Apologies for not writing recently, in particular to Iphie, Iyinoluwa, Yassin and Elizabeth who gave such informed and passionate responses on the situation in the Niger Delta that I raised in my post about the Maureen Matheny Academy in Bayelsa State. You guys really helped me to understand new dimensions to the tragic situation there, as did Salisu's hard hitting rap on Naija blogspot that seems to summarise most of Nigeria's current woes.
My excuse was that for the last couple of weeks I've been on the road again, from Lagos through Ilorin in Kwara State and up North to Kano and Jigawa, on a review of DFID's ESSPIN programme that is working in 5 States spread right across Nigeria. Just driving you continually see sights that surprise and amaze - the 'S*** Business is Serious Business' Portaloo compound, the massive open air Redeemer Church complex, mini-bus roadkill and the louts demanding bribes at the truck stops to name but a few on the Ibidan Expressway.
This post's title, Its Grim Up North, comes from a 90's song that lists the drab English industrial towns (where I grew up), however I want to make the point that things don't really improve as you travel north from the Niger Delta. The oil spills are replaced with deforestation and the violence diminishes, but the poverty continues unabated.
We stopped briefly at Odooran Community Primary School in Osun State at which the teachers still made formidable efforts despite glaring problems with resources and a lag on pay. At least the basics were in place, but the classrooms were run down, the children poor and the learning going on limited.
In Kano on the edge of the city in Fagge LGA we visited a Koranic school that had an enthusiastic, head teacher struggling against the odds to education hundreds of poor local children. The school straggles over 3 or 4 cement block structures, stiflingly hot, packed with kids on the floor - other children get more air under the veranda but have to contend with the stench and flies from an open sewer.
Most of the time is spent on reciting Islamic verses, but for the younger children overflowing the classes the school was little more than a holding area.
A recent innovation that DFID is keen to support Kano State's government to expand is the addition of Maths and English lessons in schools such as this. Already a single lesson of each was on offer, the limiting factor being the supply of government teachers - the others are volunteers from the community who provide the religious teaching, a commodity that is highly valued in these poor Northern back streets.
Our review visits saw evidence of poverty and need, but also innovation and the potential for change. In Kano the Education Commissioner was passionate about getting more girls into better quality Islamic schools that gave both religious and secular skills.
While in Kwara I saw a zeal to transform government with whole scale reforms underway to improve the College of Education, and introduce 'leak free' payroll systems. The enormity of the challenge is truly daunting, to provide education of an acceptable quality in all Geo-Zones of Nigeria!