Teachers, Pupils In Gombe Schools Suffer As Classroom, Toilet Projects Remain A Mirage

Both teachers and pupils in Gombe State, continue to endure difficulties as promised classroom and toilet construction projects remain unfinished, despite the allocation of funds to Cocoon Nigeria Limited by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals (OSSAP-SDGs). As a result, schools are still lacking sufficient classrooms, forcing students to learn on bare floors in overcrowded classes. Additionally, WikkiTimes’ 2022 investigation uncovered another scandal involving the same OSSAP-SDGs office, where four out of five contractors received over N1 billion for solar streetlights installation in Adamawa State. Allegedly, the projects were never executed, and the contractors were linked to the same individuals.

In May 2021, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals (OSSAP-SDGs), headed by Adejoke Orelope, paid N36,071,552.18 for the construction of one block of six classrooms with VIP toilets at Hammadu-Kafi Primary School, along Biu Byepass in Akko Local Government Area of Gombe State.

Cocoon Nigeria Limited got the contract and received the payment, which is part of the 2021 projects of OSSAP-SDGs in the area, according to data from govspend.ng, an open contracting platform.

Similarly, in another separate release, the OSSAP-SDGs paid N36,093,998.75 to Musbal Integrated Services Limited for the construction of one block of six classrooms with VIP toilets at Kindiyo Primary School in Balanga Local Government Area.

An investigation by WikkiTimes revealed that the classrooms and VIP toilets project at Hammadu-Kafi Primary School was not executed, leaving pupils to continue to receive lessons on bare floors in dilapidated classes. Due to classroom shortages, the school runs two shifts – morning and afternoon.

Pupils in primaries 1, 2, 5 and 6 take the morning session while primaries 3 and 4 pupils have the afternoon session.

When this reporter visited the school on May 16, 2023,  only seven classrooms were available for use by the pupils. The last classroom constructed for the school was in 2013.

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Data obtained from the office of the head teacher of the school shows that Hammadu-Kafi Primary School has a population of 2,000 pupils and 22 teachers, meaning that the pupil-teacher ratio, PTR,  is about 91: 1, more than double the UNESCO maximum ratio of 40:1 and the 35:1 recommended by the Nigerian Education policy

With its population, the school requires between 40 and 50 classrooms going by an acceptable pupil-to-classroom ratio of between 30 pupils to 50 pupils in a classroom. In the US, for example, the national average of student to classroom ratio is 24. In the United Kingdom and Wales, legislation stipulates not more than 30 pupils in a classroom for kids between five and seven

Each class at the school houses at least 160 pupils against the recommended 50 pupils class. A few desks littered available classes. Between three to four pupils sit on a desk designed for two.  More than half of the pupils in every class sit on dusty floors.

Pupils receiving lessons on the floor (credit: WikkiTimes)

Khalid Adam, an 11-year-old Primary 5 pupil said, “Most of us do not have seats. We sit on the floor because there are not enough seats in the school.”

He explained that only the lucky ones among them secure seats.

“Everybody strives to reserve their desks in the class throughout the session. If you are unlucky, you have to manage by sitting on the bare floor,” he added.

WikkiTimes gathered that seats are allocated to the pupils at the beginning of each academic session. It is done on the basis of first come first serve.

Like their pupils, teachers at the school do not have the luxury of having an office. The teachers use the shade provided by the only tree planted at the centre of the narrow pavilion of the school premises.

A view of teachers segregated into gender-based clusters welcomes a visitor to the school premises.

Only the headteacher and his assistant share an office. The office is a double-room structure embedded in one of the blocks of classrooms in the school. The headteacher occupies the second room while his assistant uses the first room.   

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The office also serves as a store for the school. Brooms, books, hoes and chalks are stacked in a corner just next to the table of the assistant headteacher.

The headteacher, Malam Sani Ahmed, told WikkiTimes that he uses his own money to buy chairs and chalk for the school.

“Since the establishment of this school in 2007, we have not received chairs from the government. I have to use my salary to buy chairs and seats for the school,” he said.

Hopes Dashed

Barely three months after OSSAP-SDGs disbursed N36,071,552.18 to Cocoon Nigeria Limited, the contractor, handling the construction of one block of six classrooms with toilets project at hammadu-Kafi primary school along Biu Byepass in Akko local government area of Gombe State, a team of surveyors from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Gombe office surveyed and demarcated an area for the construction of a block of six classrooms and toilets in the school.

A public search on the company at CAC and NG-Check reveals that the company, whose address is given as 10 Sarkin Crescent, Kaduna, has three directors; namely, Moukarim Wajdi,  Suly B Mohammed and Amal Bouri, all who appear to be foreigners

WikkiTimes gathered details of the contract which is under lot A1, includes construction and furnishing of one block of six classrooms at the cost of N36,071,552.18.

On 28 September 2021, a team of surveyors from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Gombe office surveyed and demarcated an area for the construction of a block of six classrooms and toilets in the school.

This was a great sigh of relief for the school. Excitement and happiness filled the staff and pupils but unknown to them, the project will not be delivered anytime soon. Two years after, neither the surveyors nor officials from the SDGs office returned to the site. No construction work ever took off in the school, to the disappointment of the people.

An infographic showing 2021 beneficiaries of OSSAP-SDGs projects in Akko LGA

A source in the school who does not want to be named told WikkiTimes that “a team of experts from SDGs visited, inspected surveyed and promised to modernise the school. They surveyed the location with a great deal of energy as though work on the site commences the next day. But up to this moment, they never return.”

He added: “Nobody explained to us why or when work will commence as promised. We were left to our fate.” 

One Toilet for 2,000 Pupils

The over 2,000 Hammadu-Kafi Primary School pupils converge on a pit-latrine toilet daily to urinate or defecate. At breakfast, a long queue of pupils widened at the door of the toilet facility waiting to take their turns, while others are forced to use the back of their classes. According to UNICEF data, only 10 percent of Nigerian schools have access to requisite sanitation facilities, including toilets.

The only toilet facility at Hammadu-Kafi Primary school (credit:WikkiTimes

Similarly, teachers in the school use one latrine pit toilet separated only by a wall from that of their pupils.

“I don’t feel comfortable using the school toilet as a woman because other male colleagues use it as well. We were forced to be visiting close by houses to respond to our call of nature,” Aisha Sambo, a female teacher at the school said.

The toilets are stinky and messy because of the high number of pupils and staff that rely on them, coupled with water scarcity in the school. The only borehole constructed at the school gate has stopped working.

Every day, the school spends at least N300 buying water from vendors. A group of pupils trek about a kilometre to fetch water to help keep the toilets clean. Despite these attempts, the school environment is always unfriendly for the nose.

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The headteacher, Malam Ahmed, told WikkiTimes that keeping the two latrines in the school clean remains a difficult task due to the non-availability of water sources within the premises. 

Cocoon Nigeria Limited failed to give an explanation about why the project was not executed. One Jonah Ali, a representative of the company declined to respond to WikkiTimes‘ enquiry about the project. Instead, he vowed to introduce this reporter to the Managing Director, Moukarim Wajdi the next day to respond.

“The MD is not available. I am on my way to the town now. I will give him your contact to call you tomorrow,” he said but has not kept to his words as at press time.

Kindyo: Project Diverted   

In June 2021, OSSAP-SDGs awarded a contract for the construction of one block of six classrooms with VIP toilets to Musbal Integrated Services Limited at N36,093,998.75.

Musbal Integrated Services Limited has five persons listed as directors, including its current Managing Director, Adamu Bala who is also a native of Kaltungo Local Government Area, Gombe State. The four other directors of the firm include Aisha Abdullahi, Mustapha Aliyu, Jamil Garba and Mariya Shinkafi.

The project was to be executed at Kindiyo Primary School, a community in Balanga local government area of Gombe State, as per payment details for the project available on Govspend.  

A view of a block of six classrooms constructed at Kulo, Kindiyo Ward, Balanga. (credit: OSSAP-SDGs)

However, when this reporter visited the Kindyo community on 17 May 2023, it was apparent that the OSSAP-SDGs diverted the project to a different community, Kolu, which is not the original beneficiary of the project.

WikkiTimes’ findings reveal that the diversion of the project worsened the dire need for additional classrooms at Kindiyo Primary School. Similarly, it also denied the school an opportunity of having a toilet for the first time since its establishment in 1978.

Records from the office of the headteacher of the school indicate that while this year alone, it admitted 200 pupils, the school only have six classrooms manned by five teachers, including the head teacher.

Four out of the six classes do not have desks. The classrooms also have no windows or doors and their ceilings have been torn apart.

 Amos Hussaini, Assistant Headteacher, said the lack of a toilet facility in the school exposes pupils to scorpion bites due to the hilly nature of its surroundings.

A collapsed classroom block in Kindiyo Primary School (credit: WikkiTimes)

“Women teachers have to use toilets in houses close to the school thereby losing man hours that would have been channeled to teaching in the process. “As you can see, the walls of classes have been turned into toilets by the pupils. This has contaminated the air around the school. Sometimes, one struggles to breathe because of the bad smell of excrement and urine,” he said while pointing to a pile of pupils’ faeces behind one of the blocks of classrooms.

Work Done

The project, the construction of one block of six classrooms in kindiyo, but diverted to the Nomadic school Kolu was executed and put to use.

The contractor, Musbal Integrated Services Limited, furnished and wired all the classes.

Similarly, both Musbal Integrated Services Limited and OSSAP-SDGs separately confirmed that the project was executed

Musa Ibrahim, a parent, told WikkiTimes that their children were eager to go to school shortly after the classrooms were put to use.

“At that time, we don’t have to chase our children to school. They simply go to school by themselves without much ado,” he said, noting the impact of the project.

The newly constructed classes provide additional classes for the school. The number of classes rose from just two to seven with an office and a store.

Moses Usman, a teacher at the school said the additional classes meant that all pupils in the school have a classroom to receive lessons against learning under the tree as it previously used to be.

However, he noted that they are unable to keep the constructed toilets clean because of a lack of water.

“We don’t have sources of water here in the school. We have sent some pupils to fetch water every day,” he said.

He added that sometime this year, thieves broke into the newly constructed classes and went away with fans, wires, bulbs and ceilings.

“After we noticed this incident, we removed all the remaining ceilings and wires to avoid losing everything to the thieves,” Usman said with his voice echoing dismay.

Fake Pictures Claiming Project Execution

When contacted, the media aide, to Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs, Desmond Utomwen claimed that the Hammadu-Kafi Primary School project was fully executed and he said he was ready to share evidence to prove his claim.

One of the misleading pictures OSSAP-SDGs shared

After about 24hrs, he shared 12 photos. He claimed that seven of the photos were for the one block of six classrooms Cocoon Nigeria Limited constructed along Biu Byepss Akko Local Government Area.

It was evident that the pictures were meant to mislead. First, the pictures Utomwen claimed to be classrooms Coocon constructed along Biu Byepass were fake. In reality, the photographs are of a skills acquisition centre project along the same axis. 

Similarly, data from govspend.ng shows that the skills acquisition project is different from the one block of six classrooms with the VIP toilet contract, even though both projects were billed to be executed in Akko LGA. “I have given you information as far as that project is concerned. All I know is that the project was fully executed and payment made,” he insisted after this reporter demanded him to further substantiate his claims.

An infographic showing 2021 beneficiaries of OSSAP-SDGs projects in Balanga LGA

When WikkiTimes pressed further to obtain the list of projects for 2020, 2021 and 2022, the media aide to the Senior Special Assistant to President on SDGs dodged, arguing that the questions ‘were abstract.’

He added, “Those questions you asked were abstract, I must tell you and I cannot respond to abstract questions. Nobody will have time to give details about the budget for projects in 2020, 2021 and 2022.”

Adamu Bala, Managing Director of Musbal Integrated Services Limited, the firm handling project at Kindiyo insisted that the project was executed but failed to give reasons for the diversion of the project from the original community.

In a WhatsApp voice call while in the Holy Land performing this year’s Hajj, the Managing Director dodged questions bordering on why the project was transferred to Nomadic Kolu despite a dire need for additional classrooms in the original community where the project was cited.

“You are one person that I will never forgive for unnecessarily disturbing my Hajj ibadat for no reason. You cannot collaborate with my traitors to spoil my name and think you can go free,” he declared in an emphatic voice.

This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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