I joined DFID to work in Nigeria as the Education Adviser in the summer of 2007. Basically I oversee DFID's education projects and programmes in the Northern States, where the human development indicators, such as out of school children and infant mortality rates are poor and some people are still suspicious of Western ideas such as educating girls and vaccinating children. Although of course we have seen controversy over immunisation policies in the UK too.
While relatively new to DFID the work of large donor-financed education programmes is familiar to me, having worked as a long term advisor and consultant on a range of education projects over the last 12 years in Africa and SE/S Asia.
Relocating from Vietnam, with its booming economy and where 'Education For All' had been achieved at primary level, was somewhat of a shock. Despite much easier communications - many Nigerians speak reasonable English, the state of Nigerian schools bears out the 'crisis in education' talked about widely by many senior government officials.
The school opposite in Danbatta, Kano State, is not untypical with bare walls, no chairs and children packed on the floor, reciting whatever the teacher says with very little learning going on.
You can get a sense of the reality by viewing the video Nigeria School that was made by StraightLine Films for the Capacity for Universal Basic Education (CUBE) project last year. The clips with a teacher in Kaduna trying to get resources for his schools from the local government office or the roll call at the junior secondary school where many girls are dropping out to get married are particularly striking.
Looking back on my first year spent working in the north of Nigeria, I am still struck by the enormity of the country's problems, despite its oil wealth and absence of major civil wars over the past three decades. Working in other countries recovering from civil war has given me insight on absolute poverty, but Nigeria seems particularly challenging: a case of 'what might have been' without the extremes of refugee camps but evidence all around of the impact of corruption and unrealized potential.
I am based in Kano, the commercial / manufacturing centre of the North, which has been in major economic decline since the heydays of the 1970s. Drive through the industrial zone in January when the harmattan winds blow dust storms off the Sahara and you could well imagine you are in a Mad Max movie; a post nuclear apocalypse without Tina Turner. A scene of rusting, empty warehouses, twisted metal structures and street urchins (usually Almajarai boys from itinerant Koranic schools) scavenging waste plastic and cardboard to sell or burn to keep warm. Only a few signs of transformation are evident: mobile telecom masts and scratch-card sellers, many affected by polio, who trade from hand-cycles under pastel sunshades with warm friendly smiles.