Nigeria’s development partners are worried that there are no allocations in the 2024 budget of the federal government for the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) it established alongside a host of international stakeholders in 2014, Empowered Newswire reported.
The SSI arose following a series of terror attacks on schools and the abduction of school children in 2014 in Nigeria, causing former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as UN Special Envoy on Global Education, and then Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to float the initiative, which then drew widespread global endorsement.
The Safe Schools Initiative was a concerted effort by the international community and the Nigerian government to ensure “a protected and safe learning environment” for learners, teachers, and others in troubled communities across the country, especially in the North.
However, inside sources at the Ministry of Budget and National Planning confirmed to Empowered Newswire that the Finance Ministry is responsible for the omission of the Initiative from the 2024 Budget of Renewed Hope.
When contacted, officials of the finance ministry said the finance minister is yet to be convinced of the significance of the initiative located in the finance ministry.
Since the Jonathan administration, the initiative has been domiciled in the Ministry of Finance, and last year, the Buhari administration budgeted a sum of N15 billion for the initiative in the 2023 budget, parts of which have already been released, Budget Ministry officials said.
But UN, World Bank, and EU officials in Nigeria are now apprehensive that the 2024 budget made no allocation at all for the initiative. Those partners, among others, are said to be in the process of supporting the initiative once it is clear that the Nigerian federal and state governments demonstrate consistent political will and financial commitment.
Already, both the federal government under the immediate past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the development partners have developed an implementation plan for the Safe Schools Initiative, starting from 2023 to 2026.
In the plan released at the beginning of this year, former Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed noted that the Safe Schools Financing Plan was the outcome of rigorous consultative engagements with relevant stakeholders at both the national and sub-national levels, including development partners.
While the plan was designed to cover four years, from 2023 to 2026, the total cost came to N144 billion. The proposal was for the plan to raise N32 billion in 2023, N36 billion in 2024, N37 billion in 2025, and N38 billion in 2026.
For 2023, the federal government under President Buhari approved a contribution of N15 billion and provided for that in the 2023 Budget. Ahmed then said in the plan that “this means there is a funding gap of N12 billion for states, the private sector, and development partners that may wish to support Nigeria.”
But officials of some of the development partners in Nigeria are worried now that it would be impossible for them to persuade their headquarters to support the initiative if the federal government itself is not going to invest the political will and financial commitment set by the Buhari Administration.
The plan is set out to commence this year in very high-risk states facing threats from Ansarul/ISWAP insurgents and terrorists, Boko Haram-inspired bandits, and others. The states are Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Niger, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Sokoto, FCT, Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Kogi, and Bauchi.
For over a decade, according to official Federal Government sources, Nigeria has witnessed the deliberate targeting of education, with no fewer than 611 teachers killed, 19,000 teachers displaced, an estimated 900,000 children losing access to learning, and 75 percent of children in IDPs not attending school.
The Federal Government has declined to comment on the project.
The assistant director of press and public relations at the Federal Ministry of Education, Obilor-Duru Augustina Okechi, did not respond to our inquiries after a failed attempt to get the director of press, Bem Ben Going.
Meanwhile, some civil society organisations (CSOs) have deplored the continued closure of 168 schools in Zamfara State due to banditry in the state.
They appealed to the security agencies to intensify the fight against bandits so that the schools could be reopened.
The chairman of the CSOs Safe Schools Technical Team, led by Ahmad Hashim, made the call during an advocacy visit to the state commissioner of police, Shehu Mohammad Dalijan.
Hashim stressed the need for more commitment from the security agencies to facing the bandits squarely so that the schools in the red zone can reopen for learning activities.
He said three public secondary schools had suffered bandit attacks and abductions of their students since the inception of banditry from 2011 to 2023, while five others were taken over by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as camps in the Anka local government area.
Hashim said, “It is on record that three public schools, Government Girls Day Secondary School Jangebe in Talata Mafara LGA, Government Day Secondary School Kaya in Maradun LGA, and Government Girls Comprehensive Secondary School Moriki of Zurmi LGA, have witnessed bandit attacks,” he added.
According to him, this sad development forced the Zamfara State government to close down all primary and secondary schools on September 1, 2021, while some schools were reopened for learning on January 17, 2022, but the others in the red zone have remained closed up to date.
It is against this background that the chairman of the Civil Society Organisations Safe Schools Technical Team called on the government at all levels to provide adequate security to all schools that do not have the presence of security agents in their domain for the protection of teachers and students.
The group also wants the federal and state governments to implement policies on safe schools, strengthen coordination among relevant stakeholders, and improve funding as well as training on Safe SchooIs initiative, all in a bid to ensure continuous learning.
In his response, Danlijan expressed the police’s readiness to work with any responsible group to ensure security not only in schools but across the state.