By Gambo Dori

THE fires of the Boko Haram insurgency still smoulders, nine years after it began, and even some three years after our gallant troops have routed them out from all the areas they captured. However, Borno State, the epicentre of the war on Boko Haram still reels from aftershocks of the insurgency – guerrilla attacks, here and there, mostly in isolated areas of the vast state, though recently even nearer to the suburbs of Maiduguri the capital city.

That notwithstanding, life goes on. Governance in times of insurgency and even out of it must be one of the most incredibly difficult of all endeavours. Government had to deal with millions of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, and the herculean tasks of feeding, housing and keeping them safe as well as returning them to their homes. Then there is the part of their destroyed houses, roads, farms and markets. The worst of it all is the destroyed educational infrastructure. Boko Haram insurgent elements are some of the most destructive of all terrorists. Their scorched-earth warfare meant they killed everything they could not take and put fire to every building at sight particularly schools. In all their murderous forays the Boko Haram’s prime targets were always the schools, their students and teachers.

Even in normal times Borno had been one of the educationally disadvantaged states. The insurgency only worsened it to an unimaginable proportion. So when I received an invitation to join in an effort to revitalise Borno’s educational condition, I did not hesitate to pick up the gauntlet. Therefore, last week, Friday, I headed to Maiduguri, to witness the first, surefooted, steps. It was an occasion of inauguration of a committee for the commissioning of the newly constructed mega schools in the metropolitan local governments of Maiduguri and Jere.

The occasion held in the Government House with both the Governor, Kashim Shettima, his deputy, Usman Durkwa, and a host of commissioners, in attendance. The governor was in a buoyant mood and he spoke from a well-prepared script which he rendered with conviction and style. In his speech Governor Kashim decried the situation whereby Borno had probably the largest number of public primary schools with many in a dilapidated state. He mentioned schools where pupils study on bare floors or learn under trees. The schools lack quality facilities which willy-nilly affected their learning. The governor was not short of words in condemning the ideology and violence of Boko Haram terrorists which had wrecked violence on public education in Borno. They have destroyed more than 5000 classrooms and other school buildings across the state. And the best way to respond to them, he added, was to make public schools attractive, qualitative and accessible. And the focus must be primary schools, that will be turned into mega schools, with all the facilities now only found in private schools. The Governor continued:

‘I once listened to a thought-provoking lecture eloquently delivered by former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dr. Suleyman Ndanusa, in Kaduna. He shared a finding of UNESCO and the National Bureau of Statistics. Those findings showed that whereas the entire southern Nigeria made up of the southeast, southwest and south-south have a combined total of 19,978 public primary schools, the northeast alone has a total of 19,436 public primary schools. This is almost equal the primary schools in the entire southeast, southwest and south-south. At regional levels, the three geo-political zones in the far-north, namely northeast, northwest and north central have a total 41,913 public primary schools and that is more than twice the number of all public primary schools in the south.

On the contrary, while the north triples the south in number of public primary schools, the south has 67 percent literacy level while the north has a dismal 34 percent literacy What is evident is the major problem of basic education in northern Nigeria, and that is in the quality of our primary schools both in terms of learning facilities, number of pupils per class, the quality of teachers and most importantly, the efficiency of supervising learning. We lack supervision in public schools. Teachers in most public schools earn higher than their relative counterparts in private schools. However, because there is effective supervision in private schools, the same teachers who earn less tend to be more dedicated than those in public schools.

All of these issues are what have driven our administration to focus so much on transforming our public primary schools in Borno State. We are determined to continue the re-modelling of all existing schools and the building of 40 new boarding primary schools. Now, at the risk of being misunderstood, we have located half of these schools within the metropolitan areas of Maiduguri and Jere. This is because the pupils that are targeted for these schools are the 50,000 orphans from almost all the 27 local government areas that are now living within the capital. In fact, the majority of these orphans have lost their parents to Boko Haram’s killings in the local government areas located outside the capital. Majority of the children hail from northern Borno and country sides of central and southern Borno.

Very few of them hail from the metropolitan areas. So, whereas majority of the mega schools are located in the capital, they are for orphans from different parts of the State. We deliberately sited the schools in the capital because many of these orphans have neither parents nor relatives. They are unaccompanied, so to speak. I, Governor Kashim Shettima, am the father and mother of all the 50,000 orphans until May 29, 2019, insha Allah. Since they are my children, I prefer them to be located not far from where I live in order for me to cater for them.’

The ceremony quickly wound down and we boarded a bus to view some of the schools and assess their readiness for the business ahead. The school we headed to was the Model Integrated School, situated in the heart of GRA, along circular road. The school built by the wife of the Governor, Nana Shettima, was entirely from her savings and would be for the benefit of orphans, whose parents were killed during the insurgency. We found the school well-built and having the state of the art facilities – air conditioned classrooms, well stocked library and a room filled with computers. At the time we visited the school it was in a flurry of activities getting set for commissioning next day, Saturday, by the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari.

The next school we visited, sited in the new GRA was even more than a surprise, not just for its build, which is magnificent, but for also its singular purpose.

The school was built for and dedicated to the children of Bororo Fulani. The governor came to join us there and personally took around. The school which has 24 air conditioned classrooms, a well-stocked library, a room brimming with computers and other modern teaching facilities is meant for 1000 pupils. Out of this number 600 are dedicated to the children of Hanagamba, Mbororoji and Fulani ethnic groups who were displaced by the activities of the insurgents, while the remaining slots would be filled from the host community. Another unique feature of the school is that the pupils will be fed at least two meals a day. I find this a good example of cultural re-integration and inclusion at the most basic level.

Ten of such mega schools have been completed, and many more will come on board soon. The committee has, therefore. an arduous task to prepare them for immediate use. However, from the enthusiasm I have witnessed among the committee members and their readiness to commit, I guess all will be well.

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