The governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has secretly withdrawn his son, Abubakar Al-Sadiq from Kaduna Capital School after what many observers described as “political and media stunt” to give the impression that he is like any commoner.
While the enrolment of Al-Sadiq in the public school was greeted by massive commendation from all walks of life, the removal of the son was not made public, a development seen by many as “betrayal of public trust and confidence.”
It is not clear why the governor made a U-turn as some commentators said it could be due to the widespread abduction by kidnappers in public schools especially in Kaduna and neighbouring states, or pressure from family, or lack or doubts on the capacity of the government school to groom his son as what obtains in private schools.
People living around the school said they were disappointed that the governor had withdrawn his son few months after the child joined the children of poor and middle class citizens in the state to learn under one roof.
Many thought that the enrolment of his son would be a turning point for the public schools in Kaduna State.
“I am grossly disappointed because the whole enrolment episode looked deceptive,” said Ibrahim Yaro, a resident of Kaduna.
“Leaders should keep respect their words and the promises they take. After the governor has removed his son from the public school, he is now busy increasing fees and sacking teachers…I really don’t understand where he is heading to. Someone should talk to him, please,” he said.
There was no immediate response from the Kaduna state government.
The enrollment day
When Malam El-Rufai strode like a colossus in the company of his wife, Ummi, into Kaduna Capital School in 2019 and enrolled their six-year-old son, Al-Sadiq El-Rufai, in fulfilment of his campaign promise to send his son to a public school, many Nigerians had perceived his action as bold and exemplary and a people-oriented governor that was on track to revolutionize public education in the state.
They viewed it as a validation that he was not only a man of his words, but the messiah that would return the lost glory of public schools in Kaduna State and give them an edge over private schools.
The Kaduna Capital School is reputed as one of northern Nigeria’s oldest government schools.
Seven months later when Daily Trust Saturday visited the school, it gathered that the young El-Rufai, then a student of Primary 2B, had made new friends and adapted to the environment and his teachers. A security guard had been attached to him, while other security guards were strategically positioned around the school premises to provide security.
At that time, the presence of Al-Sadiq El-Rufai in the school gave many parents whose children attend public schools hope that public schools are also good for their children. They had also thought that there were better days ahead for public schools in the state.
However, Daily Trust gathered that the governor has ‘secretly’ withdrawn his son from the school and enrolled him in an undisclosed school, leaving residents’ tongues wagging over his action.
Our correspondent also learnt that the boy was withdrawn shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown which eventuated in closure of schools. But when the lockdown was lifted and students returned to school, Al-Sadiq did not return.
Some residents who expressed disgust at the abrupt withdrawal of the boy from the school, with diverse figments of imagination which border on insecurity and poor facilities, told Daily Trust that his action was not only a propaganda to score a political point and betrayal of people’s trust but also a breach of accountability on his part and administration.
A human rights activist and Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, described the governor’s action as a betrayal of public trust and failure of his government.
“The governor must also not forget that as the leader of the state, he is a father figure to all the other children in the public school system especially those that don’t have alternative.
“To simply take his own child out of the school system for whatever reasons, while the children of the poor and vulnerable ordinary citizen are left to face those same challenges, does not show transparency and accountability,” Zikirullahi said.
He said while he could not speculate on the reason for the withdrawal, the action in itself was a serious indication of lack of confidence in the public education system.
He added that like every other good parent, the governor was apparently trying to shield his son from being affected by challenges about which he has privileged information as the helmsman of the state.
He added that if the governor had derived political capital and received adulation for publicly enrolling his son in the school system, the people of Kaduna State deserve an explanation which would enable them make decisions concerning their own children too.
“If the challenge which informed the withdrawal of the governor’s son has to do with security, the question is that, are the children of other citizens less deserving of protection? Are their parents not entitled to information to help decide the fate of their own kids?”
The CHRICED boss said that if the challenge had to do with the standard of education, one would expect that the right step would be to find ways to fix the problem and that it is defeatist to simply take the child out of the system.
“The appropriate thing to do is to judiciously use public resources to address the issues of standard and quality, which have made public education unattractive for many citizens,” he said.
He added that Governor El-Rufai’s action amounted to questioning his own legacy on education for him to surreptitiously withdraw his son.
In 2019, the governor assured that the enrolment of his son in a public school would encourage other members of his cabinet as well as privileged individuals to toe his path as further example to make public schools more attractive and competitive than private schools.
The governor also assured of his readiness to fix public schools and raise their standards which would render private schools a mere luxury.
‘The boy is no longer with us’
During our correspondent’s visit to the school when the boy’s withdrawal was confirmed, one of the teachers said: “We used to see him when he was newly enrolled in the school last year, but we no longer saw him after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted late last year and we don’t know why.”
The acting Vice Principal of the school, Jafaru Abdu, however, said that he was not authorized to speak with journalists on any issue.
Conceived a little over 60 years ago by the first and only Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Kaduna Capital School was established to provide top quality primary education for the children of top-ranking government officials from northern Nigeria while their parents attended to matters of governance in Lagos.
However, the fortunes of the school dwindled and El-Rufai’s controversial reform in the education sector backed by his decision to enrol his own child in a public school was seen as the turning point for public education in the state.
Insinuations of insecurity as reason for the withdrawal of the boy can be confirmed by the school’s poor infrastructure. Our correspondent observed that though there are new blocks of classrooms and other structures in the school, the perimeter fence has since been pulled down to make way for a standard double lane in the Malali area which is waiting to be tarred. With the parameter fence from behind the school also down, residents say it could be the reason the governor moved his son to another for fear of insecurity.
Our correspondent observed pupils playing football while strangers freely took advantage of the lack of fence to gain access to the school.
The state government has kept mum over the governor’s decision to renege on his promise by withdrawing his son from the school.
Several calls to the governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Muyiwa Adekeye, to confirm the withdraw the child from the school were to no avail as he neither pick his calls nor reply the several text messages sent to him.
Kaduna State had witnessed school invasions by kidnappers who abducted students and demanded huge sums of money as ransom.
El-Rufai had earlier made a controversial statements that he would never pay ransom even if any of his children got abducted by kidnappers.
“Perhaps, that is the reason he withdrew his son from the school,” said a parent who expressed disappointment that the governor had failed in his promise.
“Our own children go to public schools and we expect that the government uses the power vested in them by the Nigerian constitution to protect them. But our leaders are selfish and would not put their own children in harm’s way,” she said.
Comrade Murtala Abubakar, a Kaduna resident, said that he was not surprised that the governor withdrew his son from the school saying the enrolment in the first place was purely political.
“The governor had to be pressured to even fulfil the promise he made during his political campaign. If you remember, the school had to undergo a renovation just for it to meet a particular standard before the boy was enrolled. But later on, we discovered that the boy was no longer going to the school,” he said.
Abubakar said that now that El-Rufai had made his point and won the hearts of the people, it was disappointing that he had secretly turned around to withdraw his son without any logical explanation to residents.
Another resident, Comrade Rilwan Abdullahi described the enrolment of the governor’s son as deceitful. He added that his decision to enrol the boy in public school was a propaganda to enjoy political support.
“It is high time the masses came to their senses. They shouldn’t allow politicians take them for granted by using such a strategy to get their support and in the end, dump them. It’s also high time political elites stopped playing with the masses’ emotions,” Abdullahi said.