By Shakir Akorede
It’s no more news—one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
If that is appalling, generally speaking, the case of the northern part of the country is even scarier. In northern Nigeria, Only 61% of 6–11 year-olds regularly attend primary school, while only 35.6% of children aged 36–59 months receive early childhood education, as revealed by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Nigeria’s education crisis is blamed on many factors most commonly economic barriers, ill socio-cultural practices and, recently, security challenges. But one prime factor is often ignored—corruption. According to Transparency International, more than half of Nigeria’s education budget is lost to corruption. Sadly, this robs the sector of resources needed to get poor children in urban and rural communities in school so they have equal access to education.
Although Nigeria is known for its low education budget, corruption is yet responsible for poor funding and thus abysmal infrastructures, inadequacy of classrooms and quality teachers as well as poor learning environment—all which contribute to Nigeria’s 10.5 million out-of-school children.
Arguably, war against corruption in the education sector seems the most vital step to reverse the dangerous trend.
This explains why Follow The Money, supported by the MacArthur Foundation, deployed its advocacy and project monitoring arsenal to ensure the delivery of $1.5 million (570 million Naira) in education infrastructure across four local governments in Kaduna State, playing a tripartite role: community engagement, project tracking and assurance of quality service delivery, and taking pupils off the street.
“Our work was important in Kaduna State because the state had signed up on the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – the first Nigerian state to do so,” said Hamzat Lawal, founder and CEO of Follow The Money. However, being an OGP member isn’t a silver bullet to good governance and accountability. “For democracy to really work in Nigeria, we must take citizen engagement very seriously,” added Hamzat.
And that proves to be true. “Before the coming of Follow The Money, the community was in the dark. We didn’t know what the government was doing to us,” Yohanna Zuberu, a community member in Jema’a, opens up in a documentary. His assertion would be affirmed by an official of the Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). “There’s been a gap in the interaction with the community members,” the official, Mubarak Muhammed, said, adding however, “With the constant advocacy by Follow The Money, we are able to say that community members are more aware of what is happening around them. There’s this renewed effort to ensure that for every new project we must inform the people of what is to come and what the expectations should be.”
As of January 2020, Follow The Money’s civic action in Kaduna has facilitated the construction and rehabilitation of 23 primary schools in the four local governments of Jema’a, Kajuru, Kudan, and Zangon Kataf, with an impressive enrollment of over 200,000 children in those schools and other existing ones.
Interestingly, this effort would trigger unexpected results in Kaduna State. By September 2019, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) had launched an extensive campaign, going far beyond the four local governments, to enrol 145,000 children in school. In a news report, the board’s Social Mobilisation Acting Director, Ibrahim Aminu said that the policy was targeted at all categories of out-of-school children with the aim to enrol 727,764 out-of-school children in the next five years.
Making the Impossible Possible
Children education is one of the most intractable social challenges in Northern Nigeria. No surprise Follow The Money is seen to be moving mountains.
“The strategy used in Kaduna to decrease the number of out-of-school children was to get the community members and the educational sector to work together. First we created School Monitoring Teams (SMTs) teams, which is a mixture of all the community governance structures to be able to track the implementation of school projects across board” explains Kingsley Agu, Follow The Money project officer.
Expatiating on that model, Hamzat Lawal notes, “Follow The Money bottom-up and top-bottom approach is taking data needs assessment from the community input, putting it into government development plans and taking government commitment down to the people to collect feedback.” On the Kaduna education project, he adds with stern commitment on his face, “Follow The Money would help ensure the acceleration and implementation of this important policy commitment from the government, creating an environment where citizens can give feedback and where they can hold their government to account on public expenditure.”
On rebuilding primary education infrastructure in Kaduna State, Follow the Money is not only strengthening accountability and delivery of public goods to the most vulnerable section of the society, it is improving access to education, creating new hopes for a better future.
“We have recorded a considerable amount of success in project implementation, especially in terms of transparency. Gone are the days where projects are being awarded and not being delivered even when monies have been paid,” a SUBEB official says.