Promoting Rural Education: How Many other Unsung Heroes like Alfa Jimoh?

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Mr Salman with pupils

On this sunny Thursday morning, the crowd trickled in one after the other. Cars drove into the take-off spot. The enthusiasm was high; high enough to bespeak how much Nigerians appreciate a feat and are willing to celebrate it. These were people from all walks of life gathered for a journey to a remote community they’ve never visited but heard of, to honour a man they’ve never seen but heard of, and more so, to witness the suffering of some people who day and night continue to lament and crave for better life. The destination is Gunniyan Alamo, a remote community near Malete, in Ilorin Moro Local Government of Kwara State.

Located about 32 kilometers to Ilorin, the state capital, the tarred but pothole-filled road to Malete – the town housing the Kwara State University – from Ilorin was typically smooth by Nigerian standard. But that’s where the joke ends as the route that leads to the agrarian village is a replica of the forlorn hope of the inhabitants themselves.

Of the five communities in the locality, only Gunniyan Alamo has an existing primary school located at the entrance of the village. Now a school of a single block made up of an office and a classroom, it wears a disconsolate look with dusty floors, open roofs and cracked walls. With a wall chalkboard and a wooden one, the classroom houses two sets of students each backing the other for want of concentration. In the junior class, a young boy in native attire showed impressive academic prospect as he recited the Numbers. Others repeated after him from where they were seated on a log of wood placed on three heavy stones which served as the legs. Just behind them, the senior section seems luckier. They were seated on iron chairs, but what they enjoyed in chairs, they lacked in table. The whole class only boasted of a big wooden table with its edge to the wall, on which the wooden chalkboard also rests against the wall.

Mr Salman Jimoh in class with the junior arm of Gunniyan Primary School. Inset: Senior arm of the school.

 

The teacher’s office – apparently not in use – contains a tattered shelf with books fallen off the wooden item. In this school comprising of about fifteen pupils all together is a teacher who has chosen to sacrificially stay and serve the communities through thick and thin. He is Mr Salman Jimoh.

A native of Okelele, in Ilorin, Kwara state, Malam Salman Jimoh has served in Gunniyan Community Primary School for 13 straight years. This, according to a native of the village, Mohammed Jimoh, does not include his first spell as a teacher in the school before he was transferred to another community. Because of his will to save a generation, he returned to Gunniyan, leaving his family and siblings behind in the city, to sojourn in a strange and crestfallen land.

Although, calm, easy-going and never complaining, it is hard to not notice an educated man in his 50s in a remote village like Gunniyan and wonder why he has chosen a life in such a place rather than the splendour that the city or a small town offers. His deed turns a feat judging by the popular practice in our clime where personnel in the education, health or some other sectors lobby endlessly to be re-posted from rural communities or blatantly desert their work stations without looking back.

Looking astounded as the convoy drove into the school premises, we watched as an unassuming Salman – in native attire like most of his pupils – reeled out instructions in both English and local language before marching them into the lone classroom, where the junior class took turn to recite the Numbers while he inspects the assignment given to the senior class the previous day. On this day, a Non Governmental Organisation, Hannis Institute for Developmental Studies, HIDS, rolled out the drums and gathered inhabitants of adjoining villages – most of whom have partaken in the benevolence of Malam Jimoh – to join in the celebration of an unsung hero.

Teacher, Mr Salman Jimoh and the school pupils.A community development expert and Coordinator of HIDS, Malam Lawal Olohungbebe, said the NGO aims to bring to limelight, the sacrifice of unsung heroes serving humanity in various communities, one that Alfa Jimoh – as he is fondly called – perfectly represents. Narrating how he got to know about him, Olohungbebe said he first saw the devoted teacher about five years ago, while trying to identify communities that could benefit from the humanitarian project of a philanthropist from Kwara state.

“While I was looking for communities without access to domestic water who can benefit from the philanthropic gesture, I stumbled on this community and met Alfa Jimoh.

“I was surprised to find him alone sleeping in the store inside the classroom. I was just curious to know why an educated man was living in the school office with just a mat and his prayer kettle.

“I enquired about the whereabouts of other staff members, and Mr Jimoh, being who he is did not want to expose them. So he just told me that they weren’t around. But three months later, I was given the same excuse when I paid an unscheduled visit to the school again.

“I became curious and it was while making enquiries that the villagers who I have had acquaintances with told me about the school and the onerous sacrifice of Alfa Jimoh. Then, I took interest in him,” he said.

According to the villagers, the man, over the weekend or once in a fortnight – while travelling to Ilorin to spend weekend with his family – many a time, treks all the way to Malete where he boards a commercial vehicle to the state capital. This is because commercial vehicles hardly ply the route except those who travel majorly in the morning to convey farm produce to town. Alfa Jimoh has no car or motorcycle but returns to the community as early as 6:30am on Monday.

(L) HIDS Coordinator, Olohungbebe presenting gift items donated to the teacher at the honorary event.

“He always trek more than 1hour to get to Malete, from where he will join a bus going to Ilorin. That has been his weekly routine for the past one decade,” one of the villagers narrated.

Olohungbebe bemoaned the celebration of the rich and famous where there are individuals like this all over the State, rendering selfless sacrifice to make other people’s lives meaningful.

Speaking, the community leader and Magaji of Babatapa, Alhaji Yinusa said Mr Jimoh was at a time, residing in another village and treks down to Gunniyan Alamo everyday to teach the students before embarking on the same long trip back after close of work.

“It was so hectic that we volunteered to accommodate him in the village here to ease the stress, even though, the accommodation offered him wasn’t that palatable,” he said.

Just a stone throw from the school is Gunniyan Alamo village. It is made up of two mud houses. At the front is a big tree with enough shed for relaxation. Beneath it is a makeshift seat to the right and a set of stones neatly-arranged to form a square – a portion of land demarcated for prayers. In one of the mud structures, is the room that Alfa Jimoh shares with the community head.

The mud house where Mr Jimoh lives in Gunniyan village. Inset is the room he shares with Magaji.

A man of very few words, an obviously camera-shy Jimoh said his posting to the community has been of mixed feelings. This is because it avails him the opportunity to contribute to the academic growth of the pupils. But it has been difficult because of the lack of basic amenities.

“Apart from lack of water and electricity, as you can see, there is no classroom to really teach the pupils. No chair or table for them to sit, no office for us to store documents.

“In fact, we teachers are the ones who contribute, out of our meager earnings to buy chalk. No register, diary or note of lesson. The situation has led to many parents taking their wards away from here to major towns,” he said.

When asked why he chose to remain despite all odds, Alfa Jimoh said the fate of what awaits the pupils and the school should he leave had always moved obligated him to stay.

“It has not been comfortable at all if I must confess, but as much as I would have loved to leave, the fear of what will become of the pupils and the school continue to hold me back.

“Thank God another teacher just joined, I used to be the only one here. We have reported to our administrators in Bode-Saadu about the lack of teachers and the reluctance of those posted here to stay, all to no avail.

“I want to admonish our teachers to endure at any station they find themselves. They should go to their places of work to teach the pupils frequently so that their future can be assured and their parents and guardians will be happy,” the teacher advised.

In the words of Mr Jimoh Mohammed, a youth leader in the community, “the man is God sent because he has done for our community, what not many can do; All these for nothing.”

Matter-of-factly, nothing given equals his selfless service. That notwithstanding, the donations and gifts showered on Malam Salman Jimoh at the event was a morale booster and a huge encouragement. It was a message to the public that the benefit of your deeds awaits you. It means even when no one seems to notice, someone is watching and taking note. Attendees at the occasion marveled as organizers presented a cheque of N200, 000 to the teacher. There were also several gifts in kind to include a solar power light, cloths of different fabrics and several others. Moved by the stress Alfa Jimoh goes through while travelling to see his family, one of the philanthropists who prefers not to be named, donated a brand new motorcycle to him. He was also presented with a plaque and certificate in recognition of his remarkable endeavor. As part of its contribution, the Ilorin Emirate Youth Development Association (IEYDA) donated exercise books and school uniforms to all the pupils in the school.

(L) Mr Salman Jimoh receiving his cash reward and other gift items from dignitaries led by foremost Islamic cleric, Dr Abubakar Ali-agan. (R)

But beyond the accolades, testimonials, and feting, the trip to Gunniyan Alamo village was an opportunity for inhabitants and other neighbouring communities to vent their misery. The regard for a man like Malam Jimoh more than doubled for many as the community head lamented their lack of basic social amenities. According to him, it is this deplorable state that continues to drag the communities backward.

In this bemoaned state, the Magaji could not hold back tears as he summoned a young man – Mohammed – who, limping his way to the front through the crowd of villagers that formed a circle – was said to have suffered a broken leg while riding a motorcycle to another village in search of water for family use.

While the villages to include Apado, Baba Tapa, have never had a taste of electricity, access to water, good road network and education are huge challenges. The never-ending drop in the number of pupils is as a result of parents relocating their children to small towns nearby. The singular existing block of classroom is not the first, but the Magaji said the community strived painstakingly to ensure the last did not also fall apart like the others. This they have achieved through personal donations and communal efforts.

The single classroom in Gunniyan Primary School available for all students to share.

The community head said during a partial collapse, they embarked on series of visits and pleaded to the government to save the last block from total collapse. “It got so bad that a man was contracted to renovate the block, but rather than do a holistic job, the contractor only nailed the ceiling and disappeared with the remaining roofing sheets.

“The principal of the school and all other teachers have not been coming to teach our children. We’ve lodged several complaints at the local government office in Bode-Saadu and SUBEB in Ilorin, yet nothing has been done. If we see more of this man, we know things will get better,” he said.

One of the community women, Saratu Abdulahi, who also expressed regret over the lack of teachers in the school said the fate of their children is at stake.

“We intend to make sure that unlike we parents, our children get sound education but there is no teacher in this only school in our community.

“The only person we have seen so far is Mr Jimoh. He is a great man because he is trying his best, but he alone cannot do it all. Or how can a single teacher teach Primary 1 pupils to Primary 6?

“Our children are not improving as we want. This is the reason why many are forced to withdraw their wards. It is affecting the community. But sincerely if teachers are available, I can tell you, people will bring their children.”

A lecturer at the Kwara State University, KWASU, Willis Santos, who also made the trip, said he was part of the event, “to support and recognize the selfless contribution of a teacher, an educator like me who is going beyond his means to guarantee that pupils acquire education. And that inevitably has an impact in the life of those kids and the community.”

According to Santos, “Communities like this can only grow if government makes available, the basic amenities. In the absence of government, communities need to come up with initiatives either from teachers like we are seeing now or from the private sector are to keep services like that running.”

On how the honor can spur people to embark on such community development service just to grow communities, Santos said, “that can only happen when people begin to show commitment in their communities. Having a feeling of not what the community can do for me but what I can do for the community.

“Because there are needs everywhere and the farther these communities are from the seat of government, the more they lack in basic needs. We therefore can only rely on initiatives like this either from individuals or private sectors.

“I just hope that those kids, this initiative today sow a seed in their minds; seed of social responsibility. We can only hope that this recognition will be a multiplier in other places.”

Speaking on the state of rural education, a former Education Secretary in Moro Local Government, who graced the event noted that Gunniyan Alamo primary school is not an isolated case, as according to him, more than 85% of schools in the rural areas in Kwara State face the same challenge. This has been a source of concern for educationists and organizations as well, one of which prompted a comprehensive survey conducted by Elites Network for Sustainable Development (ENetSuD), a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) in Kwara state, to examine the condition of state-owned schools, most of which should be benefiting from intervention funds. ENetSuD, in its report concluded that public schools in Kwara state are in a state of shame and that “The deplorable conditions of the schools with dilapidated structures make them unhealthy for effective teaching and learning.”

Education is regarded as an instrument for national development and social change. It is widely recognized as a veritable tool for addressing issues of poverty, underdevelopment, population, illiteracy, ignorance, health problems, conflicts as well as sustainability. Education further helps to ensure the character and moral development of the young ones and the development of sound attitudes. But when this catalyst for change is inaccessible, the societal problems it should have solved persist. Poverty reigns supreme, ignorance kills the people, conflicts thrive resulting in bloodshed, leadership remains shallow and under-development dine and wine with the country. No matter what the case may be, the singular contributions of individuals like Mr Salman Jimoh will continue to make a mark. But, how many other heroes like him live with us unsung?

Taiwo Adediran is a Multi-media development journalist covering under-reported issues in  rural communities in North central Nigeria. Contact: Twitter: @Adedirantai, Mail: Adedirantai@gmail.com 

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