As I read the speech of Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano State to the opening of the State’s Summit on Free Education, this morning, it was easy for me to imagine the elders of Shara Community of Sumaila Local Government of the State smiling. Often, we mistake the smiles on the faces of people as indicating happiness and if you see the elders in Shara smiling after hearing the news of the promises by the Governor you may jump into this wrong conclusion. The reality is that often people find a way to express their disappointment through harmless smile which provides a therapeutic healing of not allowing their blood pressure to rise up because of the disappointment.

Shara People have everything to be disappointed and to listen with unbelieving ears to whatever government officials tell or promise them. For many years, they have seen politicians who had gone there to campaign, offering them Madina in this rusty enclave but failing to deliver anything after winning the elections.

Shara, with a population of over 3000 people (and contributes about 600 of the out of school children in the state) does not have a primary school and it is not that they do not like education. They still are yet to get a graduate of secondary school. The only nearest primary school is at Matigwai, a few kilometers away, but midway, there is a river. So, when it is raining season, the river is full and because there is no bridge across the river, the small children cannot cross and so stop going to school. This is how they end up never completing primary school.

Each election round, they would be promised a bridge over the river, a road and a primary school, promises which till this moment, have not been redeemed.

In 2017, upon community consultations and mobilization coordinated by CITAD, members of the community decided to set up a primary school by themselves.  they offered their farms as land free for the school but they had no money to erect the school structures. But luckily, a new mosque had been built in the community and they decided to convert the old mosque to the temporary site for the school and got some volunteer teachers to run the school. On the first round of enrollment, over 300 children (girls and boys) were registered in the school.

Deploying a tick of advocacy creativity, CITAD decided to sew uniforms for these pupils and also provide exercise books and writing materials and decided to organize a public presentation of these during what was formally tagged as the public presentation of the school. We invited the State Ministry of Education (that time my good friend and former colleague, Prof. Hafizu Abubakar was Commissioner of Education), SUBEB, the Local Government Education Authority, political figures in the Sumaila Local Government.

They honored the invitation and dared to be with us in the village. During the ceremony, the Local Education Authority Secretary promised to ensure that school furniture was provided to the school (because at this point, the school had no desks or chairs as the pupils sit on the floor to take lessons). The ministry of Education promised to start building at the site donated while SUBEB promised teachers.

Today is almost three years and the community has persevered in running the school by themselves without any assistance from Government or political figures. Many of these people have moved on. Governor Ganduje is into his second term. We did a couple of media campaigns, directly engaged with political leaders in the area, including Hon Kawu Sumaila who now wants build a University in a Local Government where a major community does not have a single classroom of primary school. All these fell on deaf ears and till now, all the promises made to the school or community have not been redeemed.  There are no teachers in the school, no furniture in the school and no building is been erected.

On 10th September, we will again go back to the community, with new set of uniforms, writing materials and excise books and this is why I am ambivalent about what Governor Ganduje has promised to Kano State.  There would be free education, many new teachers would be employed. Many new classrooms would be built and school infrastructure expanded. Will Shara Community benefit from the lion heart of Ganduje?

You can see why their rueful smile tells the story of stoic elders whose knowledge of the folly of politicians cannot be captured by our professors of political science. As we prepare for that eventual date, I urge Governor Ganduje not just sit cozily in Africa House or hold to a booming microphone in Coronation Hall. Let him follow us to Shara and let him tell them what this new education means to them. Will he immediately order the building of the schools? Will he direct SUBEB to post teachers to the school? Will he ask the local Government chairman provide the much-needed school desk and chairs, many of which I see wasting in various places in the state?

They will not be waiting for any “bill and other necessary legislative instruments” that governor said his government was articulating. All these simple demands do not require any law. Let Ganduje demonstrate that he is serious about this new found zeal for Free Education by acting it out at Shara and then we will clap for him and the  smiles on the faces of the elders of Shara Community can be taken for one of satisfaction, happiness and expression of admiration and in lieu of gratitude.

Dr. Ya’u is the Executive Director of the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Kano.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary