By Ekemini Simon
The Government of Akwa Ibom State has described the investigative report on the government’s questionable priorities fueling the prevalence of out-of-school children in Akwa Ibom State as misleading, mischievous, and politically motivated.
An extensive investigation that lasted for two months revealed that the government of Akwa Ibom State failed to make financial releases for budgeted programmes that sought to tackle the prevalence of out-of-school children in the State.
The report also showed that the State Government was not adequately funding the free and compulsory education programme of the state hence the official approval of intervention fees among other arbitrary charges in government public schools which discouraged school enrollment.
The report further highlighted how difficulty in accessing public schools in some communities has propelled the increase in the number of out-of-school children in Akwa Ibom state with emphasis that the controversial funds spent on the maintenance of the Governor’s private jet if channeled to full payment of subventions to public schools and programmes that enhance school enrollment could possibly reduce the prevalence of out-of-school children in Akwa Ibom State.
However, in reaction to the publication of our report, the government issued a statement on Thursday, signed by the Commissioner for Education, Idongesit Etiebet where it dismissed the report as ” highly fallacious, does not reflect the remarkable progress the state has recorded in the education sector in the last 7 years under the watch of Governor Udom Emmanuel”.
The Commissioner said that Akwa Ibom has 3,129,620 school children in public and government-approved private schools accommodated in 2,826 public and private schools in the state.
Etiebet noted that the number mentioned is a product of the education master plan of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration which she claimed has led to improved facilities and employment of more teachers in schools, as well as prompt payments of salaries and other emoluments to teachers across the state.
The Commissioner added “The State is currently operating a free, compulsory and qualitative basic education programme which makes it mandatory for every child of school age to be in school during school hours.
” This policy which is backed by the state’s Child’s Rights Law makes it a punishable offense for parents and guardians whose children are caught loitering during school hours. Education monitors spread across the three senatorial districts are daily enforcing compliance through daily patrol exercises.
” The State Government also pays subventions of 100 to 200 naira per child, per term respectively to all public primary and secondary schools respectively, to discourage all forms of hidden charges by schools’ heads”.
Observations/ Loopholes in the State Government Claims
Analysis of the statement by the Government of Akwa Ibom State has left many loopholes.
TheMail Newspaper during the two months of investigation had through a Freedom of Information request, calls and text/WhatsApp messages asked the Commissioner for Education for information and documents on the number of pupils and students in each public school in the State.
The Newspaper equally requested to know and see evidence of the amount paid as subvention to each of the primary and secondary schools in the State to aid in data comparison with information the newspaper got from Head Teachers and School Principals that the payment was irregular and disproportionate with the number of students in school.
The Commissioner in reply to our letter including a reminder insisted that the information will not be given.
The refusal of the Ministry to avail the newspaper of the information with evidence raises questions to the claims on the number of children in school and the assertion of government prompt payment of emoluments/ subvention to schools.
In addition, the Commissioner failed to dispute or comment on why the State Government has officially authorised the collection of intervention fees in secondary schools if the free and compulsory education was real.
The Commissioner did not also address why the State Government had made several budgetary votes since 2016 till 2022 to ” mop-up out-of-school-children” if the issue was not prevalent in the State. She did not as well explain in her statement the reason the government failed to make financial releases for the programmes.
What is more, Etiebet failed to justify how school enrollment would be high in some of the communities highlighted in the report that did not have access to public schools.
She neither disputed the 2020 data by the National Bureau of Statistics’ report on men and women nor data published in the 2018 Digest of Basic Education Statistics by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) which reported Akwa Ibom State as the second highest in out-of-school-children in Nigeria nor did she present alternative data from a data institution at the State or Federal level.
Curiously, checks reveal that there have been no reports since the administration of Governor Emmanuel about how violators caught by Education monitors have been prosecuted in line with the Commissioner’s claims that ” Education Monitors spread across the three senatorial districts are enforcing daily compliance through daily patrol exercises.” On the contrary, the investigative report had shown pictorial evidence of children hawking and working openly during school hours coupled with testimonies from parents and community leaders on the prevalence of out-of-school children in their communities.
The Commissioner for Education, Idongesit Etiebet did not respond to calls, text,s and WhatsApp messages sent to her for a response. TheMail sought to know her reactions to the loopholes identified in the government’s statement.