Renowned for its industrious people, Potiskum is one of the major towns in Yobe State. Home to the Kare Kare, Bolewa, Ngizim and Bade people, the town is also known for its cattle and agricultural business. On a smooth road leading to Potiskum, a busy terrain, many drivers pass by filled trucks to the brim with cattle and grains such as millet, a few of its major exports. Sadly, as the Boko Haram crisis hit Borno, the neighbouring Yobe State simultaneously suffered many attacks on its environs.
From 2009 to 2014, many tragic incidents happened; from the attacks in the cattle market to the mass murders in a church, Yobe had endured its share of devastating events in the ongoing conflict in the North East. Already recognized as a deadly terrorist group, Boko Haram aptly following its literal meaning of ‘Western Education is Forbidden’ focused strategically on attacking major schools around most towns. In February 2014, 59 boys, students of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi were gruesomely murdered in a massacre that shocked not only the communities in Yobe but the world at large. Soon after, in November 2014, a suicide bomber struck again during assembly in Government Science Secondary School killing 46 students and wounding many.
Traumatized and wary, many parents’ removed their children from schools resulting in a drastic drop in numbers. As the region halted and battled with killings, bombs and malnutrition amongst other issues, schools closed for almost three years. A lull and a battle to survive ensued. Eventually, a few years later, as military offensives intensified, a small semblance of normalcy started returning to some communities. Eager to rebuild and rehabilitate, local and international actors stepped in. Despite the seemingly countless problems within the North East, one facet that governments, organizations and individuals rallied to create solutions for, is the education sector. Many interventions and back to school programs commenced in earnest. An individual who joined in on this regional intervention through education is Engr Abubakar D. Aliyu. Disturbed by the number of children orphaned by the conflict and truly believing in the need to strengthen communities, he quietly registered a foundation and named an orphanage after his beloved mother, Ya Zara.
In the laid back town of Potiskum, Ya Zara Orphan Care Foundation, a brainchild of Engr Abubakar, opened in January 2018 to house, feed and educate school age children in a residential style home for orphans. “It was my personal home which I built for myself that I renamed as YaZara Orphan Care Foundation and decided to convert into a school,” he passionately discussed. For a start, young children between the age of 7 from the local governments of Yobe South; Fune, Potiskum, Nangere and Fika were identified. 25 young children whose parents were struggling to educate or feed them, were selected and are currently being supported through the foundation.
“My wish was not only to provide a home for orphans and take care of them but to give them the standard I would give my children,” Engr Abubakar elaborates. With a boarding style setting, separate rooms for boys and girls as well as a dining area, the orphanage also has a classroom for everyday teaching for the pupils. Fully equipped with several in house staff, a driver, a security guard and a cook, the pupils are catered to everyday. An integrated school, it offers both Western and Islamic education. “We want to start small and give them the best and ensure we reduce the number of out of school children. Our focus is also in making sure they do not succumb to radicalization hence our curriculum follows the correct teachings of Islam,” added Mallam Umar Hassan who is the Secretary of the Foundation.
“We are currently unofficially affiliated with El Kanemi College of Islamic Theology, who carries on with the education of the children along with other teachers. We hope to continue to fully support them financially until they get the educational foundation in our small start up school. We want to help them through secondary school as well. Whatever the child decides to pursue after, we encourage that and will fund accordingly,” Engr Abubakar further explains. The young children participate in extracurricular activities such as excursions, competitions with other schools and visits to extended family members during holidays.
For the thousands of unaccompanied children in the North East, foundations such as these may be the only hope in providing the necessary means for a start in life. With many suffering across Nigeria and the neighbouring countries such as Niger, Chad and Cameroon where internally displaced persons have migrated to, few opportunities for a holistic approach to teaching exist despite ongoing efforts. In Yobe State, with 40 percent of children out of school according to various reports, Ya Zara Orphan Care Foundation not only hopes to bridge the gap but is urging others to join hands in creating opportunities for young people who are struggling through life. ‘’As a young child growing up, I knew the battles I faced to pursue an education as my parents couldn’t afford much. But it was also time when the Nigerian State took care of its citizens. We enjoyed the benefits of a functional government that provided feeding, transportation and fees.’’ Engr Abubakar D. Aliyu who is currently the Minister of State for Works and Housing and was previously the Deputy Governor of Yobe State, is troubled by the current educational crisis in Yobe and the North East in general; a stark contrast to the education he received. “I want to devote my life to this school and hope to retire to this. What will be our legacy as a people? Who will take care of our children when we die? We have to provide and take care of orphans. I urge other influential people in this region to do the same; to contribute to society.’’