EMAMEH GABRIEL who visited Kaduna State recently gives a first-hand narrative about the most populated primary school in Africa
One peculiar thing that often captures the attention of visitors coming into Rigasa for the first time is LGEA Rigasa Primary School. With a population of over one million, Rigasa has been described as a world of its own within Kaduna and within it, there is another world of awe.
Tucked into Igaba Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Rigasa has been strategically positioned and it currently plays host to the last rail terminal of the Nigeria Railway Cooperation, just less than three kilometres away from the populated Rigasa Primary School.
The time is 12:45 pm, approximately the closing hour of the first school session, when this reporter walks through the gates of what has been termed the most populated primary school in Africa.
The size of its population can be likened to that of a university. The only difference is that the university environment has a well organised setting with coordinated adults. However, Rigassa Primary School is not.
It is the closing hour of the first session of the day. Under the afternoon scorching sun, pupils in their hundreds dressed in different uniforms are observed pushing their ways out of the school gate; from the expression of excitement on their faces and from the chant of their voices, it has been an exciting day and fulfilled day.
The school is secured with two iron gates and at its entrance is a security man watching and taking notice of people coming in and going out of the compound, which is laced with about 500 meters perimeter fence.
With 10 blocks of 24 classrooms inside, some of which have been abandoned and others shaded with canopies to accommodate the growing population of the school, it is really a sight to behold.
The compound with sand all over is littered with all sorts of waste, which of course leaves no reason no doubt about the population of the school. How management handles the sanity system of the school is a talk for another day given the weight of waste litter daily in their thousands.
Inside all these classes, are chairs bearing inscriptions of the World Bank all over them. The corroded looking and leaking roofs of some of the structures, will quickly register in the mind of any visitor of the aging nature of the school.
Established in 1974 LGEA Rigasa Primary School, Lokoja Road in Rigasa, a suburb of Kaduna, is the most populated primary school in Kaduna State and it is believed to be the most populated in Africa.
In a survey carried out in 2014, the school had 1891 male pupils and 1757 female pupils 77 teachers and 24 classrooms. Its population today, LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt from the school authority, is at 27,820 with less than 20 teaching staff.
The school’s head teacher, Malam Mamuud Jafaru Zekeri, says the school has 27,820 pupils and runs in two sessions: morning and afternoon. The morning session accommodates primaries one, two and six while the afternoon takes primaries three, four and five.
“In primary one we have classes A-G where we have 400 and above pupils per class. In primary two, we have A-K with 200 and above per class. In primary three, we have also A-K with at least 300 per class.
‘‘In primary four, we have class A-E with over 300 pupils per class, while in primary five, A-K with about 200 per class and primary six, A-E with at least 120 per class, the head teacher tells LEADERSHIP Weekend.
On staff strength, Malam Zekeri said, “most of the staff have been sacked’’ recently by state government as they were affected by the exam recently conducted by the government.
He, however, reveals that some of the affected teachers still come to assist and they are sometime encouraged by the School Based Management Committee (SBMC).
‘‘Then we had up to 76 or more teachers in the school but after that exercise, because the government wanted to focus on the educational development of the school to strengthen the quality of learning in the primary schools across the state, we have only 16 teaching staff now and two none teaching staff, he says.
‘‘You know we don’t have PTA again because they are no longer functioning. The School Based Management Committee (SBNC) used to assist them for their transportation. What the SBNC does as a group is to mobilise the community to help in the activities of the school.
‘‘We are still waiting for the government to employ new teachers,” Zekeri adds.
It is time for the afternoon session and the classes have almost settled down when this reporter permitted by the new head teacher who reveals that he only arrived a few weeks ago after the retirement of the former principal.
The regular assembly is not conducted as the state government, according to sources, has stopped the practice but there still exits a noticeable ritual before the pupils settle down for classes.
On arriving at the school before classes, prefects would have to coordinate the daily environmental sanitation rituals. With whips in their hands, each class prefect calls his class out to pick all rubbish littered in and outside their classrooms by the previous session. With bare hands, the pupils follow suit, they pick these rubbish one after the other in a hurry to avoid lashes from their class commandants while they wait for the next instruction.
The prefects do not give room for cheating or favouritism. Everyone is involved in this routine sanitation. They are arranged in two lines; they move progressively in a procession and are monitored by the class prefect who ushers them to a waste bin where the wastes are finally dropped.
With the same hands, but hours later, these innocent kids will eat their meals provided to them through the school feeding programme, which of course has attracted a good number of them to the school.
From findings, the sanitary system in the school calls for a state of emergency. The few toilets available, under normal circumstances, are not enough to service the teaching staff alone talk more of thousands of children. To worsen the situation, there is no water system running in the school. It is a frightening situation that poses serious public health threat not only to the teachers and their pupils but also residents in the area.
Some abandoned classes, even classes close to where these young ones learn and even eat within the school’s premise have been turned latrine for the pupils. There they defecate and urinate.
The reek from the pavement of the school toilet and closed buildings bathed with faeces and urine, expose people within this environment to the risk of cholera outbreak.
While sanitary still remains an issue of emergency, the pupils are as well currently having their toll due the infrastructural deficit. Another bad news is that due to shortage of manpower, the teachers on their part are over-laboured and even at that, they can hardly go round the entire class in a day.
The cumulative effects are on the pupils who are not consistently engaged by their teachers for the purposes which they were sent to school.
Some of the pupils who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend said the government must come in to encourage teaching.
“We need instruction materials; we need more classrooms, more teachers and ICT centre for computer training. We need government to encourage our teachers who are doing their best, says Zainab Abubakar who also complains of the sanitary system of the school.
‘‘We need water in the school and we need more toilets. The ones we have here are not enough even for the teachers. I go home whenever I want to go the toilet,” she complains.
Ibrahim Sani, a primary five pupil, who also speaks with our correspondent, says he wants the government to come in and help them. He says they are in dare need of an ICT centre to help them understand ICT better.
‘‘They teach us computer in theories. We want to learn the practical aspect of computer. We want computer centres in the school and we want more classes,” he says.
The classroom is the heart of any educational system because most activities in the school take place in the class. The case of Rigasa Primary School leaves one wondering how possible is learning and understanding is possible in an environment not conducive enough for that purpose.
The good news, however, is that the state government has prioritised education in the state and attention has been mostly shifted to Rigasa Primary School.
The on-going construction of massive school blocks of 30 classes is a clear prove of the government’s commitment to reduce infrastructural deficit in the school such that would provide conducive learning atmosphere for these young minds.
‘‘Kaduna State Government under his Excellency Malam Nasir el-Rufai has so much interest in this school. If you can take a very good look there is building there. They are going to build a two storey building with 30 classrooms because most of the buildings here are dilapidated exposing the pupils to rain and even sun as you can see.
‘‘We thank God now that the government has decided to build new classrooms and our teachers who had their appointments terminated still come to school to assist us almost every day, the head teacher discloses LEADERSHIP Weekend.
“We are managing the activities of the school to the best of our ability and the government is playing its own part to see that we get the best. Other none governmental organisations also help,” he says.
School Feeding Programme
On the school feeding programme, it leaves one wondering how the government has managed to sustain the scheme with such an eye-catching population in Rigasa and others within the Kaduna metropolis.
The programme is believed to have been responsible for the high turn up of pupils in schools these days. Parents who have nothing to feed their children now encourage them to go to school.
The programme has reduced the number of Almajiris in the street of Kaduna a resident in Kaduna, Malami Jafaru, who speaks to LEADERSHIP Weekend at a train station.
Now, it is about 2pm when the head teacher is almost rounding off the short excursion with the correspondent, when women in their numbers walk through the school gate with food coolers and also truck drivers driving in to deliver food stuffs.
From findings, the feeding is consistent and the school authority has devised a strategy to keep the pupils in the school till closing hours. How does it work?
‘‘We changed the feeding time table from the one given to us by the government because we discover that most of them run home after eating their meals,” says Malam Zakeri who reveals that the pupils are now served some minutes to closing hour.
‘‘The feeding programme attracts the pupils and even encourages parents to send their children to school. It is working because it is clear that the government is focusing on encouraging education in all parts of the country.
‘‘We feed them the whole five days of the week. Monday to Thursday is the normal food while Fridays is fruit juice and biscuits. We have about 206 vendors that serve them food here.
‘‘We still want the government to place serious attention on Rigasa community because of the population of the school,” the head teacher who further commends the Kaduna State government for prioritising the education development in the state while placing more premiums on Rigasa Primary School says.
While continuous efforts by the Kaduna State Government has been widely commended by stakeholders of the education sector in the state, more is still required to address life threatening challenges in primary schools in the state such like what is pictured in Rigasa Primary School.
It should be realised that all efforts being put in place to up the standard of primary education in the state are for the purpose of the living. Hence, efforts should be geared towards addressing the sanitary system within these schools.
It would be recalled that Governor El-Rufai had some time in 2017 announced that the school had secured a N30 million grant from the World Bank/DFID Global partnership on education. The governor had also revealed that efforts were being put in place as the state had acquired some portion of land around Rigasa the construction of two more primary schools to decongest the existing ones.
Chairman of Kaduna State SUBEB, Usman Nasiru, who confirms the number of pupils in the school said, the state government has prioritised education and Rigasa primary school is a centre of focus.
He says in a couple weeks, the school would be wearing a new look as efforts are already been made for that.
‘‘If you are following the education activities in Kaduna State, you will realise that we have just issued appointment letters to the newly recruited teachers and they are currently undergoing training.
‘‘We have 254 centres for the training in 23 local governments in Kaduna State. After the training they will be immediately deployed to various schools and Rigasa will have enough teachers out of the over 10,000 teachers already recruited by the state government.
On funding, he said ‘‘the government is doing everything possible in terms of funding. They are giving monies to school, even Rigasa, for maintenance.
He says the funds from 400 to 8,000 are disbursed to schools annually and this is according to their sizes. ‘‘That is the more reason we are using the School Base Management Committee (SBMC)’’.
On sanitary, he says ‘‘anyone who has been to the school recently will find out that construction is ongoing and the numbers of toilet will be increase. In no time proper sanitation system will be in place and with the teachers coming in soon and new classes for them the pupils will have environment conducive enough for learning.
On learning materials, he says the government is already doing something about that.
‘‘We are trying to that. About two weeks ago, all the local governments in Kaduna State were directed to provide learning and instruction materials for primary schools in the state, said Mr Nasiru who reveals that schools daily assembly in the state is now prohibited due to the current educational reforms in the state. ‘‘We are carrying out reforms and you know there is educational revolution in the whole world today and Kaduna State cannot be an exception. We know the whole world is all on us and in two weeks from now, you can visit that school and you find out that it will be a good shape.”
Tenimu Usman, a resident of Rigasa, says apart from the rubbish around the school environment and the stench that sometimes comes out of the school environment particularly during raining season, from what he sees the school is the best gift to the community given the large population of the school.
‘‘Rigasa is overpopulated so we around here are not affected by the noise from the school. It is a noisy area but what I fear most is how uncontrollable most of these kids are when they litter things within this vicinity.
‘‘We can only hope that this can be addressed by the government to keep the environment clean for our safety and that of the pupils,” says Usman.
Also Mirabel Ogene tells LEADERSHIP Weekend that though she does not live in Rigasa, her constant visit to the area to deliver her products to customers gives a clear picture of the environment.
She says, ‘‘I do not live here but I come here to do business often. I have a friend who also sells around here. If this is a university environment, people selling around here will be smiling home every day but these are kids who can only afford biscuits, sweets, ice cream and other junk foods.
“Most of them come from poor homes and the business patronage here is limited to petty items and the government school feeding programme is also having negative impacts on traders here because most parents now send their children to school with the hope that they must be fed there. They save the N10, N20 or N20 they are supposed to give them for other things.”