By Innocent Anaba

International and local civil society organisations have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to reconsider the budget cuts for social services, stating that about 10 million girls across the world were already at risk of not returning to the classroom when COVID-19 pandemic passes. According to them, many girls would be lost to child marriage, pregnancy, gender-based violence and child labour.

The cuts they are asking the President to reconsider include 54 percent slash in Universal Basic Education budget, 20 percent in Ministry of Education budget and 42.5 in the Basic Healthcare Fund, BHCF, budget. The CSOs include Malala Fund; Connected Development, CODE; Restoration of Hope Initiative, ROHI; ACE Charity; Youth Hub Africa; Hallmark Leadership Initiative; Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP; Centre for Girls Education; Centre LSD; Education as a Vaccine and the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All, CSACEFA.

They noted that the decision to withhold critical social spending, while reportedly approving a N9 billion renovation project to the National Assembly complex, will disproportionately affect Nigeria’s most marginalised children in particular, and girls living in the poorest households in rural areas, especially the northern region.

The SCOs, in a statement on Wednesday, said: “Schools across the country closed on March 19, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, forcing 36 million enrolled students out of school. “They join an estimated 13.2 million primary school-aged children who were out of school before the pandemic hit. For many girls, this temporary hiatus to their education risks becoming permanent. “Malala Fund estimates up to 10 million girls globally will not return to their classrooms once the pandemic passes.

“They would be lost to child marriage, pregnancy, gender-based violence and child labour,” said Crystal Ikanih-Musa, Malala Fund Country Representative in Nigeria. “The government must plan now to safeguard Nigeria’s youth and protect progress made toward Agenda 2030 as Nigeria’s education system suffered chronic underfunding at all levels before the pandemic.

“While several factors account for Nigeria’s dismal performance in education over the years, inadequate expenditure is no doubt paramount,” said Mallam Kabir Aliyu, National Moderator for CSACEFA. “It is crucial that the government does not make cuts during this time of crisis, while keeping in mind the goal of 4-6 percent GDP and 20 percent of national budget when things stabilise.

“By reinstating funding to education, the government could effectively support education during this crisis by expanding equitable learning for all students during lockdown through accessible means, such as TV, radio and other off-line learning materials for all levels of education,” he added.

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