Despite multi billion-naira government funding, the number of out of school children is still on the rise in Sokoto state

 Despite multi billion-naira government funding, the number of out of school children is still on the rise in Sokoto state

Sokoto State is one of the states in Northern Nigeria still grappling with a significant out-of-school children crisis despite multibillion naira investments by government to curtail the problem. In this report, Aminu Alhussaini digs into the complex interplay of poverty, insecurity, entrenched societal attitudes, and flawed policy implementation that continue to derail progress in Sokoto.

In the heart of Bela village in Dange Shuni Local Government Area (LGA) of Sokoto, the morning sun illuminates a harsh reality – young Fatima, instead of donning a school uniform, roams the dusty streets selling groundnuts to survive. She lost her father and has no one to support herself, as well as her mother and brother. She dreams of going to school, but she thinks it is impossible. 

“I’m selling these peanuts because I have nobody to feed me. Should I go out to get the means of survival or should I just go to school?” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

Abubakar Abu and Abubakar Bello are two boys who share the same first name but not the same fate. Abu is a 13-year-old boy from Madomari village, who begs for food in Fura Girke village, in Tureta Local Government Area (LGA). He has not had a meal since the previous day by the time this reporter met him. He yearns for formal education, but fate has not brought schooling opportunities his way.

“I’ve always wanted to go to school and be enlightened. It’s my fervent desire,” he said with his eyes gleaming with unfulfilled aspirations.

Similarly, Bello from Anka LGA of Zamfara State, found himself begging for alms in Tureta. He is not enrolled in a school either. He dreams of school and hopes to acquire western education some day. 

Fatima, Abubakar and Bello are not alone. Their stories are emblematic of countless others and show the struggles faced by out-of-school children in Sokoto. The challenges are multi-faceted, intertwined with poverty, insecurity, and cultural factors. During school hours, underage children roam the streets, some begging, others engaged in menial jobs, while many simply play. 

For some parents including Abubakar Bello, the choice between education and putting food on the table is agonizing.

“Now, I have many children who work on my farm during the rainy season. Do you want me to send them to school? Who will support me to work on my farm if I send them to school? Besides, I don’t think this western education has any huge significance because I know many children who got western education and didn’t amount to anything,” he said.

More than half of the estimated 20 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are in Northern Nigeria, where Sokoto is located.  In response to this alarming situation, the Sokoto State government, in collaboration with various agencies, has undertaken substantial efforts to address this educational disparity. Substantial investments have been made, channelling resources into initiatives like the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA), the Cash Transfer Programme (CTP), and the Girl Child Education Project (GEP). These programs aim to improve the access and quality of education, especially for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in the region. 

Despite these endeavours, the situation persists. And there are several factors frustrating these state interventions, including of factors including insecurity, culture, rural-urban migration, among others.

Education and cultural practices 

Malam Abubakar Abdullahi, an elderly resident in Bimasa village, Tureta LGA shared the struggles he and his colleagues go through to get children in the villages to go to school. He lamented that the issue is almost beyond their control.

“We try hard every day to persuade parents to educate their children. It’s frustrating and shocking that some parents ignore their children’s education, blaming problems like insecurity, poverty, and lack of prospects. Also, some don’t understand the value of western education.”

“Many traditions highlight the necessity of education for Muslims, so why should parents hinder their children from seeking knowledge? The truth is, there is no need pretending, there is a considerable amount of work ahead of everyone before this tide will change.” he added.

Despite varying perspectives on western education influenced by tradition, scholars, and traditional leaders in Tureta are actively working to bridge the understanding gap. They emphasize that culture and religion should not limit people from seeking any form of education.

According to the Sokoto State Strategic Education Sector Plan (SESP) 2011-2020, Tureta, alongside Binji, and Gudu LGAs have the lowest primary school enrolments in the state, with 16.5, 17.4, and 18.7 percents respectively. This means that only a small fraction of the primary school-age population in these areas are enrolled in school.

Beyond the boundaries of Tureta, a pervasive darkness shadows the educational journey of children across the 23 LGAs in Sokoto State and echoes even louder across the expanse of Nigeria’s 36 states. The precise statistics of out-of-school children remains a contentious issue, generating varying figures from the federal government and different international and donor agencies. 

For instance, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) pegged out-of-school statistics at 18.5 million in May 2022, while the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reported an increase to 20 million in September of the same year. Contrarily, in August 2022, Adamu Adamu, the former Minister of Education, maintained that the figure has been steady at 6.9million since 2020.

Amidst the figures, the undeniable truth remains – a substantial number of Nigerian children find themselves excluded from the corridors of learning, casting a gloomy shadow on the nation’s educational aspirations.

Poverty, insecurity scuttles school enrolment efforts in Sokoto despite huge funds expended

In 2020, the then Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, revealed that a total of 584,570 children of school age were roaming the streets in Sokoto and Zamfara states. Meanwhile, a 2023 survey conducted by the Sokoto state government estimated that there are over 776,000 out-of-school children across the 23 local governments of the state. 

In 2015, the state declared a state of emergency in the education sector. Governor Aminu Tambuwal, at the helm of affairs during this period, increased funds allocation to the education sector for the subsequent eight years. The governor at the time also constituted a consultative committee on education development (SSCCED) which was headed by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar. Civil servants in the state also contributed certain percentages of their salaries to a Fund managed by the committee and used to construct and rehabilitate primary and secondary schools in the state.

In 2020 while submitting their report, the committee said it spent N833m on the construction of schools infrastructure in strategic locations across the three senatorial districts of the state. The committee also said that it constructed 13 schools within the period of 2017 to 2020, while total receipts from voluntary deductions made from the salaries of civil servants and public office holders in the state amounted to N1.138 billion.

Budgetary allocations were also tailored to address the issue. According to budget documents, a total of N15,838,357,733.39 and  N15,419,132,899.46 was approved in  2022  and 2023 respectively for the Ministry of Education in the state.

Furthermore, the state has also been a beneficiary of some collaborations and interventions by international partners and donor agencies. For instance, the federal government launched At-Risk-Children Programme (ARC-P), targeted at street children and vulnerable young people in the state in 2022 while the Sokoto State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) said it made substantial progress, established 41,000 non-formal education centers and engaged over 1,700 volunteer graduates as part of the World Bank-assisted Better Education Service Delivery for All project (BESDA) in Sokoto in 2023. 

However, the problem of out-of-school children remains in Sokoto, despite these efforts. Perhaps, the state government needs to make more investments in certain areas. For example, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistic (NBS’s) Nigerian Multi dementional Poverty Index (NMPI) 2022 indicates that there were 1.89 million chidren o f school age (6-15 years) in Sokoto.

Going by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) pupil to classroom ration of 25:1, it means that Sokoto State requires at least 72,000 classrooms to cater for its schools age children. However, according to the 2022 National Personnel Audit obtained from the Universal Basai Education Commission, the state has only 14,657 classrooms in total for primary and secondary school children. In spite of all its investment in building classrooms, it means that there is still is a shortfall of 57,343 classrooms. So, in dealing with the other factors, the government needs to address the education infrastructure deficit.

READ ALSO: Despite ban on mining in Niger state, children are abandoning schools to survive in gold mines

Ahmad Fada, the chairman of the Private Schools Association in Sokoto, blames the state government for ignoring a complex set of challenges.

“Insecurity is a critical factor in the escalating number of out-of-school children. Sokoto is consistently among the states most affected by this issue. The lack of adequate focus on this area is a primary reason why children continue to wander the streets,” Fada said.

However, for a school teacher at Government Day Secondary School Mabera (GDSS Mabera), Sanusi Mabera, the factors contributing to the increase in Sokoto are complex and varied.

“Past efforts may have encountered obstacles due to entrenched socio-economic factors, where families with low income prioritize immediate needs over education. Furthermore, the preference for traditional farming practices and scepticism towards western education contribute to a reluctance in enrolling children in school. Persistent issues such as banditry, unemployment, and other socio-economic challenges further impede successful interventions.

“The cultural practice of insisting on acquiring basic Islamic knowledge before enrolling children in western education is a significant factor influencing the high number of out-of-school children in Sokoto. This practice often results in delayed enrolment or even discourage parents from seeking formal education for their children. 

The ripple effect of insecurity is another major factor that government seems to underestimate. It drives victims to seek refuge in cities, where the immediate focus shifts to survival, overshadowing the importance of education. To effectively address this issue, a two-pronged approach is required: tackling insecurity and equipping parents with the necessary support to enrol their children in schools,” he added.

Educationist reacts

Dr. Ahmad Suraj Muhammad, a researcher at the Department of Educational Foundation, Shehu Shagari University of Education, Sokoto, identifies societal attitudes, religious beliefs, poor policy implementation strategies, personal factors, and social status as key elements influencing the rise in numbers.

“Attitudes can be rooted in beliefs, feelings, or behaviours. Given this context, many parents in Sokoto state exhibit an indifferent attitude towards western education, leading to the withdrawal of their wards from school. Some even display a lackadaisical attitude towards their children’s education, showing little concern for their academic progress.

He said there is also an historical context to the issue.

“Sokoto, being a predominantly Islamic city, had its own educational system long before the advent of western education. This system shaped their convictions, faith, and lifestyle, with almost every aspect of their lives governed by the tenets and principles of Islam. As a result, anything contrary to these teachings receives little or no attention from the people. Consequently, despite global advancements and changes, some people still do not believe in Western education.”

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: Ogun LGA where the sick lack hospital, depend on herbs despite FG’s N64m project

Regarding policy implementation strategies, Dr Muhammed identified corruption, lack of continuity in government policies, and inadequate human and material resources as some of the critical factors hindering the reduction of out-of-school children in Sokoto State. He added that these issues often widen the distance between stated policy goals and the actualization of such planned goals.

Lack of co-ordination fuelling Sokoto’s out-of-school children – NGOs

Muhammad Umar of Helping Hand and Grass Roots Support Foundation Sokoto, said poor socio-economic background is often ignored as one of the several pressure points contributing to low school enrollment rates in Sokoto.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: In Ogun town, lives, environment threatened as govt collects sanitation levies without clearing refuse

“Students from low-income families may face financial pressures that force them to leave school in order to work and contribute to their family’s income. Students who do not receive additional support from teachers, counsellors, or family members may struggle academically and feel disconnected from the school community, leading to disengagement and eventual dropout.

“Health issues, including poor physical or mental health issues can hinder a student’s ability to attend school regularly and perform well academically, leading to dropout,” he said.

Muhammad Umar believes family circumstances is also a major factor. He said children from families who experience instability such as divorce, homelessness, or domestic violence, may face significant pressures that can impact their ability to stay in school.

“Addressing these factors often requires a multi-faceted approach that involves collaboration between schools, families, and community-based organizations and the country at large. Providing academic support, mentorship programs, counselling services, and targeted interventions can help prevent school dropout and support students in achieving their educational goals.”

Rabiu Gandi, Head of Migration, Mobility, and Protection, Save the Child Initiative, Sokoto office, stressed that lack of coordination is the main reason for the persistent poor school enrolments.

“I think one of the issues is lack of coordination, because the partner and government looks like they’re working together. But there is a disconnect when it comes to the issue of implementation. Government often times do not implement these projects the way it should.

“The state government should design and coordinate interventions. When a partner brings a project, the government should take responsibility and make sure the project aligns with her plans. The government and the partner should implement and monitor the project together. Without proper planning, the project will not succeed”

“We are now serious about providing quality education” – Education Commissioner

Reacting to findings in this report, the Commissioner of Basic and Secondary Education, Alhaji Tukur Alkali, said that the state is now serious about providing quality education to its large population. He said that the present administration is aware that education is not just a slogan, but a necessity for the state’s progress.

“Although previous governments have declared a state of emergency in education but when you look at their actions, you could tell why what they said did not become reality. That is why before the coming of this administration the governor already put together a blueprint he is going to follow. You can attest to the fact that education is one of the top priorities in this administration’s 9-point agenda.”

The commissioner highlighted ongoing efforts to address the concern, particularly through the inauguration of the AGILE project, which aims to make out-of-school children issue a thing of the past. He emphasized that Sokoto State actively pursued inclusion in the project, securing the necessary counterpart funds required by the World Bank. 

“The governor approved a substantial amount for the initiative, ensuring swift action,” he said adding that, “In the next two to three months, everything will commence, including the registration and identification of areas deficient in girl-child education in Sokoto State. We will leave no corner untouched, ensuring that every girl child is registered and provided with the necessary support to return to school, creating a conducive learning environment.”

However, the commissioner acknowledged that the primary concern that is critical to the success of the state government’s educational aspirations remains the security challenges facing some local government areas in Sokoto State. To address this, he said, strategic measures have been taken, such as merging boarding schools into metropolitan schools to enhance security. 

Furthermore, he said the collaboration of security agencies, voluntary organizations, traditional rulers, and other stakeholders is crucial to providing vital information and countering undesirable elements.

“With these arrangements and supportive security architecture and framework, this issue will be significantly mitigated if not eradicated,” he said.

By Aminu Alhussaini 

This report was done with the support of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, under its Promoting Democratic Governance in Nigeria Project.

Related post