By John Danfulani
“Three things cannot be long hidden:the sun, the moon and the truth”
Over the years, successive governments generated multifaceted programmes to lure the over 12m kids of school age wandering the streets as almajiris or guides of physically challenged persons in Northern Nigeria. Aside these millions loitering the streets, there are other millions who simply refused or were denied enrollment to primary schools by parents or guardians.
The government’s efforts to nip in the bud this predicament stemmed from aspirations to meet up with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – and now Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – , security measures and development challenges concomitant with the menace.
To achieve this goal, governments adopted the carrot and the stick strategy. It’s on record that many state governments in the North enacted legislations making primary school education compulsory and stipulated punishments for parents who refuse to enroll their kids. In remote communities where law enforcement agencies aren’t present, traditional rulers were bestowed with powers of enforcement of these laws. Side by side there were incentives like tuition free education, provision of free uniforms, etc.
Worried with previous unsuccessful attempts, the Kaduna State Government under Nasir Ahmed El-rufa’i introduced a school feeding programme in January 2016. A Vanguard newspaper story of 15th January 2016 reported Dr. Shehu Adamu the state commissioner of education stating the mission of the scheme thus: “The main goal of the school feeding programme is to attract out-of-school children to school and keep them in class for them to acquire education and better their lives”. Daily Post newspaper of 9th January 2016 captured the government’s financial preparedness, saying, “the 2016 budgets makes ample provision for this government’s school feeding programme” and stated another benefit not pronounced in the Vanguard’s report of January 2016 by announcing that this intervention will improve nutritional needs of pupils covered by the scheme.
Like most of the decisions embarked upon and policy statements made by El-rufa’i since mounting the saddle on 29th May 2016, this also generated opposite reactions from the political class and educationists in the state. Sen. Danjuma Tellah Laah of Kaduna South Senatorial District judging the scheme a misplaced priority, said “from the government records, so much is sunk into feeding the pupils for a state that is battling with many issues, feeding children in schools should never be a priority”.
“I found that in some schools in my own Kaura Local Government, the feeding was done under trees as the primary schools classes had collapsed,” said Laah. He counseled: “my advice is that the enormous resources going into the feeding programme will be better utilized if classes are built and furnished”.
Adding sound to echoes of opposition to El-rufa’i’s feeding scheme is former Deputy Governor of Kaduna State under Alh. Dabo Lere’s regime, Egnr James Bawa Magaji (JBM) in Pulse NG of 3rd March 2016, “instead of feeding children with food they are alien with, empower parents with fertilizer so that they can produce enough food”. Like Laah he also talked of learning environment which is far from acceptable standard.
Seasoned and reputable educationists consulting for UNICEF, UNESCO, WORLD BANK and other bodies struggling to make basic education universal and compulsory advanced concerns about El-rufa’i’s feeding scheme. These stemmed from programme set-up and facilities necessary for successful implementation of any feeding programme. Mr. Isa Yunusa and three others stated such conditions in their paper titled “School Feeding Programme In Nigeria: A Vehicle For Nourishment Of Pupils”. These experts advised that before such programmes are implemented some basics must be on ground: effective infrastructure and sufficient instructional facilities; existence of implementation committee down to school level; and training and provision of incentives to teachers.
Reports initiated by State Primary Management Board and other committees suggests lack of adequate infrastructure, insufficient instructional materials and absence of incentive to teachers. There are schools without a single block of classroom, let alone furniture. Primary school teachers are owed many months salary arrears and other array of arrears. Pictures of all these claims were all over when the debate for and against the scheme started. Despite these words of caution by experts and politicians, Kaduna State government wore deaf ears and rolled-on the scheme.
Insensitivity to opposite views and headlongness has become a trademark of “rulers” of Kaduna State. In all governmental businesses, it’s either their way or highway hence the Governor’s insistence last year in a town hall meeting in Kaduna that either his version of the truth or Kufena mountain. Lest they forget, primary education is in total shamble and in need of rescue, playing politics round any policy that affects it will further aggravate the predicament.
A simple arithmetic shows that for the 1.5m kids covered by the scheme, 90million Naira goes into it daily, meaning 450million Naira weekly and 1.8billion Naira monthly. The regime of Yero and others before it constructed good blocks of classrooms at 3.5million Naira each. Since the present government claims to be more prudent in project management, I want to assume that they can execute same with 3million Naira or less. It therefore means that,the 90million Naira going into it a day, will give the state 30 blocks of classrooms, 150 blocks of classrooms a week, and 7800 blocks in a year. The last report suggested that the entire state needs a little above 6000 blocks to tackle infrastructure problems. If that alone will be the only intervention made in this layer for education, much would have been achieved.
By the way, the scheme is loaded with security risk to the pupils due to some environmental and hygienic factors. Recruitment of food vendors was surreptitiously and randomly done without anybody assessing their hygienic effectiveness and faithfulness. We saw pictures of pupils eating foods in polytene bags using their hands. Food vendors served the kids without water to sanitize their hands before or after eating. It’s a fact that most of the primary schools don’t have a source of water supply (well or mono pumps) for pupils to wash their hands before eating foods. Most appalling is nobody supervises the food vendors to ensure nutritional standard. This scheme is increasingly placing kids at risk of infection that can wipe away a whole school.
Despite their intransigence to wise counsel the same Commissioner of education came out complaining about how pupils desert schools after eating their meals. This is a tacit confirmation of total failure of the scheme and a mockery of the theory of food can attract pupils to school. Yes food indeed attracted them to school, but has the aim been achieved? It has become a welfare scheme helping parents who gave birth to kids without the capacity to feed them. Why can’t the government just modify the aims and objective to ‘food rations for kids whose parents can’t afford to feed them’.
El-rufa’i and his sing along cream must know that they don’t have the monopoly of knowledge and experience in everything under the sun. They have to learn to listen, consult, and retract from most of their elitist and unpopular policies when it is vivid things aren’t adding up and their policies are boomeranging. Listening to certified experts and other views in the act of governance is a virtue not an act of weakness. It often happens that best brains can fashion what they think is superb policy yet get things twisted. The Builders of the Titanic assumed that their ship took care of all known maritime eventualities but the ship recorded one of the world’s most notorious maritime disasters.
Now that it is clear that their money wasting scheme has crashed, will they muster the courage and dump the policy or maintain their intransigence in the face of a total tumble of the scheme?
Closely related to school feeding is provision of school uniforms for pupils in the state. In one of El-rufa’i’s town hall meeting in Saminaka Lere Local Government, he quoted a figure of people already engaged in tailoring uniforms for primary school pupils. It is clear that some cool billions of Naira will go into the school uniform scheme. Pupils might still queue for the uniforms and convert them to personal cloths. Like our simple arithmetic showing that feeding scheme could tackle infrastructural challenges, that of uniform can effectively eradicate two other challenges in the primary education in Kaduna State.
El-rufa’i action and inaction is justifying James Madison’s treatise that men in power must not be trusted. This also brought to mind some lines from Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech of 20th January 1981 ruling that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”. This aptly fits into our situation in Kaduna State from 29th May 2015 to date.