Abdullahi Hassan, Zaira
Professor Muhammadu Mustafa Gwadabe, a former Deputy Director of Arewa House, a senior lecturer in the Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and a senior research Fellow at the Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training (CEDDERT), Zaria, gave details of how CEDDERT is trying to provide solutions to lingering problems in the North.
Gwadabe also revealed how principals because of their governors’ disposition to mass failure, aid and abet exam fraud to ensure their students record ‘good results’ just as he described Almajiri Schools as a deceit by northern state governments.
How do you see the state of education, especially in the North?
Education in Northern Nigeria is relegated to the background. Very little concern is shown at financing it at all levels. The worst is at primary school level. Pupils study without tables and chairs, they sit on bare floor, so also their teachers. No teaching aides are provided and teachers are not paid salary for months. In some states, classes are lacking, so pupils learn under the tree or in dilapidated structures. A number of such schools are without conveniences or play ground for physical exercise. The worst is that even the Federal Government effort through the Universal Basic Education Commission counterpart funding, many northern states are not paying their part, and therefore not benefitting. In short education in the northern states is in bad shape, though some few states are making effort to catch up.
There are privately-owned primary and secondary schools in the North than community owned, what does this portend?
The prevalence of privately-owned schools is an indication that the Northern states have failed the people. In the past, we had few private schools and they are mostly for those who could not make it in the National Common Entrance Examination. I can remember in the 1970’s up to late 1980s in Kano State, we had only four private secondary schools and no private primary schools. Three of the secondary schools (St. Thomas Secondary Schools, Ahmadiyya Secondary School and St. Louis Secondary school) were owned by non indigenes and were co-education. The fourth was the Kano Community Commercial College, now Aminu Kano Community Commercial College, it was established by the business community in Kano to train young Kano youths in commercial courses. It was operated privately and parents paid for the education of their children. During those years only children that failed their national common entrance sought for admission into these schools. The contrary is the case today; public schools are no longer given the desired attention, parents (elites) now patronise private schools at all levels. More disappointing is that most of the private schools are not also any better. All forms of corrupt practices are found in the school system. Proprietors of schools have corrupted the system and they convince with parents to show that their schools are doing well. All examinations in the country suffer one form of malpractice or the other. All efforts at monitoring examinations end up in creating more avenues for corrupt practices. In some states, governors frown at any principal whose school recorded mass failure. The saving grace for such principals is to innovate the best and secure practice to get his/her students to pass, even if it includes employing mercenary to come and answer the questions on the board for the students to copy. This is the experience in most states in the country not only in the North. Similar experience is found in the universities especially state universities. Questions are made available to the students and marks are adjusted to make sure all students, except the weaker ones pass. The private universities are not any better; the likely exceptions are some federal universities. The prevalence of private schools at primary, secondary and the university is a sign of the collapse in the educational system of the country. Private schools have so far basterdised the educational system, and they are producing students with poor background into the university system of the country.
What is your assessment of Northern Community’s participation in education?
Of recent the communities are trying, coming up with mostly religious schools (Islamic), but there are few non-religious schools. What obtain are mostly private schools, owned by Nigerians of southern background. Northern communities are not very much involved; this is a very bad development. Community efforts could have helped since the concern would not be to please anybody, as the case with the private individual. It is also not going to be for financial gains as the case with the private schools, but for the good of the community. This is one of the success stories of the communities in the South Western Nigeria. This is lacking in Northern Nigeria, what obtains are private individuals who only think of their personal interest. The North could have benefitted better were community efforts encouraged, considering the near uniform socio-cultural and political background that bound the people together.
Most state governments in the North spend more in award of contracts for physical structures in schools than training and welfare of teachers. Do you agree with this notion?
This is not only happening in the North but the whole of the country, since 1999 when Nigeria came under civilian rule. The dispensation since 1999 has been structured to pay back to the politicians whatever they spent in buying votes to win election. This explains why priority is given to awards of contracts; in fact in Nigeria dividend of democracy is measured by the number of physical structures you put in place or the amount of money you dish out to the public. In the case of the education sector, the concern is about building classes or walls round the schools. In most of the schools, teaching aides are not made available; no books or furniture, no teachers and so on. Yet ministries are busy awarding contracts, sometimes without even Needs Assessment. Laboratories are constructed with no equipment. Primary and secondary students are learning sciences without practicals. I came across a school that has no single furniture even for the teachers, but contract was given for the renovation of the school ceiling. There are schools that have no access to water, but contract to build toilets were awarded. Staff are not paid salaries or sent on training, but contracts to build walls round the schools are awarded. This is not the experience in countries that are serious about the development of their citizens. We must transform our education beyond contractocracy if we want our democracy to make any meaning. We must be serious about our education if we must meet up to the expectations of the 21st century challenges.
Recently, CEDDERT collaborated with MacArthur Foundation to monitor SUBEB projects; can you give details of the findings?
It is relevant to start with a brief on CEDDERT. CEDDERT is the acronym for Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training, it was incorporated by a group of Northern intellectuals under the leadership of Late Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman in March, 1992 as an independent, non-profit making, scholarly trust to promote and advance scientific research and training for the purpose of providing solutions to problems of democracy, community and national development of the peoples of Nigeria and the rest of Africa. One of the main objectives of the centre is to conduct problem-oriented and policy-related scientific research into the processes of community and national development in order to build self-reliance and the ability of the people to promote and defend their unity, security, democratic rights and human dignity.
It is in recognition of the above understanding that CEDDERT entered into collaboration with MacArthur Foundation. The foundation gives grants and impact investments to support non-profit organizations in approximately 50 countries all over the world, Nigeria inclusive. The project is the joint funding of primary and junior secondary schools (including early child education) under the Universal Basic Education Commission. A number of NGO’s were recruited to monitor the counterpart funding project, which UBEC is in charge. According to sources at UBEC, about N51billion is waiting to be accessed by the states. Out of the 36 states of the federation, only 14 states and Abuja have accessed the grant up to 2017; indeed of the 14 states that accessed the grant, only seven of the states in the northern part have accessed the grant up to 2017. Three states from the South west and two from the South – South are among the beneficiaries, but none from the South east have accessed the grant. Kaduna State under the present regime is among the seven states that have shown commitment to the project. This explains the desire for the monitoring exercise that CEDDERT and some NGO’s conducted in the state. CEDDERT monitored three local government areas: Sabon Gari, Giwa and Kagarko
The goal of the project is to find ways of minimizing corruption in the education sector. The immediate goal is therefore to establish a sustainable system of monitoring SUBEB projects through the establishment of sustainable community-based monitoring structures that can continuously monitor projects into the future, even when the NGO’s and the MacArthur Foundation support is no longer available.
It was agreed that stakeholders should have a say in the awards of contract for school projects. This can help check fraudulent practices in project implementation, as an additional measure to check corruption and ensure that the best materials were procured for use in SUBEB projects and contractors should be mandated to make the bill of quantities accessible to stakeholders.
What has being CEDDERT experience of monitoring the funded projects in the past years?
We at CEDDERT have learnt a great deal of useful information about the flow of funds from UBEC and SUBEB for the amelioration of the condition of schools in three local government areas of Kaduna State we monitored. As a general observation, we have seen that the whole system of awarding contracts and contract execution needs thorough revision so that in future transparency must be the basis of the entire system. At present, the system of contract awards and execution are opaque, and do not involve the members of the local community. In fact, many contracts are awarded without reference to the actual needs of the communities in so far as the schools are concerned. Community members, including members of SMBCs, headmasters, PTA, etc, are not aware of the contract details, what the contracts are intended to achieve, or the costs of the work.
One of the major challenges facing education in the North is the number of illiterate children and school dropouts. How does CEDDERT see this problem?
Increase in the number of illiterate children and school dropouts are not the challenge, rather it is the result of the challenge. The challenge is the refusal of the political class to be responsive to the needs of the people. Finance education well and see if any person can choose the way of illiteracy. This is the position of CEDDERT.
Some Northern state governments, in principle, adopted the policy of integrating Almajiri system to the formal education but it failed? What do you think is the problem?
The Almajiri project is a deceit, that is why it did not last or did it solve anything? The Almajiri of today is the product of the failure of western education. What we have as Almajiri are members of those families that cannot afford to enroll in private schools. Since public schools are no longer what they are supposed to be, the children end up as drop outs or vaguely educated, and therefore illiterate. The problem is the refusal of the political class to keep the trust and be responsible. Finance education well as the practice in the 1960’s and 70’s and see whether there will be any Almajiri on the street. We don’t need any so called Almajiri schools, what we need is sound and free education at least at primary and secondary levels.
What is the next line of action of CEDERT on revival of education especially in the North?
As an NGO, CEDDERT is only a pressure group. The best we can continue to do is to educate the Nigeria people to be conscious of who they are and what they are. It is only at this level that our impact can be felt and benefit the communities. This in indeed is very important because it is what is lacking in our contemporary Nigeria.