There is no way of knowing if Nigerian delegation to the 74th United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, visited, or are even aware of, a mirrored room that appears filled with an infinite number of empty school seats in the UN Plaza. It is actually an installation that duplicates a few seats into millions— a poignant reminder of the over 260 million children “missing from classrooms around the world.”
Although accurate data is as easy to get in Nigeria as steady power supply, of this 260 a relatively huge 13.2 million are said to be Nigerian children, for which Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, sent a petition to Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, ICC.
The rights group urged Bensouda to use her “good office to investigate whether the problem of out-of-school children in Nigeria, and the failure of the Nigerian authorities over the years to address it, amount to violence against children and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the ICC.” Therefore, the Nigerian delegation to UNGA would have done well to spend 13.2 minutes in that mirrored room of endless school desks.
Even a peep of 13.2 seconds would have been appreciated, just in case there are more pressing issues than the fate of children using cement blocks as seats in roofless classrooms across the country. The mirrored UNGA empty seats room, called the Infinity Classroom, is an exhibition organised by an NGO, Theirworld, as part of its #WriteTheWrong campaign. The goal is to raise awareness to the global crisis of out-of-school children and mobilise financial support for them.
FG’s budget for education
The Founder and Chair of Theirworld, Sarah Brown, told UN News on Thursday: “The world has the largest number of refugees and displaced people since the Second World War, half of whom are children.
We owe them what we want for our kids— a safe place to learn. That’s why we’re calling on all countries and international institutions to make education a priority.”
However, Ms Brown may never know that her message is for the Nigeria government. For the last 10 years (2010 to 2019), the country’s education sector got N4.564 trillion. This sounds huge, but is actually a pitiable fraction at just 7% of the 10-year cumulative budget of N61.481 trillion. With the UN benchmark of 26% in mind, 2019 is worse for education, with just 5.23%.
For clarity, there is need to run through the 10 years of budgetary allocations to the sector. In 2010, education got N249.09 billion, which is 4.83% of the federal Government’s N5.160 trillion budget. In 2011, education got N306.3 billion (6.16% of N4.972 trillion); 2012, education got 8.20%; 2013, 8.55%; 2014, 9.94%; 2015, 7.74%; 2016, 6.10%; 2017, 7.38%, and 2018, 6.64%. While huge budgetary allocations may not translate to a turnaround in the concerned sector, it is fundamental and a reflection of priorities.
Therefore, to put the crisis in perspective, concern and awareness of this crisis go beyond the President and governors setting aside money for education, and lawmakers setting up committees. Or more, recently, launching a SDGs report entitled Achieving the SDGs in Nigeria: Pathways & Policy Options at, yes, the 74th UNGA. It is about utilising whatever is budgeted for the sector. But to begin with, the concern appears absent.
There is no better manifestation of this lack of interest than the use of foreign firms and imported manpower to build roads and railways while local universities spew out thousands of mechanical, civil, electrical and other engineers annually.
Now, even if Nigerian officials were among the heads of government, senior officials, activists and celebrities that have visited the Infinity Classroom, no Nigerian will expect that little technological contraption to galvanise the Federal Government into concrete action that will stem the flight of lecturers, doctors, skilled and unskilled artisans, and, yes, students, to foreign lands.
The world is responding to #WritetheWrong
Meanwhile, the #WritetheWrong campaign has seen major funding breakthroughs, according to UN News. It said on Wednesday that donors and foundations announced more than $200 million for the global fund, Education Cannot Wait, to make school possible for millions of children caught up in conflicts, disasters and displacement crises.
In addition, guarantees of $500 million and grants of $100 million for the International Finance Facility for Education, IFFEd, another education funding resource, will allow an additional $2 billion to be mobilised to get children into school in the “missing middle”— countries which lie between the developing world and rich nations.
“This is the largest amount unlocked for education in a single day because IFFEd multiplies donor resources and unleashes new funding streams,” said Theirworld President Justin van Fleet. He sounded an optimistic note that “it is entirely within our reach to end the global education crisis.”
“If nothing changes, by 2030, more than half of the world’s 1.6 billion children won’t have basic skills to get an entry-level job or participate in society,” Mr. van Fleet added. “We are at a crossroads and we must act. It is within our reach to end the global education crisis.”
The danger in all of this for Nigeria is that daily, the number of out-of-school children increases due to the insecurity that has become commonplace across the land. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, out-of-school children are those of primary school age who are not attending school and those attending preschool.
Add to these the seeming inability of funds to get to the intended targets, and the country will be lifting gold in breeding illiterates. So, in spite of the millions that will get to the country for out-of-school children, every single seat at UNGA’s Infinity Classroom is for the Nigerian child.