Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Massive MDG Fraud (3): How officials steal billions meant to educate Fulani herdsmen

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In this final part of our report on the mismanagement of MDG funds, we expose how official corruption denies young Nigerians education.

By Idris Akinbajo

When Musa Bala was appointed, in 2009, head of the Fulani primary school at Kamfini Bobi, Mariga Local Government area of Niger state, he was overjoyed.

As head teacher, Mr. Bala would have to supervise the other teachers in the school as well as ensure that his students get the best of the education they deserve. However, what made the job most appetizing to the average built teacher was the reconstruction the school had just undergone.

Dressed in a stripped dark brown jacket and trouser, the teacher narrates how excited he was when told that his new school had new buildings, classrooms, clinics, and other modern amenities.

“I felt the students will be so happy to learn,” Mr. Bala said.

Most importantly, the new buildings also had staff quarters where he could move his family instead of the daily trip of over 500m from his house.

Alas, it turned out the reconstruction of the school was cosmetic, even a mirage. A few weeks after Mr. Bala assumed duties, he realised all was not well. Just as he was preparing to move into the staff quarters with his family, the rains began.

“All the structures that they just built began to crumble,” he said in disgust. “Just few months after construction, the roofs were leaking, the walls cracked, and the floors began sprouting water. It was terrible.”

“We couldn’t even teach any students in the classrooms,” he added.

 Educating the Fulani herdsman

The primary school Mr. Bala heads is in Bobi grazing reserve.  The reserve owned by the Federal Government, is one of the most popular in Northern Nigeria; and meant to serve as a hub for Fulani herdsmen, in Mariga, to graze their cattle.

The school was established after, in the early 90’s, leaders of Kamfini Bobi, led by Daudu Kontagora appealed to the Federal Government to build a school in the grazing reserve.

“I kept asking the Federal Government to build the school so that the Fulani will be educated,” Mr. Kontagora recalled. “Whenever they went to town for business, they were being cheated. I believe when they are educated, nobody can cheat them.”

Through the help of the Local Government, temporary structures built with mud and straw were used to start a school there with Mr. Kontagora heading the school until 2004 when he retired. These structures were however always damaged when it rained.

The Federal Government through the National Commission for Nomadic Education finally decided in 2009 to build permanent structures and modernize the school.

From money meant to help Nigeria achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the office of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on MDGs (OSSAP-MDGs) approved the sum of N950 million between 2006 and 2009 to the nomadic commission.

However, after purportedly spending N29.6 million of that sum on the Bobi primary school, what was constructed was at best, “a disaster.”

“That place is a disaster. How can people come from Abuja to build something like that,” a bitter Mr. Kontagora said.

Mr. Kontagora explained that the contractors and other officials from Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, did not consult or inform members of the community before they built the structures.

“If they had told us, we would have given them a better site; we would have been able to monitor the work. We only learnt of it after they started,” he said while explaining that the community through a World Bank assisted project got N150,000 to provide uniforms for students and also buy other essentials like blackboards for the classrooms.

The fraud called Bobi

The projects constructed for Bobi were either very poorly done, or not done at all.

The nomadic commission claimed it spent N2.2million on constructing a football field and assembly ground for the school. Our reporter who visited the school says no such projects were executed and unscrupulous officials had stolen the money allocated for the contract.

Three VIP toilets were also purportedly constructed, along with a hay barn for N2.9 million.

But we found that the so-called “VIP toilets” were actually pit latrines with no water. They were so poorly constructed that they were damaged by the first rain that fell in 2009. They have since become homes for rodents, as students cannot use them, for safety reasons.

The school’s management committee is already constructing a new toilet, through funds it raised from local donors.

Our investigations also show that the “Human clinics” for which N6.7 million were purportedly spent are not good enough to treat animals. It has leaky roof, cracked walls, muddy floors, and there are no drugs to treat pupils and staff.

Saidu Saidu, the head of the clinic, says he uses his own money to buy the little drugs he gives the students when they are sick.

“You can see how the place is. I would never allow any of my relative to go to a place like this as a hospital. But that is what we have to make do with,” Mr. Saidu lamented.

The classrooms are dilapidated too. They have leaky roofs, have no good chalkboards, sprout water from the floor and the walls are cracked, ready for imminent collapse.

The staff quarters are not any better. They were so poorly constructed and badly damaged that neither Mr. Bala, nor any of his three staff members can live there.

“How can they say they spent 29 million naira here? This place is just a fraud. You can see everything collapsed just after they were built,” an apparently livid Mr. Bala said.

The head teacher explained that the deplorable situation of the school has led many of the Fulani herdsmen to withdraw their children from school.

“We have 130 students registered for this session. Only 70 of them come to school,” he said.

Mohammadu Sarki, the head of the Fulani herdsmen in Kamfini Bobi, says safety is one of the reasons his colleagues withdrew their children from the school.

“There is no security, the school is not fenced, and there is no road that leads to the school. The kids can fall into the stream on the school path,” an angry Mr. Sarki says in Hausa language.

A regime of fraud

It is not in Bobi alone that officials of the nomadic commission and their collaborators mismanaged MDG funds, they did so in virtually all the projects for which they got money from government.

Another model school that the commission built, for N13 million in Bakin- Dutse, Zamfara state, suffered a similar fate. The ceiling of the classrooms simply collapsed following the first rainfall after construction. Just like in Bobi, half of the students stopped school as their parents feared for their safety.

“If you want the Fulani to send their children to school, it is not by putting makeshift structures that collapse, and in places with no road. The Fulani man will simply be scared for his child’s life and will remove the child from school,” Saidu Aliyu, a Hausa community leader in Bakin-Dutse said.

Also, in Tudun Fulani Nomadic Primary School, Minna, where the commission says it spent N3.2 million to build a borehole, the students there have to bring water in polythene sachets from home, to be able to get water to drink, while in school.

Ismail Hamza, a primary four student of the school, told PREMIUM TIMES, while showing off his classroom, filled with broken desks and chairs, that he, like his fellow students, have no access to drinking water while in school.

“The borehole worked for a few days when I was in primary 2, since then it never worked,” Ismail says in Hausa.

 Why educate nomads

Evidences of misappropriation of MDG funds are everywhere across the country. When it was established in 1990, the primary goal of the nomadic commission was to provide education for the millions of nomads across Nigeria.

“Education for the Fulani will help reduce drastically the incidences of killings between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Niger and other places,” Mr. Kontagora said.

Several hundreds of people have died in clashes between Fulani herdsmen and villagers in host communities where the Fulani take their cattle for grazing.

“Education for the Fulani would have helped reduce or even stop all these killings,” Mr. Aliyu also said.

Instead of helping to provide education for the Fulani and other nomads, the commission went on a spending spree, wasting MDG funds, which would have helped in the education.

Apart from evidences of corruption gathered by this newspaper, at least three different audit reports have also indicted top officials of the commission for fraud and misappropriation. But no charges have been pressed against anyone, although some officials were suspended from duties.

The indicting reports

In 2011, the commission’s board set up an audit team to investigate how the commission spent the N950 million MDG funds it got between 2006 and 2009. The report showed that a large chunk of the money was misappropriated.

In May 2011, the Federal Ministry of Education, which the NCNE reports to, set up a committee to investigate how agencies under the ministry spent the funds they got. The 198-page report, signed by A.C. Njoku, also indicted the NCNE, and other agencies, of large-scale misappropriation of MDG funds.

The monitoring and evaluation team set up by the OSSAP-MDGs in its reports for 2006, 2007, and 2008 also indicted the NCNE of large scale misappropriation.

The woman, who was in charge of the NCNE during those periods, up until 2011, Nafisatu Mohammed, has since been suspended from office. Based on the recommendations of the various audit committees, the NCNE and Mrs. Mohammed are being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. PREMIUM TIMES however gathered that Mrs. Mohammed is lobbying to avoid prosecution just as her tenure as head of the agency will officially end in September.

Absolving self

The presidential adviser on MDGs says her office has tried its best to check the rampant mismanagement of MDG funds. Agencies, like those in the education ministry, that have records of mismanaging funds have been suspended from receiving MDG grants, her spokesperson, Kene Offie, told PREMIUM TIMES.

The Federal Government, in the 2012 budget, did not also approve funds for any capital projects by the MDG office, as the focus is for uncompleted projects to be completed.

However, the hugely corrupt education ministry, whose agencies are blocking millions of Nigerians from accessing education, appears reluctant to punish offenders.

Apart from Mrs. Mohammed who is being investigated, no other official of any of the education agencies has been punished for mismanaging MDG funds, although other agencies such as the Federal Inspectorate Service where also indicted for mismanaging public funds.

The Minister of State for education says his ministry cannot punish offenders based on newspaper expose and audit reports. The minister, through his special assistant, Simeon Nwakaudi, says there are “over 3,000 reports” in his ministry, many of which have not been implemented.

He explained that unless the Federal Government releases White Papers on the reports, their recommendations could not be implemented.

We want education

Despite the misappropriation of MDG funds by agencies under the Ministry of Education, expected beneficiaries like Mr. Sarki, the Fulani leader, say they still want the government to make education possible for their wards.

“Insha Allah, we want our children to be educated. We just don’t want them to risk their lives,” Mr. Sarki, whose 10 children still attend the Bobi school, says.

While Mrs. Mohammed is being investigated and the education ministry failed to take action to punish thieves in its agencies, hundreds of collapsed, abandoned, not constructed, and poorly constructed education buildings are still scattered across the country.

The ramshackle structures, for which hundreds of millions, if not billions, of naira were purportedly expended, are still denying thousands of Nigerian children the opportunity for education.

“If they can just truly spend one quarter of that money (the N29.6 million spent) on my school, I am sure we will not only make all the 130 pupils attend classes, we will make more Fulani herdsmen see reasons to send their children here,” Mr. Bala, the head teacher said.

Funding for this story was provided by the Fund for Investigative Journalism (FIJ)

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