The Malala Fund, together with the Abuja-based Connected Development (CODE) and several other civil society organisations (CSOs) have called on President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to reassess the unprecedented budget cuts to social services, which slashed 54% from Universal Basic Education, 20% from Ministry of Education and 42.5% from the Basic Healthcare Fund (BHCF).
The other CSOs are Restoration of Hope Initiative (ROHI), ACE Charity, Youth Hub Africa, Hallmark Leadership Initiative, LEDAP, Centre for Girls Education, Centre LSD, Education as a Vaccine and the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA).
According to the coalition, the decision to withhold critical social spending, while reportedly approving a N9 billion renovation project to the National Assembly complex, will disproportionately affect Nigeria’s most marginalised children – in particular, girls living in the poorest households, in rural areas especially the northern region.
Schools across the country closed on March 19, 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, forcing 36 million enrolled students out of school. They join an estimated 13.2 million primary school-aged children who were out of school before the pandemic hit. For many girls, this temporary hiatus to their education risks becoming permanent, said the group.
“Malala Fund estimates up to 10 million girls globally will not return to their classrooms once the pandemic passes – lost to child marriage, pregnancy, gender-based violence and child labour,” said Crystal Ikanih-Musa, Malala Fund Country Representative in Nigeria. “The government must plan now to safeguard Nigeria’s youth and protect progress made toward Agenda 2030 and SDG 4.”
Nigeria’s education system reportedly suffered chronic underfunding at all levels before the pandemic. According to the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, during a meeting with development partners in the education sector in December 2019, “persistent budget shortfalls affect schools and the desired education outcomes”. Civil society leaders have expressed strong concern that the most recent budget allocation fails to reflect the ambition of the Ministerial Strategic Plan (MSP) and the National Education Sector Plan and will result in an increasingly weak education system.”
“Whilst several factors account for Nigeria’s dismal performance in education over the years, inadequate expenditure is no doubt paramount,” said Mallam Kabir Aliyu, the National Moderator for the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA). “It is crucial that the government do not make cuts during this time of crisis while keeping in mind the goal of 4-6% GDP and 20% of national budget when things stabilise.”
The CSOs said that, by reinstating funding to education, the government could effectively support education during this crisis by:
- Expanding equitable learning for all students during lockdown through accessible means, such as TV, radio and other off-line learning materials for all levels of education.
- More effectively diverting meals provided under the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme to children at home, to relieve the economic burden of the poorest families and protect girls against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labour.
- Developing and implementing gender-responsive strategies to ensure girls and other vulnerable children can return to school, including targeted cash transfer programmes for poor families.
“We appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, to reconsider the spending cuts and ensure that education gets a fair share of the national budget.” said Hamzat Lawal, the Initiator of the Follow The Money Movement, and Founder/CEO of Connected Development. “An investment in education now is an investment in the future peace and prosperity of our country.”
Malala Fund, according to Ikanih-Musa, advocates for resources and policy changes needed to give all girls a secondary education, invests in local education leaders and amplifies the voices of girls fighting for change.