Schools infrastructure: UBEC to involve COREN in projects supervision

The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) has said that the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) will henceforth be involved in the supervision of infrastructural projects funded by the agency across the country.

The agency’s executive secretary, Hamid Bobboyi, disclosed this on Wednesday while taking part as a guest at the third edition of “The Dialogue,” a virtual interactive stakeholders’ engagement forum introduced by PREMIUM TIMES and Strictly Speaking, an educational consulting firm that specialises in discovering, developing and deploying transformational learning solutions.

The first six episodes of the programme, which focuses on basic education, are sponsored by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) as part of its Regulatory Monitoring Project (REMOP) on basic education in Nigeria.

The programme, which was anchored by a veteran broadcaster and team lead for Strictly Speaking, Bimbo Oloyede, also featured Chidinma Okeke, a reporter with Daily Trust Newspaper and Abdussalam Amoo, founder of Educeleb, an online education-biased media resource platform, who shared their field experiences on their reports which focus on the state of infrastructure in Nigerian schools.

Mr Bobboyi, who explained that the UBEC as an intervention agency is set up to support states in making sure that access and opportunities are provided to each and every Nigerian child, also emphasised issues of integrity, accountability and quality of projects.

For UBEC, he said the major problem has been the matching grants, noting that some states that are expected to provide counterpart funds aren’t yielding. He said yet, the UBEC funds are what a lot of states leverage on to see that they could provide the needed basic infrastructure.

Reasons for COREN involvement

He said by bringing in the professional engineering organisation, UBEC intends to ascertain the integrity of the structures built by contractors towards ensuring safety of the users.

He said: “The challenges with the infrastructure in our schools are real and UBEC as an intervention agency is trying to ensure that the best is achieved for the education of the Nigerian child. And we quite understand the need to achieve accountability but many strategies deployed in the past didn’t yield the desired results as much as we would have wanted.

“For instance, in terms of project monitoring we went as far as bringing in consultants to ascertain the quality and authenticity of many claims. Now we are involving COREN towards ensuring that the quality of the buildings are assured.”

Mr Bobboyi also added that his agency was considering deploying technology to monitor the projects through the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) through the satellites. He, however, said the cost of installing the technologies could be discouraging.

“We, therefore, call on relevant organisations including non-governmental ones that could help in procuring the required facilities so that we could obtain real-time facts about our projects right from the sites no matter how remote they could be,” he added.

Alleged missing projects

Speaking on the allegation of missing UBEC projects which are said not to be found at the quoted locations, Mr Bobboyi said the allegations are sometimes not true.

According to the official, sometimes, requests are made by states to relocate projects and once there are no objections from the agency, such projects are taken elsewhere, “especially if the reasons of duplication or any other valid points are raised.”

“There are truly genuine concerns about missing projects but there are other individuals and organisations who are only interested in making headlines in the news. Rather than finding out why the projects are not found, they simply go to the press to make unfounded claims.

“There are instances of approved relocation of projects if the reasons are genuine. This is what we expect every sincere interested parties to do. We appreciate these concerns and we are prepared to collaborate with anyone that is desirous of achieving true reforms in the system,” Mr Bobboyi added.

Impact of growing enrollment population

The executive secretary also acknowledged the widening gaps in infrastructure across the primary and junior secondary schools in Nigeria, saying the situation is worsened by the growing enrollment figure.

He said across some states and particularly in the North-west geopolitical zone, the rate at which school enrollment is growing is not commensurate with the available resources to provide facilities.

He said: “The challenges about infrastructure are real, I have always said that. If you look at certain zones, particularly some geopolitical zones, the deficit has been piling up over some years. For example, if you look at the North-west zone, enrollment has been increasing, and is now getting to about 8.9 million children within that particular zone alone. Unfortunately, the resources that are available to ensure that infrastructure is provided has not been increasing at the same rate.

“At the end of the day, we end with real challenges, and more challenges whereby the available infrastructure is being degraded and overstretched by the large number within the system.”

Recommendations

In their recommendations, the guests and audience suggested introduction of stringent measures towards ensuring accountability in the process of award and delivery of projects.

Mr Amoo said he would suggest collaboration with relevant stakeholders including anti-graft agencies towards ensuring accountability in the system.

Similarly, Ms Okeke suggested independent monitoring groups be deployed to schools, saying some of the schools she visited while working on her reports said they had not seen UBEC officials to inspect projects in their schools for years.

She added that UBEC should liaise with school authorities in order to stop some of the wastages going on in the system.

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