The federal government and development partners are working round the clock to reduce the huge number of out-of-school children in the country, especially in northern Nigeria. However, an unconditional cash transfer programme which caused an explosion in enrolment in schools, has laid bare some challenges confronting education in the North. REGINA OTOKPA reports
It was a bright Tuesday morning; school is in session but with heavy make-up on her face and a tray of pepper on her head, eight-year-old Aisha Samaila, spent the whole day including school hours, hawking to put food on her family’s table. Although her younger brother, Jafarau, is a primary one pupil at Kawara Manu Model School, Kebbi, missing school to join his sister in hawking foodstuffs in the community has become a habit.
When asked why she wasn’t in school, Aisha smiled and said with the help of an interpreter: “There is no reason to be in school since three of my brothers, including Jafarau, are already in school. I sell to support my mother but sometimes Jafarau does not go to school, he follows me around to sell. I enjoy selling to augment my family’s meager income; I don’t see that as a problem. My elder sisters are into this also.”
However, hawking in Kawara Manu, a community in Maiyama Local Government Area, Kebbi State, has somewhat become a way of life for children. Samaila, who does not know why she is not in school, and Habiba Isah, whose parents prefer to send her brothers to school, are just part of the growing figure of the recently updated figure of out-of-schoolchildren in the country now pegged at a staggering 10.2 million.
Incidentally, Kebbi and Zamfara states are said to contribute a huge quota to this figure, having been categorised as educationally-disadvantaged states, despite the fact that officially, basic education is free and compulsory. When Saturday Telegraph reporter visited some communities in these states, she actually saw many children hawking and doing menial jobs instead of being in school. When she tried to find out why this was so, she discovered that some parents are too poor and are still grappling with education-related costs, which in itself hinder them from sending their children to school. One of the parents, who spoke but refused to have his name in print, listed the cost as both direct and indirect.
They include tuition and examination fees, sport, stationeries, as well as food. Yet, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, has said that such ugly situation is gradually but steadily improving across northern states. This, according to him, is due to the unrelenting interventions of government and development partners, especially the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The education interventions have helped changed and is still changing the narrative in most northern states and other parts of the country. With the funds, the previous outof- school children figure has reduced from 13.2 million a few years ago to 10.2 million presently. According to the minister, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), has shown commitment to the cause in order to ensure that every child in the North is enrolled, retained and completes their education. One of such interventions is the ongoing unconditional Cash Transfer Programme (CTP) under the Educate A Child (EAC) initiative which Kebbi and Zamfara states are some of the beneficiaries.
The initiative is a programme whereby N8,000 is paid to a mother or caregiver each academic term per child to meet the child’s basic school needs with leftover stipend enough to finance a petty business. The aim is to help sustain the family and provide an income generating platform to continue sponsorship of the child in school. It is a two-year programme, which is currently being implemented under the Girls Education Project Phase 3 (GEP3) to woo girls to attain basic education, while improving the socio-economic status of their families. It is targeted to reach half a million children who are missing education due to poverty, socio-cultural and economic barriers, by reducing the burden on parents in order to enhance enrolment and retainment levels in school. With this singular act, Adamu said, thousands of children between the ages of five to 11 had been captured to acquire basic education in the nine local government areas of Kebbi alone.
The resultant effect is a massive increase in enrollment of both boys and girls, which is perfectly in line with the overall goal of the unconditional cash transfer programme to expand access to quality basic education for 501,749 out-of-school children by 2020 in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states. Kawara Manu Model Primary School, Kebbi, which used to have 300 pupils majorly made up of boys, is now bubbling with more numbers of children in school. When Saturday Telegraph team returned to Kebbi State recently to access the situation, the school, as a result of CTP, now has a little over 667 pupils.
This has made the school authorities to combine primary five and six in one class due to a stretch in facilities. Figures from other areas in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states where the cash transfer scheme is operational is said to have also reflected in the enrolment boost. For instance, a school in D/ Wasagu Local Government, the reporter gathered now has a population of 3,574 from the previous 2,722 after the first disbursement of N8,000 to pupils through their caregivers in the third quarter of 2018.
In another school in Suru Local Government Area, enrolment equally jumped from 1,106 to 1,809 after the introduction of the CTP scheme. Kebbi State Project Coordinator of EAC/UNICEF, Isah Usman, said the CTP intervention aims to reach 41,391 child beneficiaries and their female caregivers in four years: 31,044 in Kebbi and 10,347 in Zamfara states. Usman said:
“There is high number of out-of-school children, of which the majority are girls. Education indicators for the states are not encouraging, partly driven by social attitudes towards ‘western’ education, and poverty of parents, especially at the rural communities. The poverty level of the countryside largely restricts their level of participation in the education of their children. The majority of them cannot afford purchases of basic learning materials to even support school infrastructural development.”
Challenges confronting CTP in Kebbi communities
Although the programme has recorded huge successes in Sokoto, Niger, Zamfara and Kebbi states, where it is currently being run, Saturday Telegraph has, however, uncovered some lapses that could pose a threat to the sustainability of the initiative in the communities visited, when UNICEF completes the time bound programme.
There are cases of fraud by some of the mothers who collect the money but do not allow their children to go to school. In spite of the alluring incentive, most mothers still prefer to send their children out to the streets to hawk all day long. Aside that, dearth of infrastructures in the schools due to an explosion blast in the school enrollment looks set to dim the laudable initiative.
There are equally insincerity on the part of both the states and the federal government to keep to their promises of meeting the education needs of communities, lack of interest in education, cases of armed banditry in some communities, delay in payment and inability to capture all the children in most villages where the programme is current running. Hajara, the mother of Aisha and Jafarau, is one of the women whose daughters are beneficiaries of the CTP scheme but do not attend school. Aisha said though her mother was among the first beneficiaries of the programme, she has bluntly refused to send them to school. According to her, “my mother prefers to send us to go and hawk.” The Education Secretary, Mayama Local Government Area, Bello Labbo, confirmed that the majority of the women who collected the money refused to allow their children attend school.
“The women are lying, their children are supposed to be in school, but they send them to go and hawk. This attitude tends to defeat the objective of the programme. I believe they are only interested in the money,” he said. Lamenting the poor attitude to education within the communities under his supervision, Labbo noted that the majority of the women in the school, who complained to our correspondent they weren’t captured in the programme, earlier rejected the scheme. “These women are not beneficiaries. When this programme started, we went to every nook and cranny of the town but they failed to come, it was only the educated ones that started coming with their children. It was later on when they saw that the grant was being given that they began to rush here. They have not enrolled their children in the school and they are the ones complaining now.
“They have negative attitude to this programme, it is because they have seen the elite, the educated people whose children are coming and collecting money. In some other cases, the men refused to allow their women and children come out to be part of the programme initially, now that they are seeing the benefits, they are clamouring to be brought on board,” he further said.
The headmaster of the school, Labaran Falke, also confirmed to our reporter that the village head personally tried to convince parents to embrace the CTP. “Unfortunately, they didn’t take it serious until the disbursement of cash commenced. If only they realised that it’s the needed tonic to galvanise development,” Falke said.
However, cash transfer seemed not a solution to gender discrimination in Maiyama LGA. Despite the various opportunities to send children to school, some parents still do not see the need for a girl to be educated; instead they prefer to send their male children to school. This attitude however, has not stopped them from collecting the money meant for girls’ education. Like in Rakiya’s case, while she is out hawking awara (Soya bean cake) every day with her elder sister, who is equally supposed to be in school, two of her brothers enjoy this rare privilege of being in school. Despite this indifference from some parents, there are kids who desire school.
One of such is 13-year-old Mainna Idris, who hawks rice and beans on the premises of the school to students and other passersby every day. She still desires to be in school. Unfortunately, she was denied the opportunity by her parents who insisted education was not for girls. With her face literary glued to the ground, Mainna said: “I would have love to be in school but when the programme started, my parents decided to send my two brothers to school. I am the eldest in the family of three, so, my two brothers are benefiting from the programme.
“I hawk food in the morning and attend the Islamic school in the evening. I like the school but my parents insisted that my brothers should be enrolled. I am always not happy seeing my friends in school when I’m hawking. Even though my younger brother is in school, I would have loved to be a beneficiary as well.”
Turned into the breadwinner of the family from a tender age, Mainna said, ‘’Sometimes, I make between two to three thousand naira but when business is very bad, I make like one thousand naira only. We usually feed from the sales while I attend Islamic school every day except for Thursdays and Fridays.”
With the massive explosion witnessed in the school enrollment, the lean school infrastructures in CTP communities have become an emergency to ensure retention of pupils in school. A worrisome sight at Kawara- Manu Primary School was the limited number of damaged chairs without tables to write on. Also, the classrooms and teachers are insufficient to meet the demand for education. For instance, 100 pupils are forced to squeeze themselves into a classroom designed to accommodate only 30 pupils; they sit on the floor and place their books on their laps to write. Some of the classes were divided to accommodate others. For instance, primary one was divided into three, and one in the class and the two other groups receive lessons outside under the scorching Kebbi sun. Falke disclosed that due to inadequate facilities and teachers, the school could not accommodate all the new intakes.
“They usually put their books on their laps to write, which is not convenient.Due to lack of classes when some of them bring their children we reject them. There is nothing we can do since we don’t have enough classes to admit more students anymore. We need more classrooms and enough chairs for the students.” However, this reality on ground contradicts the claims by the Kebbi State Government which said as part of its commitment towards addressing the dire challenge of basic education in the state, the sum of N2 billion had been channelled towards providing furniture to schools this year.
The Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education in the state, Alhaji Mohammad Magawata, who made this known during an interaction with journalists in Birnin Kebbi, said the state had embarked on construction in several schools and would also sustain UNICEF’s cash transfer programme to encourage enrolment and retention of pupils in the state. “Kebbi State spends N280 million monthly on feeding pupils. We have built 40 nomadic schools. We have identified 504 almajiri Islamic schools. We will carry out necessary renovation for them and we will make sure that we send Mathematics and English teachers to them.
“When we do that, by 2020, our volume of out-of-school children will be very low and depleted. We will be the least in the North,” he noted. However, checks by our correspondent revealed that what the government was doing had to do with construction of one block of two classrooms in selected schools across the state with new sets of furniture while the provision of furniture for the old, dilapidated buildings are seemingly not part of the government’s skewed intervention programme. To buttress these findings, Labbo explained that “a contractor will be asked to carry out renovation but only new classroom construction will come with furniture. There is no new construction here but if you go to other schools, they are renovating or constructing blocks of two classrooms or three classrooms but the seats are still not adequate.
The dilapidated or old ones do not get seats.” According to him, most of the seats in the school and proposal for more seats where possible, due to the UNICEF micro grant of N250, 000 given to the School Based Management Committees (SBMCs) as he added: “We have 52 schools that are benefitting. Some of the schools used to get chairs, repairs of furniture depending on the need of the school. The case is not so different in Zamfara State, according to the CTP coordinator in the state, Maryam Shantali, the infrastructure in schools selected for the programme are far from adequate.
“Six of them don’t have schools at all, others have one block of two classrooms each. The largest has two blocks of one classroom. From last year to this year, one of the communities in Eidon ruwa community has built a school and this school is taking care of three cash transfer communities; Gidan Maidubu, Eidon ruwa and Marinu.
Shantali noted that although the Zamfara State Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has promised to provide vibrant communities in need of schools an additional block of classroom each, on account of the influx of students, she lamented that in most communities, students learn under the trees in the scorching sun. “Most of them are sitting under the trees. Dokatu does not have a school but the education secretary sends a teacher every day to Bokoyo in the Village head’s house to teach. It is very tight and all the children are not comfortable. The headmaster is always going there to support them and SUBEB has promised to build them a school in Doka,” she said.
In Zamfara State, the increasing rate of armed banditry has affected the CTP programme in no small measure despite the presence of heavily-armed security operatives. Some of the 14 communities in the state running the programme have been destroyed due to activities of bandits, resulting in displacement of beneficiaries to neighbouring communities including those not captured in the programme who are left to seek refuge around schools.
Besides disrupting the normal activities of the family now rendered internally displaced, this has surely affected the education of the children, as many have automatically dropped out of school. Shantali noted: “We had 14 communities under these three local government areas. In one of the local government areas, we have paid all the four communities the first tranche of the money but this time around, two communities have been displaced because the communities have been attacked by the armed bandits. So, most of the beneficiaries of the cash transfer have been dispersed to nearby communities because the communities have been completely destroyed.”
Delayed payments by banks
Both Kebbi and Zamfara State CTP coordinators lamented the inconsistency of Standard Chartered Bank in the disbursement of funds to the beneficiaries of the programme “Standard Chartered Bank has deliberately or otherwise frustrated our efforts at having a seamless project implementation by repeatedly denying us funds for disbursement to beneficiaries. “Everyone involved in the project agreed on a schedule of work. But the bank, for unknown reasons, chose to operate otherwise. We wrote to them on several occasions especially during payment, to know if they are ready. But most times, they don’t reply our mails neither do they honour their commitments.
That had greatly frustrated our efforts,” Usman said. Speaking further as well, Shantali lamented that “in their usual ways, they (the bank) would allow us to assemble parents and beneficiaries at different payment points amidst security threats and they won’t show up with the funds for disbursement, neither would they explain to us the reason for their actions.
In most instances, it will take the strong intervention of UNICEF leadership for the bank to react. “It has affected our credibility and reputations before the beneficiaries. Most worrisome is that it exposes the women, children and officials to danger because of the activities of bandits that are freely operating in Zamfara and other neighbouring states.” But officials of UNICEF at the event have given assurances that its Abuja office is fully aware of the developments and are working assiduously to ensure that the challenges are dealt with as soon as possible.
Reflecting on the economic impact on beneficiaries
Besides the issues confronting the sustainability of the programme, a significant economic impact has also been recorded in all the communities that have benefitted from the programme in all the states lucky to be running the CTP programme, besides the increased enrollment recorded. All the beneficiaries who spoke to our correspondent explained that after purchasing the needed school requirements, they had invested the money left in petty businesses to help them sustain their family and the education of their child once the CTP cash flow stops. Hajara Musa, who has four children already benefiting from the CTP programme, said she had so far been paid the sum of N64, 000, which she judiciously used to meet the basic school needs of her children such as school uniforms, sandals and books for them. Expressing so much joy in enrolling her children in school, Hajara said: “Even though I do not know how to read and write; I can see the difference between my children and those of my neighbours who are not taking part in the programme.” With a mindset to retain her children in school, she wasted no time in investing some of the money into a grain business with the hope that whatever gain she makes from it will help in sustaining the children in school. “From the money UNICEF gave me, I bought grains like millet, beans and soya bean. I will resell once the price starts increasing. I intend to save the profit I make from each bag so that whenever the need arises for us to pay anything connected to our children’s school; I will do so without begging for help.” Another beneficiary, 30-year-old Hafsat Kalifa, has two kids currently benefiting from the programme. “So far, I have been paid N32,000 three times. I have used part of the money to buy uniforms and sandals for my children while the remaining has been put in business to enable me to sustain the programme.” Likewise, Hauset Haruwa, who has two kids benefitting from the programme, decided to vie into livestock business in order to sustain her children’s education.
After CTP, What’s next?
Even though education is very important, every child, including girls, has a right to quality education. UNICEF has set the pace, showing government one of the ways to bridge the education gap in the country, it is now left for government, either at the federal, state and local government levels, to wake up to its responsibilities and learn from the gains and challenges of the UNICEF programme to forestall further reduction in school enrolment that could once again increase the number of out-of-school children. It is on record that the Kebbi State Government is not only working assiduously towards recruiting about 1,000 teachers to meet the demand occasioned by increase in school enrolment in the state. With N504 billion set aside to run a replica of the UNICEF programme in three other LGAs, what is most important is the sustainability of the programme. Definitely, every beneficiary has pledged not to drop out of school but will they keep strong to that promise when the free funds stop? The expectations of UNICEF and government of continued enrollment, retention and completion of education can only be guaranteed through continuous awareness on the importance and impact of education.