Tuesday, June 10, 2008

UBE’s recurring scandals

The recurrent reports of fraud in the state operations of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Scheme call for serious concern. When the scheme was launched in the country on September 30, 1999, with the primary objective of providing free universal basic education for every Nigerian child of school age, the expectation was that it would boost every aspect of child education and breathe a new lease of life into the hitherto neglected sector.

The launching, which was performed by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in Sokoto, was described as a landmark in education in Nigeria. It attracted dignitaries from across the country and relevant international organizations, some of which, at different times, contributed funds to ensure the success of the laudable initiative.

It is sad, however, that seven years down the line, the reports that have been emerging from the scheme have been largely of scandals and misappropriation of funds. Not much has been reported of the exploits of the UBE scheme in its core responsibility of improving the environment for teaching in the formal primary and secondary school system, or its programmes for the girl child, school drop outs, the disabled and apprenticeship scheme for adolescents.

Instead, the nation receives reports of misappropriation and diversion of funds allocated to the scheme, with the States Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) executives and the state governments frequently identified as culprits in the mishandling of the funds.

The latest reports of the despicable abuse of UBE funds involve allegations of fraudulent practices by some SUBEBs in the operations of the Federal Teachers Scheme (FTS). The Executive Secretary of the UBE Commission, Dr Ahmed Mohammed, at a meeting with the SUBEBs executive chairmen, in Abuja, was reported to have announced a decision to audit the accounts of the boards following petitions from teachers under the FTS scheme over non-payment of their entitlement, several months after it had been sent to the states by the UBE Commission.

The National Assembly was also said to have received petitions to the effect that some state boards, after collecting money for payment of teachers in their states, reject such teachers, only to retire the vouchers for their payment with ficititious names.

Mohammed said about N6.68 billion had been disbursed to the states under the FTS scheme as at March 2007, but petitions received from 21 states, including Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Ogun, Ebonyi and Delta, indicated that teachers were being owed several months of allowances.

Just in March this year, the ICPC said a probe of the funds allocated to the scheme in 36 states and the Federal Capital, Abuja, between 2005 and 2006, revealed massive fraud and diversion of funds by state government officials totaling N3.32 billion. About N2.3 billion was reported to have since been recovered from 20 states while six states were to refund N1.016 billion.

The ICPC, at that time, lamented that there was no proper record keeping for the disbursement of UBE funds. Fictitious receipts were found to have been used to retire advances and cheques for payment to contractors issued in favour of SUBEB staff for encashment at banks. There were also irregular payments to contractors using fictitious names. In Kebbi State, the ICPC found that N526 million was paid to 114 fictitious contractors on Saturday and Sunday, which were non-working days.

The reports of fraud emerging from the SUBEBs are simply outrageous. The scale and frequency of allegations of misappropriation of funds meant for improvement of the child education scheme are such that a review of the management of UBE funds has become imperative.
The mechanism for the disbursement and application of the funds, which are derived from a 2 per cent vote from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) and matching grants from the states, should be re-appraised.

Every effort should also be made not only to recover looted funds, but those responsible for misappropriating the funds should be made to bear the full weight of the laws of the land, to serve as a deterrent to other light-fingered public servants.

The injustice that is being perpetrated against children’s education in Nigeria by these corrupt elements in the SUBEBs, is monumental. The war against corruption in UBE, as at all other fronts in Nigeria should therefore be consistent, unbending and total. The scheme should be made to serve the purpose for which it was established. It should no longer be allowed to be a conduit pipe for corruption.