The importance of the popular saying that children are the leaders of tomorrow could not have been truer as questions around commitment to processes leading up to its actualisation formed part of the headline concern for stakeholders at the recently concluded Community Schools Support Programme for the North Eastern part of the country. The programme was undertaken by Nigeria’s most innovative and caring telecommunications operator, Etisalat in partnership with Abuja Global Shapers Community, a non-governmental outfit, and governments of North Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
The Community Schools Support Programme was a joint initiative of Etisalat Nigeria and Abuja Global Shapers Community, a non-governmental arm of the World Economic Forum, and its aim is to support on-going efforts at bolstering pupil enrolments into primary schools, particularly in the North-east. It involved the delivery of educational materials such as: school bags, school uniforms, exercise books and writing materials to pupils in Primary One in 10 primary schools across the three states.
The beneficiary schools were Borno-owned Yerwa Practising Primary School, Abbaganaram Primary School and Bulumkutu Primary School; Katuzu Community School, Gashua, Central Primary School, Potiskum and Lawan Kawuri Primary School, Geidam, all in Yobe State; and Wuro Hausa Primary School, Yola Town, Community School, Demsa and Tudun Wada Primary School, Mayo Belwa in Adamawa State.
The Back-to-School initiative is part of concentrated efforts to rebuild the North-east region, which, in recent years, has been affected by insurgency with the trio beneficiary states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa coincidentally becoming the epicentres with unprecedented degrees of destruction, economic downturn and loss of lives.
Beside the destruction of physical structures and paralysing of economic activities in the affected states, the insurgency has further widened the educational gap between them and the rest of the country. For instance, as at 2013, 52 per cent of males and 61 per cent of females aged six and above in the North-east had not received education. Today, the figure has risen to about 85 per cent, with a glaring risk of losing more generations in terms of education.
Alluding to this fact, the Permanent Secretary, Yobe State Ministry of Education, Grema Modu said: “One of our greatest problems now is education particularly enrolment. In this part of the country, we always lament of poor enrolment; parents do not want their wards in school. Before the insurgency, we had this stigma of being educationally backward, and this is due to some social, cultural and religious factors. We had been working on parents to allow their wards go to school. Some state governments have to embark on free feeding just to encourage pupils to go to school. All the gains appear to have been lost to the insurgency as most parents do not want their children in school anymore.”
The need to close this widening educational gap is quite huge, cogent and compelling. To fix the ruins in the education sector of the region will come at a huge cost, both financial and manpower. The home governments on their part cannot bear the burden alone; it would require a homegrown solution made up of cross-sector collaboration.
It is instructive to note that global bodies like the United Nations through its relevant organs and the World Bank as well as leading nations like the UK, USA and Japan have all pledged one form of commitment or the other to the cause of rebuilding the region. These efforts are quite significant, but not adequate as they aim basically at infrastructural development and de-radicalisation of the region.
Locally, Etisalat Nigeria is in the mix of efforts aimed at proffering homegrown solutions, one of which is the Community Schools Support Programme.
The company’s Vice President, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, Ibrahim Dikko, hinges this on the company’s corporate culture of adding value to communities through sustainable initiatives.
“The North-east is the most vulnerable region in the country today and we owe it a duty to support its rebuilding. It has gone through a lot of fierce challenges in the past years, a situation that has led to failures in almost all the spheres of life there. For us, this is a period to stand by them and contribute in some very strategic ways towards its reconstruction. We identify education as a primary concern in that it is the building block for the sustainable development of the people and the economies of the region,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary, Borno State Ministry of Education, Hassan Mustapha who spoke during the Maiduguri leg of the programme, echoes Etisalat’s foresight.
His words, “Today, if we are not mindful of the education sector, tomorrow, we will have incompetent lawyers and as a result, people will lose their liberty, we are going to have incompetent doctors, and as a result, people will lose their lives, we are going to have incompetent engineers and as result, bridges will collapse, roads will fail. If we are to be called a civilised society, we should take time and make sacrifices for the future. This is the lesson Etisalat is teaching us.”
With hundreds of children now equipped to embrace education and return to school courtesy Etisalat and its partners, it would be safe to assume that the process of rebuilding the North-east has truly begun, and strategically on track.