https://dfid.blog.gov.uk/2009/05/29/where-are-the-students/

Where are the students?

Working for an organisation that funds development work (in my case DFID) means that I frequently receive requests from worthy causes for financial support. I recently got a call from a Western volunteer living in Nigeria with a difference; a brand new school built deep in the Niger Delta that has facilities and funds, but no teachers and students. What it needs is a workable legal structure.

The Maureen Matheny Academy is located deep in the creeks of Bayelsa State in the oil rich Niger Delta of Nigeria. It is the dream of Olympic gold medalist and native son of Bayelsa, Baraladei Daniel Igali, who wrestled his way to glory at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Academy built in the Jungle
Academy built in the Jungle

Daniel wished to help the Eniwari people, who had gained little from the ‘black gold' pumped from below their lands and have very limited access to social services such as schooling and health clinics. Located deep in the mangrove swamps and creeks, access is difficult; villages are often only joined by waterways. Navigating the river can be complicated and risky due to an increase in established militant camps and an insurgency that is countered by military operations.

'Ready to go' Library
Ready to go Library

Daniel formed the Igali Foundation and diligently managed to raise funds both in Nigeria and abroad in Canada where he settled. Canadian volunteers working with the community for several years completed the main school in 2006 - eleven classrooms, an administration building; an auditorium; a library; a computer lab; and teachers' quarters.  Further fundraising is ongoing and the Igali Foundation has ambitious plans for the Academy. Generous sponsors are lining up computers, library books, clean water - things that many schools in Nigeria can only dream about. However despite the desperate need for education, the school has struggled to operate for almost 3 years.

This school doesn't really want for funds or resources, but to function it needs something more fundamental - a level of peace and security in the vicinity and what in DFID we call 'good governance' - boring but important stuff like a Board of Governors, an admissions policy, a Public Private Partnership arrangement to regulate both Bayelsa State Government and private financial inputs. Without these the school is unlikely to really make a positive impact for the local Eniwari people and risks becoming an abandoned 'white elephant'.

I highlight this case not too denigrate the effort and resources that have gone into the Academy, the dedication and vision of Daniel and the others volunteers involved are to be applauded. I wish it every success and have passed on some contacts that may be of help in determining how best to manage the school and get it open as soon as possible. I’ll try to keep you posted.

DFID in Nigeria tends to finance the improvement of government systems and planning processes, rather than fund schools like this directly. This is to ensure that good resources like this are ultimately effective and workable. The large volumes of unused government finance (see my earlier blog on the Education Trust Fund) has led to this approach - although it’s a tough choice when the need for good facilities such as those at the Academy is so pressing.

I merely wish to make the case that many of Nigeria's problems cannot be solved by money or 'aid' alone, and in the Niger Delta the curse of 'natural resources' is extreme - oil worth US$ millions flowing for decades through communities that receive little except for pollution and violence.

6 comments

  1. Iphie Adizue

    Agree with you on the fact that Nigeria's problems cannot be solved by aid alone. The people and leaders need to show a commitment to solving the problems, thus the benefit of the focus on governance.
    However, Its also painful to see most Nigerians especially the people of the oil polluted Niger Delta communities living in poverty and hunger. I see from the Nigeria page that agriculture, food and hunger is not a major focus area for DFID in Nigeria. Any particular reason why?

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  2. Iyinoluwa Aboyeji

    There are students.....I am one of them. I went to a school built in the hinterlands of Abuja by Jesuit priests called Loyola Jesuit College. It worked very well and many of the students have gone on to the best schools in Nigeria and abroad including Ivy leagues. In fact we have at least one student in every major ivy league school. I go to a Canadian equivalent of such called University of Waterloo. So it is clear that this is a problem particular to the Niger Delta

    I think the problem with the Niger delta (where I have lived for eight years before moving here) is more one of psyche than anything else. They feel entitled so they are not as willing to work as people from other parts of the country are-they just await some windfall from somewhere simply by virtue of having settled on land with black oil. The solution is simple, give them the oil so they cannot blame anyone for their failures. But I can already predict even now what will happen to the money- it will be stolen by the Niger Delta's leaders....what they need is really a social awakening. Neither oil, arms, or aid will give the NigerDelta people that

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  3. Yassin Mshana

    Like in many countries, what is needed is Growth not only Development. How to make it happen? that is the question.

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  4. Iyinoluwa Aboyeji

    I had always thought growth will come with development...or is there a different economic consensus

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  5. Elizabeth Moses

    "I think the problem with the Niger delta (where I have lived for eight years before moving here) is more one of psyche than anything else...what they need is really a social awakening. Neither oil, arms, or aid will give the NigerDelta people that"

    Permit me to say your contribution reflects the social stratum you belong... the higher class whose folks probably have made good money from the same black oil and are able to afford all those Ivy League Schools but lacks sensitivity to the plight of the ordinary Niger Deltan whose only known means of livelihood is fishing from those rivers which have now been aborted as a result of pollution. Like yours, he is not only unable to afford the luxury of sending his kid to similar school, but has to prioritise between survival and education.

    I quite agree with Ian though "...in the Niger Delta, the curse of natural resource is extreme"

    First, is the Multi-nationals who will go to any length to make a fortune on the resources without respect for the protection of life and property of the settlers

    Second and worse, is the government who rather than protect the rights of the indegenes and seek more safer means (may be expensive though) of harnessing the resources, prefer the seemingly large income derived from these oil merchants and would stake the life and property of the people.

    Third and worse still, are the few indigenes who have allowed themselves to be used negatively to support inhuman acts, from the oil magnates and the government, on their own people all in exchange for the good life, the best schools etc.

    Then tell me, if the state of nature is such that everyman has to care for his own life and property, what is wrong with the ordinary Niger Deltan, who has lost faith in his government, doing same?

    Yes, 'aid', money, provision of schools, best libraries, ict, pipe borne water by the same people who violate the land will not solve it but respect for human rights and dignity of the Niger Deltans!

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  6. Iyinoluwa Aboyeji

    It is a terrible thing to presuppose the intentions of others. You are more often than not likely to get it wrong.

    Let's destroy your argument.

    " your contribution reflects the social stratum you belong... the higher class whose folks probably have made good money from the same black oil and are able to afford all those Ivy League Schools"

    Granted my parents did work with blood oil at some point. But left after a few years to become missionaries in the Niger Delta. I went to the school you are speaking of as "elite" on a scholarship that was available to anyone who was able to pass the tough exam. I was not the only one who got into Loyola Jesuit College like this. Tons of other people did as well. Like many others who graduated from this school, I am fully funded at my new school. My parents don't pay half of a dime of the costs of my education. We all shuttled Escravos and Warri trying to help the down trodden people of the Niger Delta. So I would be the last person to ignore the injustice of the situation there.

    "[I]lack[s] sensitivity to the plight of the ordinary Niger Deltan whose only known means of livelihood is fishing from those rivers which have now been aborted as a result of pollution.

    Like I said earlier, I lived in the disastrous conditions you speak of, with Niger Deltan. True, their former (not only) means of livelihood has been aborted-but lets' see what the new means of livelihood have become for some of them: kidnapping foreigners and their wealthier brothers and sisters, extorting money from property developers, torturing residents (their own people) with armed robbery and terror, taxing infrastructural development projects that are for their own benefit eg school building construction, roads etc.

    "Like yours, he is not only unable to afford the luxury of sending his kid to similar school, but has to prioritize between survival and education."

    As in this case, and as was and still is the case with my school, there is no fee and all the needs are taken care of so the questions of "survival and education" do not arise in the binary sense that you pose it. As it is at the present, they are doing neither. They are just wasting away.

    "Then tell me, if the state of nature is such that everyman has to care for his own life and property, what is wrong with the ordinary Niger Deltan, who has lost faith in his government, doing same?"

    There is nothing wrong, except that if you fully understood the state of nature arguments, you would surely realize that his chances of survival in such a "state" are almost zero.

    In closing let me say what I have said before in a more pointed manner. The Niger Delta, is Nigeria's play within a play. It has the same problems Nigeria has-a leadership deficit despite the huge resources. Talk of a resource curse is really dumb because the underlying assumption is that these curses only happen in resource rich states. So why is America (which has oil) not in the quagmire we are in? Why are the UAE states and Saudi Arabia leading the best life with their resources? A "resource curse" is not a curse that is born with the "resource", it is a curse that is born by misuse of the resource. The Niger Delta needs conscientious leaders who are not just going to blame the centre for all their woes. They also need people who are willing to work and take their own initiative using legal avenues instead of depending on the centre for everything. The inefficiency of the government of Nigeria does not discriminate, that does not mean Lagosians are sitting on their asses doing nothing. They are making great progress with much less from the centre that the Niger Delta is doing with. Until Niger Deltans look themselves in the face and acknowledge their leadership deficit instead of pointing fingers at everyone else a-la-Iran, they will not develop-and yes-even with all the oil revenue at their disposal.

    And if you don't mind me asking, should respect for human rights not come with some responsibility? If there is one thing the rest of Nigeria is not willing to do (this obviously excepts my parents who would disagree with everything I have written here), it is spoon feed the Niger Delta people.

    They can start to show responsibility by filling up this school that has been provided at no cost to them by their own son...that will be progress

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