Kabiru Nuhu Koko is the president-general of Unity Schools Old Students Association, (The Pro-Unitate) (USOSA). In this interview with Ruth Choji and Binta AbdulAziz, the banker stated that most unity schools are in a state of decay. He also declared total war on anyone who wants them abolished.
What is the state of unity schools in the country now?
The state of unity schools is beginning to improve as a result of advocacy from USOSA and other organizations. Resources are being channeled into the schools especially resources from federal government and private organizations; even private individuals have been contributing to the development of the schools.
Organizations like central bank, federal revenue services, CHEVRON, SHELL and the rest have all been doing a lot to help revive unity schools. I was pleasantly surprised last month when I went to Lagos and was discussing with a lady who didn’t even know that I was from USOSA. She was telling me that people are now clamoring to send their children to unity schools because they heard the schools are getting better.
What is the standard of the colleges at the moment?
At the moment, the colleges are in dire need of repairs. The walls are peeling, no windows in most classrooms, no doors, toilets are completely broken down and no water supply. If you go to the classrooms, all the furniture has been broken. The ceilings have collapsed while some are leaking. The laboratories have broken down equipment. So we need a lot of work.
But we are happy that the Jonathan government is doing a lot through the minister of state for education, Barr Wike. He is very passionate about unity schools and he is doing a lot. For instance this year, he is going to renovate fifteen of the schools and he has promised to recruit two thousand teachers.
When you go to some schools, they don’t have Mathematics teachers. The principals will have to arrange with youth corps members or somebody around the locality to come and teach children Mathematics. So the minister has directed for the employment of two thousand teachers that will teach English, Mathematics and Sciences.
Are the unity schools still under privatization?
No. You know the privatization idea came up during Obasanjo government and old students fought against it because if they are privatized they cease to be unity schools. If you sell it to any individual, he will set criteria for enrollment.
But as unity schools, their enrollment is based on quota system so that when you get to a classroom, you must find a child from every one of the thirty-six states of the federation. During our time, that was what we did. Today I have a brother in every part of Nigeria. You see, it is difficult to preach unity to adults.
But when you bring children together, they grow up to appreciate each other. I am a Muslim, but there is nothing you will tell me about Christians that will change my perception about them. We don’t want that unity to be eroded and that was what the government of Obasanjo tried to do. He has always been antagonistic about unity schools right from 1977 when he was head of state.
He wanted to close down the schools because he felt they were elitist. But these schools are not elitist; the intake depends on your performance as a child in the common entrance. If a child does well, whether he is the son of a farmer or minister, he will be enrolled. I always want to use one of my friends as an example. He was a cattle rarer. His father will send him with milk to give a policeman who developed interest in him because he saw how intelligent the boy was and he wasn’t in school.
The police commissioner went to his father and told him that he wants to put to boy in school. The father agreed and the policeman enrolled him in primary school and at the common entrance, the boy performed brilliantly well and was sent to a federal government college.
The state gave him scholarship and today he is the most successful water engineer in the entire north. So the unity schools are not elitist in that regard. They are schools that give equal opportunities to all children that are brilliant.
Who are the owners of the unity colleges at the moment?
The ownership is still with the federal government.
With the current decay of infrastructures in the schools, would you subscribe to their being privatized?
I will not subscribe to that. If you privatize them, they cease to be unity schools because the private owners will determine who and who to enroll. Some can decide to change it to religious schools.
These are schools that are not biased to religion. When you are there, you will be free to practice your religion but you were not admitted based on your religious affinity.
Can you compare the unity of now and what it used to be in your days?
It is the same problem with everything that Nigeria neglects. Government neglected every aspect of our public life including education and security and we are suffering it today.
In those days, inspection officers were sent to monitor the activities of the schools and take note of things that needed to be done. Hey now change it that government will be issue out contract for the repairs of the schools.
Are there ways that unity schools can be revived to meet up world standard?
That is what we have been advocating for. We do a lot of advocacy and it is yielding lots of results. We have been talking to big organizations that have social responsibilities to their host communities. We want to appeal to them to channel these resources to unity schools because if you do anything for the unity school, you are doing it for the whole nation.
But if you do a project in a state owned school, you are only doing it to that state. The policy of admission that was once discarded has now been revived by the federal government so that children will be taken from different states to go and learn the life and culture of other people. The NYSC that was started by Gen. Yakubu Gowon was copied from the system of the unity schools. After the civil war, Gen Gowon created twelve states and he went round the states.
When he got to Sokoto, he visited a unity school and twelve children, all in Indian file greeted him in their dialect including the Igbo language which was involved in the war. He was moved and decided that, every state must have a government college.
A year later, the northerners complained that they don’t want their daughters to school with boys and later, girls’ school was established in every state. He also decided that the unity of the country must be secured and that was how he came about the NYSC in 1973.
He wanted Nigerians to know and understand each other at all levels and he decided to start with the youths. That is to tell you how important unity schools are and we are ready to fight anybody that will want unity schools to be abolished.