Forty-one years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC) on November 20, 1989, and came into force on September 2nd, 1990. Currently, there are 196 countries signatory to this treaty, which makes it the most ratified human rights treaty in history.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria became a signatory to this treaty in 1991 and ratified the AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) in 2000. However, in Nigeria, by virtue of Section 12(1) of the 1999 Constitution, treaties do not automatically become applicable and enforceable unless enacted into law by the National Assembly. Thus, it was not until September 2003 that Nigeria promulgated the Child’s Rights Act of 2003.
Amongst the numerous rights of the child guaranteed under the Act, is the right to education. By law, every Nigerian child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it is the duty of the Government of Nigeria to provide such education. Every parent or guardian is to ensure that his child or ward attends and completes his/her primary and secondary education.
Being that the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) does not fall under the exclusive legislative list, by Section 12 (3) of the constitution, it must first be enacted in the state Houses of Assembly to have a force of law. According to UNICEF factsheet released in 2007, only 15 States have promulgated the CRA into Law: Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Plateau, Rivers, and Taraba. The Universal Basic Education Act of 2014 also provides for free and compulsory Basic education for every Nigerian child, and the Act is enforced by the Universal Basic Education Commission. Despite all these legislations in place, the rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria is alarming.
According to the UNESCO Report released in October 2018, one in every five out-of-school children in the world is in Nigeria. The total population of out-of-school children of primary age (6 to 11 years) in the world as at 2018 was 61 million with Nigeria holding the world record for the highest number of out-of-school children with a population of 13.2 million, about 22%. Of this number, 69% are resident in the North. The case in the North is even more pathetic. In 2017, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, stated that 90 percent of girls of school age in the North were not receiving education, and even those who receive education do not go to proper schools as many parents there prefer to send their children to Koranic schools.
This high number is an attribute to many factors including poverty, early marriage, culture, and religion. Insecurity and insurgency have also played a major role. The International Labour Organisation in 2015 estimated that over 14 million Nigerian children between the ages of five and 14 are engaged in some form of economic activity predominantly hawking.
Nigeria’s Minister for Education, Adamu Adamu in defense of the Federal government gave a summary of the federal government’s efforts to deal with this menace. According to him, in the six years preceding the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, between 2009 and 2014, the federal government spent about N360 billion worth of intervention on basic education covering textbooks, teacher professional development, construction of classrooms and library resources among others.”
In 2015, non-conditional disbursements were made to 15 states in Nigeria, as well as the FCT amounting to N68.4 billion and in 2016, grants to 29 states and the FCT amounted to N77 billion. Two years later, the federal government provided a total of N95 billion to 24 states and the FCT, and an additional N109 billion to 20 states and the FCT. The minister further lamented that despite all grants and special funds provided the numbers keep increasing and this is the fault of the various state governments. The educational system is fraught with inadequacies- poor funding, poor educational infrastructures, overcrowding, inadequate classrooms, and poor/polluted learning environment.
Section18 (3) of the Constitution, the Government of Nigeria has a duty to eradicate illiteracy by providing free, compulsory and basic universal primary education as and when practicable. However, regardless of all the political, economic, social, cultural and developmental rights of the citizens enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution, they are NOT enforceable by any citizen of Nigeria, by reason of Section 6 (6) (c) of the same Constitution. The combined effect of these provisions of the supremacy clause of the Constitution, both the federal and State governments cannot be held accountable, or be made to fulfill any obligations in relation to the education of the Nigerian child.
The impact of this deficient educational system on the Nigerian child is unfavorable. It limits the development of skills that would aid her personally and professionally, narrows her chances in life, avails her lesser employment opportunities, poor health, and low standard of living. Studies have shown that there is a direct link between education and national economic growth, quality health, child and adult mortality rate, national and global peace, gender equality and so many other issues that plague our world.
It is time that the Nigerian government on all levels places premium importance on providing every Nigerian child access to quality basic education, because as the old school song goes, “children are the leaders of tomorrow”.
By Theodore Ubabunike