Zamfara State: Education, insecurity and development
The massacres, kidnappings and insecurity in Zamfara State have been underreported until some concerned citizens of the state came out recently to raise the alarm. According to the Senator representing Zamfara Central, at least 11,000 people have been killed so far. The people are gripped with fear because of kidnappers, cattle rustlers and armed bandits who have turned the state to a war zone. Zamfara State became famous and controversial, when the first civilian executive governor, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima in year 2000 declared Sharia Law in the state. A thief had the hand amputated for stealing a livestock. A woman was given 180 lashes for immorality. The interest in religious affairs in the state was however not extended to education, healthcare, housing, citizen’s welfare, agricultural production and industrial development. Zamfara State registered less than 60 candidates for the last common entrance examination to the 104 federal government unity schools in Nigeria. Lagos State alone registered over 25,000 candidates. Zamfara had consistently remained the most educationally backward state in the country, and one of the states with the most out of school children.
In my conversation with one of the state commissioners some years ago, I enquired if enrollment of children into schools had increased. The official narrated, rather confidently about the efforts made in establishing tertiary institutions. I advised that the state should rather concentrate on building primary and secondary schools, which at this point is more important than universities and polytechnics. There seems to be an issue with misplaced priorities in the state, and confusion about how to solve the problem of the educational deficiency. This is not an intractable problem, if handled in an appropriate manner. Zamfara State can draw experience from a state, which in nearly the same situation was able to overcome the challenge in a very simple and practical manner.
Lagos State in 1979 was faced with the problem of providing classrooms for school children who were roaming aimlessly in the streets on school days because of the three shifts system. The state between 1979-8, moved at least 1 million children from the three shifts to one within 18 months. The government tackled the classroom problem by constructing thousands of inexpensive shed like structures, which were spartan, but conducive enough for learning. Although derided by some critics as poultry pens, the improvised classrooms most importantly solved the big problem. Lagos State today accounts for over 20% of school enrollment in Nigeria, and there are no willing out of school children.
At today’s value, the prototype classroom of 1979 would cost about 1 million Naira. Zamfara State can emulate the same strategy by building simple classrooms, which will be funded from the 100 million naira monthly school feeding allocation. This sum will in the course of a year build 12,000 classrooms and accommodate 36,000 pupils. There is scepticism about the numbers of children who are actually being fed for such a colossal amount, based on the statistics of the school enrollment in the state. The 10 billion naira sought by Senator Kabiru Marafa to assist the state in dealing with the insurgency will almost solve the problem of infrastructures. It will pay for enough classrooms to accommodate about 360,000 pupils.
The state may seek support from UNICEF AfDB, ECOWAS Fund, philanthropic organizations, THE WORLD BANK and other well meaning individuals to fund the procurement of books, school equipment and pay teachers. MS Kadaria Ahmed, Mariam Ado and Taye Husseini convenors of the protests should be commended for bringing this big problem to public attention. MS Ahmed is a brilliant and talented journalist, who through her career has proved that Zamfara state can produce successful people like herself and the group she led in the protest march.
Children who would have become doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers have had their dreams scuttled because of denied opportunities and so many have become criminals.
While tackling the problem of education, the current security situation in Zamfara state is unacceptable, and it must be brought to a level of normalcy, which will enable ordinary citizens go about their daily activities. Incidentally, the Minister of Defence Mansur Dan Ali and elder statesman General Aliyu Gusau are from Zamfara State. This crisis brings forth once again, the need to create independent state police forces, which will replace the current vigilante groups, who are handicapped by training and official mandate to enforce laws.
The Nigeria Police Force as currently constituted is unwieldy and overwhelmed by the widespread insecurity in different forms throughout the country. The following are good reasons to create State / Community Police to complement the efforts of the Federal Police:
a. A State Police Officer, who is an indigene of a state will serve with greater diligence because of filial and personal attachment to the people.
b. A state police force will maintain a permanent presence which will deter the resurgence of a subdued crisis or contain it, if necessary.
c. A state police will enjoy the cooperation of the local population which will facilitate intelligence gathering for crime prevention.
d. The state police will increase the staff strength of police officers nationwide, and reduce the existing pressures on the federal police.
e. The Nigeria Police Force will maintain its presence in the states and communities and would from time to time intervene to support the state police, without taking over their duties.
F. The state police commander will be an indigene of the state, but will relate and consult with the Inspector General of Police from time to time for support, whenever necessary.
g. The state police shall be under the control of the state Governor and traditional rulers, who however cannot arbitrarily deploy them for operations other than to keep law and order and maintain peace. In other circumstances, the consent of the state house of assembly must be obtained, and the IGP must also be informed. This measure is to prevent arbitrary use of the police to suppress political opponents.
Zamfara State is endowed with mineral resources such as gold, bauxite, iron and most importantly vast arable agricultural lands. Whereas, mineral resources are under the control of the federal government, the state government cannot exploit them, except with permits or licences. However, nothing prevents the state government from obtaining such licences to mine the gold and other minerals in the state, which is being exploited today by unknown persons and organizations in an anarchical manner. This measure will enable the state to increase its internally generated funds, and minimize the over reliance on the hands out from the federal government. Zamfara State was reputed to be next to Kano in terms of industrial development in the years after independence. The sugar factory, the ginnery, textile mills, oil mills, sweet factories which must have employed thousands of people should be revived by the state government, rather than wait for investors which will never come. The allocations from the federal government to the state government and local governments are enough to jumpstart these industries, if there is enough sense of patriotism, duty and genuine desire to salvage the state.
These industries were successfully managed by the regional governments, through development corporations, and it can be done again. The traditional rulers obviously have a very high stake in the state, and their support is crucial for the overall success of these programs. As royal fathers, who are respected and trusted by the people, they should be at the forefront of promoting the educational policy, the community police and the revival of the defunct factories. They inherited a great legacy, and hopefully with concerted efforts and prayers will bequeath a stable and prosperous Zamfara state to their successors and future generations.
Rasheed is former Director of Trade and Investments, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja Nigeria.