Promoting Good Governance.

Primary education under threat in Niger despite N9bn intervention

By Justina  Asishana

Roofless classrooms, over-crowded classes and lack of furniture are the common features of school life in primary schools across Niger State, forcing pupils to sit on bare floors to take lessons.

At Kwangwara UBE Primary School in Kontagora, Niger State, in class 2A, which offers a slightly different sight, the ceiling and roof were cut into half, obviously by rainstorm and it has remained that way for at least three years. When the reporter visited the school, the sun rays fell directly on the pupils sitting on bare floor.

This school is one of the 3,034 primary schools in the state and more than half of this number share similar features. Not less than 2,000 of these schools have dilapidated classrooms without furniture, forcing nearly 500,000 pupils to take lessons sitting on bare floor. This is more than 80 per cent of the entire primary school population of the state put at about 635,747.

The dearth of primary school Infrastructure in Niger state is shocking in view of the quantum of funds that had been expended on upgrading schools in the state.

HUGE EDUCATION BUDGETS

Out of a total sum of N17 billion allocated to the education sector between 2012 and 2016, not less than N9 billion went to infrastructure development for primary schools in the state.

A breakdown of the budget for primary education in the five years under review show that in 2012 N1.7 billion was budgeted;  N1.4 billion in 2013, N1.4billion in 2014, N1.13 billion in 2015 and N90 million in 2016.

Meanwhile, an additional sum of N8.8 billion was budgeted for the construction and provision of public schools between 2013 to 2016 while N3.93 billion was budgeted for the rehabilitation and repairs of public schools during the period under review.

However, there is no evidence on ground to show that these funds were spent on any of these capital projects. Many schools visited in some local government areas in the state do not appear to have benefited from these funds as they had nothing to show as evidence. Not only are the schools dilapidated, but pupils are forced to take lessons in classrooms without roofs and on bare floors. And when it rains, there are no lessons as pupils have to hobble together to avoid being drenched.

From Niger South through Niger North to Niger East, the tale of decaying Infrastructures remains the same

LACK OF FURNITURE, FALLING ROOFS AND CEILINGS

In Kontagora, Niger North Senatorial District, 30 out of the 53 primary schools in the local government council are in dire need of urgent rehabilitation. Eleven of the schools have classroom buildings but no desks and chairs while 37 lack adequate seats and desks. Three of the schools have no building at all and pupils have to sit under the sun each day to take their classes.

In Zango Primary school, a school with a pupil population of 1,320, lessons are held under strenuous conditions. Although there is a block of classrooms constructed by SUBEB, the school still lack adequate furniture and some pupils have to stand or sit on bare floor during lesson period. Even the available furniture was not supplied by the government; they were supplied by the Parents Teachers’ Association of the school.

The school was one of those starved of government attention for years until 2017 when the state government did some renovation and provided some furniture. But still, the intervention was too little to have positive impact on the condition of teaching and learning in the school.

In Kwangwara UBE Primary School, primary one pupils sit in the sand inside the few classrooms available as the floors are not cemented. The roofs of some of the classrooms had long been blown away by violent rainstorm. The school has only 405 pupils, but it has to practice shifting to ensure all pupils can be accommodated during lesson.

Standing inside the school compound is a SUBEB classroom project which has been left unfinished for some years, and is already showing signs of dilapidation.

The Headteacher, Adamu Abubakar said that complaints made to the Local Education Authority  (LEA) have gone unanswered adding that yearly and every term, supervisors from SUBEB and the local government are sent to the school to ascertain what they needed but nothing had been done to address the state of decay in the school.

The teacher for Primary One class, Owolabi Lola, who teaches in a class where pupils sit on bare sandy floor, was also around during the visit and was quick to narrate her experience teaching the pupils. According to her, it is difficult teaching children without desks and chairs, “It is difficult to teach the children without desks and chairs, even with their writing materials, it is difficult for them to learn fast. In Primary one in Kwangwara UBE Primary school, we are facing a lot of difficulties, as you can see, there is no cemented floor, and the blackboard is nothing to write home about. Even the windows are not good anymore.”

The UBE Primary Schools in Dankashimo, Baturewma and Ugulu in Kontagora LGA are without any classroom building, and pupils hold classes under the tree. But Nagwamatse Primary school is ‘lucky’; it has 21 classrooms built through the government intervention. But they only got empty classrooms without furniture for pupils and teachers. As in some of the other schools, the pupils have to sit on the floor to take lessons.

The Head teacher said: “The buildings are being built without furniture put in place, which is the problem we are encountering now. Before, when they build or renovate a class, the moment they finish the renovation, the furniture will follow but this time, it is not like that. A new class will be built without furniture.”

The Education Secretary of Kontagora Local Education Authority, Bala Bello confirmed that there are actually some schools in the local government area without buildings and some without chairs and desks. He explained that the LEA has not received anything as far as school maintenance is concerned while lamenting the state of decay in primary school infrastructures.

“The decay in Infrastructures is very bad. More than 30 of the schools need urgent attention and intervention in so many ways. Some need increase in structures, there are some of the schools with more than 250 pupils in a class, and it is unfortunate that you did not meet the children in class, you will weep for them,” Bello said.

On SUBEB’s intervention, the Education Secretary confirmed that most of the new buildings being constructed were not given furniture as most of the pupils still sit on the floor to learn pointing out that the local education authority does not have any control over the contractors, which he said resulted in execution of shoddy jobs.

Pupils sitting on the floor in a newly renovated classroom

The same situation obtains in Borgu Local Government Area. In one of the schools visited, Tamanai UBE Primary School, some blocks of classrooms without roofs and ceilings were noticeable. Many of the classes had no chairs and those with chairs had broken down ones.

Yangba Primary School is among the 30 schools in the local government area where classes are held in the open air due to lack of suitable classrooms.  According to Suleiman Yabagi, a teacher in the school, pupils cannot sit in the classrooms because the roofs had been blown away and pupils have to sit under trees to take their lessons daily.

The Reporter gathered that 600 pieces of furniture were distributed by the current administration in the state in December 2017 to address the infrastructure decay. But in a local government with about 130 public primary schools, the intervention was like a drop in the ocean.

CHILD- FRIENDLY SCHOOL NOW HOSTILE TO CHILDREN IN NIGER SOUTH

In Niger South, the situation is equally pathetic. A school once designated by UNICEF 14 years ago as Child Friendly School, Takawanga Primary School in Mokwa Local Government Area, is now a danger to school children. The school has a pupil population of 536 but only one block of three classrooms is in use.

According to the Headmistress, Hajiya Fatima Mohammed Safu , each of the three classrooms is divided into two so that all the pupils can be accommodated. “”please don’t ask me how they will learn in that situation because I too don’t know. If we don’t do it like that, our next option would be that they learn outside and I am not ready to subject them to that,” she lamented.

It was learnt that there has been no form of intervention in the school in a long time. Janaidu Mustapha, a Primary Six pupil confirmed that they are made to sit on the floor to learn, and that he, like many of his fellow pupils, had never sat on a chair and desk since they started school there. Hajiya Safu said all complaints to the appropriate bodies have yielded no response or result.

Although, the scope of this investigation was to visit only primary schools in the local government, however, curiosity due to comments from community leaders took the Reporter to Government Secondary School, Bokani. GSS Bokani is a mixed school but only the girls stay in the hostels while the boys return to their homes daily. The hostel does not look like a normal boarding facility-no fence, poor sanitation and not conducive for human habitation.

The Labour Prefect of the school, Felicia Ezekiel took this reporter round the ‘hostel’ where there are about five dormitories with only double spring beds without mattresses. Felicia said that mats are used in place of mattresses and no storage facility, electricity or fan. “We use torchlights to read if the need arises at night”, she said.

The bathrooms were infested with rodents making most of the students to bathe outside and when they want to defecate, they carry out the business in nylon and throw it outside the building. But anyone without nylon would have to visit the bush. As for security, there is no perimeter fencing, no gate and no security personnel to watch over the girls. Also there are no dining rooms, the girls are served their food in their food coolers in the cubicle called kitchen and they take it to their hostel to eat.

“We do not have water, no mattresses and our hostels are not conducive and liveable and we need more teachers in the school. We also do not have light, we use touch in the night and most times the battery died before we can finish reading for the night. Torchlights are our main source of light in this school,” one of the students narrated.

One of the school officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said there had never been any government intervention in spite of series of complaint from the school authorities. The source added that officials from the Secondary School Board had visited the school several times to assess the situation but nothing was done.

In Bida Local Government, the situation seemed a bit better as renovation works were ongoing when this reporter visited the town. Many of the primary schools in the town were under renovation while in some new classroom buildings had been completed.

When the reporter visited the town, schools were on holidays and there was no way to find out whether furniture was also provided for the schools.

However, some schools in the town are also in need of urgent renovation and additional classroom buildings. One of these is the Bagudu Waziri primary school which had classrooms with falling roofs and dilapidated structures. Most of the classes had no furniture.

Another school worth mentioning is Bagudu Shettima Primary school where the renovation of a block of two classrooms is not adequate to address the decaying infrastructure in the school. Broken chairs are being used by the pupils.

NIGER EAST…. WHERE URBAN SCHOOLS GET ATTENTION AND RURAL SCHOOLS LEFT TO ROT

In Niger East, there seem to be partiality in addressing the decay in dilapidated structures of primary schools. This senatorial district boasts of two major cities in the state, Minna and Suleja. Most of the schools in the urban towns have been renovated and some turned to model schools. But the case is different in the rural areas where pupils still sit on the floor in classrooms without furniture, and sometimes in the open air under trees.

In Chanchaga Local Government Area which is where the state capital, Minna, is located, many of the primary schools show glaring evidence of dilapidation. The reporter visited Barkin Sale Primary school where two classroom buildings were renovated in 2015. However, the classrooms which were in use had no chairs or desks for the pupils as they sit on the floor while the other building was still under lock and keys.

The head teacher’s office was an eyesore with a little chair and table. Efforts to get information and details about the school proved abortive.

When the reporter got to the school, the head teacher expressed joy that someone had finally come to see for themselves the disturbing state of the school.  “It is people like you we need.  Thank you for coming. Things are in very bad shape. You need to see it for yourself,”

Limawa Primary School which is also in Minna was recently renovated by SUBEB to the standard of a model school. Although some of the children still sit on the floor, a teacher in the school said they recently received some classroom furniture which would be used when the pupils resume for second term.

Nikangbe Primary School is one of the schools located on the outskirt of Minna. The school had no chairs in any of the classrooms despite having 14 classrooms. A peep into some of the classes revealed that the classes each contained no less than 60 pupils.

One of the teachers who called herself, Aunty Sofia said the issue of dilapidated structures and lack of classroom furniture is a general problem facing many of the schools, adding that the head teacher of the school had written to SUBEB and the Local Education Authority but nothing had been done.

“We know supervisors are sent here regularly. Each time supervisors come here and ask us what we need, they come and assess what is needed but yet nothing is done,” she said.

Matha Shikeri, a Primary five pupil in the school said she had spent five years in the school but only sat on a chair when she was in primary 3. “I have been in this school for five years and I only sat on a chair when I was in primary 3. I have been sitting on the ground. I have not seen government bringing chairs for us. I am in Primary 5 now,” she said in a tone full of lamentation.

New Tunga Primary School,  Kwalkota Primary School,  Chachanga primary school are some of the schools that have renovated classrooms but few furniture.

In the rural areas of Paikoro, 80 schools are in need of major repairs while 143 are in need of classroom furniture. In about one hundred primary schools, pupils still take lessons in the open air due to lack of classrooms. This is one local government which felt the least impact of government intervention in schools.

The schools in very bad shape are in the rural areas, in Kafinkoro central, Farin-Doki, Baida, Kwakuti amongst others. In the opinion of the Education Secretary, Musa Hamidu, “all the schools need overhauling and urgent attention”.

This was where the Reporter learnt that not all new school buildings in the local government were built by SUBEB. Some were built through community effort, like in the case of U.K Bello Memorial Nursery and Primary school, which was started by the community and completed by a politician in the area. However, the classrooms had no furniture when the reporter visited.

The Head teacher, Abdullahi Tanko, confirmed that some of the buildings in the school were not done by the state government. He said it was the PTA of the school that started the project.

The dilapidated four blocks of classrooms in the school are so bad that carpenters were said to have rejected any offer of repairing the blown-off roofs.

In Zubairu primary School, there were evidences of SUBEB intervention but the school lacked classroom furniture and pupils have to sit on bare floors.

The reporter learnt that parents in Paikoro had long decided to take the destinies of their children in their hands after prolonged government inaction on schools in the area. In other to ensure their wards learn under conducive conditions, the PTA in the schools tax parents to contribute funds for renovation of classrooms and provision of furniture.

To further confirm this development, when this reporter visited Tangopi Primary school, she met the PTA holding a meeting where they were discussing how to repair one of the classes whose roof had been blown off. It was learnt that the PTA expended N500,000 for recent repairs in the school.

The PTA Chairman, Ibrahim Audi, said they always meet to discuss on how to take care of the dilapidated structures.

“We usually raise money and renovate anyone that needs urgent attention. The structures are in good shape now and we are happy with it,” Audi said.

The Paikoro Education Secretary, Musa Hamidu, disclosed that a list of schools that needed intervention had been compiled and sent to SUBEB, but the response had not been adequate.

“Our powers are limited. We cannot do anything more than compiling and sending the lists. We don’t have the financial wherewithal to do anything even if we want to,” he said, bitterly.

In Suleja, 22 out of the 83 primary schools in the local government area are in need of major repairs while 50 require classroom furniture. The environment in many of the schools is also unhygienic. For instance at the Suleiman Barau Primary School, an open drainage that had not been cleared for months runs in front of a classroom building oozing bad odour.

At Ibrahim Dodo primary school, a classroom was infested by bats, and one had to cover the nose before entering because of the smell. In another school, out of 32 classes, only 8 were functional with little or no chairs. Most of the doors of the building had been removed and the buildings were gradually collapsing.

EDUCATION BOARD IN SLUMBER

The Niger State Universal Basic Education Board (NSUBEB) seemed to have been in a comatose until recently. Despite the huge allocations rom the federal and state governments, the state of basic education in the state has remained worrisome. The board has moved from failing to complete projects to complete abandonment of projects.

Efforts to get the funds accessed by SUBEB from 2013 till date proved abortive, and so were efforts to speak with the chairman of the Board.  However, documents obtained from the Planning, Research and Statistics Department reveals that 271 projects were undertaken in 2013 at the cost of N1, 495,400,000. But not all the projects were completed. In 2014, 175 projects at the cost of N1, 316,200,000 were undertaken from the UBE intervention for construction and renovation of schools and toilets.

Also, a total of 13,129 double-seater classroom furniture were documented to have been supplied at the sum of N239, 200,000 under the 2013 UBE Intervention while 10,710 double-seater classroom furniture was supplied at the sum of N321, 000 under the 2014 UBE Intervention.

Investigations revealed that some of the contractors tried to cut corners in the supply of some of these furniture. Most of them supplied directly to the schools and simply delivered whatever they liked and hoodwinked some of the head teachers into signing their delivery notes. But some head teachers, like Haruna Hassan of Angwan Anyan Model Nursery and Primary School in Suleja, insisted on signing only after full delivery.

According to Hassan, one of the contractors who was supposed to supply 60 seats ended up supplying 39 seats.

“I was not around the school premises but when I was told that the contractor had brought the chairs, I rushed there but when I counted them, it was 39 instead of 60. He was agitating that I should sign the documents to confirm he brought the complete set and I told him that until he brings the others, I will not sign the document. And since then, he has not brought the remaining,” he narrated.

Some schools had to share the inadequate furniture given to them by SUBEB equally among the classes to ensure that they try to meet the furniture deficit but it has failed to address the problem. More than half of the population of pupils in primary schools across Niger state still sit on the floor. All the head teachers met during the reporter’s visit across the state and all made appeal for chairs to be made available to them.

In some of the schools visited, pupils spread mats on the floor to sit for lesson.

However, the Commissioner of Education, Fatima Magudu explained that if there are no furniture in any SUBEB completed project,  it may be because the contractors of the project are yet to complete the construction of the furniture.

But some of the projects had been completed for over a year and yet the furniture has not been sent to the schools. Investigations show that not less than 10 contractors defaulted in the execution of their contracts. Yet the state had done nothing. Is this an indication of mischief among the contractors? Or is it a case of collusion between contractors and government officials?

Trying to locate some of the contractors in Minna proved very difficult as SUBEB was unwilling to release their addresses. Search for them through the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) website was also difficult as some were not listed there. The Reporter tried to locate Dan Modibbo and Sons Nigeria Limited, the contractor that renovated a block of two classrooms in CPS Wawa in Borgu local government area whose registered office address was said to be at No 122 Zarumai road in Minna. But the company was not found at the address.

A contractor who constructed a block of two classrooms for N4.03 million at Santali Primary School in Lavun Local Government Area of the state said the contract sum did not include the supply of furniture to the classrooms. He also stated that the contracts for the construction or renovation of classrooms were given separately from that of the supply of school furniture by the board, adding that “except in very few cases, the board separated the award of contract for construction or renovation of building from the supply of school furniture”.

He was quick to add that most of the contractors have not been fully paid for the contract despite having delivered on the terms of their contracts, and the buildings already in use.

In his own case, the contractor said he was still being owed N3.15 million despite the completion and the issuance of certificate of completion by the board since 2014.

A document obtained from the Niger state Universal Basic Education Board confirmed that contracts for construction of the classrooms and the supply of furniture are given differently and may not be given to the same contractor.

FRUSTRATED TEACHERS

Many teachers are dismayed over the inability of government to address the infrastructural decay in primary school over the years. Mohammed Umar, a retired teacher who lives in Minna, said the state of decay will only get worse unless drastic steps are taken towards addressing it.

Umar, who was a former teacher at Rafin Sanyin Primary school Suleja, was shocked when told the state of the school now.

“I thought by now it (the renovation) should have been done,” Umar said. “When I was there, I retired in 2015, the school was in dire need of renovation. The children were sitting on the floor, we had no dairies or registers, and we had to just manage what we had. So telling me the school still needs total renovation amazes me.”

Similarly, Dan Azumin Kabiru, Chairman of the Kontagora chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), described the state of schools across the State as so bad they are no longer manageable.

“Government is not doing anything to help improve the standard of education through the infrastructures we have. What would the Government show to the people to prove that it has much concern to education or regards to the situation of the Infrastructures in the school as at now?” Kabiru queried.

He said the recent effort by government in renovating one or two structures in a school would do nothing to improve the state of infrastructural decay, pointing out that despite all the talks of improved structures and huge money allocated to the education sector, there is nothing to show for it.

Kabiru advised the state government to urgently address the infrastructure decay in schools across the state to avoid total collapse of education. He said renovating one out of a hundred schools is not a solution to the problem.

He stressed the need for additional classrooms but added that the old ones that are dilapidated should first be put in good condition.

“Government want the students to be highly educated but they are not giving us the needed Infrastructure and facilities. The schools are in bad condition and nothing is been done. If they do the right thing, they will get the right result,” he said.

Musa Nasiru, another teacher In Suleja, re-echoed Kabiru’s sentiments. He said all the schools in Suleja needed total rehabilitation as a large number of the classrooms are decrepit and without furniture.

He disclosed that the teachers’ union in Suleja was already looking beyond the government and had started approaching well-to-do individuals and the old boys associations to see how they can assist in putting the classrooms in good learning condition.

Bako Kasim Alfa, a former teacher who is now the Chairman of the Niger state House of Assembly Committee on Education, Science and Technology, confirmed that the current decay in school infrastructure started years ago, and due to government inability to quickly intervene,  it became worse as time passed on and would now take years for any intervention to make impact.

He said:  “The decay we are experiencing today did not just happen today. It was inherited from past governments. Some of the schools, since inception, there have never been intervention and in the past, intervention for the education sector was zero. ”

GOVERNMENT APPROACH

The Niger state Government claimed that when it assumed power in 2015, it met primary school infrastructure across the state in total decay as they had been neglected by previous governments.

Fatima Magudu, the State Commissioner for Education, who acknowledged widespread dilapidation of primary schools in the state, claimed that SUBEB was doing its best to rehabilitate the schools and ensure the rehabilitation is spread across the state.

Magudu, however, added that the decrepit state of primary education in the state was due to lack of funds. She said even though the state had spent over N9 billion in the last five years without commensurate improvement in standard, previous administrations were to blame.

According to her, what the current administration met on ground did not justify the money claimed to have been spent.

The commissioner refused to respond to questions on why the current administration did not probe previous expenditure on the sector. Her only response was that the current administration was doing its best to improve the system but that lack of funds has been a hindrance.

She said in her two years in office as the Commissioner, the Ministry had only accessed about 80 per cent of education budget.

“Right now, we have accessed the 2015 UBEC intervention fund but we have not accessed 2016 and 2017 UBEC fund to which the state government would counter fund,” Magudu said.

“You should know that education is a capital project that is capital intensive. It cannot be completed at once especially looking at the way we met some of the schools. It would be a gradual process for this government.

“That is why the government have adopted the whole school renovation approach to identify and work on schools that need intervention.”

She admitted that the ministry’s technical personnel reported that some contractors defaulted by executing shoddy jobs while some failed to complete the contract execution, but dismissed any suggestion of official connivance.

But this is hard to believe, especially because erring contractors were not sanctioned, but only given “letters of warning” telling them their contracts may be terminated if they refused to fully execute.

This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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