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INVESTIGATION: Out-of-school children increase, suffer as school project is diverted in Niger



Aminu Abdulsalam, a teenager, could not comprehend when this reporter asked for his name in English Language. He is one of the scores of never-been-to-school children in Mainasara Sabon Gari in Maje Ward of Suleja Local Government Area in Niger State.

Abdulsalam, only attends an Islamic Centre in Sabon Gari where he had to beg for alms to survive. Modern education seems not to be an option for him.

Janet Dickson,16, is one of the lucky ones having completed her junior secondary school education in 2021. However, she couldn’t go further to the senior secondary school because there is no senior secondary school in her community or nearby. Her parents could not afford to send her to schools in other communities.

Abdulsalam engages in labour to feed himself
Photo: Abubakar Abdulrasheed

Dammy Dickson, her mother, said it would be a big challenge to send her to further her education because she would have to either attend a private school in Suleja town or a public school in a distant location. Both are beyond her family’s financial gauge. She added that they would have managed to send her to the senior level if there was a senior secondary school in their community.

“What am I selling to be able to finance her education in a private or far-off public school? We know the importance of education and we desire to support her till university, but God didn’t give us that ability. I borrowed money from my friend before she could register for junior WAEC.

“She is getting older and that is why her father is considering that she should get married. If God says she will further her education, we’ll be grateful,” Mrs Dickson said.

Ms Janet wants to be a lawyer but that dream may have to be surrendered. Many children in Mainasara are in Janet’s or Abdulsalam’s situation.

The lack of access to educational facilities, and the regular invasion of communities by rampaging bandits in recent years, have intensified the issue of out-of-school children in the state.

Niger State alone contributes over 700,000 children to Nigeria’s 20 million out-of-school children. The data is based on aged children of six to 18 years from primary one to senior secondary school three.

Sabon Gari community actually has a joint school named Shagayyah L.G.E.A. The school, with three blocks of classrooms, is used as primary and junior secondary but it is overcrowded. With no space in the schools, most parents don’t bother to send their children to school.

However, one project would have solved their problem.

The abandoned Juma’at mosque at Mainasara Photo: Abubakar Abdulrasheed

Missing classrooms project

In 2020, Abubakar Lado, the lawmaker representing Gurara/Suleja/Tafa Federal Constituency, initiated a project for the construction of three blocks of classrooms with Juma’at mosque and VIP toilets, as part of his constituency projects.

Earmarked at N103 million, the project is meant to be sited within the community, different from the premises of Shagayyah L.G.E.A. It was meant to serve as a foundational building for a new school.

Mr Lado was a member of the Federal House of Representatives from 2015 to 2023 but lost his third-term bid for re-election as the All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate to Adamu Tanko of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 General Election.

In October 2020, Universal Basic Education (UBEC) contracted the project to Ojidoe-Ligne Engineering Company Limited at N65,371,250 against the N103 million budgeted and to include all the components as captured in the budget with a completion period of twelve weeks.

UDEME could not ascertain how the remaining fund was paid but information received from the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation revealed that funds for all 2020 constituency projects were fully released as budgeted.

READ ALSO:INVESTIGATION: How insider abuse, shoddy handling of contracts by non-existent firms hamper teachers’ productivity in Kano

According to the award letter posted on Mr Lado’s official Facebook account, the project was awarded to build two blocks of classrooms. This conflicts with the three blocks captured in the budget.

When this reporter visited the project site in April 2023, it was found that the expanse area in the community that conceived the project only houses a mosque and a block of three toilets. The brickwork for both structures is nearing completion.

Residents said the contractor last worked on the project in April 2022 when the toilets and fence were done following an initial abandonment in 2021.

Isiaka Shittu, a resident said they often see Mr Lado inspect the project. He doesn’t know the specification of what the lawmaker proposed.

Mr Shittu with other community members engaged during the interview
Photo: Abubakar Abdulrasheed

“You can go and check it, the project started in 2020, but it is only that Juma’at mosque we have seen. No classroom there yet unless it is situated elsewhere that we didn’t know. If it is this area, there hasn’t been any recent construction of classrooms,” he said.

‘I don’t know anything about the project’ —community leader

Nurudeen Bissalla, the community head of Sabon Gari said he was not engaged in the project’s implementation, and therefore, lacks knowledge about the specifications and components that ought to be encompassed.

“In fact, I don’t know anything about it because I was not being told, I was not being briefed. So I have nothing to tell you when they started, the person that contributed the plot or whatsoever, I don’t know anything about the project.” Mr Bissalla said.

He also criticised the inadequate planning of the project’s location, stating that the allocated space is not large enough to accommodate all the components of the project.

Hope dim

Investigations revealed that the classroom project had been diverted to Buntu community in Tafa local government area of Niger State.

The diverted classrooms at L.E.A Primary School, Buntu
Photo: Abubakar Abdulrasheed

After several unanswered calls and messages Mr Lado eventually called but failed to answer questions about the project. He insisted inquiries by this reporter should be directed to the agency, UBEC, that awarded the contract.

“I’m not the contractor nor the agency that awarded the contract,” he said.

He revealed that the classroom component of the project has been “relocated” to Tafa, another local government in the federal constituency.

He failed to explain why the project was relocated.

The contractor, Innocent Idewele, also admitted that the classrooms had been built and completed in Buntu community in Tafa LGA.

“The classrooms were well completed and even in use, the only thing that was not completed was that Juma’at Mosque which the honourable complained of earlier that the money would not be enough,” he said.

The diversion violates the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commision’s (ICPC) Act. The act in section 22 (5) states, “Any public officer who transfers or spends any sum allocated for a particular project or service, on another project, or service, shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and on conviction be liable to one (1) year imprisonment or a fine of fifty thousand naira.”

His act also breached section 15 (I) of the 2007 public procurement law that states, “All procurements shall be undertaken within the approved budget of the Procuring Entity and be based on a meticulously prepared procurement plan.”

The uncompleted toilets at Mainasara community
Photo: Abubakar Abdulrashee

The Buntu school

When UDEME visited L.E.A Primary School, Buntu in May, where the project was diverted to, it was found that the project which is two blocks consisting of six classrooms and two offices was yet to be completed. This reporter noticed that work was ongoing.

L.E.A Primary School, Buntu has classrooms for its primary education but intends to use the new classrooms to establish a junior secondary school, it was found.

Moses Motoni, Budgit’s TRACKA Officer for Niger State and North-Central Coordinator, lamented the inadequate needs assesment for the project. He said the initial location in Sabon Gari doesn’t fit for the project specifications due to its limited expanse.

He also laments the lack of prioritising education for the Sabon Gari community, said if a proper study was done, building the classrooms in the community ought to have come first to address the high number of children who are not in school in the area.

“In that area, there are a lot of wards that are not in school.

“If they had constructed that project, it would have actually enabled a lot of parents to return or enroll their children to school,” Mr Motoni said.

Speaking on diverting the project to another community, Mr Motoni said the agency holds the responsibility to look into providing the classrooms to the initial community within the project’s budget cycle.

“In that community (Mainasara) that project is their hope to access education and to make that a reality, the project (classrooms) needs to be constructed”, he added.

An FOI sent to UBEC in April, inquiring about the project was not responded to as of the time of filing this report.

By Abubakar Abdulrasheed

This report was produced under the Udeme project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID)

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