Niger State is located in the North-Central region of Nigeria. It is regarded as the biggest state in the country, occupying 10 per cent of the country's land with its 76,469 square kilometre landmass. The state shares boundaries with the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and is home to 3.95 million people (2016 census) including former Military Heads of State, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdusalami Abubakar.
The state consists of 25 local government areas and houses two of Nigeria's hydroelectric power base in Kainji and Shiroro, earning it the sobriquet, the power state. Despite its huge mineral deposits and tourism potential, it is the 8th poorest state in Nigeria according to the National Bureau of Statistics' Poverty and Inequality Survey Report 2019.
The United Nations Children's Fund in 2018 revealed that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. In February 2019, Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education in Nigeria said the number of out-of-school-children had risen to 16 million. This is more than the population of 34 African countries.
Over 69 per cent of the 16 million amounting to 11 million are reportedly in the Northern part of the country. This is more than the full population of 28 African countries.
Alhaji Alhassan Muhammad Bawa Niworu, the chairman of the state Universal Basic Education Board reveals that over 513,680 children of primary and junior secondary school age are currently out of school in Niger State. However, a look at available data shows that lawmakers in the state have received money running into trillions of naira for constituency and zonal intervention projects since 2015.
These projects include numerous educational projects in various constituencies and senatorial districts in the state. While few of these projects have been completed, many are left abandoned and others never took off as funds have been diverted to other private interests.
Political actors to blame for degrading quality of education
Niger State is being represented by 13 lawmakers at the National Assembly. The state has three senators namely Abdullahi Aliyu Sabi, (Niger North 2015 till date) Sani Mohammed Musa who replaced David Umaru (Niger East, 2019 till date), Muhammad Enagi Bima replacing Sani Muhammed (Niger-South, 2019 till date).
At the House of Representatives, we have Mohammed Abdulkadir Mahmud (Agaie/Lapai 2015 - 2019), Mamudu Abdullahi (Agaie/Lapai 2019 till date), Abubakar Lado Abdullahi (Suleja/Tafa/Gurara 2015 till date), Salihu Adamu Shadafi (Paikoro/Bosso 2015 - 2019), Shehu Beji Barwa, (Paikoro/Bosso 2019 till date), Saidu Musa Abdullahi, (Bida/Gbako/Katcha 2019 till date), Muhammadu Bala Faruq (Gbako/Bida/Katcha 2015 - 2019), Ahmed Abu (Mokwa/Lavun/Edati 2015 - 2019), Abdullahi Usman (Mokwa/Lavun/Edati 2019 till date), Shehu Rijau Saleh (Rijau/Magama 2015 till date), Mohammed Umaru Bago (Chanchaga 2015 till date), Garba Abdullahi Idris (Wushishi/Masheg/Kontagora/Mariga 2015 till date), Umar Muhammed Rofia (Agwara/Borgu 2015 - 2019), Jafaru Mohammed (Agwara/Borgu 2019 till date), Abubakar Chika Adamu (Shiroro/Rafi/Munya 2015 - 2019), and Saidu Doka Umar (Shiroro/Rafi/Munya 2019 till date).
These lawmakers have been elected to carry out the mandate of the people of Niger State at the National Assembly and amongst them, they have proposed and received funds for about 30 constituency projects in the last five years but schools are still dilapidated, as thousands of pupils are left without infrastructure for education.
Library converted to NSCDC’s office, residents ask questions on N10m allocation
Lapai is located in the Southern part of Niger State and is home to Ibrahim Babangida University.
Mahmud, who represents Agaie/Lapai Federal Constituency of Niger State, has failed since 2018 to provide residents with an equipped and standard library despite the allocation of N10m for the project in 2018.
This has got residents of the constituency to ask questions on how the money allocated was spent.
The project titled ‘Remodeling and Furnishing of Lapai Library In Niger State’ with project number ZIP2556 was to be completed under the 2018 intervention project but it never saw the light of the day.
When visited, the old library, which was meant to be renovated with budgeted funds was being used as a temporary office for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
The premises of the old library site was overgrown with grass. An officer of the NSCDC told this reporter that people are unaware that money was allocated for the library's renovation.
He said the NSCDC were given the building, which has been left unoccupied for over six months, as a temporary office to function and strengthen the security architecture of the community.
“We began occupying this building in late 2018 as a result of dormancy of the building. It was given to us as a temporary site," the officer said.
Idris Ibrahim, a resident of Lapai, who spoke with this reporter, said the library was the only one available to students in the local government but they have been robbed of it. Ibrahim confirmed that the residents of Lapai are not aware that funds were released from the Federal Government to remodel and furnish the library.
“We are just hearing for the very first time that there was monetary allocation for this building, we never knew about it," he laments.
“Before the deteriorated state, the library has been of great service to us. It has really helped in boosting the educational system but the state of the library now is nothing to speak about."
An elderly man in the community also claimed that Mamudu ordered the removal of all books from the library without replacing them and had rendered the old library useless.
He also lamented that the absence of a library in the city has further contributed to the falling standards of education, as students no longer have a place to study and do research.
“We kept wondering how and why the former books and chairs left the premises," he says, "This has been a question no one could answer till this very date.
“Renovation has stopped since 2018, left uncompleted before the NSCDC took over the place.
"The issues of the library in this state has left Lapai in a poor educational system as even the students in school can’t make reference to the library," explained the elderly resident.
The residents of the constituency are now questioning how the sum allocated was spent and when the academic use of the library will re-commence.
"We will like our political representative to explain to us what happened to the money allocated and where it vanished to," Ibrahim states.
N175m for construction of information communications technology centre
This reporter also made a visit to another intervention project in Lapai, a communications technology centre. This is one of the three ICT centres proposed by Senator Sani Mohammed.
A total of N175m was allocated to the “construction and furnishing of three numbers of ICT centers at Bida, Mokwa and Lapai local government areas of Niger South Senatorial District” with code NITDA/HQ/PU/TB/2017/23
The sum was allocated for the ICT centres in 2017 as presented by Senator Sani Mohammed and in 2019 by his successor Senator Muhammad Bima Enagi.
In 2017, N100m was allocated for the construction and furnishing of three ICT centres while in 2019, the project title was changed to completion and furnishing of the centres to which N75m was allocated.
In a visit to the site of the proposed project in Lapai, residents said the construction of the building commenced in 2018 and was completed in 2019.
After the construction, sets of plastic chairs and wooden desks were supplied to the building but there was no sign of a computer system or electronic appliances in the building.
Residents of the community say they do not know what the construction is and were not aware of what it would be used for. They have since wondered what is going on at the project site.
“We were expecting to see the signpost inscribing the title of the project but nothing was erected. We wanted to wait to see the signpost so we can know what it is and who is doing it,” a community resident who simply identified himself as Abdullahi said.
I did not implement ICT project –Senator Muhammed
Despite the partial completion of the ICT centre in Lapai, Senator Sani Muhammed, who spoke with this reporter, said he was not aware of the allocation of the project in 2017. He claims he submitted the project in 2019 and did not commence the implementation until the end of his tenure.
“I have a lot of projects and I can send my project booklet to you. If you check the 2019 budgets, that was my last project before leaving the National Assembly," he states.
“I said N200m constituency projects for completion of three ICT centres and three skill acquisition centres. If you check the budget under 2019 that was my last budget but I did not implement it," he says
He further stated that he does not know the amount allocated for the budget as he already left office.
“I did the budget, I did not implement it, the new senator followed up because it is a constituency project. We finished in June 2019, so I did not implement the project. It is the new senator that continued it.
“I don’t know how much was released for the budget this year but it would be about 50 per cent," he discloses.
He however insists he was not aware of the project in 2017 despite being the Senator at that time and the project clearly stated in his senatorial district.
"You can try and find out from the Ministry of Finance for that particular project in 2017. We don’t get 100 percent of what we budget. You put N200m but they give N100m or N150m and by the time you spend it into many projects,” he adds.
COVID-19 halted completion of project --Senator Bima
When contacted, Senator Bima said the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country halted the completion of the ICT project at Lapai.
He said the line item in the budget was for the completion and furnishing of the ICT centre, adding that the centre had been completed and the furnishing was ongoing
He also said that 40 sets of computers had been brought while installation would begin soon.
“The construction of the structure was done by the former senator (Senator Muhammed) even though they were not completed.
“In the 2019 budget, there were provision for furnishing. The money was not released on time last year. They released 30% initially and early this year, they released about 20%. The contractor went ahead to complete the structure and made arrangements for supply of furnishing.
“We made the payment for the computer in Lagos but we could not go to carry due to the coronavirus and lockdown until recently, we have been able to go there and carry them down.
“We do hope that within the next two and three weeks, we will be able to complete them,” he said.
The senator added that efforts are ongoing to train residents of Lapai on computer literacy.
“I do hope that within the next one month, we should complete everything, God willing.
“For each location, the contractor is supplying 40 computers. Some will be given as starter-packs to the first set of trainees,” he added.
Expert reacts to ICT project in Lapai
A computer engineer, Thomas Akinjide (not real name), gives an analysis of what it takes to construct a computer centre and supply of computer appliances.
He stated that the amount budgeted has been inflated if it is to construct just one ICT centre, adding that such building should be completed under a budgetary year because of the benefit it would bring to the people.
“If it is only a workstation, a desktop on the average costs between N125,000 and N150,000 per unit. If we put it at 100 units, that is about N15m.
“We would be looking at backup power, if he wants, and we would be looking at N20m depending on the power of the generator.
“They would have to do networking of the computers and that will cost about N2m. For all of that, the budget would be under N60m.
“Factoring the construction of the structure, we would be looking at N1m without roofing. At the end of the day, we should not spend beyond N70m for the construction and supplying of computer systems in a building,” the computer engineer explained.
Mahmud refuses to speak
Honourable Mahmud opted to stay quiet despite several channels of communication used in reaching him.
Multiple calls, messages and mails sent to him were left unanswered.
This report was done with the support of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resources Centre)