This brief ‘easy-to-read’ work of 31 pages and five chapters, examines a common event in the rural and semi-rural parts of Nigeria – the use of school pupils to work on the farms or gardens of headmasters or their teachers, even during official school hours when they should be learning.
To an extent this culture is approved by the community, and it is seen as a way of rewarding the teacher or the headmaster for carefully bringing up the children and showing them the way forward. Children – in many cases – are happy to go along and weed or clear the farms, usually to the accompaniment of some music.
The story here is a simple one: Children in a dilapidated school in Ganagana town are regularly marched off to work in the headmaster’s farm. The unhappy children organise a revolt against this practice, the headmaster is sacked, and the children rewarded.
Yakubu and Chukwudi are the lead characters who begin to reflect on their regular work on the headmaster’s farm. They are disgusted with this daily routine, and mobilise their fellow pupils to bring an end to the growing culture, which helps to reposition the school.
It is revealing that the pupils are the ones who help to reposition the school, rather than somebody in the school leadership. The rebellion succeeds. There may be a subtle message here to the young ones.
From time to time the lead characters begin to reason like adults, and this, in contrast, raises them above their teachers who are supposed to guide and look after them.
An example of this capacity to reason like adults, is the moment where Yakubu exclaims ‘You mean it doesn’t bother you that we are not getting quality education in this garbage school?’
In the work the teachers are rather stiff and wooden, and mainly give commands or orders. They are seen asking children to proceed to the farm, or giving commands on the farm. There is not much that is edifying about them, and this raises the status of the children.
Paradoxically, the brief mention of Sheikh Dabo has more life and energy, than the combined presentation of the teachers and the headmaster. Dabo is a permanent living background to the story, a background which pops up from time to time, whenever the name of the school is mentioned.
There are some striking points made in the work. One of these is the dilapidated state of the school and there are similar schools in the country today. Thus there are many Dabo Primary Schools all over Nigeria today.
Ismaila writes ‘The school had seen better days. Presently, the heavily built block of classrooms had worn out. They are now dilapidated due to neglect. Its wooden windows and doors were no longer there. The zincs were all covered with rust.’ Many readers can connect to this very familiar description. The author describes a school or a situation badly in need of reform or ennoblement, and this change comes towards the end of the story.
Early in the work it is mentioned that the school is named after Sheikh Dabo, a famous Islamic scholar who first carried out Islamic activities in the Lapai Emirate. Dabo itself is symbolic of reform, growth and development, and this presupposes that the change and development will come to the school.
Published by Kraftgriots The Garbage School which is helped with many colourful illustrations, will appeal to young readers in rural parts who will see their lives richly mirrored in parts of the story. Finally, garbage school illustrates the state of disrepair and rot afflicting parts of the educational system in Nigeria today.
The work gives promise that the situation is not a fixed one and can be reversed.
Abdullahi Ismaila is the Director of Communications and Liaison at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).