Viewpoint: The Darker Sides of the “Safe Schools Initiative”

Viewpoint: The Darker Sides of the “Safe Schools Initiative” – The “Safe Schools Initiative” (SSI) is a brain-child of Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister who now serves as United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. The SSI was earlier launched at the World Economic Forum Africa in April/May this year in Abuja, in response to the abducted 200 school girls from Chibok, Borno State.

Gordon Brown in collaboration with some of Nigeria’s wealthiest business leaders had pledged $10m to the SSI and explained that “the programme would start with 500 schools as the pilot in some northern states”. The initiative according to Brown “will help schools create security plans and work with government to develop a rapid response system to quickly repair or rebuild and ensure that destroyed education materials are replaced”.

The Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, later in June also confirmed that President Jonathan has keyed into this initiative with a counter pledge of $10m. Meanwhile, in a related development, the United Nations Children Education Fund  (UNICEF)  reported that Nigeria has the largest number of children, globally, who miss school. The report noted that out of 10.5m children who do not attend school in Nigeria, 60% are girls who live in the north. (See Pg 47, Daily Independent newspaper of 18/6/2014).

Although UNICEF also fingered the insurgency and insecurity in the north-east as primarily responsible for the millions of out-of school children, the reality of cause is that the high rate of drop-outs is certainly more firmly rooted in the prevailing social culture on girl child education. Thus, the Boko Haram threat to security and girl child education may be seen as the insurgent’s endorsement of this retrogressive abiding cultural practice.

Nonetheless, the limited opportunities for formal quality education in Nigeria is certainly also a contributory factor to the large population of Nigerian children who miss school. For example, the former CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi noted in a public lecture last year that “Every year, about 1.5m school leavers sit for the compulsory Entrance examinations into 150 public and private universities which have approved carrying capacity of only about 600,000 students”. Thus, over 900,000 youths are unceremoniously denied the opportunity to pursue higher goals and make more meaningful social contributions.

Regrettably, only a small percentage of these 900,000 bustling youths may find employment as an intermediate or stop gap measure, the larger majority will swell the already huge market of frustrated and unemployed Nigerians. Ultimately, if these youths have parents or sponsors with deep pockets, possibly over 10% of the domestically disenfranchised youths may look outside Nigeria for further education.

Indeed, the value of education as a vibrant, profitable economic sub-sector with great potential for Export revenue is not lost on some of our trading partners who publicly make sympathetic noises and philanthropic gestures in favour of improvement of the quality and provision of increasing education opportunities in Nigeria; for example, a report titled – ‘International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity’ from the British Government’s website,,  reads as follows: “overseas students who come to Britain to study make a huge contribution to our economy.

Each student of higher education on average pays fees of about £10,000 a year and spends more than this again while they are here. In 2011/12, we estimate that overseas students studying in higher education in UK paid £10bn in tuition fees and living expenses and they boost the local economy where they study… it is because we value this massive contribution that there is no cap on the number of legitimate students coming to Britain nor do we plan to impose one”.

Indeed, if only 30% of the reported 180,000 UK visa applicants were students, this would translate to an outflow of at least £2bn (N500bn) from Nigeria alone every year. Additionally, last year, Lamido Sanusi, the former CBN Governor also revealed in a public lecture, that “about 71,000 Nigerians students in Ghana pay about £1bn annually as tuition fees and up-keep in contrast to the sum of $751m which was allocated for all of Nigeria’s Federal Universities last year”.

But in reality, Nigerian students are also well represented in Canada, the United States, South Africa and several European countries and if only ten thousand more Nigerians studied in these other countries, Nigeria may be contributing well over £3bn (N750bn) to these favoured and stronger economies annually.

Thus, it is certainly true that the social turmoil caused by Boko Haram, and our lack of a coherent and responsible educational plan and the heavy dose of corruption in public spending, are all favours to those countries who benefit from our confusion.

Nonetheless, it is worrisome that less than 0.1% of over 160 million Nigerians spend disproportionately more than the remainder 99.99% on much more expensive, and presumed better quality education abroad, in spite of the attendant impact of the substantial revenue leakages from our treasury and the engendered conspicuous social inequality and subsisting poor education infrastructure.

Worse still, those Nigerians with excellent results from foreign institutions are readily creamed off by headhunters and encouraged to remain abroad; inevitably once again, the Nigerian economy suffers additional loss; indeed, our reality becomes a curiously macabre case of a supposedly poor disadvantaged country subsiding the economy of much more successful nations.

Nonetheless, for the sake of argument, let us assume that the  Safe School Initiative  would achieve its objective of providing safe and better learning environment for our youths; thereafter, however, what happens, when these youths finally leave school, with very limited opportunities for further education or job placement. We may belatedly discover that well educated insurgents may have replaced the current unlettered breed. (God forbid).

Evidently, Gordon Brown’s pledge of $10m and the additional $10m from President Jonathan will ultimately be too small to make any meaningful impact; nonetheless, there is an urgent need to quickly reduce the large army of unemployed youths by adopting monetary and fiscal policies that will rapidly positively drive the economy.

Such change strategies must not include government borrowing back its own free funds at double digit interest rates which ultimately instigate high cost of funds to the real sector and which also restrain inclusive growth and the creation of increasing job opportunities.

Besides, our fiscal strategy must adhere to the UNESCO best practice recommendation for the dedication of at least 26% of annual budgets to the education sub-sector. The paltry capital votes in annual budgets are certainly not a serious remedial growth strategy, especially when most of the budgeted meager funds get looted without sanctions on the perpetrators.