In spite of efforts by governments, many more Nigerian children are dropping out of school. Although the Federal Ministry of Education is picking holes in the 2021 figures of an analytical statistics organisation, SBMorgan Intelligence, that put the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria at 12.3 million, the latest data of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, says the current number is 20 million.
UNESCO, which says a new and improved methodology was used to arrive at the latest figures, said there are “244 million children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 worldwide (who) are still out of school”, with India, Nigeria and Pakistan having the highest figures of out-of-school children globally.
Poverty, lack of schools, insecurity and tradition, among others, are the major factors pushing many children out of school.
Daily, during school hours, many underage children who are supposed to be in school, are seen in traffic selling sachet water and assorted drinks; in mechanic workshops and markets learning trade. Some beg for alms in between traffic, others carry loads for a fee in markets, while many are on the streets looking haggard, with some at bus stops ready to snatch bags from commuters.
The ugly trend is despite the provisions of Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which every country is a signatory, including Nigeria.
The Article states: “States Parties recognize the right of the child to education and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:
Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;
According to UNICEF, a United Nations agency, Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children anywhere in the world.
The agency reported that only 67 per cent of eligible children take up a place in primary school. If a child misses school for even a short time, there is only a low chance, only about 25 per cent, that the child will ever return. It added that girls suffer more than boys in terms of missing out on education.
In the North-East of Nigeria, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education. The figure is 47 per cent in the North-West. Social attitudes also impact negatively education rates, especially in northern Nigeria.
In North-eastern and North-western states, 29 per cent and 35 per cent of Muslim children, respectively, attend Qur’anic schools, which do not include basic education skills, such as literacy and numeracy. These children are officially considered out of school by the government.
Situation in Lagos
Lagos is said to be the 3rd state with the highest number of out-of-school children in the South-West. It has 1,009 public schools spread across 20 local government areas, out of which 10 has a high number of out-of-school children.
Despite the claim of zero tolerance for out-of-school children, experts say if the government enrols six children in school today, 10 will be back on the streets tomorrow.
Vanguard spoke with some of the out-of-school children at different locations in the state.
Rasheed Tijani, a 9-year-old apprentice in a mechanic workshop, said he was in a public school before in Ikorodu. He started learning the trade when he was eight years old. According to him, his parents said they saw that he was too slow in learning and could not afford to allow him to continue to waste his time in school. “I am learning to become a car mechanic but I would have preferred to be in school,”Tijani told Vanguard Metro.
“Money to transport me to school is too much because it is far from our house. I am happy here too and I know all of us will still meet up one day,” he philosophized.
At Orile Iganmu, some of the children cleaning cars in traffic ran away when Vanguard approached them to ask why they weren’t in school. One of them, who momentarily waited and simply called himself Ahmed, said, “I don’t want to go to school. Leave me alone.” On Mile 12 Bridge, two girls selling cut foam in the traffic were approached by Vanguard. One of them, Sarah, who looked 13 years old because of her body features, said, “I will go to school but I still want to sell and make money for my grandma.”
The second girl, Miriam, of the same age group, said: “I stopped going to school. My parents are in the village and I’m selling for my aunt who promised that I will go back to school”.
Government has power to take children out of street – ASOHON
Lagos Chapter of Association of Orphanages and Homes Operators in Nigeria, ASOHON, through its Coordinator, Alhaji Ganiyu Olayiwola Dosunmu, said the government had the power to take out-of-school children off the streets, feed and redirect their minds from hooliganism, kidnapping, banditry to positive ventures that would benefit everyone.
“Orphans outside there are more than those kept in orphanage homes. They are without parents or guardians. They only have useless teachers who put them into drinking alcohol, hard drugs, smoking etc.
‘’Unless concrete steps are taken by the government and the society to look out for orphans to provide social and emotional support to address their needs, society may be in great danger. Giving them food on the roads once a year does not solve their problem,” ASOHON said.
Address policy gaps in school enrolment
Human Development Initiative, HDI, a non-governmental agency, through its Project Coordinator, Mr Ibidapo Johnson, said: “If a state has zero tolerance to out-of-school children, then its gate must be opened throughout the year to enrol children. Government must be creative on re-enrolment timing. Government should also open its gates to Public Private Partnership for more infrastructural development as the current infrastructure cannot accommodate all out-of-school children.”
What the law says
UBE Act provides free and compulsory universal basic education for every Nigerian child of school age group and it is an offence for a parent not to enrol his or her ward in school as a such parent is liable under the UBE Act to a jail term.
According to the Act, “A parent who contravenes Section 2 (2) of this Act commits an offence and is liable- (a) on a first conviction, to be reprimanded; (b) on a second conviction, to a fine of N 2, 000 or imprisonment for a term of one month or to both; and (c) on subsequent conviction, to a fine of N5, 000 or imprisonment for a term of 2 months or both.”
Lagos State Executive Board Chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board, Wahab Alawiye-King, in a telephone chat, stated that the out-of-school children phenomenon is not limited to Lagos alone.
He said: “We are now looking at the psycho-social aspect of the issue which may be stress from the family like divorce, and sicknesses which get their wards out of school.
“When these parents don’t have their mind at rest, there is every possibility to jettison every other thing including bringing their children to school. As part of the second phase of Project Zero, we are collaborating with the Ministry of Women Affairs to identify those parents that are in dire need of support to ensure their wards go back to school.
“The ministry has agreed to work with us. We have come up with modalities to address the issue.
“The School Based Management Committee is also working with us. Parents’ forum and other educational inclined organisations are also working with us to ensure school enrolment continues to increase.’’
Situation escalating in 6 South-South states
In the six South-South states, there is wide-ranging disconnect among out-of-school children, parents/guardians and state governments, in spite of claims by government officials that measures are in place to tackle the anomaly.
Children moan in Bayelsa
In Bayelsa, many disadvantaged children prefer to be in school like their mates but cannot afford school fees and other necessities, hence they resort to the streets to help augment their parents’ income.
Fourteen-year-old Patrick Edward, who is living with his uncle, was seen at Ekeki Park, Yenagoa during school hours, helping his uncle to sell hand watch and other accessories, said: “I did not go to school because my uncle has not paid my school and other fees. I attend a private school.”
Asked why he was not attending public school, he said: “We stay very far from the nearest public school.”
Victoria Edet, who hawks sachet water during school hours, said: “My mother and I hawk wares, I sell pure water because there is profit in it and my parents said I should be selling the pure water to support the family, that I will start school next year.”
Breadwinners in Akwa Ibom
Our findings in Akwa-Ibom State showed the situation of out-of-school children has not improved, notwithstanding the existing Child Rights Law in the state.
The condition is even worse in rural communities where both primary and secondary schools are not easily accessible. Some of the children, who spoke to Vanguard, said they were abandoned and others, who cited varying reasons, said they were living with their parents, relatives/guardians.
An orphan, Gabriel Udo, aged 15, living with his aunt in Uyo, said he hawks sachet water to support their source of income.
“I would like to go to school but there is no money. I do not have parents, and my aunt said there is no money for me to go to secondary school after I completed my JSS3,” he simply said.
The disquieting scenario in Rivers
Out-of-school children are everywhere in Rivers State and they are attracted to any spot bustling with commercial activities. The majority of them, non-indigenes, are in major markets, pushing carts to convey goods, engaged in shoe-making and hawking petty trade wares.
On major roads prone to heavy gridlocks, they are also a regular sight, engrossed in beggarly/cleaning of car windscreens or selling of various food, water, drinks and appliances.
Kabiru Ahmed, 27, and a younger Awiesu Aminu, both from Sokoto, reside near the Mile 1 Mosque, Ikwerre road, Port -Harcourt. They push carts and do all sorts of menial jobs to make ends meet.
Why are Ahmed and Awiesu not in school? Kabiru’s firm response, with pride, was: “In our place (Sokoto), money is the ultimate. If we go to school, we will not have the time to look for money. If we do not have money, our people will not respect us, they will not allow you to marry their daughters. That is why we work so hard to make money to survive.”
Excel is 10 years old. He stopped school at Basic 2. He sells pure water around the Rumuokoro area of Port Harcourt.
He said: “I am not going to school because my mummy said she does not have money to pay my school fees. I was going to school before and I stopped. I am Igbo from Enugu State. I am selling pure water because she said if she gets the money I will go back to school.
Miracle, a seven-year-old from Akwa Ibom, who sells buns at Rumuokoro Park, Port Harcourt, said: “I have not gone to school before. I do not have a father. If you send me to school, I will go.”
Worrisome affair in Edo
Though last statistics released by the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, indicated that Edo State has the least number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, their presence in parts of the state, especially the state capital, has remained a worrisome development for the people.
A visit to Mission Road, Akpakpava, Ugbowo Road and some other traffic-prone areas of the city, showed quite a number of children, mainly from the northern parts, engaging in begging for alms and some have even ventured into emergency cleaning of vehicles’ windscreens for handouts from drivers.
Further checks in commercial motor parks like Ring Road, Ekenwan Park, Egor Market, Sokponba Road and other commercial areas showed the presence of out-of-school children and many of them acting as money collectors, popularly called conductors for them. Some of them sleep in the parks and are believed to be easy tools for criminal activities.
But the Edo State government said it had been on its toes to check this ugly development through its back-to-school campaign.
How we‘re tackling problem – Salami, Edo SUBEB
Chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, Dr. Ozavize Salami, told Vanguard that the initiative had gone a long way in regulating the challenge of out-of-school children in the state.
She said: “The personnel audit by UBEC, the last one was in 2018, revealed that Edo State has the least number of out-of-school children. However, in recent times, with the case of displacements and movement of people across the country, especially from the North, we have noticed a bit of an increase in it. But the current audit shows that Edo has the least.
“We also have out-of-school children who are indigenous, for obvious reasons.
“In March last year, we launched back-to-school campaign and it was launched by the governor and every term before school resumes, our education managers try to engage in some sort of community sensitization, while we also try to ensure they know that uniform are available, everything they need are available, just send the children to school.”
Situation getting worse in Cross River
In Cross River State, out-of-school children mainly known as “Skolombo” are not only increasing in number but in age also.
Vanguard findings revealed that many of them between ages five and 12, a few years ago, are now teenagers and pose a serious security threat to residents of Calabar, the state capital.
Some out-of-school children, who spoke with Vanguard on their plight, said they found themselves in an unpleasant situation with the way life was treating them, including the government as no one cared about them.
Ephraim Edet, 17, who entered the street when he was 12 years old, said: “I was rejected by my stepmother; they said I was a witch and sent me out of the house. I am a human being, I must survive. I have seniors here who protect me from other groups because we have different groups, some are in Marina, some in the Bayside and other places.”
“I really want to go to school, I wish the government will help me learn a trade, I want to be a mechanic and I also want to go back to school.
“Although my parents are still alive, I cannot go home to tell them that I want to learn a trade or go to school, they do not want me back because they think I am a witch. My biological mother is late, but if the government comes to my aid I will be happy to go to school.”
Northern states battle with millions of out-of-school children
The crisis posed by out-of-school children to many states in the northern part of Nigeria is like a plague that has swarmed and swamped a colony and becomes difficult to contain. A large population of school-age children roams the streets in search of livelihood rather than go to school to learn how to read and write. The situation is dire with no end in sight as many families in the North have more children than they can adequately cater for and to the extent that many parents with a large number of children and wives can hardly account for where their children are, what they are doing and how they are faring.
This lackadaisical attitude of many parents towards their children and wards leaves the children at the mercy of sympathisers who dash their food rations, money and alms as they battle for survival on a daily basis, thereby jettisoning the idea of ever acquiring the basic education necessary for their development.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that in many parts of the North, begging for alms does not violate any law or religion and is well accommodated under the Almajirai system of learning in the region, thereby opening the door to for street begging and hawking for living rather than securing education for development and growth.
From Sokoto to Taraba and from Makurdi to Borno, the story of out-of-school children rings a bell with no end in sight even as the different states are beginning to respond belatedly to the scourge that threatens the present and future development and growth of the North.
In Plateau State, the number of out-of-school children, according to the 2021 report, stands at 200,000.
420,000 children affected in Kano
In Kano, no fewer than 420,000 out-of-school children roam the street in search for greener pastures, according to the commissioner for Education, Muhammad Sanusi-Kiru.
The number is a drastic reduction from the over 900,000 children who were not going to school in the state until the Abdullahi Ganduje administration embarked on measures to take the students out of the street and provide them opportunities and incentives to learn.
It’s 437,000 in Adamawa
Similarly, Adamawa has a figure of 437,000 out-of-school children, with 60 percent being young girls and the rest young boys of school age.
The State Coordination of National Education Data Survey, NEDS, Dr Mohammed Degeriji, said the figure was thrown up by a number of factors ranging from insurgency and other security challenges afflicting the state, traditional beliefs, poverty, early marriage sanction by parents who deliberately withdraw their children and wards from school for marriage at a tender age.
A 12-year-old girl from Jimeta Local Government Area of the state, Fusautu Ibrahim, confessed that her parents withdrew her from school owing to their inability to raise money for her school fees.
Fusautu, a JSS 2 student, said she resorted to hawking to assist her parents to make ends meet.
Another dropout, six-year-old Danladi Dauda, said he was withdrawn from secular school for the Qu,ranic system of education by his parents.
Kebbi battles with 814,925 out-of-school children
In Kebbi State, no fewer than 814,925 out-of-school children have been documented according to the combined data put together by UNICEF and the Kebbi State Primary Education Board.
The Executive Chairman of Kebbi State Primary Education Board, Professor Sulaiman Khalid, said the figure would have been higher but for the numerous policies and programmes put in place by the state government to attract children back to the school system.
“The Kebbi State Government recently returned over 86,000 out-of-school children to the classroom due to the measures taken by the state government to enhance access to education and improve teaching and learning,” Khalid said.
How Gombe mopped up 300,000 affected children
In Gombe State, there were no fewer than 700,000 out-of-school kids on the streets of the 11 local government areas until the state took measures to drastically reduce the number, although UNICEF put the number at 550,000.
Gombe State Governor, Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya, has however used the state’s “Better Education Service Delivery for All, BESDA, mop up no fewer than 300,000 out-of-school children and established 676 non-formal girl-child and Almajiri learning centres in the state.
How Katsina reduced figure from 1.175 million to 775,000
The Katsina State government through a number of far-reaching measures returned 360,000 children to the school system in 2021 and has set a target of returning another batch of 200,000 this year in order to reduce the stock of out-of-school children population in the state.
Abdulmalik Bello, the Director in Charge of Social Mobilisation at the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, said that the high number of out-of-school children recorded in the state was primarily due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown, the violent attacks on schools as well as the abduction of students and teachers in secondary schools, which scared pupils from returning to school.
Bello noted that the baseline target in 2021 by the state government was to return 90,000 out-of-school children back to school but surpassed the target by 400% through the state government’s “Back to School Initiatives and Behavioural Change Campaign,” supported and funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), respectively.
Taraba battles with 499,923 children
In Taraba State, no fewer than 499,923 children are out of school. Of the number 253,800 are males while 246,123 are females.
This statistics is from the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC: Digest of Basic Education (2018).
To address the growing number of out-of-school children, the state government, six months ago, launched a World Bank-supported project, known as Better Education Service Delivery for All, BESDA. Taraba is one of the 17 states across Nigeria benefitting from this programme which is being executed through the State’s Universal Basic Education Board.
Sokoto fights menace via state of emergency on education
Sokoto State is one of the states with a significant number of out-of-school children between the age of seven and 11 years representing about 40 per cent of the targeted 205,000 out-of-school children in the state.
The chairman of Sokoto State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) Altine Shehu Kajiji said the state was able to return about 75,850 of such children to the school system through the support of the World Bank via BESDA.
“The state government had initially declared a state of emergency on education, and earmarked over 20 per cent of its state annual budget to education coupled with a number of introduced programs with a view to ensuring every child of School age in the state acquired basic education,” stated Kajiji
“This year we have targeted 205,000 out-school-children to be enrolled back to schools through our established learning centres where we integrate both western and Islamic in the rural parts of the state.”
Borno hard hit with 1.8 million children
In Borno, which is the hardest hit state by terrorists, it is more difficult to place the actual figure of out-of-school children since many of them live in camps, according to the Borno State Education Commissioner, Engr Lawan Wakilbe. But UNICEF puts the number at 1.8 million.
This is even as about 330,389 children are out of school in the state, according to the Universal Basic Education Commission’s figure, which was corroborated by UNICEF in a press statement released in January, this year (2022).
Wakilbe said that the about 13-year atrocities posed by the Boko Haram sect have left millions of people including their children out of their comfortable homes, adding that the situation has also forced an unspecified number of their children out of school, as a significant number of these children live in camps.
Wakilbe however said, with the coming of Governor Babagana Umara Zulum in 2019, concerted efforts have been made in the areas of construction of new schools, relocation of IDPs back to their ancestral homes, reconstruction of schools destroyed by insurgents and the enrolment of new students.
Insecurity, discrimination against girl-child, others worsen case in Nasarawa
In Nasarawa State, over 40,000 school children in both primary and secondary schools are reportedly out of school as a result of incessant attacks by suspected herders, the inability of parents to cater for the educational needs of the children, inadequate infrastructures as well as environmental influence.
The problem is said to be most prevalent in Awe, Keana, Obi, Doma and Lafia in the southern parts of the state, which accounts for over 60 per cent of the out-of-school children in the state.
Out of the figure, over 40,000 out-of-school children in IDPs in the aforementioned LGAs of the state are due to attacks at the border communities of Benue and Nasarawa by the suspected herdsmen, while the Northern part of the state is faced with poor parental care for girl-child education.
Between 2018 and 2019, all primary and secondary schools either privately or publicly owned, were at some point shut down as a result of attacks by marauding herdsmen, thereby increasing the number of out-of-school children.
Bauchi’s 900,000 children burden
The Bauchi State Universal Basic Education Board has said that there are 900,000 out-of-school children in the State, down from 1.2 million at the onset of Governor Bala Mohammed’s administration in 2019.
According to the spokesman of the agency, Abdullahi Mohammed, the key factor responsible for the dive in the figure is Governor Mohammed’s education policy and collaboration with development partners.
He said: “Initially, when this government took over, the number of out-of-school children stood somewhere around 1.2 million and 1.3 million, but we looked at our records recently and discovered that it has come down to 900,000. The reason for this is that the current government has an education policy to get as many children as possible into their classrooms.
I’m sad Niger is the worst affected state in North-Central – Governor Bello
In Niger State, there are at least 298,962,000 out-of-school children, which the state governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, describes as the highest in the North-Central zone of Nigeria.
The Governor, speaking at the flag-off of the North-Central campaign against out-of-school children in Minna, however, attributed the alarming rate of the dropout largely to insecurity.
He said: “Seven out of the 25 local government areas in the state are frequently under attack by bandits and terrorists and this has led to the increase in the number of out-of-school children in the state put at over 298, 962,000, the highest in the North-Central Geo-Political zone of the country,” he lamented.
The local governments mostly affected now are from the analysis made are Shiroro, Munya, Rafi, Magama, Mariga, Mashegu and Wushishi.
Governor Bello said: “When we talk about out-of-school children, the question begging for answer is why are there so many out-of-school children and obviously, the answer is that our size and current security situation play a major role
“To access some schools in Niger State, some pupils trek 5-10 kilometres to get to school and with the security situation, if such a pupil is a girl no parent will dare it especially when 10 to 11year old girls are being raped,” the Governor declared.
Benue grapples with 603,803 affected children
Benue State is currently grappling with the challenge of over 603,803 out-of-school children.
The challenge of out-of-school children in Benue is said to be fuelled by ceaseless herdsmen attacks in several communities in 13 local government areas of the state, according to the state SUBEB and State Emergency Management Agency.
Some of the LGAs with high burden of out-of-school children in the state include Ado, Agatu, Makurdi, Guma, Logo, Ukum, Gwer West, Kwande, Okpokwu, Obi, Konshisha, Oju and Katsina-Ala.
The Executive Secretary of Benue SEMA, Dr. Emmanuel Shior, said: “So many of our schools are not in session in most of the affected communities. In fact in all the communities in Guma LGA children have not been able to return to school except in some areas where people on their own, because of our resilience, have been able to return to their communities but it is not safe enough to bring in children.
“So, if you look at our data, children are not in such places except for communities within Makurdi and its environs. You have only about 20 per cent of our children in school right now and this was made possible by the arrangement of the emergency schools that the Benue State government provided.”
Fate of 90,000 children in Anambra
In Anambra State, no fewer than 90,000 children are said to be out of school. Although Anambra is among the educationally advantaged states in the country, the figure, which was given by a non-governmental organization, came to many people as a surprise.
The research was conducted by Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive Development, ECID, funded by the UKaid from United Kingdom government and implemented by Christian Aid.
A Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Dr. Ben Nwosu, who had worked with the organization for a number of years, observed that while the urban centres record high levels of school attendance, many rural communities in the state suffer educational neglect. The riverine communities have a greater number of out-of-school children.
Although there is a free education policy in Anambra State, many parents claimed they were paying fees for their wards, especially at the secondary school level.
In the words of Nwosu: “It is quite worrisome because based on official statistics Anambra is one of the educationally advantaged states in the country. It is more worrying when you go into the field and see the wide gap between rural and urban locations.”
Resort to hawking, alms begging in Abia
In Abia State, many out-of-school children have taken to alms begging and hawking at major roads across the 17 council areas of the state. Most of these children are found at major junctions in the city where they stay under the sun harassing passersby and motorists for alms. Others hawk soft drinks, handkerchiefs and nose masks, etc, and run after motorists for patronage.
In Aba, many out-of-school children could be seen from Bata junction to the popular Christ the King Catholic, CKC, Church along Asa road, Aba main motor parks, Asa road by Azikwe road junction, to Market road. It was observed that armies of out-of-school children have taken over major streets and roads of the city.
In Umuahia, they are also observed along Umuwaya road and the Isi-Gate area hawking goods and begging for arms.
A girl, Favour, said she is the third in a family of five, and had been living with her sister in Umuahia to aid their poor parents who reside in the village with her siblings. She said they were struggling to make a living out of the little business as nothing meaningful is coming from it.
Favour lamented that amorous advances from men had been one of her many challenges, and appealed to the Government to come to her rescue, saying she is willing to return to school and study Nursing.
Another JSS 2 from Rich Crown Model School, Old Umuahia, who hawks plantain, said he supports his mother who goes to ‘Bush Market’ to struggle for survival. He also appealed to the Government for assistance.