By Emmanuel Afonne, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
For the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education and training modalities by 2030, will be a herculean task in Nigeria.
According to the two UN organisations, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria, while about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school even though primary education is officially free and compulsory.
In the same vein, infographics from Lauretta Onochie, Social Media Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, however, said that the number had dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million.
Whatever be the case, statistics show that only 61 percent of six to 11-year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education which, they said, was the major reason the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015 failed.
To narrow it down, states in the North-East and North-West are the worst hit with female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school.
The cause of education deprivation in northern Nigeria and some parts of the South is, however, not far-fetched.
The Boko Haram attacks and the mayhem unleashed by bandits and killer herdsmen on most of the Nigerian communities have made lots of children drop out of school and thereby putting a snag in government efforts to achieve the SDG 4 by 2030.
Economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices are also stumbling blocks to acquiring formal education, especially for girls, and by extension the UN development goals.
Interestingly, the General overseer of Omega Power Ministries (OPM), and the President of OPM Foundation, Apostle Dr Chibuzor Gift Chinyere, have set “Operation Get 45,000 Children Back to School”.
The operation is aimed at ensuring that children of the less privileged from Northern and Southern parts of the country have access to free and complete quality education, within a safe learning environment.
This explains why Apostle Chinyere has built eleven free primary and secondary schools with the state-of-the-art facilities and the pupils and students given four pairs of free school uniform, free school shoes and free school books.
The schools are presently located in Rivers, Bayelsa and Abia.
The students and pupils are also given beverages (Milk and Milo) on regular occasion to compliment the schools free feeding programme.
He said: “Just like the United Nations is advocating, our programme ensures that education is prioritised and that it is targeted at children who are least likely to receive it.
“Our free schools are fully funded through the offerings and tithes received from our members in over 150 branches of the church within and outside the country.
“We want to assist the Federal Government in actualising the SDG by 2030 to make sure all the children have access and quality education, skills and knowledge for lifelong learning,” Apostle Chinyere said.
Seeing the less privileged parents squeeze out their hard earned little money to send their wards to school in spite government’s perceived free education unsettles.
Another free school is presently being constructed in Kaduna to ensure the less privileged in the Northern part of the country are not left out as Nigeria march towards achieving the SDG 4 by 2030.
Apostle Chinyere is taking the gesture to the next level; apart from establishing free primary and secondary schools, the man of God is constructing an all-girls’ free technical college which, he said, would be completed by December this year.
There is no doubt that the federal and state governments have made frantic efforts to ensure that there is free education from primary to junior secondary schools across the nation, but there is still a snag as parents still pay about N2,000 to get their wards go to school every term.
For instance, in some schools parents are forced to pay between N500 and N1,000 for school charge, Parents Teachers Association (PTA) dues and data (usually for computing of results) every term to attend the so called free public schools of government, but it is interesting to note that the cost of attending the OPM free schools is absolutely free.
Apostle Chinyere is saying it to the high heavens that everything in the OPM schools is “absolutely free”.
“We have four sets of school uniforms, school sandals, free school books, free lunch and free school bags. The pupils also go on international excursion; like the last time, they were in Paris.”
This is the reason the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), honoured him with the “Icon of Free Education Award”.
Mr Robin Nwokocha, Chairman of NANS, Rivers chapter, who presented the award to Apostle Chinyere on behalf of the national president, said the award came as a result of his commitment to the education of the less privileged children.
Apostle Chibuzor, who appreciated NANS for the award said that apart from the free schools, the church had also given scholarships to five students studying in Canada. He said three others are due to join before the end of the year.
In his words: “We also have a scholarship programme where we send undergraduate students to Canada to study; another three are due to travel soon.
“We also have a local scholarship for undergraduates here in Nigeria because of this, NANS leadership decided to give me an award of Icon of Free Education in Nigeria.
“I thank God for them; this is the first time NANS is recognising my impact in education for the less privileged.”
Apostle Chinyere may be getting close to becoming an Ambassador of the UN going by his humanitarian activities.
The aim of UNICEF’s education programme is to support the government in achieving SDG 4 by 2030 through improved planning and by addressing some of the systemic barriers that hinder the implementation of an effective education strategy.
The OPM founder seems to be keying into this opportunity to the benefit of the Nigerian child. He would not want the opportunity of attaining the UN development goal on education by 2030 to elude Nigeria like the MDG.
He is seeking to collaborate with the Federal Government, UNESCO, UNICEF and other agencies for this objective to be realised.