Muhammed Abdullahi, a tall, dark, slim man wakes up every morning with one thing in mind: how to find food for his cows. Thirty years old, Mr Muhammed was born in a Fulani village in Gwagwalada, a suburb of Abuja. He has no formal education and has just gotten married. Mr Abdullahi, who was dressed in a worn blue long-sleeved shirt on black trouser, says he is not educated because there is no school in his community. “My elders in my village say they know that the federal government has provided some money for some people to do some things like education and water for us,” he said in Hausa, his feet covered by dust from his long walk with his cattle. “But we have not seen anything on ground.”

Nomadic education

In 1990, the National Commission for Nomadic Education was set up to bring education closer to cattle rearers like Mr Abdullahi and reduce widespread illiteracy among the population. The commission, which began operation with 206 schools, 1,500 students and 499 teachers, was established by the Nigerian government to complement the Ibrahim Babangida administration’s effort to achieve education for all. But the organisation has failed in the purpose for which it was established, as thousands of nomads remain uneducated. Irked by this and other sharp practices in the commission, its governing board inaugurated a committee to investigate how the monies budgeted for capital projects between 2006 and 2009 were spent. The agency, says the investigative committee, has become a cesspit of corruption, as its senior officials, led by its executive secretary, Nafisatu Mohammed, engage in financial misappropriation, execution of phony contracts, and mismanagement of funds meant for the uplifting of the largely penurious nomadic communities across the country.

Funds that could have been used to build schools in communities such as Mr Abdullahi’s have allegedly been stolen. The report of the probe, obtained exclusively by NEXT, is shocking. It details how Mrs Mohammed and other senior officials of the commission including Jacs Nkume, the acting deputy director, administration; and Modibbo Tahir, the chief engineer, plundered the N950 million Millennium Development Goal grant which accrued to the commission between 2006 and 2009. The funds were meant for a nationwide education of nomads and their families, most of whom earn their living from subsistence farming and animal grazing.

The unsavoury development at the agency is a big blow to Nigeria’s quest to achieve goal two of the MDGs, which aim to make countries around the world attain universal basic education for their citizens by 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa, of which Nigeria is a part, is home to a vast majority of children out of school and the United Nations’ expectation is that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. Mr Abdullahi’s five-year-old nephew, Mahmud, is not in school because the commission has not found it necessary to establish a school there. Every day, Mahmud accompanies his uncle on the long walk in search of food for his cows.

Bobi Grazing Reserve

In 2009, the commission approved four contracts for the Bobi Grazing Reserve in Mariga, Niger State — to supply school furniture, the preparation of assembly grounds and football pitch at N2.2million; the construction of a block of “human clinics” at N6.7million; the construction of a block of three classrooms, an office, a store, and a block of two-bedroom flats at N17.8million; and the construction of a hay barn and three units of VIP toilets at N2.9 million. After visiting the project site, the investigative committee declared the project a fraud.

“The fraud at Bobi is a disaster: the contractor was paid before the completion of the work,” the committee observed. “The three classrooms were built on swamp without concrete foundation; there are no real blackboards. There are only a few books. The two blocks of 2-bedroom flat staff quarters are only a room and parlour each.”

The committee was not done. It expressed irritation that the assembly ground was not built at all while the floor of the VIP toilets had caved in, a situation that forced the community to shut them down to protect their children. “What is at Bobi Game Reserve as a hay barn,” the panel further observed, “is rather a bad hut for organic manure making because both the floor and the ceiling have swollen (sic) from rainwater coming from the rotten roof.”

The committee also noted that items, such as a number of plastic overhead tanks were deliberately included in the bill of quantities but not provided. However, it was not only the committee that condemned the fraud at Bobi Game Reserve. An external auditor from Sulaiman and Co, a Kano-based audit firm, made the same observations months before the investigating team.

“No structure in the grazing reserve is fit for human habitation,” the auditor stated in a comment he left on the visitor’s book when he visited the reserve.

Is this education?

Mrs Mohammed and her colleagues did not only deny the nomads their right to quality educational facilities, they had also, by their actions, made the peasants lose interest in education.

The leader of the herdsmen told the investigative team in anger: “Is this why we should want our children to have education (pointing to the bad structure)? If this is all, we are happier and safer in our huts.”

Even Mrs Mohammed and the chief engineer at the commission, Modibbo Tahir, agreed that the structures at Mobi were substantial.

“Mobi is a disaster,” Mr Tahir admitted. “But it can be mended.” The engineer, who reportedly said he had more important official chores to do than monitor projects, could however not explain why physical surveys were not carried out on the project site despite the fact that funds were allocated for that purpose.

The ‘phantom’ borehole

If the construction at Bobi was substantial, the borehole at Kungu Fulani Nomadic Primary School was a complete fraud. The borehole, which was meant to provide potable water to students of the primary school, was awarded to NFANS Nigeria Limited, on October 30, 2009 for N3.2 million. The management of the commission claimed it fully paid the contractor after “completion of work.” But the investigative committee found out that the borehole existed only in the imagination of the contractors and senior officials of the commission. The headmaster of the school who welcomed members of the committee said point-blank: “The commission did not build any handpump borehole here.”

Not convinced, the committee members went around the school in hopes of proving the headmaster wrong. The team found no borehole.

The Bayelsa classroom fraud

It was not only nomads in northern Nigeria who bore the brunt of the financial malfeasance and outright stealing by the leadership of the commission. Some fishing communities in Bayelsa also suffered a similar fate. The commission had claimed that it spent N15million on the construction of a block of three classrooms, and the procurement of office equipment and books at the Okungbene Fishing and Community School complex in Bayelsa State. The department of programme development and extension of the commission, led by one Ardo Aliyu, also stated that it constructed an assembly hall and three units of VIP toilets in the same school for N9.6million. But in a curious twist, the department claimed that Niger Delta militants demolished the assembly hall and toilets after they were completed. When a team of two investigators, joined by the zonal coordinator of the commission for the South-South, Emma Ojei, got to the school, they asked the headmaster and youth of the community to take them to the structures purportedly demolished by militants. Led by the headmaster, the community told the team that the commission did not at any time erect any structure in the community.

“Which militants? No militants came here and none will come,” the team quoted the headmaster as saying. “Because if they (the commission) did not share the money and abandon the place, these are the type of things (toilets and assembly hall) we want.”

But the investigators were in for more surprises. The supplies delivered to the school fell far short of the commission’s bill of quantities. For instance, out of the 52 desks approved for the school, and for which funds were released, only 12 were supplied. Even the floors of the newly built classrooms, the committee found, were “already full of potholes”.

Mr Tahir, the chief engineer, who initially claimed that he visited Okungbene, later absolved himself of blame for making payments for nonexistent and inconclusive contracts. He pushed the blame to the commission’s store officer, Isa Nyako, and chief internal auditor, Abdulkadir Ibrahim. The blame game continued when Mr Nyako told the committee that although he did not visit Okungbene, Mr Tahir gave him “an inventory on the headed paper of Ovieyi International Limited.” It was this inventory that he used to justify the payments made to the contractor. When confronted with the statements of Messrs Nyako and Ibrahim, the chief engineer later admitted that he never visited Okungbene “and did not know the state of work there”.

Obstructing investigation

In carrying out its assignment, the investigation committee met several brick walls particularly with senior staff of the commission, who were later indicted by the probe panel. But the greatest obstacle, NEXT learnt, was the executive secretary. A highly placed source at the commission told NEXT that “she (the executive secretary) did everything to frustrate the committee. She refused to give them money to travel, she tried to prevent several officials from presenting evidence before the committee”.

The investigative committee also confirmed in its report that Mrs Mohammed tried to frustrate its activities.

“On one occasion, the executive secretary even refused to outrightly provide the establishment committee of the board with the files of management staff,” it said.

The committee also stated that “it took the intervention of the former honourable minister of education, Dr Sam Egwu, and the incumbent, Rukayat Rufai, to make her seem to cooperate with the governing board and its ad hoc committee”.

Based on the findings of the committee however, the executive secretary has been suspended by the minister of state for education. Her suspension as well as other recommendations are however generating ripples in the political sphere as senior public officials including the secretary to the government of the federation, Yayale Ahmed, are said to have taken sides in what appears to be a clear case of corruption. But while the government prevaricates on whether or not to prosecute Mrs Mohammed and her colleagues, the rustic Fulani community in Abuja is bearing the brunt of the commission’s inefficiency and graft. An elderly man in the community who identified himself as Alhaji Bashir said: “There is no school in our community, so we can’t send our children to school.”

Source : By Idris Akinbajo, Next. on Govt Officials squandered nomadic education funds.