Hajia Aisha Ahmad is the Commissioner for Education in Gombe State. In this interview with Henry Tyohemba and Chika Mefor, she recounted the achievements of Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo in the sector as well as across other sectors in the state
What is your reaction to a recent comment by one governorship aspirant in your state that the present administration has failed, particularly in the area of education?
What he said is absolutely wrong, it is not true. I believe he is one of those people who did it was important to go to the schools just to see for themselves what His Excellence, Dr Ibrahim Dankwambo has done and is still doing. It is a fact that education has suffered years of neglect, in the north particularly. And when Governor Dankwambo came on board, he found the schools in very bad shape. I can tell you that the day he was sworn in, straight from the stadium, he went to the schools to inspect them in order to find out what was there. He took a tour of one of our schools which was deemed, then, to be one of the best schools in the state and that was Government Girls Science Secondary School. He went to the school and I can tell you that he ended that tour in tears because he met the structures in absolute dilapidation.
Laboratories were without furniture, without chemicals, without needed instructional materials; libraries were without books and so many things. He went to the student hostels and it took him more than 30 minutes to even come out because of the way he found it. They were without boarding facilities, no beddings, majority of the students were using mats on bare floor. He went to the classrooms and saw the same thing and he came out and decided to set up a committee of seasoned educators that are indigenes of Gombe state from various institutions of learning across Nigeria.
He assembled them with Professor Sambo from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University as the chairman of the committee and saddled them with the responsibility of assessing the education sector in Gombe and work out solutions on how to address the problems he saw. I was part of that committee, then I had finished my tenure under Governor Danjuma Goje and I had come back to my calling. I was a lecturer at College of Education Zuba, Abuja so we were called and assembled in Gombe and he directed us to go to individual schools to make recommendation. So the committee went to the schools and came back, sat down and proffered solutions.
The day the committee submitted the report to His Excellency, everybody thought that what they had presented was impossible for the government to achieve. But then, His Excellency, being determined, saw it as something that he will do and he declared a state of emergency in the education sector in Gombe state and from then on, it has been work and work without any pause. The committee recommended that the teachers-students ratio in the schools was dismal, you know we had instances in the past where students graduated without a feel of textbooks, you know and their performance in external examinations is nothing to write home about because of the condition of the school and also because we lacked teachers in most subject particularly mathematics, English Language and the sciences.
So the committee directed that we should employ 3000 teachers for senior secondary schools, 3000 teachers for Junior secondary. He directed that we must employ non-academic staff and we should also go into massive construction of classrooms and provision of infrastructure materials and improvement of boarding facilities in the schools. We had to also improve the welfare of teachers. You know when you come close you see some of the teachers under tree, without offices but this government is able to address all these problems.
His Excellency directed that we should go into fast but holistic approach in solving the problem. What he meant by this was that if we take a school, for instance, we have to renovate and construct enough classrooms for the students in that school and we have to also provide them with adequate number of teachers in all the school subjects. We have to also provide instructional materials, provide computers, chemicals in laboratories, we have to equip the laboratories, we have to also provide the needed manpower such as the security because there was no security in the schools and that is what we have done and he picked the number of students to be in boarding schools to be 1000.
We faced a lot of problems in turning around the schools, particularly, boarding schools because you go to a particular boarding school, I will give an example of a boarding school, Government Science Secondary School, Gombe where Inuwa Yahaya graduated from. We went to that school and found out that we have more than 3000 students and his Excellency has directed that there should be only 1000 students there so because of that he had to establish a brand new secondary school beside that one and called it Government Secondary School 2. So the first becomes Government Secondary School 1and we decided that the second one should be a day school.
So that was how we were able to do it and he picked the number of students that should be in the boarding houses. Initially you go to a hostel you find more than 500 students squatting in the hostel, Dankwambo picked the number to 200 and we tried our best to meet that standard. He also picked the number of students to be 45 per class instead of 200-250 per class. We used to have student-teacher ratio of 1 teacher to 250 students in some subjects particularly mathematics and English sometimes even 1 teacher to 300 students because of lack of teachers in the school. His Excellency was able to do all these for the state and I can tell you that apart from what SUBEB does in the primary and junior secondary schools,
Would you say education in Gombe is up to standard?
I want to tell you, between me and God that I have taken my children to public schools in the state. I have my children in Government Girl Science Secondary School, Doma. If you go there you will meet them and I want to tell you that parents are removing their children from private to public schools in Gombe. You know these people who came here and talked any how are people who don’t care even to go to the schools. Inuwa Yahaya himself, a gubernatorial aspirant graduated from Government Science Secondary School, Gombe but he has never attended even the meetings of old boys in the school. When they meet they call us and we go to attend their meetings. I have never seen him there, they don’t care to go and see what Dankwambo is doing, and they just come to Abuja and newspaper houses and say whatever they like. They are just mischief-makers.
There are allegations that the governor has abandoned tertiary institutions in the state which are already in bad shape to propose a new university
That is not true. I wish that the commissioner for Higher education is with me here but even though he is not here, I am part of the government and I go to the schools and I am able to say that this is a good school or not. Besides, I am a teacher trainer, I am able to say that this is a good standard or not. The higher institutions in Gombe state are up to standard. You know we have Gombe state university, the university is equal to international institution of learning across the world, with qualified lecturers and more facilities that can compete with universities the world over. His Excellency, when he came and found out that we didn’t have a medical school in the university, he has established the medical school in the university to the extent that people are coming to see what he has done.
Federal Medical Centre has been turned into a teaching hospital. Now because of the improvement that we have recorded in the senior secondary school due to His Excellency’s turn around process, we have to establish additional higher institutions across the state because Gombe State University, Kashere Federal University as well as Federal College Of Education, Technical have become inadequate for the graduates of senior secondary schools. We are all surprised because as a teacher, I know that investment in education takes very long time to yield result but then you know it is like magic, we have seen some changes.
In the year 2010 when our students wrote external examination, the percentage was just 0.5 percent of students who were qualified to go to senior secondary school but because of what we are seeing today, His Excellency had to negotiate with the university of Maiduguri to come and establish college for remedial studies in Gombe to accommodate the large number of secondary school graduates who do not have a place in Gombe state university because of space as well as Kashere to the extent that after a long reflection he decided that we should have a brand new polytechnic, college of legal and Islamic studies and college of education. He established college of education out of his foresight because of the desire for teachers across the state. He also set up a committee to look at the need of the state and based on that need he established the higher institutions.
How many classrooms have been constructed in Gombe?
We have constructed brand new classrooms apart from what SUBEB has done. We have constructed 584 brand new classrooms, renovated 374 and for the boarding schools, we have constructed 370 hostels. We have also renovated 211 hostels and I tell you that in the course of turning around some schools, we had to establish new schools. That is how we have been doing. For the technical and vocational education, His Excellency had to establish brand new technical colleges across the state and you know how expensive it is, about seven of them across the state.
In what ways have you improve the welfare of teachers?
We are providing teacher accommodation within these schools. Before, if you go to schools, particularly in the rural communities, you won’t see the teachers there. So His Excellency decided to provide accommodation for teachers including the primary school ones. If you go to communities where we build classrooms, we also build teachers accommodation, teachers’ offices and furnish the schools to prevent them hanging outside as was the case. They have accommodation with befitting furniture, air conditioners or whatever. We also construct administrative blocks for principals, making the environment conducive for teaching and learning. Provision of instructional materials for teachers is also part of their welfare and for science students we give them all the text books.
In the light of all these improvement, what is the school enrolment and percentage performance in the state?
I told you earlier that as a teacher, this statement stands to be verified if you like, that investment in education takes a very long time to yield result but we are happy with what we are seeing today. From 0.5 we have recorded 27.8per cent. So you see we are moving forward. Enrolment has improve, we were surprised that when we go to a primary school and we try to turn it around, as soon as we finish turning the primary schools around, what we usually do is we turn every primary school around in consideration with the number of pupils that are there because it is not easy for you to relocate a primary school because it is for younger ones.
You have to construct them within that environment and by so doing sometimes we had to buy additional land. When you ask somebody to vacate his house you have to compensate him. We have been compensating people because we cannot relocate primary schools. Pupils in the primary schools cannot travel long distance so we take the number and based on that, His Excellency pegged it at forty per class at the primary level, 45 per class at the senior secondary schools. After reconstructing the schools, come and see enrolment. Some parents begin to bring more children.
Northern states have been worst hit by the problem of out-of-school children. What efforts are been put in place to ensure the trend is reduced?
We have done a lot. We try to integrate western and Quranic education together. The Governor set up a committee to sit with the Ulamas and tell them the significance of western education and to disabuse their minds on what they see as negative influence of western education. So, we sat severally with the Ulamas, convinced them, so we went to their Tsangaya schools and construct for them the facilities and the Ulamas will be happy to eventually teach alongside with the western education. We started seeing it as something that we can work on and within a short time, the Mallams are coming to ask us to go on. This has been working.
The other one is conditional cash transfer, giving funds to parents to allow their girls to go to school. They send their girls to go out hawking when they come back they give them money and they use it to buy food items. So we decided that if you agree to let me take your daughter to school, I will give you this amount and they accept it and money was remitted to parents and they allow the girls to go to school. Another aspect is that we establish centres such as skills acquisition, adult and informal education centres in conjunction with UNICEF where we give them intensive training for nine months for out of school children so that they learn how to read and write and after that we integrate them.
This we have been doing. We also have education by radio which is being sponsored by government. We have learners who are being taught with the education by radio. When their lessons are being aired they listen and at the end of the training they write examination.
Is the conditional cash transfer programme sustainable?
We have done it and we saw that it works. The sustainability is something that should be looked into but then it works, honestly.
These programmes are capital intensive and Gombe is not one of the rich states in Nigeria. How do you cope?
You know our Governor is an accountant, we also are surprised with the way he manages the resources of the state. For instance, I can tell you Gombe state never owes civil servants not even for a month while some states are owing up to six months‘ salaries, five or three months. This is because our governor is prudent and manages the resources that are available very well.
As a woman yourself, how do you feel that a parent needs to be bribed before allowing their girls to go to school and are the girls enthusiastic about learning?
They are. Initially when they made me commissioner they said that they have done that deliberately so that the girls will have role models. I come from a tribe where there is a belief that the place of a woman should be in the kitchen. I had female teachers particularly and we were going from village to village to talk to them. Once I went to a village and was speaking in their dialect of Fufulde, I am Fulani. They say so you are also our daughter. They want their children to marry and have children for the reason that if they go to school they will not be able to take care of the family. I told them I am able to do all those things and still went to school.
So the issue of conditional cash transfer is working seriously. Since it is working, the government is ready to give, if that will make them to allow the girls to have access to education. I think there is nothing wrong. It worries me but I don’t have any option. We talk to them about the importance of education, we try to present ourselves as models to the girls and show them that we have the same religion.
With all these achievements you talked about, would you say that the people will vote PDP again?
Gombe is a PDP state there is no doubt about it. It is a PDP state and will continue to be a PDP state. I can tell you that Governor Dankwambo has worked in Gombe state, not only in the education sector but in all the sectors.
Beyond being a commissioner, what role are you playing to ensure women acquire skills in the state?
You know that women play a lot of roles in governance particularly in voting. This government is a female- friendly government. Right now, we have seven commissioners out of about 26 who are female and that is the largest number that we ever had in Gombe state. We have female advisers to the governor and he is given opportunities to the females in the state and I also want to tell you that we also have a female in the House of Representative and so many are aspiring to come out.
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