KODO, NIGER: Built by Kodo community in 1976 and later taken over by the government to meet standards, Kodo Primary School, located east of Nigeria's Niger State, was once a citadel of high-quality learning with over 400 pupils and elevated staff ethics.
Its high standard drove many parents to enrol their children.
However, by 2010, the school had lost nearly all its glory, falling into a near-extinct position due to years of underfunding and understaffing.
Its nursery section and primary three and six classes had ceased to exist because their structures had collapsed. Only primary four and 5 were functional, and they were merged into a single classroom.
For fear of the possible collapse of the remaining few still-standing classrooms, many parents withdrew their children to other schools or to help them (parents) in their farms and businesses.
"Since I lost my husband after a short illness, I've been trying to ensure my children get quality education," said Salamatu Ahmad, a 43-year-old widow. "But I'm always afraid that I am trapping [death] on them by making them attend a school with no safe infrastructure. So, I withdrew them from the school."
Kodo Primary School was not alone; many more across Niger State have fallen to this state.
Besides poor school structures forcing parents to withdraw their kids, the regular invasion of communities by rampaging bandits has displaced many communities in recent years, contributing to an increase in the state's number of out-of-school children - now about 700,000.
Why the failure?
Part of the reason public schools here have been in a sorry state here is that, between 2015 and 2021, Niger State failed to access nearly N3 Billion (about $70 million) matching grants From the Universal Basic Education Commission or UBEC.
Adamu Adamu, the federal minister of education, said in 2022 that Niger and 20 other states could not access the funds because they failed to pay the required 50% counterpart funding due to "corruption" and lack of willpower.
Filling the gap
In what seems like an admission of the poor state of primary schools in the state, some federal lawmakers from the state have since 2020 been channelling part of their constituency projects funds to resuscitate primary education and encourage re-enrollment.
Constituency or zonal intervention projects are developmental projects nominated by the members of the Nigerian federal House of Representatives (HoR) and senators to be executed in their constituencies on their behalf by assigned national ministries, departments, and agencies or MDAs.
Every year, the federal government releases N100 billion to MDAs to execute the projects for 469 lawmakers (109 senators and 360 HoR members). While the execution is ongoing, MDAs regularly update the lawmakers on their status until completion.
Data published by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission or ICPC show that between 2015 and 2022, over N1 Billion worth of constituency project funds have gone into renovating primary schools classrooms, helping to fill the gaps the failure to access UBEC funds had created.
Sheu Barwa, who represented the Bosso/Paikoro federal constituency at the HoR but could not secure reelection after failing at his party's primaries in 2022, was one lawmaker who targeted investment in the education sector in his constituency.
During his time at the green chamber, the ruling All Progressives Congress' (APC) member constructed classrooms at Pmasi, Kodo, Bwafiyi, Chanchaga, Chimbi, and Beji primary schools.
Another lawmaker is Muhammad Sani, an APC member representing the Niger East Senatorial District. Sani constructed extra classrooms at Tayi, Gbnasego, Bawa Bwari, Dr Umar Farouk Bahago primary schools, and Day Secondary School, Farindoki, where he also gave the students plastic chairs, tables, books, and bags between 2020 and 2022.
Before their interventions, leaders of the communities hosting the schools wrote several letters to their local government education authorities for seven years, sometimes physically visiting to decry the state of ruin of their community schools and requesting interventions. But their efforts were unsuccessful until they decided to write to their federal lawmakers.
"We've been writing for a very long time. We wrote to Shagafi (former Bosso state constituency lawmaker), the council chairman, and even the primary education board. Still, nothing was done until two years ago when Sheu Barwa came to build that one [a block of three classrooms] for us," said Garba Muhammed, the village head of Bwafiyi.
After the construction of the classrooms in 2020 in Kodo, some parents who had withdrawn their kids for fear of a potential structure collapse began to bring them back.
"My children got re-enrolled back to the school this new term," said Ahmad, the widow. "I was urged by the new construction of classrooms in the school."
Abubakar Gomna, the Bosso Local Government Area chairman, adds: "Their interventions have saved [some] of our schools from deteriorated infrastructures."
Speaking to Prime Progress on behalf of his principal, Sanusi Salihu, Barwa's secretary, explained why he constructed new classrooms instead of refurbishing existing ones.
"We find out that those schools that benefited from the intervention and those yet to benefit needed new classrooms rather than renovating the dilapidated ones," he said.
However, the lawmakers' intervention in the form of renovation and minor classroom building does not still allow the schools to function in full capacities as in their glory days.
The heads of community schools at Kodo, Bwafiyi, Pmasi, and Chimbi communities said they need more than constituency project interventions to get their schools back to full capacity as they still merge classes due to inadequate classrooms.
They also said the schools lack furniture, including desks for students to sit on, and that the lawmakers concentrate mainly on renovating and rebuilding few structures. This sometimes means the kids sit on the bare floor to learn.
And some of the reconstructions embarked upon by the lawmakers through their constituency projects did not meet UBEC's stipulated standards, according to Gomna, the Bosso LGA chairman, due to corruption from contract award and execution.
That notwithstanding, the face-lifting of some primary schools had been all some parents needed to send their out-of-school children back to school.
"Our children won't be going far to school again, and our minds would be at ease as they are in school inside the community," Ahmad said.
This story was produced with the support of Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.