generational illiteracy must be broken.
“And how can we break it? We must address the fundamentals in the country; the fundamentals of national development. As long as we remain at this level of poverty, there will always be out-of-school children.
“The government is known for cosmetic measures. The government is just begging the question. We must solve the problems of the parents of out-of-school children. The government and those who have occupied the highest positions in the land have not addressed the fundamentals. One of these is equitable distribution of wealth in the country. If we are able to address poverty, the problem of out-of-children will be resolved too.”
24 states have been taken over by bandits, says NYCN
The NYCN had earlier complained to the former President about the rising spate of terrorism in the country, adding that over 24 states had been taken over by bandits thereby upping the number of out-of-school children.
The National President of the council, Mr Oladele Niyi, said the group visited Obasanjo to seek his help in finding a lasting solution to the menace.
The council, which conferred an award of the “father of the nation” on the former President, also gave him a gift of N1m as a donation to his Presidential library.
The national president said, “Unfortunately, successive governments have not been able to build on some of the things you did in terms of security.
“When some people wanted to escalate security issues in the country, you showed effective leadership and it never recurred.
“But Baba, I want to tell you that almost 24 states have been taken over by bandits. When people travel by road they are scared. One can’t even go to Kaduna by road because bandits will grab one and even after paying ransom such a person can still be killed.
“In the last four years, even till now, no one has done anything to the rising activities of bandits that are killing citizens of the country across the 24 states that have been taken over by them.”
Explaining the reasons for the conferment of the award on Obasanjo, the former President of the council, Ikenga Ugochinyere, commended the elder statesman.
He added that successive governments had not been able to build on the good legacies he left behind over 12 years ago.