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Signing out with good grace from 'Naija'

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The rainy season is now in full swing and Northern Nigeria is rapidly greening once more, with crops of maize and millet growing fast. I’ve survived my last domestic flight through a brewing storm, with turbulence so bad it dumped most passengers’ drinks into their laps! The dusty road verges are grassing over, back to the situation that greeted me when I arrived in Kano three years ago.

Time to move on...

The time seems to have passed rapidly, one becomes absorbed in a country as interesting and vibrant as Nigeria - trying to understand its people and politics, attempting to conceive strategies to cope with the enormous challenges its people face. I sit with time to reflect in an empty house. My family has already left and my boxes (and half my brain it seems at times) are already in transit to Zimbabwe, for a new assignment working with the European Commission. Nigeria is also in a reflective mood, following its early departure from the World Cup and the nation's upcoming 50th birthday: Naija @ 50 on 1 October.

At times it seems that Nigeria is just treading water. Slow onset chronic food shortages have returned to haunt the border areas with Niger and there are many destitute people in Kano seeking support. Last week I attended a training session for a rapid nutrition survey; it aims to assess the rate of chronic malnourishment in the under fives. DFID is already supporting large emergency feeding programmes in Niger and is planning new interventions in Northern Nigeria to try to impact upon the disturbingly high rates of wasting and stunting of children that are routinely observed. 

Ineffective government systems have been unable to translate the large oil-derived financial reserves into adequate food supplies. Poor nutrition in early childhood impacts on both the physical and cognitive development of children and greatly limits their future potential. The athletic cartoon African boy that battles robots in the popular World Cup advert must have eaten at least one nutritious meal a day.

The election season is also coming and since the death of President Yar’ Adua earlier this year there is a great deal of uncertainty over who will emerge from the early 2011 elections. I think that DFID and other development partners contribute in valuable ways to Nigeria, providing examples of what can be achieved through reforms and new initiatives if backed by political will. 

Lagos’s renaissance from an urban mega-slum to a mega-city is underway and there’s a fragile peace agreement in the Delta. Large scale bed-net distributions are making inroads against malaria and mass vaccinations campaigns are close to eradicating polio. For the first time in three years, last week I heard a railway engine moving close to my office. A new locomotive is shuttling passengers and goods between Kano and its industrial quarter - other sections of the 1,000 km Lagos to Kano line are also becoming operational once more.

In my area (education) there has been considerable progress. Just last week I calculated that for Kano’s neighbour Katsina State, where the DFID / UNICEF Girls Education Project works, the junior secondary school enrolment rates have increased by 50% in two years - an extra 50,000 following the completion of many new schools. Other initiatives from the Girls Education Project were presented recently at the E4: Engendering Education, Equity and Empowerment conference of the UN Girls Education Initiative in Senegal. 

The rural female trainee teacher’s scholarship has proved particularly popular as a way to both empower rural women and improve the quality of child friendly education being offered. From a small start nearly 2,000 women are now enrolled, many financed by a government which has seen the merits of the scheme and has become willing to participate with its own funds. One of the trainees, Grace, was able to attend the E4 conference and together with her baby gave a powerful testimony of the scheme’s benefits.

I leave Nigeria with mixed emotions of both regret and hope, not least for a number of initiatives and schemes that are yet to bear fruit. I only have one more drive down the dangerous express-way to Abuju to survive and have suffered only a single bout of malaria. So far I haven’t fallen prey to any of the notorious ‘419’ fraud scams – however I still need to try to sell my car.

Grace in her home school

Let me close with some of Grace’s testimony, I think she can more eloquently express the hope and opportunities for change that exist within Nigeria.

My name is Grace from Niger state, Danguni Ward under Munya Local Government. I didn’t go to college because of lack of money, and because here if you finish secondary school people think that is the furthest you can go in education. People in our village always want the woman to stay at home. Some girls even when they are just 14 or 15 years old are sent to be married.

In my village, I’m the first person to get an opportunity to study at a higher institution. My husband gave me full support, he said I should go. It has not been easy with my baby Miriam, but I have to just do it. You know opportunity comes but once, you just have to use that opportunity with two hands.

I’m going to help when I get home because I know some homes and I know some people who don’t like their children to go to school, I will go to that house, I will enlighten the parents, I will fight for the rights of those girls.

We are in democracy, you are free, school is your passport!

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  1. Comment by mega d posted on

    i think the problem the people of Nigeria has as a nation is the inability to change the way they think,this country is blessed physically, spiritually.(JUST LIKE NOT GIVING A MAN FISH BUT TEACHING HIM HOW TO FISH.) Africans in general has a receptive attitude,and to the giver more is given.Nigerians as a whole should know what they have as a country,and refine it to become excellent.and to the parents train a child the way he should go so that when he grows he will not depart from it.i appeal to the western world and to DFID,that them continuing to give us fish will not help in any way,rather let them teach us how to fish.

  2. Comment by Cindy Collins posted on

    Greetings again from the Niger Delta. Although I have not met you, I want to thank you for your work here and for your passion for education. I will be at a DFID meeting next week (22-23 July)--perhaps you will still be there?

    I have a question that requires an immediate response, if possible. As part of an Oxfam project we're running, we are giving a week-long training next week for 22 rural community teachers to go back to their 10 communities and teach 660 participants (70% women) simple bookkeeping and numeracy. I would like to use the opportunity with the teachers to collect data on their lives and challenges. I've been reviewing the survey questions that Ghana did last year to help understand teacher attrition. Do you know of any existing teacher survey/project that could benefit from information from Niger Delta rural teachers? In addition, we will be conducting surveys in 120 Niger Delta communities over the next 10 months as part of an EU project. I would like to use that data collection opportunity to also gather data from the community teachers that can be distributed to the Ministry of Education and others to help formulate better policies and procedures. Anything you can forward to me before the week is out would be greatly appreciated. Again, I hope to see you in Abuja, if you are still there. For anyone else reading this blog, please feel free to email me any survey questions you would like to have answered from rural teachers in the Niger Delta.

  3. Comment by Chadrack posted on

    Naija is truly a great nation and we know it shall fulfil her God intended purpose. We may be getting it wrong now but the future look great!

  4. Comment by femi posted on

    well Ian,just coming across you,and your laudable programmes through the DFID,particularly the education sector,which is paramount to our development as a nation,i believe with such efforts and a more committed government,we will get to the promise land,wishing the best in your new location and regards to your family

  5. Comment by Ibrahim posted on

    Very incisive and truthful. I enjoyed the piece.

  6. Comment by Ms Ade posted on

    All this is very well but Nigeria has the resources human & material to move forward in leaps & bounds with the right structural & systemmic changes undertaken. Good management & some creative thinking is all thats required. The continued functioning of precolonial institutions that are archaic & anchronistic & is not helping growth & is causing friction. The fastest way to eradicate poverty in Nigeria is to undertake whats required at a nationl level by Nigerians for Nigerians. Western 'so called aid' does not assist the facilitation of the radical change required, merely distorts the underlining issues & pertuates the problem by tinkering with the edges & promoting the false sense of a solution. For example Shell makes huge profits from Nigeria & Nigeria have a very unwholesome, unethical & crippling trade deficit, running into billions of £/annum with UK, largely importing things that can be manufactured/produced in Nigeria. This rectification of this alone could increase job opportunities significantly & reduce poverty faster, wider & more sustainably than any DFID programme. Capital flight is one of the most poverty inducing factors in Nigeria. Nigeria does not need Bristish aid, just to sit up, shape up & have statemen elected or NOT that care. Not forgetting banishing the West from interferring, under the guise Nigerians are incapable & that they (the British)know when they dont !! After all many of the structural & regional problems evident today are routed in colon ialism - Britain in particular. So if you want to assist stop accepting the finanial rewards of theifing politicians into British bank accounts, stop the IMF etc loans (not needed with proper financial mangement, diversification of the economy & mineral resource development, is what is) It would help significantly if the likes of you stop undermining the Nigerian people with constant dehumanising reports about hopelessness, poverty, chaos, fraudsters (we know from this world banking crash Britain is less than honest & colonialism of which you are so proud was exploitative to Britain's benefit) . Nigeria will get it right, things cannot continue like this indefinately but it seems a couple of generations must suffer, like many society's round the world but your aid will NEVER do it. So keep your condescension to your pub conversations!!!!

  7. Comment by Salisu posted on

    Hello Ian, It has been nice and very educative to have worked with you on the Model School Study in Kano. I have been following your blog and wish you all the best.