Hundreds of children, aged between five and 15 years, are being denied access to primary education in some communities in Gaidam Local Government Area of Yobe State.
The communities – Futchimiram, Dejina, Jilli, Borko and some parts of Gaidam; Balle, Kyaleri, Mana areas and others – are mostly located in the hard-to-reach area of Yobe, bordering Borno State.
A visit to some of the affected communities by our correspondent showed that in Balle village, enrolment into primary and junior secondary schools is nothing to write home about for over a decade.
A teacher in Balle Primary School, who didn’t want to be named, revealed that for the fear of Boko Haram militants, as well as parents’ apathy to western education, the school has not been functioning for over 10 years.
“Even before the advent of Boko Haram militants, people here had apathy toward western education, but the insurgents aggravated the situation through threats and attacks on schools and teachers, as well as the educational system. It has been enormous. It has been our problem for over a decade,’’ the teacher said.
Confirming the situation, the chairman of the affected local government area, Mulima Idi Mato, said he had received several complaints about parents not sending their children to school.
“It is painful that after providing them with school structures, staff quarters and teachers, they still don’t send their children to schools to study. We tried our possible best to convince them through their traditional rulers and religious leaders, but to no avail.
“The most pathetic part of it is that, for over five years, no primary or secondary school is functioning in at least three wards in the eastern part of Gaidam. The gap is of serious concern to the government and the society,’’ he said.
Mato said that at local government level, proactive measures were taken to establish a boarding primary school in Gaidam town to reduce the impact of the situation.
He said that after careful deliberation with stakeholders, the communities agreed to release 10 children from each of the 11 wards in Gaidam before getting express approval to execute the project.
“When the kids were released to us, we started the Model Boarding Primary School with 100 pupils. We enrolled another set of 100 pupils this year. Now, we have 200 pupils in the school. The state government is spending N1.7 million to feed them, with the hope to make them future leaders in the society,’’ he said.
“About 50 years ago, these primary schools produced university graduates, top civil servants, some of who are now retired. Twenty years down the line, the apathy against western education started. But we are battling very hard to restore the past glory,’’ he said.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, the district head of Futchimiram, Zannah Nur, said the apathy to western education happened in the past when his subjects misunderstood its concept.
“Previously, people held on to a belief that those enrolled into western education schools were always brainwashed to abandon Islam, so they chose to preserve their faith. But with government efforts, especially this boarding primary school, many people now appreciate the discipline and sound knowledge, both Islamic and western they acquire,” he said.
He said that at the community level, they formed a committee in which every village head is the chairman while the headmaster is the secretary and the imam is a member of the enlightenment committee.
“I have six primary schools in my domain. We are waiting for the area to be fully liberated so that all these schools and hospitals would resume in the eastern part of Gaidam,’’ he added.
The district head of Balle, Lawan Isah Balle, also told our correspondent that only parents and traditional rulers should not be blamed for the people’s apathy to western education.
“Whenever teachers are posted they don’t stay. And the few ones we have usually disappear. Some of the parents who are interested in enrolling their children always complain that sending their children to school is a waste of time,’’ he said.
He said the best thing that happened to the community was when the local government chairman picked 20 children from his domain and enrolled them into the boarding school.
“In fact, Mulima has given us a reason to campaign or even compel parents to enroll their children into school. This is because we all believe that the pupils would make us proud,’’ he said.
An education staff who was a member of a team on local government enrolment drive initiative, charged with the responsibility to reverse the trend, said there was no significant change after they went to eight out of the 11 wards in the local council.
“When we went to Balle ward last week, we met three teachers in the school premises. To our dismay, there was no single pupil in the school. One of the teachers told me that it has always been like that.
“If hard-to-reach communities are afraid of insurgents, why are children in Balle ward not enrolled? This is because I can’t remember any terrorist attack there,’’ he said.
He complained that despite lots of money being spent by the state government to build schools and consistently pay teachers, there is no hope that the affected communities are willing to change.
“Our team went directly to the ward head’s house, where he gathered all the stakeholders in the community. We reminded them of all the risks taken by government to build the schools and the teachers we send, just to educate their children, Unfortunately, nothing has changed,’’ he said.
The headmaster of Borko Primary School, Muhammad Wakil, however, noted that some parents had started showing interest to enroll their children.
“Before the insurgents started targeting us (teachers) , some of the parents usually sent their children to school. It is unlike Jilli village where you hardly see children going to school.
“We abandoned the school four years ago when insurgents attacked us. Since then, I relocated to Gaidam town; and I will not return,’’ he vowed.
When asked about the future of his few pupils, Wakil said they were in the hand of God. “In fact, I saw two of them in the boarding primary school. This is to tell you that even parents could not risk the lives of their children,’’ he added.