BY SHAFA’ATU SULEIMAN
At fourteen, Juwairiya Abubakar has had no formal education in her entire life; rather, she was forced by her parents to serve as the lead-guide to a 60-years-old sight-impaired woman living in the neighborhood at Balle town, the headquarters of Gudu Local Government Area (LGA) in Sokoto State.
Going by Juwairiya’s account, she had daily engaged in seeking for alms on the streets of the community, which shares a border with Niger Republic. For eight years, this has been her pre- occupations at an early stage of her life.
“I just grew up to realize myself leading the woman to solicit for alms as a street beggar. I have never been to any formal school in my entire life. I only worked for a blind beggar who usually gave me N100 or more in return depending on what we got for the day,” she said,
The story of Safiya Isah is like that of Juwairiya. At 11, she has never been into the four walls of a classroom, despite having her food shed in front of the community’s only primary school.
When asked whether she was not going to school, with an innocent smile, Safiya narrates how her mother encouraged her into hawking cooked food at the community’ school gate to help improve the family’s finances.
“My mother only cooks food for me to come and sell here,” she said.
Investigations by our Correspondent had shown that despite the enormous importance of education, Gudu Local Government Area still lags behind in the enrollment of girl-child like the duo of Juwairiya and Safiya who are currently out of school.
GUDU, A DEPRIVED COMMUNITY?
Before now, Gudu has remained the only local government area in Nigeria without a senior secondary school, several media outlets have reported.
The council also boasts as one of the most unenviable statistics in education, and remained a factor pushing Sokoto state below the table of UNESCO report that over 20 million out-of-school and vulnerable children in Nigeria.
A survey conducted in 2013 by the State Ministry of Education, it showed that out of 1,890 students in junior secondary schools in the local Government, only one of them is a female.
According to findings, the council had contributed to the long-standing negative data of low girl-child education in the country with Sokoto’s school-age children who are poor and out-of-school as one of the highest states with 66.4 percent in non-enrollment. Since 2010, Nigeria has had a moderate female literacy rate of about 60.01 percent.
With time eventually, the rate has increased. From 2010-2021, the female literacy rate in Nigeria increased by 18.9 percent. In 2021, the rate was 71.35 percent. On a year-on-year basis, the literacy rate increased by 1.5 percent in 2021.
According to UNESCO estimates, globally 129 million girls are out of school, including 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67 million of upper- secondary school age.
Statistics from Sokoto State Annual School Census conducted between 2015 and 2016, out of 250,774 female students enrolled in the public schools across the state, only 25,066 were able to pass through senior secondary school, while 6,615 could further their education to tertiary level.
Between 2016 and 2017, the census showed a slight decrease of about 24,663 female students out of 254,678 female students enrolled from primary. These statistics showed more females either stopped schooling after their elementary stage or dropped out of their Senior Secondary education.
Mr. Taofik Adesina, an educationist in Sokoto believes that the gender disparities could be linked to the current insecurity challenges in the state. According to him, “In countries affected by conflict like Nigeria, girls are more than twice more likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries.”
He notes that gender parity in elementary education had only be reached in 49 percent of the world’s nations.
“The gender disparity grows at the secondary level, where just 24 percent of countries have achieved gender parity in upper secondary education and 42 percent in lower school,” Mr. Taofik opined.
Statistics of Children enrolled in Public primary schools in Sokoto State – Source: Sokoto School Census Data
DESPITE N1BN SCHOOL, EDUCATION ELUDES GUDU CHILDREN
In 2016, Sokoto State Government through its Executive Council gave approval for the establishment of a model boarding secondary school in Balle, Gudu council headquarters.
The announcement led to wider jubilation among the populace. Musa Dan Magaji, a resident of the area, recounted how the news of the school project ignited celebration in the state.
“We heard it first on the state-owned radio, Rima Radio, and everyone was delighted. It was a good development for us. But since the project was completed, there is no official information on why they (government) have not been able to put it in use.”
THEWISTLE recalls that Abdulkadir Jeli Abubakar, the then Commissioner for Information, said N1 billion has b earmarked for the project while 30 percent mobilization fee has been approved for construction work to begin.
The contract, according to investigation, was awarded to an indigenous construction company, Calder Construction Company Limited. The specifications of the contract include blocks of modern classrooms, laboratory, library, administration block and an assembly hall.
Others are school clinics, boarding hostels, sport complex, corps members’ lodge, staff quarters and landscaping, among others.
Residents believe the project could be a momentum of poor planning and alleged extravagant cost and procurement misappropriation on the part of the government.
The CAC portal showing the Cardel Construction company was registered a few months into the bidding period but later won the N1bn Gudu School Project. Credited: CAC Website Portal
“We have a junior secondary here in Balle Town and all we wanted is more classrooms to upgrade it to senior classes. That could have solved our problem.
“Now, we have a school worth a billion naira and are not functioning while our junior School can be upgraded to a full-grown secondary school to serve the community,” Taminu Adamu opined.
MANY PROMISES, MANY FAILS
The current situation of the Gudu model school has contradicted many promises made by the previous government who initiated the project.
THEWISTLE learnt that at the foundation laying ceremony in 2016, the then governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who initiated the school project had promised the community that academic activities would begin in the school immediately after completion.
The erstwhile governor also promised to construct other new schools across the state to accommodate the 1.2 million new students expected to be enrolled in 2017 under out of school enrollment projection.
Tambuwal also said his government would cater for its citizens already in schools and ensure that those out of school are admitted and given quality education without delay by constructing no fewer than 160 new primary and secondary schools across the state.
But in contrast, the school project was neither made available to the children roaming on the streets of Gudu community despite its timely completion nor did the government embark on the construction of new schools before the expiration of its tenure.
During a visit to the school in September this year, these gigantic buildings still lay in waste as they (now stand in the midst of growing weeds. Also, various blocks of classrooms were seen under heavy padlocks with no signs of pupils occupying them soon.
Malam Kabiru Mahamuda Sarki, Project Manager at Calder Construction, the contracting firm which handled the construction said the school project was completed according to the specifications and has since been handed over to the state government.
Malam Abdullahi Yusuf, 38-yrs-old who Heads the community only Primary School. Photo Credited: Shafa’atu Suleiman
“The project was awarded in June 2016 while the work commenced in December the same year. That is all I can say.” Kabiru said.
He was unwilling to grant further interviews to THEWISTLE despite listening to many enquiries about the school project during a phone conversation.
BREACHING PROCUREMENT LAW
But investigations showed that the contract was issued to Calder Construction breached procurement laws as records from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) indicated that the company was registered on August 11, 2015, just few months to the date the contract was awarded by the state government.
An informant at the State Ministry of Works, the implementing ministry who was privy to the contract bidding procedures, said the public bidding was announced in January 2026, five after the registration of Calder Construction, as a business entity in Nigeria.
This award of the contract thus contravenes the Bureau of Public Procurement Act 2007, which states that the minimum qualification for the awarding of any contract must have a Tax Clearance from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for at least three years.
Further scrutiny carried out on the CAC website showed that the firm’s registration status has not been validated by its promoters for a while and since remained INACTIVE, as an operational entity.
Further efforts were made to reach-out to three nominal directors listed by CAC as Persons with Significant Control of the company, including Abdullahi Mohammed, Husaini Muazu, Nura Dan Hajiya and Usman Aliyu. A visit by THEWISTLE Calder Construction Company at No, 2 Abdullahi Fodio Road, Sokoto to enquire about the whereabout of some of the Directors listed as company’s Board could not yield positive result as it was under padlocks.
GOVT OFFICIALS KEPT MUTE
For weeks, THEWISTLE had made several efforts to get government officials to provide valid information around the school project but without success.
The key officials include the state Commissioner in-charge of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Hon. Tukur Alkali, his predecessor, Hon. Bello Guiwa and Special Adviser to the governor on Special Projects, Ibrahim Hassan.
Guiwa simply responded that the school was completed but not put into use because of insecurity in the community.
“As a mother, will you allow your daughter to be taken to such a school? Guiwa said while ignoring further questions about the contract.
Also, THEWISTLE first tried reaching out to Hon. Alkali on October 22, 2023, but the office secretary said he was not in town. A few weeks later, on October 4, THEWISTLE called the Commissioner to confirm his availability for a possible interview but did not respond. He also did not respond to text message reminders sent to his mobile number in sequent efforts to speak with him.
In pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), THEWISTLE submitted a request for information to the State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education as a last resort.
The FOIA request was sent and delivered in person by our reporter at the Office of the Commissioner on November 5, 2023 and sought details of the contract award, record of progress or completion, needs assessment as well as amounts and timeline of release of funds to Celdar Construction Company.
The Community’s Traditional Head, Aminu Aliyu Balle urged the government to as a matter of urgency put the school into use. Photo Credited: Shafa’atu Suleiman
The letter also requested the commissioner to spare time to answer questions on the state of abandonment of the school project, including the recent removal of some roofing sheets affected by winds and rainstorms and what his ministry planned to do to ensure that the project is put into proper use.
As at the time of filing this report, the commissioner neither responded nor signified interest in answering the questions raised in the letter.
The silence from the state authorities leaves critical questions and concerns unanswered.
However, a top official who pleaded on the condition of anonymity hinted that poor planning and alleged ulterior financial motives on the part of the previous government officials characterised the multi-billion school contract.
“I believe the present government is studying all projects abandoned by its predecessor and Gudu Model Secondary School is among the red flags, especially, the procurement process and why such huge monies were expended on a project located in a security-prone community like Gudu.
“It is also good that you are doing media investigations to further awaken the government on what to do, especially as it is now affecting the growing out-of-school children of girls in the community,” said the source while responding to THEWISTLE’s inquiries.
WHO BEARS THE BRUNTS OF GOVT’S NEGLIGENCE?
Most indigent families within the Gudu who spoke to THEWISTLE said their out-of-school children now bear the brunt of lack of higher education in the community – as many could not go beyond basic and elementary schools.
Abdullahi Yusuf, 38-yrs-old who heads the community’s only primary school said the pupils from the primary sector have since moved on with their lives without pursuing further secondary education since it is not available to them.
“Most of the pupils who graduated from the primary school later abandoned their quest for higher education because there are no provisions for higher learning.
“So, they (pupils) rather sit at home to help their parents with farming or hawking wares on a daily basis. We want the government to either upgrade Junior Secondary School to senior classes since the model school has not been put into use now.”
When asked on the state of security within the community based on Hon Guiwa’s assertion, Abdullahi dismissed the concern.
“For a while, we have had security challenge in my community. However, this shouldn’t pose a threat to the learning quest of the children because other junior schools are not under locks like the Model Secondary School.”
Abdulrahman Nasiru, a JSS 3 student said he “doesn’t know where to go after my Junior Secondary Schools Examination (JSCE), adding his elder brother finished junior secondary school last year but he is still at home.
“I don’t want to stay at home like him, my dream is to become an engineer,” he said with a glint of hope in his eyes.
The community’s Traditional Head, Aminu Aliyu Balle, urged the government to as a matter of urgency put the school into use to check the rate of out-of-school children who are plying the streets of Gudu community.