“No country can ever truly flourish, if it stifles the potentials of its women and deprives itself of their contribution of half of its citizens.” — Michelle Obama.
The impact of the Kaduna State Government’s decision to abolish fees for female students in post-primary schools can best be appreciated against the effects of lack of education. The policy will gulp about N500 million in the first year and, subsequently, about N50 million more, with the expected increase in enrollment of more females. But it’s worth every naira and kobo invested, considering the ripple effects of the decision.
In Malawi, 45 per cent of adolescent girls with no education became pregnant, but once school enrollment improved, the number drastically reduced to below 4 per cent. This clearly shows the power and benefits of education. In Nigeria and, especially in the north, the story is not any different. Because the potential of this significant portion of the population has been stifled, the country is not only deprived of their full potentials, but pays a huge price for neglecting them. The price of the neglect stares Nigeria in the face: the number of maternal and infant mortality, water-borne diseases like cholera, and in increasing rate of poverty.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai has, since assumption of office, ..clearly demonstrated a commitment that is so deep and passionate towards uplifting women by words and by deeds. His first chief of staff was Hadiza Bala Usman, who is now heading the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). His Commissioner for Works and Housing is Balaraba Inuwa Aliyu.
And there are several other women holding key positions of responsibility in his administration, including the Head of Service: the driving force behind the reform and revitalisation programmes of the state public service. The governor’s trust in the capacity of women to deliver can never be questioned or doubted. Under him, Kaduna State women and youths have never had it this good. This is because he understands that the duty of a leader is to produce more leaders.
Education is not only transformational, it also literarily changes lives: not that of the female only but, indeed, that of a community. Despite this reality, most parents will never invest in the future of the girl-child. These deep-rooted obstacles, both cultural and financial, have continued to conspire against females in attaining their full potential. The free education programme for the girl-child is the single most important investment the Kaduna State Government has made, as part of an overall strategy to wage a hostile war against pervasive poverty. Kaduna State stands to reap abundantly from a pool of well-educated women and from improved hygienic practices, which will lead to improved quality of life.
Because Kaduna State has dared to interrogate, to question its objective reality using statistics, it has a huge body of facts which, though inconvenient, has nevertheless placed it in a great position to address very fundamental issues like the outrageous number of girls that are out of school and the shortage of heath institutions. If the state government hadn’t acted swiftly in declaring free education for girls, then the figures at its disposal would have been wasted efforts. In reaching these decisions, Kaduna State has greatly relied on the State Bureau of Statistics, which has been tasked with the “overall responsibility of data collation, collection, data analysis, interpretation, research and coordination of statistical activities; which will aid the state government in policy formulation, development planning and evaluation of accomplishment.”
The Kaduna State Development Plan, 2016-2020, which reflects the policy priorities that outlines the government aspirations of being the investment destination and food basket of Northern Nigeria, is unequivocally clear that economic development of Kaduna State will be anchored on agriculture, due to its capacity to provide employment to its teeming unemployed population, address food security and a source of raw materials for agro-processing industries is a product of a survey. The agricultural survey showed that about 80-85 per cent of its N15 billion GDP is accounted for by agriculture, which also accounts for 42.7 per cent of total employment of its people.
The 2017 Kaduna State School Census Report is very uncomfortable in every material respect: from enrollment to completion, especially of the girl-child. Out of 317,012 students in public junior secondary schools, only 142,839 were girls. In Soba Local Government Area, for instance, boys predictably have the highest number in enrollment.
The net enrollment for girls is about 70 per cent, while for boys it is about 86 per cent. But the real cause for worry is the very high percentage of drop-outs, the number of girl-child who in a given school year that fail to return the following year – leaving school without completion.
The statistics has only confirmed common knowledge, the real issue was the political will to confront the challenges like early marriage, crushing poverty, etc., which makes it difficult for parents to buy books, pay school fees, and make uniforms. Many families are just too poor to afford uniforms for their children. Faced with such daunting challenges, they opt to educate the boys over the girls. By introducing free education, free uniforms, school feeding the Kaduna State government has tackled headlong the barriers that have long kept girls out of school and ensured that early marriage is their lot.
The romance between el-Rufai and Kaduna State women began from the outset of his administration, and looks like a marriage made in heaven. The first major gift to Kaduna State women was the abolishment of the enrollment levy of N200, which the clueless Ramallan Yero administration had introduced. Governor el-Rufai followed this up with the appointment of many women into positions of authority, the impact of which can’t be quantified in terms of role models. The various policies have definitely increased enrollment of pupils and students, but the killer-punches were the free uniform, books and the school feeding programme which skyrocketed enrollment at the primary and secondary levels. The full impact of the recently introduced free education for female students in all state schools will be a bomb, as the state government has lifted a huge burden off the shoulder of parents.
By deeds and actions, the Kaduna State government has through concerted policies (carrot and stick), made the necessary efforts to stop the discrimination against the girl-child. The state stands to benefit from the deliberate policy of empowering its women – as acquired knowledge will be by implication lead to economic power – which will eventually translate into improved quality of life for the entire society. And when in the fullness of time they are unleashed on the state, they will become a force that must be reckoned with. Nigerians take note, Kaduna State women are coming.
•Emmanuel Ado is a Kaduna-based journalist. He can be reached via email@example.com