Last week I flew into Maiduguri to have a look over at the newly-constructed Future Assured College. The college built specifically for orphans is situated on Damboa road, on the opposite side of the NNPC depot. It looks as if it is purposely placed there to be within walking distance from Bakassi, Maiduguri’s biggest IDP camp, and other similar settlements that are cluttered around the burgeoning city. These camps are now home to hundreds of thousands of orphans – many of them barely children with neither of parents to support them.
The largest number of orphans in Nigeria would most likely be found in Borno State, which has unfortunately been the arena of this long-drawn Boko Haram insurgency. The orphans make up a disproportionately large percentage of the refugees in all the IDP camps in Maiduguri and other centres around the state. Their deplorable condition posed a strong challenge to governments at all levels to cater for their welfare and education. With the dwindling resources available to government, there would definitely be a large deficit which would have to be filled by public-spirited persons and organisations.
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This is how initiatives like the Future Assured have come in, to fill the void particularly in the areas of education and health. The Future Assured is an outfit of A’isha Muhammadu Buhari, the wife of the President, who over the last many years has been using her preeminent position to garner funds and material for the benefits of the underprivileged and the most vulnerable. The initiative is actively involved in healthcare, education and urgent support for the victims of the insurgency. The initiative has many projects distributed around the country but seems to focus more on the North East because of the urgent needs of the region.
The Future Assured College is the first secondary school for orphans built in Maiduguri through private initiative. In the past few years, many primary schools for orphans have been built and equipped through private initiative. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has built a well-equipped primary school for orphans, which is presently running well in Maiduguri. Similarly, the wife of the former Governor, Nana Kashim Shettima, is running another fully equipped primary school cum orphanage in the GRA part of Maiduguri. There is also the Barrister Zanna Mustapha’s Future Prowess Islamic Foundation that has been running a primary school for orphans since 2007.
When I came into the Future Assured College, I found it virtually ready to start operation. The location is congenial for the orphans living in the IDP camps clustered around, mostly within walking distances. This must be intentional as the college is a day school so that the beneficiaries would not have to come from very far. When I was being taken around the resplendent grounds of the college, I had the distinct feeling that this can compare to any of those high-fees schools in Abuja or Lagos. The college has 24 well-built classes, a computer lab, science and home economics lab, a well-stocked library, a clinic, a multi-purpose hall and admin block. The grounds of the college are well laid out with interlocking tiles. There is an orchard attached to the school with young greens sprouting already.
There are quarters for some of the staff that would be required to live on the grounds of the college. The college has a borehole to augment the town’s water supply. It also has solar panels in addition to the public electricity supply. The college will be co-educational, with equal number of boys and girls who would receive both western and Islamic education. Though a day school, it will offer at least one meal a day to the students. School uniforms, books and other instructional materials will all be available freely for the students.
Having further discussions with the coordinator, I learnt that staff of the college have already been selected through a rigorous process and would be reporting in due course. The foundation students are now being selected from the IDP camps by a high-powered committee of citizens of unimpeachable character. The committee has to be that staid because admission to this kind of school would be much sought after with the possibility of the orphans being supplanted by unscrupulous elements. So far, the selection process has been transparent. The college finances are also buoyant as the budgetary provisions for first three years have all been cash-backed.
Addressing the educational needs of orphans is a herculean task and I guess the Borno State government and all the international humanitarian organisations have been doing their utmost. More needs to be done as there are still a large number of orphans running around the streets of Maiduguri and other towns within the state. Private initiatives such as the Future Assured College are beacons that should light the path to be taken. It is a challenge to the more well-to-do members of the Maiduguri community, who should be up and doing in this regard.