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Out-of-school children threat persists

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out of school children in Nigeria
The Minister of State for Education, Yusuf Sununu, recently described the ever-increasing number of out-of-school children, especially in Northern Nigeria, as a “time bomb,” echoing a sentiment that has been voiced for decades. The reality of a large population of uneducated Nigerian youths is a clear reflection of the inaction and lack of foresight of successive federal and state governments.

Instead of mere rhetoric, Sununu, state governments, and the elite should immediately take effective measures to address the urgent situation they have allowed to fester.

During the 2023 Bauchi State Education Summit, Sununu mentioned ongoing efforts to integrate religious schools in the North into the basic education system, urging the cooperation of clerics and school proprietors to achieve this goal. He also called on sub-national levels to establish similar agencies backed by state law for the same purpose.

The issue of out-of-school children and almajiris (child beggars) is a testament to the shortsightedness of Nigeria’s leaders and their incompetence in managing the country. According to the latest data from UNESCO and the Global Education and Monitoring Report, Nigeria’s out-of-school children number at 20.2 million, doubling the decades-old figure of 10.5 million.

UNICEF’s statistics are equally alarming, indicating that one in three children in Nigeria is out of school, with 10.2 million at the primary level and 8.1 million at the junior secondary school level. It is a distressing fact that one in every five out-of-school children in the world is in Nigeria, highlighting the urgent need for action to address this crisis.

The Northern states and the region’s elite are the most culpable, with over 60 percent of the total out-of-school children located in the North. Governors from Kaduna and Gombe lamented the high number of out-of-school children in their respective states, attributing the rise to factors such as poverty, insecurity, and cultural beliefs. However, they bear the responsibility to address these issues effectively.

In addition to the Northern states, South-West states have also been significantly contributing to the national out-of-school population in recent years, indicating a decline in the quality of leadership in the region.

It is crucial to recognize that education is a fundamental human right essential for the development of every society. Additionally, it is a target of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Uneducated children are vulnerable to exploitation by criminal and terrorist groups, making it imperative for states to prioritize education and enforce legislation such as the Child Rights Act 2003, which mandates nine years of compulsory schooling for children.

Northern state governors and the elite must take concrete steps to address the issue of out-of-school children and implement policies to fund education, train teachers, and eradicate child begging. Similarly, South-West governors should restore education to its previous prominence and prioritize its funding and implementation.

It is important to note that free, compulsory education has been successfully implemented in Nigeria since its introduction by the defunct Western Region government in the 1950s. All states must urgently revert to this approach, and the Federal Government should enhance its support programs to ensure its success.

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