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3 million nomadic kids are out of school – Executive Secretary

Executive Secretary, National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE), Professor Bashir H. Usman has said paucity of funds, climate change and insecurity are affecting the delivery…

Executive Secretary, National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE), Professor Bashir H. Usman has said paucity of funds, climate change and insecurity are affecting the delivery of basic education to nomadic communities and that of the 10.2 million out-of-school children, 3 million are nomadic kids.


The aim of nomadic education is to integrate nomads into national life through qualitative basic education. How do you plan to achieve that?

Nomadic pastoralists constitute about 10% of the total population of Nigerians and they have a unique production system, called extensive livestock production system. They move their animals and households from one location to the other is search of means of livelihood, basically grass and water, but in some cases, due to certain factors such as disease outbreak and climate change.

We have different categories of pastoralists including the completely mobile groups that move with their families in different patterns of say from point A to B to C; in the dry season they move southward and as the rains approach, they also move based on climate changes. We have the semi-sedentary that are either in densely, scattered or sparsely populated settlements where they live for some part of the year before they move with their animals within certain kilometers or radius for pasture and water and come back. There are some that permanently stay in remote locations in unique settlement pattern including some Grazing Reserves.

However, for you to educate the pastoralists, there is what we call the centrality of production system; they depend mostly on child labor; children, both boys and girls take care of animals and this is one exclusive factor that takes them away from education and other services. So, this is the scenario with the group and for authorities to plan their education, their needs including settlement and movement patterns have to be considered. In places where the nomads are settled, we construct classrooms and for the semi-settled, we provide classrooms and some makeshift structures while for the mobile groups, we provide the mobile collapsible classrooms and get teachers that can move with the group.

We have major challenges with the mobile pastoralists because by law, we don’t employ and own teachers; that is the responsibility of the states and local governments because the pastoralists cross local and state boundaries. So, if you have a teacher in local government A and the pastoralists move to local government B, they will lose that teacher. Each teacher is trained on the socio-cultural values of pastoralists and our teaching materials. Nevertheless, we want the law establishing the commission to be amended so that we can be empowered to employ teachers and attach them to mobile communities.

We deal with three categories of disadvantaged pastoralists in Nigeria including the Fulani, Kwayam, Shuwa Arab and the Badawi that move with their livestock. The migrant fisher folk are found along coastal and riverine areas of all the southern states that move with their families in search of fish. Another category is that of the migrant farmers found in the southeast and some parts of Benue, Taraba, Kwara and Oyo states who move in a similar way with the pastoralists; they move with their families in search of virgin lands where they cultivate for some time before they move to another place. All these nomads rely on their children for labor and that is why they have millions of out-of-school kids.

In 2015, the commission announced that there were 4-5 million out-of-school nomadic kids. What is the situation now?

Certain factors make the nomadic kids to stay away from school such as the house chores, the activities around the livestock value chain and most importantly, the displacement of their families due to rustling and banditry. For now there are between 2.5 and 3 million nomadic children out of school. Even the school children, are in most cases not allowed to complete or transit to the next class; girls are being substituted such that they bring 4-year-old child and remove an 11-year-old for domestic activities and she is out of school. So our statistics is open ended. The boys too, drop out of school to tender cattle and some will return when they are over primary school age limit, thus you have to teach them  skills. But we have good record of our former pupils who completed higher education because we had to look back and appraise our success since inception in the last 30 years. We visited the locations of all nomadic schools and obtained data from community members, teachers and graduates such that after confirming the number of graduates from the schools we asked communities to tell us their locations. We found that most of our former pupils are doing well in their businesses and are hardly among the miscreants

Are you saying that the large number of drop outs and out-of-school kids in nomadic communities does not pose a threat?

There might be some miscreants due to influence of drugs but we can give a good statistics of graduates from nomadic schools doing well, including  a medical director, lieutenant colonel, professor and PhD’s; we have employed graduates who attended nomadic schools in the commission.  At the moment, the federal government is supporting 563,744 pupils 3,582 nomadic schools. Some of the schools were built by states, for instance, because of the interventions from the commission in terms of teaching and learning materials, Lagos State renamed 109 schools as nomadic schools. So, it is the State Universal Basic Education Commission (SUBEB) that tags nomadic schools. The commission mostly identifies nomadic communities without schools and builds few classrooms before states and local governments take ownership.

The highly mobile pastoralists are reportedly hard to track and educate. Why? 

Most of them are slippery because they hardly stay in one place; that is why we try to identify those that are semi settled and engage the qualified ones (mostly relatives) as temporary teachers and attach them with the highly mobile groups as permanent teachers.  Also, the office of the Vice President has asked us to liaise with SUBEB and select some N-Power teachers that could be attached to the mobile pastoralists. Though it is difficult, we are trying to get enough teachers for the children of the mobile groups.

Actually, some years back the commission spent a lot of money buying airtime from radio stations to talk to the nomads.  Now we have decided to establish our own radio station to engage these groups because they have strong affinity to radio. So, to have wider coverage, the National Broadcasting Commission approved Amplitude Modulation (AM) radio for us, but we were shocked to hear people saying the federal government wanted to set up ‘Fulani Radio’ to Fulanise Nigeria. We are supposed to broadcast in Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin languages. And by the time the radio becomes operational, the problem of tracking and teaching these ‘slippery’ highly mobile nomads will be over. We have the Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI), which will be used to put the classes in sequence to educate the people. In fact, with the interactive radio programmes, we can get the viewpoints of the miscreants and terrorists among them in phone-in programmes, because most of them are willing to open up but at the moment, there is no medium to talk to. The Fulani person takes bold attempt to solve crisis. Again, the Fulani pastoralists mostly listen and take instructions from the people they respect and they respect the nomadic educators.

Apart from the radio, what other strategy do you use in implementing the nomadic education programme?

Research was one of the systems used and a lot of research was done on the lifestyle of the nomads and that paved way for some programmes we developed. One of the findings is that the conventional curriculum and textual materials did not fit into the culture of the pastoralists or they did not see themselves in the learning programmes and this is largely what contributed to rejection of western education by the pastoralists. So, we have to adapt the curriculum by putting it through what we called cultural filter. For example, instead of John went to the market, you say, Bubakari went to the market.  The other strategy was the active community engagement through leaders including women to obtain their opinion on how best to educate them. That is how we came up with permanent structures, semi-permanent and the mobile classrooms, which we experimented in the Lake Chad area which unfortunately was a no-go area because a lot of pastoralists were displaced by insecurity.

The teacher too, is central in the education of pastoralists; you need a teacher who  understands the culture of the pastoralists. If you bring a teacher that gets irritated after seeing a fly, or who does not want to drink water from the community or dresses half naked; these are not positive role models. We came up with clear policies of who should teach, unfortunately, we do not recruit teachers, it is the responsibility of the states and local governments. We train the teachers on how to teach including the flexible time-table, which allows lessons to take place at a time suitable for the pupils.

Again, we have strengthened partnerships with organisations, states and local governments because education is in the concurrent list in the constitution, so some states have agencies and directorates of nomadic education while some have desk officers in SUBEBs and ministries. Sometimes you train a teacher and his employers will transfer him to conventional schools. We have embarked on mass mobilization where we talk to the pastoralists as role models and solve some of their problems. They have now started building schools and employing teachers.

We have used boat school (experimental) in Jessy River in Edo State to mobilize for pupils’ enrolment and also serve as classroom for effective teaching and learning and provided speed boats for monitoring of schools. Again, we constructed earth-dams for animal use and irrigation facilities

What are the challenges to nomadic education?  

Inadequate funding is the major problem to nomadic education and in terms of budgets, even if the ministry allocates enough money on capital expenditure, we only get half of it. So government should provide adequate money to education but some agencies such as UBEC are assisting us. Politicians have been supporting us by building blocks of classrooms as constituency projects. We are also facing the challenges of out-of-school children, poor school infrastructure and insufficient supply of water in schools and sanitation facilities as well as teacher shortage.  We went to a school in one village where children have to trek back home for an hour during break time to drink water. Climate change too, affects the education of the fishermen because when the waters recedes, they move and change location with their families and spend some time fishing before they return and lesson starts afresh because it is difficult for a teacher to follow them. We have developed multi-grade teaching system to address the problem of teacher shortage and flexible time-table to allow children to learn at their convenience; we ask parents the best time to teach their children, mostly for two hours, to enable them finish their chores. It may interest you to know that a PhD and a former nomadic pupil, Dr Ya’u was taught using the flexible time-table; he was milking and herding cattle in the morning, go to school in the afternoon and looked after the cows in the evening.  We have strengthened the school-based management committees to ensure attendance and quality teaching among others.

Insecurity has posed a threat to everyone but we are determined to educate the nomads; a lot of things are in theory and if you go by what is happening in the security system, we will not be able to do anything. Quite a number of my colleagues were kidnapped at different times and some of them were released after paying ransoms. I have nothing less than six of my staff that were kidnapped in the course of their work by people we believed know and monitor them. Our vehicles were snatched at different times. One technician hired to look after solar panels in our skills acquisition centre about 26 kilometres from Kaduna was shot dead by thieves who later stole his motorcycle. However, with the determination of the government, I believe insecurity will soon be a thing of the past; because I see it as an evolving thing that must pass.

Some of your field staff must have been terrified to work in some areas…

Believe me, the staff  have the enthusiasm to work and nobody has ever said they will not go to work. We wrote to the Taraba State Government in 2019, telling them of our intention to work in some nomadic communities but the government replied and said those communities were insecure and we should not go there. They have now written to us that we can go because the places are safe.

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