The Aisha Buhari School is located in the New Government Reservation Area (New GRA) in Maiduguri. As we arrived, the three American-type school buses had just been emptied of the children, in their bright red, as well as the sky blue, uniforms, of another section of the school. That turned out to be the uniform of the children from the Nomadic Fulani children’s section. Kashim Shettima insisted that I visit the school as part of my itinerary in Maiduguri. Yesterday, we had been at the Muhammadu Buhari Academy, which houses over 1,700 orphaned girls, from the ten local governments of Northern Borno, as well as the Yemi Osinbajo School. These mega schools are a legacy of Kashim’s 8-year tenure, as Borno State Govenor. Babagana Umara Zulum, his successor, had retained the blueprint of building such schools too. The truth is that you need to visit, to truly appreciate the incredibly grand nature of these institutions. There are not many like them in other parts of Nigeria, if at all.
It is a very cold and windy morning this Tuesday. This is the typical temperature of a harmattan morning in Maiduguri at this time of the year. Today is the 17th of January, 2023, and I arrived yesterday afternoon, with a crew of cameramen, in the company of Kashim Shettima, the APC’s Vice Presidential Candidate, in the forthcoming elections. Kashim has always had a fondness for the Fulbe, but especially the nomadic stock. They’re some of the most marginalised sections of the community, and not just in Borno.
His decision to build the school and consequently induce, cajole, and entice Mbororo Fulbe communities to send their children to school, is a project that he certainly feels very strongly about. While construction work was taking place, Kashim encouraged the employment of men of the Mbororo as guards at the construction site, and during his regular visits, he would also eat with them.
Pictures of Shettima breaking bread with the Fulbe have since gone viral and entered the suffocating entrails of Nigerian politics. When he emerged as the APC Vice Presidential Candidate, the pictures were exhumed as evidence that he was actually eating food with members of Boko Haram. Some online trolls even call him either a founder or member of the sect, depending on the depth of their ignorance or mischief, or even both!
The Fulani Section of the Aisha Buhari School, was inaugurated in 2017 and has a total population of 540 children. It is made up of children of Mbororo Gamba, and Bokoloji origins; and they had been placed initially, under the El-Kanemi College of Theology.
Hajiya Sa’adatu Garba, the coordinator of the section, informed me that the children are bused in from different locations every morning; and as part of a deliberate effort to keep these children of nomadic Fulbe in school, they are fed twice each day. Similarly, they are offered free medical services and at the close of the normal hours, during which they are taught lessons in English and Arabic, they have hours devoted to memorization of the Qur’an as well as given basic entrepreneurial education.
When the school was first started, they were arranged from Nursery to Primary Six. Today, they now have the students from Primary 4 to SS1. A total of 12 classes are dedicated to the Fulbe children at the Aisha Buhari School, here in Maiduguri. Some of these classes have mixed, male, and female students. I had the privilege of speaking with a few of the children on the parade ground, and as shy as they all seemed to be, in the very good Fulbe tradition of Pulaaku, it was nevertheless remarkable to behold the potential opportunities that would open up in the future for these children, from the most disadvantaged communities.
The classrooms are very well appointed, and they compare favourably with the best private nursery primary schools that dot the major urban areas of our country. These schools in Borno have been built to the highest possible standard, and it is obvious that Kashim Shettima and Babagana Umara Zulum take very seriously the issue of education of these children. There was also a major element of defiance associated with the construction of these schools.
The Boko Haram insurgency specially targeted schools’ infrastructure for mindless destruction as a reflection of their nihilistic ideology that “Boko” was “Haram.” Teachers were set upon and killed and the dispersal of tens of communities all over Northern Borno’s ten local governments especially, meant that some of the most educationally-disadvantaged communities, were pulled further back into the abyss of ignorance. So Kashim Shettima and Babagana Umara Zulum defiantly took the decision that no matter how many times schools were attacked, they would be rebuilt. And precisely, that was what was done!
The Mbororo classrooms carried pictures and quotations of famous individuals who had spoken to, or stood for, the rights of the girl child from different parts of the world. These were to offer inspiration and encouragement to the children, whose lives won’t ever be the same again, because of the possibilities to dream and achieve that the new vistas of education would open. The fact that they’re receiving the new learning, within the certainties of their cultures as Muslims, without taking away the reality of being children from Mbororo, nomadic backgrounds also adds further gloss to what’s a positive endeavour.
I am therefore not surprised, that Kashim Shettima sees this as a major legacy project. And Hajiya Sa’adatu Garba underscored the fact. She said Shettima visits regularly, whenever he comes to Maiduguri; and he ensures regular donation of new books for the use the kids. That he continues to follow up on the progress being made by the Mbororo children, here at the Aisha Buhari School; and to behold the extent travelled to provision for the orphaned hundreds of girls from Northern Borno, speak to the importance of the process.
The Boko Haram insurgency employed generalised violence, in the destruction of educational infrastructure; it abducted young girls and purposed them as sex objects, cheap labour, couriers, and suicide bombers. The Chibok Girls abduction was a dampener for education in Borno. But Nigeria and Borno fought back! The Nigerian armed forces eventually took the fight to the insurgency, with several communities liberated and returned to ordered livelihoods. But more long lasting is the manner that Borno State, from Kashim Shettima to Babagana Umara Zulum, has deployed a mass educational revolution, such as I have been privileged to witness over the past 24hours, here in Maiduguri.
Educating children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, like the Mbororo children, is the most defiant message that can be sent to the forces of darkness that tried to destroy Borno, with its thousand-year history. With the Nomadic School here in Maiduguri, Kashim Shettima and Babagana Umara Zulum, have clearly renewed and are renewing hope for the most marginalised communities. That’s also what the APC is offering the Nigerian people, in the 2023 elections: Renewed Hope.