el-Rufa’i and the brouhaha over child’s public schooling, by Hassan Gimba

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Hassan Gimba

The Arbiter

Last week, both traditional and new media were abuzz with the picture of the Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i, enrolling Abubakar, his six year old son, into a Kaduna State public school, the Kaduna Capital School. In the heat of the 2015 campaigns, he made a promise to the Kaduna electorate to enroll his children in public schools if elected governor.

Kaduna Capital School is a public school; it has always been since its establishment in 1957 by the Northern Region government. It has been one of the best in the country and surely the best in the north. It was the pride of the north. It was also elitist. In the 60s and 70s, that was where children of northern military governors went to school. The school also boasts of having children of federal commissioners, top military brass, top civil servants, first class emirs and trending money bags. It was where to be. It had European teachers and was a boarding school when northern primary schools were day schools. A pupil of Kaduna Capital School was a “big” boy.

When the north was divided into six states, the new states replicated that school in their state capitals. For instance, the North East had Shehu Garbai. When the North East was broken into three – Bauchi, Borno and Gongola – one of the first projects of Bauchi was to establish Sa’ad Zungur, patterned after Shehu Garbai which got its purpose and illumination from Kaduna Capital School.

However, the establishment of such schools did not affect the quality obtainable in the general primary schools. They were centres of excellence and they produced excellent pupils. You can never compare their standard with what is obtainable now. Again, you find the children of the elite in the schools as well.

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, big men’s children attended public schools. Private schools were mostly missionary-owned. Because the children of policy formulators and implementers studied in public schools, the system was efficient and all stakeholders made sure it worked. With the proliferation of private schools, where a critical stakeholder would drive his ward to a private school and then drive to the office to superintend over the fate of a public school, standard began to wobble and finally crashed into the abyss. Not satisfied, now they ship even primary school kids abroad.

As a result of nonchalance to education development by those whose duty it was to provide the conducive environment and atmosphere for sound education, the Kaduna Capital School had fallen into disrepair and was little more than a rotten shell. Its alter egos in other states are no better.

Last year, el-Rufa’i budgeted a whopping N195 million to rehabilitate and upgrade the decrepit Kaduna Capital School. Was it done because this year he would enroll his son in it? Maybe, but I do not want to think so because other schools, too, were rehabilitated or are in the process of being rehabilitated. The quantum of money for such must be determined by size of school and number of infrastructure to be touched. Kaduna Capital School is mightily big with many infrastructural facilities, academic and extra-curricular, including hostels. Now not many states can boast of having boarding primary schools in Nigeria.

But even if it were so (that he refurbished the school because of his son), so be it. If all stakeholders would have their children attend school in their states and in public schools, then they would all do, with sincerity of purpose and passion, whatever it takes to put the schools in functional order. They won’t be the overcrowded, dilapidated schools we now have where instruction is less than poor.

For instance, in my final year at Shehu Garbai Primary School in 1977, we had only two classes in form 7 – 7H and 7G. I was in 7H. We were 17 pupils in my class while the other had 21. The teacher/student ratio was fantastic and our classes, by the standards of that time, were first class.

What is the state of schools in Kaduna State? The state has 4,264 public pre-primary and primary schools, 429 junior secondary schools and 341 secondary schools. As of 2017, according to the report of the 2016/2017 Annual School Census of the state schools, only 21.9%, that is, 4,624 public primary school classrooms out of a total of 21,133 were in good condition. Only 983 classrooms out of the 3,097 in the state-owned senior secondary schools were in good condition (or 31.7%), 937 need minor repairs while 1,051 are in bad shape. One teacher still attends to 116 students while in some local government areas of the state, there is an average of 141 pupils per class. All the public primary schools in the state have 403 computers that may likely all be in headmasters’ offices.

In Shehu Garbai, I was in the same class, at various times, with the daughters of Brigadier Musa Usman, the military administrator of the North East, then Colonels Zamani Lekwot and Paul Omu as well as the children of state and federal cabinet members. But there was no favouritism by the teachers; we were treated as equals. The brilliant among us dusted the less brilliant children in class, no matter who sired them. Among the students, there was never any apprehension that this was the child of so and so and we were all normal kids, learning, playing and fighting one another. No one was treated differently or specially and we never saw any of us as more special than others. We looked up to mates based on academic brilliance and not bloodline. Rewards and punishments were apportioned to each accordingly. But most importantly, all were safe. No special security for anyone.

The issue that should strike a chord with people over this brouhaha is not about el-Rufa’i’s promise; whether it was delayed; or why take all the trouble for one child out of many; or if the child is a sacrificial lamb.

No. It is that of security and how his child would be treated. While I am an advocate of children of big men studying at home and in public schools because that would make them work on improving the system, I am also not unmindful of the fact that Nigeria has lost its innocence of the sweet 60s, 70s and 80s. The atmosphere of peace, love for one another and fear of God that guaranteed that not only the poor but the rich and powerful and their families can move about with careless abandon is no longer there.

Now teachers, instead of learning from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher, would be fighting over themselves to ingratiate themselves with the child and then begin to signal to his father or mother for favours. The boy’s real academic performances may be obfuscated from his father; he would always come tops. Children will start following him around like some superstar and instead of him learning humility, consideration, empathy and the competitive spirit, a haughty, arrogant fellow with a feeling of entitlement would be molded.

Then there is the concern by parents and state about security. There would be security personnel in numbers, possibly in mufti, everywhere in the school and outside it. Security personnel that the country needs them to be seriously engaged elsewhere. Today in Nigeria, our roads already are not safe; kidnappers now brazenly abduct people from their homes. Rich men and men in power cannot be exceptions if the poor, too, are not get spared.

But perhaps through this singular act, other people in his class would begin to think about putting a few things right where it is important.  And this is where I see el-Rufa’i’s courage. And this is what people should be talking about.

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