While basic education is free and compulsory in Nigeria, hidden fees demanded in government-owned schools hinder access to education for many children, worsening the current literacy crisis in the country.
THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD Khalifa Abdullahi sat playing by a kiosk in Karon Majigi, a suburb within Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on a sunny Monday morning.
Although Abdullahi was of school age, this had been his routine since he stopped schooling four years ago due to a lack of funds.
He told The ICIR that his father, a taxi driver, had an accident in 2018, and following the incident, neither he nor his siblings could continue their education.
“All my friends go to school. Many children in this area go too, but my brother and I do not go. My father said there is no money to pay our fees,” he said.
Confirming the story, Abdullahi’s mother, Khadijat, said it had been almost impossible to raise funds to enrol her children into any school, including those owned by the government.
She relocated from Kaduna with her husband and children in 2015 due to insecurity, and they earn a living through menial jobs.
“No child in this house goes to school. It is not that there are no schools around, but there is no money to send them to school. My oldest child was in school, but we could not afford to complete his education. He has been at home for the past four years,” she told The ICIR.
Every child in Nigeria has a right to basic education, governed by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Act of 2004. It includes primary education and three years of junior secondary school.
Section 2 of the UBEC Act states that basic education should be compulsory and free.
“Every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary, school age,” the Act reads.
Though several government-owned schools exist across communities in the FCT, certain levies demanded from students are unaffordable for many Nigerian families.
Findings by The ICIR show that enrolling a child into most government-owned primary schools costs between N10,000 and N20,000, while junior secondary schools cost higher.
At the Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School, Karon Majigi, enrolling a child as a fresh student into the primary section costs a total of N20,450.
During a visit to the school, The ICIR learnt that the sum covers registration which costs N500; Parents Teachers Association (PTA) fees, N1950; Uniforms, N2500; Pupil’s file N500; Online registration, N500; Sportswear, N2000 and some textbooks, among others.
The school also demands an examination fee of N200 naira to conduct qualifying tests which determines what class the child will be admitted into.
Upon admission, children were also expected to resume with a moping stick and a small bucket.
It was a similar situation at the LEA Primary school, City Gate, Durunmi.
The ICIR discovered during a visit that enrollment into the school’s primary section costs a total of N18,600.
According to a list received at the school, the fees were broken down into registration which cost N1000, PTA, N1500; uniform, N3000; examination, N300; sportswear, N2000; online (registration), N300; Continuous Assessment, N500; and working materials, N1000.
Others on the list include a handwriting book which cost N600; security fee, N500 and another PTA levy, different from that earlier mentioned that cost N500.
Compulsory books, including Mathematics, English, Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning textbooks, summed up to N7400, bringing the total fees to N18,600.
At the LEA Primary School, Durunmi II, enrolment costs N25,400, which covers registration, uniforms, sportswear, relevant textbooks, a dozen exercise books, PTA fees and a Continuous Assessment book.
However, The ICIR also learnt that subsequent payments after enrolment are often less expensive as they are limited to PTA levies, which usually fall between N1500 and N5000, and the cost of books where necessary.
The situation is no different in other Area Councils within the FCT.
At the 1st UBE primary school, Pasali in Kuje, the sum of N10,000 is required as fees for new pupils. It covers registration, sportswear, school uniforms and a cardigan. This does not cover the cost of books, as parents are expected to source for books in the open market.
In Nigeria, over 133 million people live in poverty, which is more than half of the estimated population.
The economic challenges faced by many families keep parents struggling to meet these fees, and, in most cases, they are left with no option but to withdraw their children from school.
A worsening literacy crisis
Nigeria has about 20.2 million children out-of-school, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the highest globally.
Several factors are responsible for the teeming population of children without education, including insecurity and poverty.
Rather than mitigate the effects of these challenges on education, hidden fees demanded in government-owned schools contribute to the number of Nigerian children without education.
Fourteen-year-old Fatima Aremu sells cold drinks by the Area 1 motor park. She told The ICIR that she had stopped attending school after her widowed mother lost her job.
“I finished primary school but could not continue because my mother did not have the money to pay the fees. She said I should stay at home for a while until she can afford it, but it has been more than three years now, and I am still at home,” she said.
Nigeria has a low transition rate from primary to secondary school. In April, the UBEC announced that less than 30 per cent of female students move to secondary school after primary education.
This is worsened by the fees demanded for enrollment in secondary schools, which are often twice as much as those paid in primary schools.
Twelve-year-old Victoria John sells sachet water by Life Camp junction every day except Sundays to augment her family’s income.
She told The ICIR that her parents could not afford to pay tuition fees for herself and her siblings, so she was made to leave school so her brother could continue his studies.
“It is in primary six that I stopped; I’m about to enter JSS 1. She said she will send me to school next year if she has the money. Now, she has a lot to do with money, she has to pay my brother’s school fees first. He is in primary 3,” she said.
In the secondary school Junior Secondary School, Durunmi, the fees for enrollment into JSS 1 summed up to N28,450, which also covered several requirements, including Mathematics and English textbooks.
Students were also required to provide a big basket which cost an average of N2500 in the open market, and two bottles of hypo bleach, N1000 each, upon resumption.
Fees for the second and third terms were also less expensive, as it was limited to only PTA fees, which fall between 1500-2500 in the school.
For students seeking admission into the Junior Secondary School, Pasali, Kuje, the sum of N37,000 was required, which would cover school fees, N3,250, PTA N2,000, a pair of uniforms cardigan and sportswear N8900, online admission N2,500, fees for qualifying examinations N500, admission N1800, Textbooks N13,200.
The school also demanded implements, explained to mean a hoe, cutlass and detergent, which would cost N4,000, among other requirements.
At the Junior Secondary School Life Camp, prospective students were required to pay N19,200 for registration, PTA and other fees.
Physical items were also required, including a packet of refill markers, one basket, mopping stick and bucket each.
In the schools visited by The ICIR, no account numbers were given to pay these fees, as parents were required to pay in cash.
The ICIR also confirmed from some students that receipts were not issued after payment.
Punishable by law
Receiving payment from students in primary and junior secondary schools is a punishable offence under the UBEC Act.
According to section 3 of the Act, “the services provided in public primary and junior secondary schools shall be free of charge. A person who receives or obtains any fee contrary to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding NI0,000:00 or imprisonment for a term of 3 months or to both.”
But despite the provisions of the law, school authorities in the FCT still demand fees from children for basic education, making it beyond the reach of indigent citizens.
Chairman of the FCT Universal Basic Education Board (FCT-UBEB) Hassan Sule described these fees as illegal during an interview with The ICIR.
“PTA fees are between the parents and the teachers. But no head teacher or principal is allowed to collect any fees from any student. It is illegal. It is wrong,” he said.
He encouraged parents required to pay fees by authorities in government-owned schools to lay official complaints at the FCT-UBEB office.
A significant reason why hidden fees exist in government-owned schools is the insufficient funding of the education sector.
While the international standard of funding for education, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), is 15-20 per cent of a nation’s budget, Nigeria only designated 7.9 per cent of its budget for education in 2022.
In an interview with The ICIR, advocate for free basic education Joshua Arogunyo said to end hidden fees in Nigerian schools, governments in states across the country should make parents aware that basic education is free.
“First, the government should announce that enrollment for basic education is free and compulsory, and there are no fees attached. Let it be clearly spelt out that exam fees, result checking fees and others do not apply, and they are incurred by the government on behalf of the student,” Arogunyo said.
He also noted that the PTA had become an avenue through which students are extorted and urged the Ministry of Education to closely monitor the affairs of the association to resolve this.
“The PTA is not supposed to handle infrastructural development in schools or buy buses. It is supposed to be a meeting ground for parents and teachers. It is not their duty to build blocks of classrooms, it is the government’s responsibility because education is a right, except they are willing to,” he said.
He recommended that state governments should create toll-free lines or other reporting channels through which parents could lodge complaints when such fees are demanded.
“If there is that open communication, it will create transparency in the system such that schools, especially those who are merchants of hidden fees, will become more careful and cautious knowing that they could be reported at any time,” he said
Noting the role of insufficient funding, Arogunyo said the education budget should be improved upon and prioritised to encourage literacy in the country.
This report is a part of Youth Hub Africa’s Basic Education Media Fellowship 2022 with support from the Malala Fund and Rise Up.
Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org or @ije_le on Twitter.