When the President Goodluck Jonathan administration started the Almajiri Model School projects in 2010, it was to reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
The project resulted in the construction and equipment of 157 model schools across the country. But eight years on, from Sokoto to Kano, Kaduna to Katsina, a number of these schools are now either in ruins or have been abandoned, as the second part of this investigation will show.
One of our most heart-wrenching findings is however in Katsina State where one of such schools reported as completed is yet to admit its first set of pupils. Instead, it has been abandoned, and facilities there left to rot away.
Located along Katsina Road, Dutsin-Ma in Katsina State, Almajiri Model School, Dutsin-Ma, is now overgrown with weed even as its buildings and facilities are collapsing.
Were it functional, it could have taken about 300 school-aged children off the streets. The Demographic Health Survey (DHS) conducted in 2015 by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian government indicate that the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million.
The result of that survey has not been officially released. But the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education (UBEC), Hammid Bobboyi, quoted its findings on October 4 at a briefing in Abuja ahead of the Northern Nigerian Traditional Rulers’ Conference on Out-of-School Children.
UBEC claims in its record that the school in Dutsin-Ma, like others, was long completed and handed over to the Katsina State government for use.
This federal agency established under the 2004 Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act provides intervention roles for states and local governments in basic education.
“Almajiri” is derived from the Arabic word “Al-Muhajiroun”, meaning migrants. The term is widely used in Northern Nigeria to refer to persons who travel far from home in search of Islamic and Quranic knowledge.
Almajiri schools are also called Makarantun Allo (slate school), Tsangaya (Learning centre) and Ile-kewu (Arabic school in Yoruba)depending on the context of the usage. They are also forms of Islamiyyah and Tahfeez (Qur’anic memorisation) schools.
Almajirai (plural) are said to constitute over 9 million of the out-of-school children. The Almajiri Education Programme, therefore, sought to help mainstream the Almajiri system into basic education and cut down the number of out-of-school children in the country.
Section 1 Subsection 3 (d) of Nigeria’s National Policy on Education published in 2013 states that “education is compulsory and a right of every Nigerian irrespective of gender, social status, religion, colour, ethnic background and any peculiar individual challenges.”
It appears that the purpose of establishing the Almajiri Model School, Dutsin-Ma is defeated as its state shows the school was simply abandoned after “completion”.
A peek into the school
The fading fence wall painting is what any visitor would notice first aside from the surroundings overgrown with weed. Beyond its gates are an unoccupied, decaying gatehouse and an administrative block that gave a sore sight of what to expect in the inner buildings. Window louvres were clearly missing, suggesting they were vandalised.
A man, Hassan Muhammad, who emerged from one of the inner buildings introduced himself as the guard of the facility. He was excited to receive a visit there after a long time. The man, believed to be in his sixties, said he is a casual worker employed by the local government authority to secure the facility.
“The contractors were always coming before,” Mr Muhammad said. “But they stopped coming since 2015. The last time we saw them was when (Ibrahim) Shema was in power.”
Mr Shema, the immediate past governor of Katsina State, also hails from Dutsin-Ma. He served for two terms between 2007 and 2015.
Mr Muhammad would later conduct our correspondent around the estimated two-acre facility. Each building gave tell-tale signs of waste, destruction and theft.
Home to snakes and rodents
The guard said he regularly kills snakes and rodents in the deserted facility. Before getting to each building, this reporter and his guide had to navigate bushes. The floors of the paths had interlocking paver blocks but these were not even exempted from the invasion of weeds.
A document EduCeleb.com obtained from UBEC categorises the school among the Model II Almajiri Model Schools. Model II schools are like standard boarding schools, with facilities to accommodate many pupils.
Another set of documents indicate that facilities in such a school must include blocks of classrooms, staff accommodation, an administrative block, toilets and laundry, two recitation halls, a hostel block.
But in the “completed” school in Dutsin-Ma, we saw offices without tables and chairs, a library with a lone damaged library table without books and chairs as well as a computer room without computers.
Meanwhile, bookshelves laid on the hallway of one building. A portion of the roof of the block was destroyed by thunderstorm almost a year earlier, according to Muhammad.
Adjacent the administrative blocks are the classroom blocks and a recitation hall, where a similar tale of abandonment was noticeable. No usable student tables and chairs were there except for a few broken ones.
Muhammad revealed to our correspondent that someone he identified simply as ES (Education Secretary) ordered the transfer of a portion of the pupils’ tables and chairs to another school within Dutsin-Ma town.
Classroom as residence
EduCeleb.com also observed that a portion of the classroom block had been converted into some sort of residence. The guard now lives there with his wife and three children.
They converted two fifty-capacity classrooms into bedrooms. Close by was a makeshift kitchen where the wife of the man cooks. The couple also utilised a few of the toilets near the place as their store.
Aside from the guard and his family, our correspondent noticed that another classroom was locked. Muhammad said another man who was a staff at Dutsin-Ma LG secretariat was cleared by the ES to also take up residence there.
The once-roofed dormitories had no single plank on it. Its wardrobe compartments, electrification connections, mattresses and beddings were not in sight. The guard would later disclose that the building, located towards the back of the compound, was looted by thieves three months earlier.
When our correspondent asked of his whereabouts while that happened, he said he was away and did not realise that until much later.
Adjourning the hostel block by about three metres to the right is what could have been an extension of the hostel or the Mallam’s residence. The thick bush encircling it was taller than the bungalow itself. Like the other buildings in the compound, rust had left most of the doors there stiff, making it impossible to open.
Attempts to verify some of the claims made by Mr Muhammad were futile as officers at the Dutsin-Ma Local Government Education Authority declined to comment.
UBEC Vs Katsina SUBEB: Passing the buck
When asked about the Almajiri Model School, Dutsin-Ma, the Desk Officer in charge of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Katsina State Universal Basic Education Board, Muhammad Bello, said UBEC was yet to hand over the school to the Katsina SUBEB.
“I am aware of the dilapidated structures,” Mr Bello said.
But in a response to a Freedom of Information request earlier sent by EduCeleb.com, UBEC said all model almajiri schools built by the federal government were handed over to host states.
“Since the model schools have been handed over to the states, other requests could be obtained from them through their State Universal Education Boards (SUBEBs) and the FCT,” Baba Sali Song, the special adviser to the UBEC executive secretary, Mr Bobboyi, said in the letter.
A part of the information we sought in the FOI request was details of procurements for the Almajiri Model Schools. Mr Song failed to respond to that part.
During a follow-up visit to his office on Monday, October 15, Bobboyi directed Mr Song to provide necessary information about payments to contractors for the project. Still, the official failed to carry out that directive.
He only told this reporter, “As far as we are concerned, all contractors have been paid. We are not owing any of the contractors.”