Experts sound discordant tunes over Nigeria’s out-of-school children 

ON Saturday, Olusegun Obasanjo, former Nigerian President, was widely reported by  Nigerian national newspapers to have declared that in Nigeria, over 14 million children that should be in school were not, and thereby deprived of education. 

According to a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report published on Tribune, Obasanjo made this known in Lagos at the virtual 2020 Fellowship Graduation Ceremony of the second cohort of “Teach for Nigeria Fellows”. 

“Teach For Nigeria,” a Nigeria-based Non-Government Organization (NGO), graduated 161 fellows who have impacted approximately 9,660 students in 80 schools across Lagos, Ogun, and Kaduna States. 

The Guardian, Tribune, TheNation, Dailytrust, Herald, Punch,  and many other local papers reported the news.

Also, Ahmad Lawan, President of the Senate, while giving a speech in Abuja on July 23, 2020, at the launch of Senator Sadiq Suleiman Umar’s, “How I Became A Senator in 30 Days,” claimed that Nigeria has 14 million children out of school.

This claim by the duo of the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the incumbent Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, further incensed the recurring debate on the number of out-of-school children in the country amidst government repeated strategy to quell the widening gap.

The Spate of many data

According to the United Nations, out-of-school children are defined as those kids who are yet to be enrolled in any formal education excluding pre-primary education. The age range for out-of-school children is 6-11 years.

According to UNICEF, even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 per cent of children between 6 and 11 years of age regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.

UNICEF added that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. The country currently harbours about 13 million – the highest in the world.

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Also, on October 4, 2018, the Executive Secretary, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Ahmed Boboyi, claimed that the figure of out-of-school children in Nigeria rose from 10.5 million to 13.2 million.

The Executive Secretary, who was represented by the Director of Social Mobilisation, Bello Kaigara, at the Northern Nigerian Traditional Rulers Conference on Out-of-School Children pre-conference briefing in Abuja, quoted the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), which, he said, was conducted in 2015 by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian government.

“If you add the number of children that have been displaced and the increasing number of birth, you find out that our source in DHS conducted by UNICEF published in 2015 reveals the number of out of school children increased to 13.2 million. Over the last few years, Nigeria has been besieged by Boko Haram and lots of children have been put out of school” Boboyi claimed

In another contrasting figure, the Universal Basic Education Commission report in 2018 released on December 17, 2019, titled “Digest of Basic Education Statistics for Public and Private Schools in Nigeria”, the whole of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Nigeria have only 10,193,918 (10.1million) out-of-School-children.

This, he said, at a press conference in Abuja, was part of the 2018/2019 Annual School Census, which was carried out by the Universal Basic Education Commission, National Population Commission, National Bureau of Statistics and other stakeholders.

As COVID-19 pandemic continues to hold its grip across the globe, about 7 million students from primary up to secondary education could drop out owing to the income shock of novel Coronavirus alone, a report by World Bank Group Education revealed.

The report, using data from 157 countries, revealed that both the global level of schooling as well as learning will fall. With this projection, the future is even bleaker for children of school age in these agriculture communities who are already counting their losses due to the bad roads.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)’s summary report, 2010 – 2012 released in February 2015,  as of 2010, close to 3 million children aged 6 to 14 years had never attended any school in Nigeria. This represents 8.1% of the population of children within that age group. Also, during the same period, about a million children aged 6 to 14 years dropped out of school. This represents 3.2% of the population of children in that age group that never attended school in Nigeria.

Furthermore, there are regional variations as the percentage of the population that attended schools in the year 2010 was higher in urban areas (91.4%) than in rural areas with 80.7%. Also, gender variation still exists in school attendance in Nigeria. In the aforementioned year, females’ attendance stood at 81.2%, lower than that of males’ with 88.1%. 

Does Nigeria have no data bank on Out-of-school-Children?

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The ICIR contacted experts in the field of data on the clash of figures and unavailability of unified data on the total number of out-of-school children in Nigeria.

Atiku Samuel, a data expert and senior project Officer (Technical Coordination) at the International Budget Partnership (IBP), explained to The ICIR that with the varying data on Out-of-school children in Nigeria, “I don’t think we have reliable statistics that tell us the total number of out of school children”.

The data expert added that across the years, people drop out of school because of many reasons. And again, there are private schools that are not registered, even some children in private school could actually be categorised as out of school. 

“First, you look at deductions, you look at the total pupil in JSS3, the ministry of Education has a number of people in JSS3, by the time you compare it with people entering SS1, you will see the gap, and that’s the basis of the data NBS is pushing out”. 

“We have a statistical nightmare. I think the matter concludes that we really don’t know for certain how many children are out of school. But based on the estimate done by Unicef,  which is the most recent survey, we are looking at about 10.5million. I think that’s the closest and it is age-specific,” Atiku said. 

However, Joshua Olufemi, the founder of Dataphyte, in a phone interview maintained that we can not say Nigeria lacks unified data on out-of-school children because, according to him, data managed by UBEC can still be regarded as unified because of its domestic nature.  



    “I can’t categorically say that we don’t have unified data. If we are going to have any unified data on out of school children it should be the one warehoused or managed by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with state ministries of education. 

    “If the UBEC database or ministry of Education exists, that will be the unified one but the most important question is how format and which way and how frequent is that data collected which talks about the method of collection, chronology of collection, resources to collect and also how much the ministry of Education prioritised that data.”


    The barrage of inconsistent data on out-of-school children is fuelling false information and excluding students forced out of school due, in part, to insurgency or those enrolled in unregistered private schools across the country. While UBEC, in partnership with states, seems authoritative in their figures, the absence of a curated national data bank and a rigorous method of data collection are stifling the fight against false information in the country. 

    To escape this data nightmare, the country needs two things: a well-defined data collection strategy, and the political will to ensure efficient data management. 

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    Samad Uthman is a multimedia journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting. He tweets @sarmerdk2 and can be shot through [email protected]

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