Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, came into governance with a strong passion for developing the state but he was welcomed by Boko Haram, a terrorist group which hates western education with disdain. As he bows out of office in a few days after eight years, Michael Olugbode examines if the governor’s legacy of 44 modern primary schools was a last but impactful message to the insurgents that education has come to stay
Just like Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenage girl shot in the head while she was riding the bus to school in October 2012, who on recovery had a reply for the terrorist group with renewed vigor which made her one of the strongest advocate for girl child education in the world, Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, has delivered a strong message to terrorists that a strong spirit cannot be killed by violence.
Inaugural Policy Thrust
Shettima became the governor of Borno State on May 29, 2011 when Boko Haram was on the ascendancy. Though he probably knew the potency of the insurgents, he perhaps underestimated the group that later turned to becoming one of the fiercest terrorist group on the globe.
As cliche as Napoleon Bonaparte’s “A leader is a dealer in hope” quote is, that hope was the inaugural policy thrust of the governor. During his inauguration, Shettima who mounted the podium to give his first speech sold the message of conviction to all that Borno was not doomed, neither was hope lost.
Shettima in his inauguration speech said the policy thrust of his administration will be to contribute and complement the achievements of his predecessor, adding that, “in this regard, the policy direction of our administration is predicated on the conscientious and determined implementation of the following programmes: restoration of peace and tranquility in the state; equitable distribution of basic amenities to all our communities; repositioning and restructuring of the state civil service for increased efficiency and effectiveness; employment generation and entrepreneurship development; provision of potable water supply: functional education: qualitative health care delivery, food and agriculture, youth and women empowerment, rural development and urban regeneration”.
He admitted that he was not ignorant of the fact that the task before him was daunting, adding that in order to take Borno State to an enviable position, peace is the first requirement and as such he also emphasised this during his inauguration.
“Governance is a continuous process and no government can execute everything at the same time due to certain exigencies and due to prioritisation and encumbrances of time constraints. In this vein, the protracted security challenges which bedeviled our state despite the effort of government will be addressed as a matter of urgency towards ensuring a lasting solution for peace and progress to prevail in the state. We will therefore neither waiver nor renege in this resolve and along with other stakeholders, we shall overcome the challenges.
“I therefore reiterate my call on all aggrieved sections of our society to eschew the violent expressions of their grievances and come forward and dialogue with us. We are indeed very willing and ever ready to conference with such groups with a view to amicably resolving whatever their grievances with the rest of us,” he added.
Initial Clog in the Wheel
Thinking the Boko Haram was interested in resolving the crisis at a roundtable was perhaps the greatest mistake Shettima made, and also the belief that the terrorist group would fold their arms and allow him to move the state into the era of development was a bigger mistake. Before he could even get settled to etching his name in the sand of time as a governor with a purpose, the insurgents moved higher in their dastardly act to ruin the state; contractors were killed and road construction and other developmental projects had to be abandoned; several hospitals were burnt and perhaps the major loser was the education sector in the state.
UNESCO GEM Report
As indicated by 2018 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) global education monitoring report (GEM) about 2,300 teachers were killed by the insurgents with 19,000 teachers displaced in the North-east.
The report which reads in part: “In North-eastern Nigeria, as of late 2017, there were 1.6 million IDPs, including an estimated 700,000 school-age children, as a result of violent attacks on civilians by Boko Haram, which began in 2009 (UNOCHA, 2017b).
“Boko Haram has destroyed nearly 1,000 schools and displaced 19,000 teachers (HRW, 2016). Reports indicated it had killed almost 2,300 teachers by 2017 (UNOCHA, 2017a).
“The latest education needs assessment found that out of 260 school sites, 28 per cent had been damaged by bullets, shells or shrapnel, 20 per cent had been deliberately set on fire, 32 per cent had been looted and 29 per cent had armed groups or military in close proximity.”
War of Will
It must be stated that mostly affected was Borno State, as over half of the devastation happened in the state which happened to be the birthplace and epicenter of the crisis. So big was the crisis that schools were closed for over a year in the state and at a time students were only allowed in schools in major seemingly secured towns with students from elsewhere relocated. One of the biggest things Boko Haram would be remembered for was the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok.
At a point in time, it was like a competition between Shettima and the insurgents on who has the strongest will, at this point schools were destroyed by insurgents, rebuilt by state government and re-destroyed by insurgents. The governor was made a sad man as over half of his state was occupied and ruled by insurgents, it was so bad that at a point in his reign, he was like reduced to paying condolence visits; and had to open up at a public occasion that: “today is perhaps one of the few times I could be said to be really happy as I have to wear smile whereas inside I have been a sad man since assumption of office.
“If I have to open up to all of you here, most of the time, I try to wear smiles on my face but in the true sense, I have had very few moments of inner joy and happiness in the last three years (then). Today is one of the few moments of my life since I assumed the leadership of Borno State as Governor in nearly three years that I could be said to be truly happy. You all know the traumatic experiences we have been facing as a state since 2009, you will recall that in 2011, we took over administration and continued to manage the unfortunate insurgency that brought very tragic and unforgettable experiences to our beloved heritage, Borno.
“One of the few moments of my inner joy, like I said earlier, is our gathering here to formally launch the Borno State Stalk Houses Eradication Programme which is an ambitious scheme that is targeted at gradually eliminating stalk houses in different parts of Borno State and replacing them with model houses, at no cost to be borne by the beneficiaries.”
Back on Track
At this point, it’s pertinent to state that one of the reports by the World Bank showed that in Borno State alone, about 20,000 were killed since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency and destruction put the cost of $5.9 billion.
But this may all have been consigned to history as the state seems to have been rediscovered and now on track for development; and one of the areas to see this is education.
With the building of a new state university, Kashim Shettima started his audacious investment in Borno education sector. He went further to throw a strong jab on Boko Haram that he is a man of strong spirit that will always rise from the dead with a bang with the building of mega schools, with many commissioned recently by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Some of the schools include; Babagana Kingibe Boarding Primary School, Ngomari; 24 air-conditioned classrooms for 960 pupils of Ali Modu Sheriff Primary school, Ngomari; 24 air-conditioned classrooms for 960 pupils at Mala Kachallah Memorial Primary School, Bulumkutu; 60 air-conditioned classrooms for 2400 pupils of Asheik Jarma Primary School, Bulumkutu; 57 air-conditioned classrooms for 2,040 pupils of Aliko Dangote Academy; 303 estate, 40 air-conditioned classrooms for 1600 pupils, Yemi Osinbajo Primary School, Bolori; 60 air-conditioned classrooms for 2400 pupils of Muhammadu Buhari Academy, Baga road bypass; 60 air-conditioned classrooms for 2400 pupils with hostels, and Aisha Buhari Primary School, New GRA with 24 air-conditioned classrooms for 960 children of Bororo Fulanis, whose parents work as gatemen in mega schools.
These were just few of the 44 mega primary schools, most of them with boarding facilities, spread across Borno State. Of these schools, about 24 are located in Maiduguri for a good reason, with the schools meant for 52,000 school-aged boys and girls, most of them unaccompanied by relatives and whose parents were killed by Boko Haram.
The governor decided to build these school for the children impacted by Boko Haram who have no one to send a message to the insurgents that though you might have brought the children down, you cannot bury them. These schools in Maiduguri are to give accommodation and education to the children. Shettima with these schools hope to systematically break the heart of Boko Haram whose original motive of killing parents and abducting some of the orphans, was to deprive them of education so they grow into their ideology.
Key components of these mega schools include air-conditioned classrooms, digital teaching aides built with K-YAN technology that is customised with local curriculum, they have libraries, playgrounds, dining halls where one meal is served to pupils while uniforms are provided free.
Presently a committee is in place to enroll pupils through online registration for electronic data collection; and the state government has shortlisted 2,000 teachers who are about completing the final stages of recruitment by the state teaching service board. Some of the schools are scheduled to operate two or three sessions to accommodate more pupils.
Focus on Primary Schools
The governor, who was made sad by Boko Haram for so long, seems to now be a happy man going by his recent remark at the inauguration of a committee for the take-off of the mega schools.
He said: “For many years, societies have been making the terrible mistake of ignoring the quality of education in pre-primary and primary school levels. If at all government cares to do anything in the education sector, we rather focus on secondary schools and to some extent, tertiary schools. Borno has been a case of irony. We have more state government owned tertiary schools than any state in Northern Nigeria, maybe with the exception of Kano.
We have about seven tertiary institutions. On the other hand, our primary school schools were so bad that pupils were either seating on bare floor or learning under trees.
“Majority of these pupils learn nothing and they graduate to secondary schools without solid foundations. As secondary school students, majority hardly know how to read and write and how to communicate well in English. At the end, they manage to get few credits and end up in our many tertiary institutions where government pay more attention. The funny thing is that we build more schools because of our ever growing population of children in the north. However, when we build these primary schools, we don’t focus on the quality of learning of primary schools, we neither care about their facilities nor do we care about the quality of learning.
“We are in a continued determination, remodeling all existing schools and building 40 new boarding primary schools. Now, at the risk being misunderstood, we have located half of these schools within Maiduguri and Jere. However, the pupils that are targeted for these schools are more than 50,000 orphans from almost all the 27 local government areas. In fact, majority of them lost their parents to Boko Haram’s killings in local government areas located outside MMC and Jere. Majority of the children hail from Northern Borno and country sides of Central and Southern Borno. Very few of them hail from MMC and Jere. So, whereas majority of the mega schools are located in MMC and Jere, they are for orphans from different parts of the state.
“We deliberately sited the schools in MMC and Jere because many of these orphans have neither parents nor relatives. They are unaccompanied. I, Governor Kashim Shettima is the father and mother of all the 50,000 orphans until May 29, 2019. Since they are my children, I prefer them to be located not far from where I live in order for me to cater for them. And the next father of the orphans will be Professor Babagana Umara Zulum and I have no doubt that he will even do better than me in sustaining the education and welfare of these orphans.”
He said the surest way to fight Boko Haram is to continually provide qualitative education to more and more children, paraphrasing the statement of Malala Yousafzai, that guns can only kill terrorists but it is education that can kill the ideology of terrorism.
Though Shettima administration may be winding up but he has surely sent the greatest message to his detractors, Boko Haram, that he was killing them off without a gun but with a deadly blow at the heart of their ideology.
And just like Malala, Shettima might have said: “We are stronger than those who oppress us, who seek to silence us. We are stronger than the enemies of education. We are stronger than fear, hatred, violence and poverty.”
And just like the young Pakistani, Shettima is equally saying: “Education is the best weapon we have to fight poverty, ignorance and terrorism.”
As Shettima is departing on a high with a message to his traducers, Boko Haram, it is however hoped that his successor will keep the flag flying.