Life pension: Governors dragged to court over alleged failure to fund education for poor children

By Francis IWUCHUKWU, Lagos 

For allegedly failing to redirect public funds budgeted to pay ex-governors undeserved life pensions, to pay the counterpart funds that would allow poor children to enjoy access to quality basic education in their States, 36 State governors in Nigeria were last week dragged before a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State.

The governors were brought before the court by a Lagos-based rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP.

It was gathered that well over N40 billion has been reportedly paid to 47 former governors from 21 of the 36 States in pensions and provision of houses, staff, and motor vehicles replaceable between three and four years.

However, several States have reportedly failed to pay the counterpart funds to access over N51bn matching grants earmarked by the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, for basic education in the country.

According to the suit designated FHC/L/CS/1120/2022, and initiated by SERAP, the group is seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the 36 state governors to pay the counterpart funds that would allow poor Nigerian children to enjoy access to quality basic education in their respective States.”

SERAP is also seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the 36 State governors to put in place mechanisms for transparency and accountability in the spending of any accessed matching grants from UBEC.”

The rights group is further contending that “State governors are paying former governors in their States billions of naira in life pensions and other retirement benefits while failing to invest in education and pay funds that would allow poor Nigerian children within their States to enjoy access to quality education.”

According to SERAP, “Paying the counterpart funds for basic education in several States would be a major step forward for children’s rights, and ensure the rights and well-being of all children, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.”

SERAP equally stated that, “the report by UBEC that several states have failed to access N51.6bn of matching grants suggests that these States are doing very little for poor children. It also explains why the number of out-of-school children in the country has continued to rise. The number is currently over 13 million.”

SERAP is also arguing that “States’ dereliction in paying counterpart funds is antithetical to the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, and the country’s international human rights obligations.”

It is the further position of SERAP that “the persistent failure to pay counterpart funds has hugely contributed to denying poor Nigerian children access to quality basic education, opportunities, and development.”

Joined in the suit as Respondents are the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi read in part: “Rather than spending public funds to pay ex-governors undeserved pensions and other retirement benefits, governors should prioritise investment in education by paying up any outstanding counterpart funds to UBEC.

“Redirecting public funds budgeted for life pensions for former governors to fund education would be entirely consistent with the constitutional oath of office, and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution, as it would promote efficient, honest, and legal spending of public money.

“Continuing to spend scarce public funds on these expenses would deny poor Nigerian children access to quality, compulsory and free basic education in several States, and burden the next generation.

“States should prioritise paying their counterpart funds over and above spending on life pensions and other misallocations of scarce resources.

“According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 1 in 3 children do not complete primary school in several States. 27.2 percent of children between 6 and 11 years do not attend school. Only 35.6% of children aged 3–5 months attend pre-school.

“Basic education in several States has continued to experience a steady decline. The quality of education offered is low and standards have continued to drop.

“The learning environment does not promote effective learning. School facilities are in a state of extreme disrepair, requiring major rehabilitation. Basic teaching and learning resources are generally not available, leaving many teachers profoundly demoralized.

“This situation is patently contrary to Section 18 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 [as amended]; and Sections 2(1) and 11(2) of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act.

“States are required to progressively implement socio-economic rights including the right to quality education commensurate with the level of resources available. Gross misallocation of resources to the detriment of the enjoyment of the right to quality education constitutes a human rights violation.”

As of the time of filing this report, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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