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By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja

Barely 24 hours after former President Olusegun Obasanjo raised an alarm that out-of-school children posed a threat to national security, the House of Representatives had passed for second reading a bill seeking to establish National Commission for Almajiri education and out-of-school children.

It will be recalled that the government of former President Goodluck also gave the almajiri a facelift, establishing schools to educate them.

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Tilted, “Bill for an Act to Establish National Commission for Almajiri Education and out of School Children to Provide for a Multimodal System of Education to tackle the Menace of Illiteracy, Develop Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Programmes, Prevent Youth Poverty, Delinquency and Destitution in Nigeria; and for Related Matters (HB.2028),” the bill was sponsored by Hon. Shehu Kakale and 18 other lawmakers.

In his lead debate at Wednesday’s plenary, Kakale noted that was among the countries with millions of children that were out of school.

He said, “Nigeria is among many other countries that are confronted with the phenomenon of out-of-school children. As you may be aware, millions of children and teenagers across the country are currently out of school, due to one reason or the other.

“Mr Speaker, as of September 2022, out-of-school children in Nigeria were estimated to be 18.5 million by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). However, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) estimated the same to be 13.2 million.”

The lawmaker also gave staggering statistics of the figures in many states of Nigeria, recalling Jonathan’s efforts to build 157 schools for the almajiris.

“The statistics appear even grimmer, judging from the rough estimate of out-of-school children per state in the country.

“Mr. Speaker and my Honourable Colleagues, the digest of basic education statistics by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) revealed that Ten (10) out of

Nigeria’s Thirty-Six (36) states were homes to more than half of Nigeria’s out-of-school children, as at 2018. The 10 states at the top of the chart had about 5.2 million of the country’s approximately 10.2 million out-of-school children at that

time. 

“In no particular order, Kano State had the most with 989,234, while Akwa-

Ibom (581,800), Katsina (536,122) and Kaduna (524,670) followed closely. Taraba (499,923), Sokoto (436,570), Yobe (427,230), Zamfara (422,214) and Bauchi (354,373) were other states that ranked high on the list. States with the lowest numbers of out-of-school children were Cross River with 97,919, Abia with 91, 548, Kwara with 84,247, Enugu with 82,051, Bayelsa with 53,079, FCT with 52,972 and Ekiti with 50,945.

“Mr. Speaker, several challenges are associated with the high number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. All out-of-school children in Nigeria are at risk of exploitation, vulnerable to recruitment by insurgents, human traffickers, and by other criminal elements in society. In fact, in your address to Members of the House of Representatives in this hallowed chamber on 28th January 2020, Mr. Speaker, you were very vivid on the rising number of out-of-school children and the danger it portends for the Nigerian state.

“Mr Speaker and my Honourable colleagues, as I draw this debate to a close, permit me to reiterate the fact that education is pivotal to human development and the growth of a nation. It was in recognition of this that Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

had to build 157 Almajiri Model Schools to enable the education of the almajiris in Nigeria.

“There cannot be a functional society without a functional educational system. Accordingly, the establishment of the proposed Commission will ensure that the Almajiris receive sound education that will shield them from exploitation by criminal elements. It is in line with the foregoing, I hereby urge you Mr. Speaker, and my respected colleagues to support that this Bill is read the Second time,” he said.

In his contribution, the Speaker of the House, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila said the bill was worthy of passage.

Gbajabiamila said, “The sponsor and I worked very closely last year on the issue of almajiri. I commend him for this proactiveness. For anything that has to do with education in this 9th assembly, we have been very proactive. Education has been a priority in our legislative agenda. We have just concluded a two-day summit on tertiary education. We hope that at the end of the day, we will make recommendations.”

But in his own inputs, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai said that while he was not against the bill, a timeline should be provided in the bill for the termination of the programme.

“You are aware that 12 years ago, the Presidency embarked on making sure that the almajiris are integrated into the educational sector. I agree with this bill but in agreeing with it, they are making an intervention and it should have a gestation period like saying this program will last ten to 15 years or so. If the commission is established to just run like that, it will be discriminatory in nature. Every child is entitled to an education. This particular program is an interventionist to bridge the gap, so if it’s an intervention to bridge the gap, it supposed to have a timeline, the laws are made in that way”, he said.

Also contributing, Hon. Dachung Bagos called for punitive measures against failures on the part of the operators of the commission when established.

“This bill coming from a PDP man, my colleague from Sokoto. This is the heartbeat of the project the PDP administration started during the time of Goodluck Jonathan because of the importance— of seeing that Almajiri and out-of-school children— if someone had done his work all through the years, we could not have been at the point in time. It is a bill we support totally, but ours is that once this is established, the people that are supposed to do their work in the bill should be able to spell out actual punishment for those that are supposed to carry out that duty. At this point, let the penalty be spelled out,” Bagos said

Responding to Ossai comment, the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase who presided over the session said the bill was not discriminatory but for all out-of-school children nationwide.

“I want you (Ossai) to look at the long title of the bill. It says almajiri and out-of-school children, which we have in all parts of Nigeria. It’s not only for the almajiri, it will also take care of our brothers that are always in the street,” he said.

The bill later scaled through second reading when put to a voice vote by the presiding officer.

In a related development, the House also passed for second reading a Bill for an Act to Establish Chartered Institute of Corporate and Business Management Affairs; and for Related Matters sponsored by Hon. Julius Ihonvbere from Edo State.

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