Recently we received a visit with a difference from Yahya a representative of one of the new emerging donor countries Turkey. Since 2005, Yahya has been working for the Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TICA). He is part of a team which aims to improve Turkey’s aid effectiveness through a heightened awareness on prevalent trends and methodologies of the international development system. It was gratifying that Yahya had identified DFID as an institution he could learn from and was willing to take some time out in the UK and Nigeria, learning about our approach to providing development assistance.
Although Kano, in Nigeria’s northern reaches, sometimes feels ‘out on a limb’ from DFID’s network of offices and programmes throughout the developing world in Asia and Africa, it certainly gets its fair share of VIPs. A plaque testifies to HRH Prince Charles opening the office in 2006 and in the last 18 months ago there have been three DFID ministerial visits. Other senior folk also regularly pass by; Bill Gates was recently in Sokoto (see my earlier posting #4), promoting his Foundation’s fight against polio. Working with other donors, sometimes funding and influencing them (such as the World Bank, the EC and larger NGOs) is increasingly seen as important.
The UK government has signed up to the Paris Declaration (2005), which aims to prevent duplication of effort and overloading recipient countries with numerous donor missions and reporting requirements.
I took Yahya to visit Yolawa Islamiyya school in the centre of Kano’s historic old town, tucked behind the Emir’s Palace and the central prison. It is one of the oldest Islamiyya schools in Kano; basically a community school that combines qu-ranic (religious Islamic) learning with the core curriculum. It has grown from humble origins in the 1950s with just a handful of students using borrowed rooms.
Now it has two cramped sites, each with a two storey concrete structure that packs in classrooms without space for any playground. A borehole capped with a plastic water tank provides water for the kids and the local community, but the overflowing open sewer provides visible evidence of the problems facing Kano.
The school runs secondary school ‘girls only’ classes in the morning and converts to a mixed primary school with around 250 students in the afternoon. The mixture of religious and secular education is popular with parents, as is the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers, something often lacking in government schools. While some teachers are on the State government payroll, others work for an allowance of only about $10 a month. The volunteers hope that at some point they too will be get a regular salary, but are willing in the meantime to support the community school. COMPASS, a USAID programme, is supporting this and other Islamiyya schools on Kano. It has provided books, wall charts and radios, the latter to allow participation in Interactive English lessons broadcast on the local radio.
Despite obvious hardships the school gave an impression of succeeding against the odds with both active teachers and students eager to learn.
This contrasts starkly with ad hoc visits paid to some government schools, where in many instances very little learning appears to be going on. For these reasons both Kano State Government and DFID think they are worthy of support and expansion. DFID’s ESSPIN programme is hoping to support such school in the near future, as part of Kano’s development roadmap.
Driving back from the school, I asked Yahya for his impressions and how it compared to schools in Turkey. He looked aghast at the very thought that one could compare such places to a modern, vibrant Istanbul. This highlights one of the sadder aspects of Nigeria. At independence in the early 1960s there was probably little difference in Nigeria’s development in comparison to countries such as Turkey and other countries that have since emerged to become modern forward looking economies. Years of dictatorship and corruption have taken a harsh toll in Nigeria, inevitably it is the poor who have, and continue to suffer most from limited access to adequate nutrition, clean water, health and education services.