By Anselm Okolo
‘’The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) for 2016 to 2017 showed that Sokoto state has made appreciable progress, resulting in over 50% cut in the number of out-of-school children.
It gladdens my heart, seeing the commitment shown by the political leadership and the technical teams set up by the government to work with UNICEF and partners in various sectors for the children of the state’’ these were the exact words of Mohammed Muhuiddin, a former UNICEF Field Office Lead in Sokoto State in 2018, two years after Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal took office as Governor of Sokoto state.
Muhuiddin was talking then of the massive turn around in the number of out – of – school children in the state, said to be the worst in the country before Governor Tambuwal assumed office in 2015. The difficult but now successful turn – around story of the state started with a vow by Tambuwal to return the state to its enviable height as a centre of learning in the north and across the entire Sahara deserts, in the first two months of his first tenure as governor.
Shocked that the state, before the recent era famous as a centre of learning during the pre-colonial and post – colonial eras had slipped to the back bench of education in the country, Tambuwal declared a state of emergency in the education sector. With the declaration, other consequential decisions and actions followed.
A major first step was to increase the budgetary allocation to education. In 2016 governor Tambuwal recommended the sum of N29.9 billion for enactment in the Appropriation Act as allocation to education, the highest ever in the state and for that year in the entire country. The allocation represented 29 percent of the entire budget for the year, surpassing the UNESCO benchmark for budgetary allocation to education by federal and state governments.
The decision earned the governor a year later the UNESCO award for keeping steady allocation to education beyond 29 per cent. In 2017 the allocation increased to N38.4 billion again the highest allocation to education by any state in the country. In 2018 the figure got higher with an allocation of N57.4 billion.
The gains of the streak of massive allocations to education have been instant and sector changing. Direct beneficiaries are the teeming population of out – of – school children roaming streets in the state. In one fell swoop in 2016, the state reduced the number by 72,000 children.
In 2017 Governor Tambuwal personally led a campaign to get more children into schools in a state wide campaign.
According to the then commissioner of finance Saidu Umar, “our objective is to improve enrolment at all stages — basic, secondary and tertiary education. By the end of this programme, we will ensure that our quotas in all federal schools are filled,”
Conversely, before Tambuwal become governor of Sokoto, one out of every two children were out of school in the state. The figure was even direr for the girl child. Following the state wide enrolment campaign the figure rose to six in every ten children in the state was enrolled in a school. For the girl child it became 4 in every 10 girls.
Ever since, the administration has built annually on the gains of the campaign with an incremental rate of 7.3 % in pre-primary and primary school children of which 4.4 per cent are girls. A state agency for girl child education was set up to drive the campaign to get more girls into schools.
To keep the children in schools up to completion of each stage of education, the state government has been providing stipends to poor families to support enrolment and caring for their children, especially girls in schools. Since 2015 nearly N1.5 billion has been spent on feeding of pupils and students in primary and junior secondary schools.
The positive outcomes have been staggering. By 2019 only about 30 per cent of children in the state are still out – of – school. But commissioner for education … says ‘I am confident that by the end of 2020 the figure will be under 10 per cent”
To ensure that the state never reclines to its poor era in education especially basic education, Governor Tambuwal initiated the Right to Education Bill in 2016. The high point of the bill was its recognition and protection of the right to education of children between six and 18 years in the state. The bill makes education free up to secondary education for all children of the state.
When the bill was passed a year later, it made Sokoto the first state in the country to legally make education a fundamental human right of all children thus adding a legal fillip to the state of emergency declared earlier.
It was therefore a joyous Governor Tambuwal who welcomed the passage of the education bill with two declarations “this is a key intervention in our effort to expand access to education in our dear state. The decision to pass this law has given us the necessary legal framework to push forward our policy of the state of emergency we declared in the sector over a year ago’’ and “As the first state in Nigeria to make education justiciable right, we hope to implement the provisions of the law to the latter”
And push forward he has in all sectors of education. According to him, “basic education is fundamental and foundational, if you don’t get it right, whatever else you do is building on a wrong foundation, which is dangerous and prone to failure”. Some select achievements in basic education in the state include;
• Establishment of Female Education Board to Boost Girl Child Education in the State
• Supply of Textbooks to Basic and Post Basic Schools across the State N189.2 million
• Establishment of Junior Secondary School, Awulkiti, Gudu Local Government N58.5 million
• Reducing by nearly 76 per cent the number of out – of – school children in the state
• Provision of Furniture to Basic and Secondary Schools in the State (2019) – N1.9 billion
• E-Learning Programme for Primary and Secondary School Pupils during COVID-19 Lockdown
For close watchers of the massive leap forward of Sokoto in basic education since Tambuwal assumed office in 2015 as governor, it has never been better ever.
Anselm Okolo is a journalist based in Abuja and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org