Spanning at least 20 different countries across the African continent, nomadic peoples constitute about six per cent of the total African population, or some 50 million people. This large population, categorized into three major groups, as pastoralists, migrant fishing folks and farmers, has a common wandering lifestyle. Shrinking grazing lands, constant blocking of grazing paths, increasing banditry, rising conflicts and tension between sedentary and nomadic communities are, however, making traditional nomadic lifestyles increasingly challenging. These challenges are compelling many nomadic peoples to abandon their mobile ways of life and skills and settle, with limited formal education, for menial jobs in towns and cities.
To try and protect these nomadic peoples from the negative impact of the changes they now face, the State of Kaduna in Nigeria has overseen the establishment of 258 nomadic schools in the state. The AfDB-funded Nomadic Centre located 26 kilometres from the city of Kaduna is, however, seen by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a model project that falls in line with the Government's poverty reduction initiative and its efforts to expand access to basic vocational skills and education.
The project promotes the Government's Education for All initiative and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
It is worth noting that the nomadic population in Nigeria comprises some 9.4 million people. Of this population, over 3 million are school-aged children. Concerned about their very low school enrolment and literacy rates that range from barely 0.2 per cent to 20 per cent, several international development agencies, including the African Development Bank (AfDB), have been offering these children support. The AfDB-supported Nomadic Skills Training and Vocational Education Project (STVEP) located at Kilometre 26 near Kaduna in Kaduna State, is one transformational project in design and expected impact. Apart from the facilities at Kilometre 26, STVEP has nine other sites with an enrolment of 100 to 150 students.
Malam Ibrahima Yamta, Acting Executive Secretary of the Nigerian National Commission of Nomadic Education (NCNE), told the AfDB that, with this project, Nigeria and the Bank had embarked on a major socio-cultural journey that will affect millions of people in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Malam Yamta explained that the project will impart formal education to nomadic children while also helping to conserve their traditional way of life. The pupils will move from one school to the other, attending classes in a school for a few months at a time, and then moving on with their traditional groupings from one place to the next, where they attend another school in the system.
The AfDB Kilometre 26 Nomadic Centre Project has brought about a new reality. Now, the formerly educationally disadvantaged nomadic children not only learn the family pastoral trade, but they are also obtaining a vocational education. The advantages of integrating these nomadic peoples into the mainstream of Nigeria's education system are immense and cannot be overemphasized. The transition may not be easy but the AfDB and Nigeria are resolute in their determination to equip Nigeria's nomadic communities with formal education and know-how to enable them to contribute and compete favourably in Nigeria's socio-economic and political life.
The AfDB's Kilometre 26 Nomadic Centre Project has undertaken studies of the factors which in the past had handicapped the education of nomadic communities in Nigeria. Among others, these factors were identified as inadequate finance and under-funding, faulty school placement, unsuitable curricula, low pupil enrolment, the incessant migration of pupils, in addition to cultural and religious taboos. The studies helped the project to adopt more creative and innovative approaches to the education of nomadic children, including appropriate curricula, the selection of suitable teaching methods and the use of trained nomadic teachers, alongside the use of more efficient project monitoring and regular supervision. The project also uses materials suitable for nomadic children on the move, such as radios, as tools for instruction.
According to Yamta, the AfDB stepped in at the right time, bringing its experience to bear on the nomadic education system in Nigeria. The project components also include adult education services and vocational training that is raising the overall living standard of the rural community in Kaduna. The skills taught to the nomadic Fulani populations complement their day-to-day needs in sewing, trading and consumption.
At the Kaduna Km 26 project site, the pupils are taught sewing and how to produce dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurts, as well as mats. As a result, the project is bridging the literacy and skills gaps between the nomadic communities and the rest of society. Unlike previous nomadic schools, the AfDB-supported Km 26 Nomadic Centre project has solid structures with classrooms, workshops, libraries, teachers' quarters, water and electricity and latrines. It is responding to the Government of Nigeria's policy of using formal education as a means of upgrading the socio-economic condition of this rural population.
To date, with approximately 45 per cent of the overall physical implementation of the project underway, the nomadic communities served are happy with the project andconfident it would improve the access of their children to skills training and vocational education. Some of them requested that the Nigerian Government purchase lands surrounding the schools so the nomadic families are not forced to leave the temporary premises each night. The AfDB Office in Nigeria is following up on the proposal to ensure a holistic sedentary package for these nomadic communities.
Mensah Andoh Obed