By Adedapo Adesanya
An advocacy organisation in Nigeria, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has expressed strong concern over the allegations of corruption at the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs).
The group wants the federal government and relevant agencies to probe the alleged missing N3.84 billion documented in the 2017 annual report submitted by the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF).
It was alleged that the two agencies in the education sector in Nigeria recorded widespread and systemic corruption, misappropriation and mismanagement of funds between 2004 and 2020.
SERAP wants the government to act fast and decisively and make public the outcome of any investigation, and to prosecute suspected perpetrators if there is relevant admissible evidence, as well as fully recover any missing public funds.
SERAP stated that allegations of corruption in UBEC and SUBEBs violate the right to education of millions of Nigerian children who continue to face unsuitable learning conditions, as shown by the poor learning and boarding facilities at the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State.
In a statement, SERAP stressed that, “We would be grateful if your government would indicate the measures being taken to address the allegations and to implement the proposed recommendations within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter If we have not heard from by then as to the steps being taken in this direction, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel his government to implement these recommendations in the public interest, & to promote transparency & accountability in UBEC and SUBEBs.
“Allegations of corruption in UBEC & SUBEBs undermine public confidence in the education sector, lead to the erosion of education quality & access, & if not urgently addressed will lead to an increase in out-of-school children, & exacerbate educational inequalities in the country.
“According to the 2017 Annual Report by the Auditor-General of the Federation, UBEC spent N7,712,000.00 to engage external solicitors between January to December 2015 without due process and the approval of the Attorney General of the Federation.
“UBEC also reportedly failed to explain the nature of the legal services rendered. The Auditor-General is concerned UBEC may have engaged ‘unqualified solicitors.
“The Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board also reportedly failed to account for N37, 200,000.00 despite repeated requests by the Auditor-General.
“The Plateau SUBEB also spent N9,709,989 without any payment vouchers. The SUBEB spent N1,607,007,353.72 Special Intervention funds by the federal government without any documents.
“The Plateau SUBEB also paid N10, 341,575.00 to various contractors without evidence of advance payment guarantee. The SUBEB paid N70,569,471.00 through cheques to a member of staff, in violation of the Federal Government e-payment policy.
“The SUBEB also failed to explain the purpose of the payment. It spent N120,948,000.00 on the professional development of teachers but failed to retire and account for the money.
“The Imo State Universal Basic Education Board reportedly spent N482,560,000.00 as mobilization fees to some contractors without due process and any advance payment guarantee. The contracts were funded from the Matching Grant Account.
“The Auditor-General stated that the contractors selected lacked ‘the financial capacity to handle the contracts.’ The SUBEB has also failed to account for N140,774,702.12 of project fund since 2015.
“The Kano State Universal Basic Education Board reportedly paid N71,263,000.15 to contractors without due process and without open competitive bidding.
“Similarly, the Ebonyi SUBEB paid N569,758,938.00 to ‘unqualified contractors and companies’ for the reconstruction and renovation of classrooms. The Ebonyi SUBEB also spent N10,123,892.46 to buy store items but without any documents.
“The Gombe SUBEB paid N31,822,600.00 to a staff from its teachers’ professional development funds but failed to account for the money. The Auditor-General is concerned that ‘the payment is fictitious’, and that ‘the funds did not benefit the intended beneficiaries.’
“The SUBEB also reportedly paid N41,277,983.00 as cash advance to staff to ‘buy some materials and for press coverage but failed to account for the money.
“SERAP is concerned about allegations of widespread and systemic corruption, misappropriation and mismanagement within UBEC and several SUBEBs, the failure to investigate these allegations, and to recover any missing public funds.
“The federal government bears responsibility for ensuring that every Nigerian child has access to quality education in a conducive learning environment, and to safeguard education as a public good, govt’s responsibility to guarantee & ensure the right to quality education for every Nigerian child is interlinked with the responsibility under Section 15(5) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 [as amended] to ‘abolish all corrupt practices & abuse of office.’
“This imposes a fundamental obligation to investigate the missing public funds from UBEC and SUBEBs, to prosecute suspected perpetrators, recover the money, and to remove opportunities for corruption in these institutions.
“Access to quality education would empower children to be full and active participants in society, able to exercise their rights and engage in civil and political life.”