The sky was blue and bright and the heat was biting as we drove into Hadejia - it used to be called Biram - in Jigawa State, northeast Nigeria, said to be one of the seven founding states of the Hausa Kingdoms.
We had learnt that many of today's elite in northern Nigeria had their formative education in Kofar Arewa Primary School located in the ancient town.
But driving into the premises of the school that sunny afternoon, one was shocked at the level of rot that has reduced one of the first centre of Western education in northern Nigeria to what looked like a goat pen. What with the weather-beaten walls, leaking roofs, broken ceilings, windows without louvers, doorposts without doors and floor with gullies and dust and sand.
From one block to another, the picture was the same: that of misery and abandonment inside and outside. It was difficult to believe children still came here to learn.
But the school had just closed for the day and pupils had retreated home. Only the headmaster and a few teachers were around.
Kofar Arewa Primary School was established by the British colonialists just before Nigeria attained Independence in 1960, making it the oldest in Hadejia Emirate Council in Hadejia Local Government Area.
But at the time we visited, we learnt that no fewer than 720 pupils sit on bare floor to study.
With a little over 920 pupils, the school, which should have a minimum of 30 teachers and three security men has only 20 teachers and a security guard.
The Headmaster, Mohammed Daniya, said many prominent men and women from the state passed through Kofar Arewa.
These include the Jigawa State Head of Service, Mohammed Tahir; serving Senator, Ubali Magama; and Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board, Salisu Zakar.
Mr. Daniya, however, lamented that the school had been let down by the many prominent men and women it produced over the years.
"We do not have seats for our teachers and pupils and that is why you find that all our pupils sit on the floor to learn. We have written to the authorities to urgently intervene and save our school from going further down," the headmaster said.
In Gwaram town, a teacher who gave his name simply as Musa (he declined to provide his surname for fear of being punished by authorities), said most primary and junior secondary schools in the area have no furniture, a fact PREMUM TIMES confirmed.
Popularly known as Saigodiya, Mr. Musa said the Government Day Secondary School, Gwaram, had been in a deplorable state for years.
With soaring enrollment resulting from the free and compulsory basic education programme introduced by the Sule Lamido administration, Musa said facilities in primary and junior secondary schools became overstretched and teachers overworked.
For instance, in the Government Day School, Gwaram, he said the junior secondary class one is divided into two streams with "A" stream having a total of 170 pupils and the "B" class 154.
"Our pupils were sitting on bare floor until the school authority and parents managed to buy mats which are spread on the dusty floor. Pupils here are lucky to sit on the mats to learn. The situation is worse in many places across the state," he told PREMIUM TIMES.
When it was impossible to accommodate one of the classes at the junior secondary wing, Musa said the principal got permission from the headmaster of the primary wing located on the same premises to use one of their classrooms.
Another indigene of the area, Shuaibu Ibrahim, corroborated what Musa told this newspaper.
He, however, blamed the Gwaram Local Government Area administration and indeed all local government leadership across the state for not doing anything to address some of the problems faced by their people.
"Once, our youth nearly lynched the local government chairman when he reported for work and since then, he has been going about with armed policemen," Mr. Ibrahim told PREMIUM TIMES.
"While they spent several millions to construct and furnish official quarters for local government chairmen across the state, none of them live in those houses.
"The millions of naira used in building each of the quarters could have bought furniture and renovated schools in every council area of the state."
In Miga Local Government Area, we saw pupils in Hantsu Primary School sit on the hard floor marked by dust and craters.
The school, which is said to have been established in 1976, had one of the best structures and furniture until successive administrations in the state failed to carry out basic repairs on the buildings and facilities.
With a population of 600 pupils, Hantsu Primary School has only six teachers including the head master and his deputy
In an interview, the Deputy Headmaster, Safuwan Hantsu, said the school has no toilet; a situation he said forced both staff and pupils to use nearby bushes for defeacation.
With three blocks of six classrooms available in the school, it was observed that only two classrooms have seats while pupils in the remaining four classrooms sit on bare floor to learn.
"We don't have tables and chairs for the teachers and as you can see, there are no seats for majority of the pupils," he lamented.
Due to the prevailing situation, he said many parents withdrew their children from public schools and registered them with private schools now multiplying all over the area.
In Kazura, Birniwa Local Government Area, where the roofs on the three blocks at the Government Primary School were intact, termites had eaten up the rafters, leaving the ceiling boards hanging loosely.
Only a few broken desks were found in two of the classrooms in the school.
Headmaster Muhammed Bulama said no fewer than 400 pupils sit on the crater-marked floor to learn while teachers perch on half-walls after lessons because there are no tables and chairs for them.
"This school was renovated in 2010 but as you can see, termites have eaten the wood and ceilings away," he told PREMIUM TIMES.
While appealing for help, he said, "Our pupils have been sitting on bare floor during the last three years and we have reported to the local authority but nothing has been done about it."
Another example of why Jigawa state occupies a prominent position at the bottom of education rating in the country is Takur Commercial School located behind the palatial Government House, Dutse, remained dilapidated.
With 5, 320 students in its junior and secondary wings, the school has 34 classrooms, only 15 of which have furniture. The school has only four functional toilets for its teeming pupils.
An official in the school, who asked not to be named for fear of being sanctioned, told PREMIUM TIMES that 2, 660 students sit on bare floor to learn.
The situation was the same in many schools across Dutse Metropolis where PREMIUM TIMES found dilapidated classrooms.
They include the Junior Secondary School and Central Primary School located in Sakawaya and Government Junior Secondary School, Fagoji- Dutse, among others.
Jigawa state was at the nadir of development indices in 2007 when Sule Lamido became governor after Ibrahim Turaki, also a member of his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, had ruled for eight years, beginning 1999.
According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, in 2007, Jigawa ranked worst among the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja on the Human Development Index.
During electioneering campaigns, Mr. Lamido promised to introduce sweeping economic reforms to reverse the situation.
During his own tenure, Mr. Turaki introduced what he called the Jigawa State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, J-SEEDS, purportedly to reduce poverty, create a conducive climate for investment and develop human resource. Those objectives were clearly never achieved.
Shortly after he was sworn in on May 29, 2007, Mr. Lamido set up a Public Financial Management Steering Committee to study how his predecessor utilised state funds, determine performance and recommend measures for improvement.
In its report, the committee validated the developmental rating of the state by the NBS.
For his role in allegedly impoverishing the people of his state, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is prosecuting Mr. Turaki for criminal conspiracy, stealing, money laundering and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N36 billion.
"We were at the lowest level with so many competing needs and when you come in and face such situation, how do you holistically address them," Mr. Lamido justified his approach in an interview with the PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Lamido's education scorecard
Two years after he assumed office, 2009 that is, only 2.5 percent of Jigawa indigenes scored at least five credits - including English and Mathematics - in the West African School Certificate Examinations, taken by senior secondary students in Nigeria and the West African subregion.
For a governor who won the seat promising reforms in education, what he ended up delivering was disappointed, residents said.
So, when the WAEC pass rate improved significantly to 10.5 percent in 2010, after the State Government allocated 17. 3 percent of the capital budget for education, the government went to town trumpeting that achievement.
In Dutse, the state capital, in 2011, a proud Babandi Gumel, the then commissioner for Information, Youth, Sports and Culture, announced that the government had offered scholarships to successful candidates to pursue further studies anywhere in the world.
In 2012, the high school pass rate rose to 33 percent, one of the highest ever recorded in the state's history.
While significant progress was recorded in terms of structures, furniture and academic performance at the senior secondary school level, the situation with basic education was anything but impressive.
In 2005, according to the World Data Atlas, Jigawa State had a total of 1683 primary schools. In 2006 that number rose to 1, 959 and to 2,114 in 2007; but declined to 1788 in 2008. No reason was given for the decline.
In 2005, the number of pupils was put at 576, 212; 384, 056 in 2006; in 2007 it was 487, 812 in 2007 and 398, 030, in 2008.
But in May this year when PREMIUM TIMES commenced this investigation, the elements had ravaged most primary and junior secondary schools in the state.
Where roofs were still atop school blocks, multiple streaks of sunlight filtered into empty classrooms from the gaping holes that dot corrugated iron sheets while damaged ceilings, dripping with bat dung hung precariously in many.
While schools remained dilapidated, with pupils sitting on bare floors to learn, authorities shelled out billions building new executive quarters and guest houses for local government chairmen in the state.
The Chairman of Birnin Kudu Local Government Area, Khaleed Ibrahim, told PREMIUM TIMES each of the 27 local government councils in the state has new quarters, consisting of a five-bedroom duplex, a guest house and Boys Quarters, and cost N108 million each, excluding furnishing.
Mr. Ibrahim also said two secretariat complexes with each costing N400 million have been built in two council areas in the state, namely Birnin Kudu and Gwaram.
Apart from the multi-million quarters and the new secretariat complexes embarked upon by the local government bosses, Mr. Ibrahim said the 27 council areas in the state have constructed and furnished guest houses in Dutse, the state capital.
The Permanent Secretary, Jigawa State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Abdulahi Hudu, said a lot of improvement were recorded after sMr. Lamido became governor, but that things soon deteriorated.
According to him, at the time the former governor came into office, a survey was conducted and the result showed over 70 percent of the infrastructure in primary schools were dilapidated.
"But from 2008 till date, a lot has happened and based on our annual school census, the level of dilapidation has reduced drastically.
"One of the factors responsible for the dilapidation of schools is the seasonal windstorm. This year alone, we received several reports of wind damages. The same thing happened last year and the previous years.
"From 2013 till date, not much has been done in terms of renovation. But before then, the state government had renovated over 779 schools out of 1996 primary schools, 446 junior secondary schools and 151 senior secondary schools."
Mr. Hudu said the government was unable to repair the schools because of the failure to access the UBEC intervention funds during the last three years.
Due to revenue shortfall from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC, he said the state was unable to contribute its counterpart funding for the UBEC funds.
Asked why many schools in the state do not have seats, he said, "I want to remind you that seats are breakable and have a life span. After some years, they have to be replaced because of the activities of children and wear and tear.
"But between 2013 and now, children in many schools have been sitting on bare floor and the issue has been raised over and over again.
"We were planning to purchase the seats in the 2015 budget but the funds were not available due to the dwindling allocation from the Federal Government. If we had had the funds, we would have bought the furniture for the schools. I agree with you that in majority of the schools, children are sitting on the floor."
But former Governor Lamido, who is being prosecuted by the EFCC for won't agree that he didn't keep his promise to reform education in the state.
"We raised the budgetary allocation to the extent that we even exceeded the UNESCO target of 25 percent," he said in an interview.
His explanation for the decay: "Again because of our terrain, by the time you reroof one primary school, the following year, the storm will come and remove the entire roof. So it was a continuous thing. No matter what you do, because the area is very windy, you find that most of the roofs will be blown off." Plan affected by plunder
Permanent Secretary Abdulahi Hudu insists schools in the state remained dilapidated largely because of paucity of fund to fix them.
But two immediate past governors of the state are being prosecuted for allegedly mismanaging billions belonging to the state, a development that appeared to strengthen argument that the education sector, like other sectors in the state, are being hurt by corruption.
While ex-Governor Saminu Turaki is standing trial for criminal conspiracy, stealing, money laundering and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N36 billion, his successor, Sule Lamido, is being prosecuted for allegedly receiving over a billion naira kickbacks from contractors in the state, with the funds allegedly paid into accounts managed by his sons.
Investigators and activists believe the funds could have been used to fix the state's broken education system, including building more classrooms, hiring more qualified teachers, procuring furniture so pupils stop sitting on bare floors, repairing leaky roofs, providing books and other instructional materials and feeding primary school pupils at least one a day.
"The media must tell the people what the amount politicians steal could do for them, how many schools with quality teachers and text books the funds could have provided and how many water projects could have been provided," said Olanrewaju Suraj, chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption. "The people must be made to understand how they have been surcharged by the so-called governors and political leaders rather than celebrating them. politicians who are found to have ripped off the people must be brought to justice."