They look magnificent, with good landscaping. One could mistake them for any world’s class university premises. But they are just primary and junior secondary schools, with boarding facilities. Welcome to Borno Mega schools, built to cater for over 50,000 children orphaned by Boko Haram and other children of the poor.

Historically, Rivers and Lagos states under Raji Fashola and Rotimi Ameachi respectively, could be said to be the architects of Mega schools in Nigeria, at least since 1999.

But when Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola built his own in Osun State some years later, they made nonsense of what were obtainable in Rivers and Lagos states.

Today, what is obtainable in Borno State as Mega schools appear to have no doubt dwarfed those of Osun State. Apart from the overall aesthetic design of the schools, they are also equipped with state- of- the-art facilities – air conditioned classrooms, well stocked libraries, sick bays, play grounds and synthetic football fields. 

Conceptualised three years ago, the schools according to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, were meant to make private schools unattractive to the elites in the state, with a view to restoring the lost glory of public primary schools in the state, while providing quality education.

Speaking at the inauguration of the committee for the inauguration of some of the schools recently, the governor said the Boko Haram insurgents destroyed more than 5000 classrooms and other school buildings across the state, adding that one sure way to respond to them was to make public schools attractive, qualitative and accessible.

He added that “the focus must be primary schools, with all the facilities now only found in private schools.”

He further said “I once listened to a thought-provoking lecture eloquently delivered by former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dr. Suleyman Ndanusa, in Kaduna. He shared a finding of UNESCO and the National Bureau of Statistics.

“Those findings showed that whereas the entire southern Nigeria made up of the South-East, South-West and South-South have a combined total of 19,978 public primary schools, the North-East alone has a total of 19,436 public primary schools. This is almost equal the primary schools in the entire South-East, South-West and South-South.

“At regional levels, the three geo-political zones in the far-north, namely North-East, North-West and North-Central have a total 41,913 public primary schools and that is more than twice the number of all public primary schools in the South. On the contrary, while the North triples the South in number of public primary schools, the South has 67 percent literacy level while the North has a dismal 34 percent literacy. What is evident is the major problem of basic education in northern Nigeria, and that is in the quality of our primary schools both in terms of learning facilities, number of pupils per class, the quality of teachers and most importantly, the efficiency of supervising learning.

“We lack supervision in public schools. Teachers in most public schools earn higher than their relative counterparts in private schools. However, because there is effective supervision in private schools, the same teachers who earn less tend to be more dedicated than those in public schools. All of these issues are what have driven our administration to focus so much on transforming our public primary schools in Borno State. We are determined to continue the re-modelling of all existing schools and the building of 40 new boarding primary schools. Now, at the risk of being misunderstood, we have located half of these schools within the metropolitan areas of Maiduguri and Jere.

“This is because the pupils that are targeted for these schools are the 50,000 orphans from almost all the 27 local government areas that are now living within the capital. In fact, the majority of these orphans have lost their parents to Boko Haram’s killings in the local government areas located outside the capital, majority of the children hail from northern Borno and country sides of central and southern Borno.

“Very few of them hail from the metropolitan areas. So, whereas majority of the mega schools are located in the capital, they are for orphans from different parts of the state. We deliberately sited the schools in the capital because many of these orphans have neither parents nor relatives. They are unaccompanied, so to speak. I, Governor Kashim Shettima, I am the father and mother of all the 50,000 orphans until May 29, 2019, insha Allah. Since they are my children, I prefer them to be located not far from where I live in order for me to cater for them.”

With the tour guide, Yusuf Shettima, a lawyer and Special Assistant on New Media to the governor, our first port of call was Aisha Buhari Integrated School for Fulani.

Why Fulani, I asked. According to my guide, the governor was interested in breaking the cycle seeing the children of the Mbororo Fulani, growing up to inherit the job of their parents-security guard.

“These Fulani people are very trustworthy and reliable. If you are building on a site for 10 years, your things will be intact. Their major occupation is cattle rearing and security guard.  But the governor wants to break the jinx. He believes that once they are educated, they will leave the job. Moreover, he believes that in future with CCTV, their services will no longer be required,” Yusuf Shettima said.

The Aisha Buhari Integrated School for Fulani is a primary school, with 24 classrooms, 40 pre-school. The school will run morning and afternoon sessions, and there will be free buses to convey them to school from their homes. And the children will be entitled to free breakfast and lunch. The school is equipped with Eco-friendly cooking stoves that could cook for 300 people at a time. It uses very little firewood. With two pieces of firewood, half a bag of rice can be cooked.

There is also a water chiller to serve 200 pupils, and after five minutes, the water will be cold again. The idea of the water chiller, I was told, was to avoid littering the school environment with pure water sachets.  For source of power, the school is equipped with a solar and 33 KV line, which supplies electricity for 23 hours daily. But even at that there is a 33KVA generator attached to the school. The school was formally commissioned in December last year by the wife of the president, Hajia Aishat Buhari.

Next stop was another school in 302 Housing Estate area, opposite the University of Maiduguri. The school is expected to be named after Aliko Dangote, in appreciation of his tremendous contribution to the rebuilding of Borno. 

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The school has 40 classrooms, administrative blocks, with boarding facility to cater 1,800 pupils. It also has all the other facilities associated with the mega schools.

Bolori, REB area to be specific, was next.  The school is expected to be named after the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo.  The vice president is being appreciated for building North-East school for orphans. The school is located in Maiduguri.  The Bolori school has 60 classrooms, and as at the time of the visit, 2,000 forms have been collected by parents of prospective pupils, according Abdullahi Gamdo Birma. Birma, a young man in his late 20’s is the leader of the recruitment team for the school.

The Baga road school was next, a school of 60 classrooms which is almost nearing completion. But the story about this school is unique. According to Yusuf Shettima “we were going on an inspection of our projects one morning when the governor saw three girls going to school. He decided to give them a lift.

We took them to the school, and the governor decided to inspect the school. The population of the school was 8,000. But the governor reckoned that the facilities were overstretched. He ordered for the demolition of part of the school building, and a new one of 18 classrooms was erected. But even at that the governor realised that the 18 classrooms were not enough to decongest the school. So the government bought a building owned by the late Mai Deribe, so it is the space we are using to build the 60 classrooms.

“The idea is to enable the school cater for the needs of kids mainly from Northern Borno. The tendency is for people from Monguno, Gubio, Abadam to want to settle in this Baga area. Such parents can enroll their children in the schools.”

On the 18 classrooms intervention, the media aide further said “the idea of the intervention was to decongest existing classrooms in those schools.”

He listed a few of the areas where the interventions were made to include Jajeri by Baga Road, Bulabulin, Ngomari and Bulumkutu Seleke among others.

The tour also took us to Muhammadu Buhari Academy, located on Baga Road by-pass. It is a 60 classroom school with boarding facility. The school is being named after the president in appreciation of the leadership he provided that has helped the Nigerian military to subdue the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East.

We were also at the famous Galadima, a hitherto den of criminals, baby factory and the likes, but which was demolished by the government. Today, a 100 classrooms school is being built on the land. The construction started about three months ago, and it is expected to be completed before May 29 this year.

Among other places visited were: Gomari, which has 48 classrooms, Ibrahim Maisuga, which has 30 classrooms, former Mai Deribe Hospital, which has 60 classrooms and Yerwa Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) among others.

Within the premises of the school, there is also a 30-classrooms building, named after the vice president’s wife, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo.

Hajja Bintu Abbakura speaks

Hajja Bintu is the principal of GGSS. According to her, there are nine schools operating within the premises, including GGSS. She gave the names of the schools as: Yerwa, GG Monguno, GGS Baga, Technical College, Damboa, GS Bama, Arabic Government Girls Secondary, Mafa, Government Secondary School, Damasak, Government Secondary School, Auno and Government Secondary School, Gulumba. Of the nine schools, she disclosed that three are mix schools. 

She further said that “we appreciate the good work the governor is doing, and we believe that once the construction works are completed, it will ease a lot of problems.

“Insurgency has impacted greately on the students coming from the villages. But the feeding system has really helped. As a matter of fact, from the first day of resumption, children are brought here by their parents. Government provides books for them.

“I salute our governor for his courage in insisting that our children must be educated despite the insurgency. I want other Nigerian leaders to emulate my governor. He is a man who has feelings and who cares for the future of the state. What he has done for education in this state will remain forever.

“I want all Nigerians to embrace peace. What we passed through in Borno is a lesson to everyone. I thank God things have improved and I pray it will continue. I don’t pray for any state to witness what we have witnessed. In spite of the insurgency, our governor kept students in schools, especially in Maiduguri to learn, that is courage and I say kudos to him,” Hajja Bintu said.

According to Yusuf Shettima, in all, 52 mega schools are expected to be built. So far, he added, 40 have been built, and they are evenly distributed across 22 out of the 27 Local Government Areas in the state.