….The story of Zaria Academy
The wide educational disparities between Nigeria’s northern and southern regions had been a source of worry for Dr Haroun Adamu, an accomplished educationist from Bauchi state and many of his enlightened kinsmen for a long time. At various fora spanning several decades, where he had had the opportunity to speak, Adamu had consistently reminded the federal government and particularly northern governors of the need to embark on a renaissance in education, to reverse this trend.
In his book titled, The North and Nigerian Unity, first published in 1973 and revised in 2000, Adamu vigorously discussed these disparities with empirical evidence. More importantly, he courageously underscored the significance the religion of Islam attaches to education in general and the education of women in particular.
In linking Islam to education, Adamu sought to disprove the notion that Islam abhours ‘western education’ and through informed analysis, brought out specific instances where Islam had encouraged Muslims to seek knowledge. Besides, he drew attention to statements by renowned Islamic scholars that also encouraged the education of women.
Having attended some of the best world institutions, including Yale, one of the Ivy-League Universities in the United States, Adamu decided to Walk the Talk when, in 1998, he established Zaria Academy. “I decided to show an example,” he told the magazine, when asked what informed his decision to establish a school.
According to the academy’s first Principal, Mr. Rueben Nyikwagh, one of the objectives for establishing the school was to “bring children together from all parts of Nigeria in particular and from all over the world at large.”
In an interview he granted Zaria Academicals, the school’s newsletter dated July 2000, Nyikwagh said another objective was to “create a very fertile breeding ground for true scholarship, true socio-cultural integration and assimilation among the young people, who we firmly believe will take over the reins of leadership of this country in the near future.”
In addition, the pioneer principal explained then that the school was also committed to equipping its students with boundless education “that will rid them of socio-cultural and religions prejudices (and) any resentment or prejudice against fellow men, no matter the differences in faith, creed, ethnicity of other things.”
Planted on a serene, large expanse of land, Zaria Academy lies along Funtua road in the ancient Zaria city, in Kaduna state, sharing its boundary with the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and the institution’s teaching hospital.
From its humble beginnings in 1998 with only 93 boys, a single block of three classrooms and five teachers, the school has enjoyed a steady growth, expanding in 2009 to a co-educational status, and admitting girls for the first time.
Today, the academy, which has so far graduated 12 sets, also has over 400 fully resident students (boys and girls) and more than 70 graduate teachers, 90 percent of who have post-graduate degrees. The initial three classrooms have also increased to 35. There are special science classes, physics, chemistry and biology laboratories, and an ultra-modern Information and Communication Technology (ICT) building, which serves on the side, as a centre for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), organized yearly by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). The magazine was informed that JAMB recently rated the centre as the overall best in Kaduna state.
Among other resources, the school also has a standard library, a kitchen, an examination hall and a multipurpose theatre. A magnificent hostel for girls, with air-conditioners and meticulously ringed with a perimeter fence of its own, is waiting for potential female students. Billionaire businessman, Dr Mike Adenuga donated the facility, which was named after his mother.
The boys are also living their academic dreams with their separate deluxe hostel, fitted with excellent amenities. Apart from a 350 KVA generating set donated by Deux Projects Limited to provide an alternative source of electricity for the entire school, the school management also acquired a dedicated Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) line to ensure 24-hour supply of electricity. It provides its surrounding communities with electricity under its corporate social responsibility scheme.
On how well science is taught at the school, the Principal, Mr. Ungbo Gideon Wuyahku told The Intellectual that the academy adopted the hands-on approach. He said: “Our qualified teachers ensure that the students learn science through the practical approach, using materials that are familiar to the environment through projects, class discussions, field trips and experimental methods.”
On the students’ performance in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), the principal said it had been on an upward swing. “Over the years, Zaria Academy has fared very well in the WASSCE, in which the average global performance of students in all subjects has been on the increase, but not less than 93 percent.”
With regard to the UTME, on the average, “90 percent of our students normally gain admission into tertiary institutions every year,” he affirmed. “Concerning our ex-students that graduated between 2004 and 2010, most of them have finished their Master’s degree programmes in their various chosen careers.”
The academy also has a good report card to show for its extra-curricula activities. According to the principal, sports are organized to improve healthy competition among the students. They undertake monthly cross-country trips and are allowed to form clubs and societies under the guidance of patrons and matrons.
Besides, the school organizes cultural exhibitions, technological/robotics programmes, a mandatory Citizenship and Leadership training programme and Quranic Recitation for Muslim students (not compulsory for Christian students) regularly. The academy has also won a number of state and national competitions.
Another advantage that the academy has over many secondary schools across the country is the UCMAS Mental Arithmetic programme it runs, courtesy of its proprietor, who secured a franchise for it. The UCMAS Education Group, established by Prof. Dino Wong, is based in Malaysia and makes use of the abacus to train and develop the brain.
The abacus, which the Chinese have used for calculations in the last 5,000 years, enhances the capacity of both the right and left sides of the brain. Adamu sent some of the school’s teachers for special training and they are now responsible for teaching the students.
Interestingly, not all the students pay fees. The proprietor put special scholarship schemes in place for both brilliant students and those in need. One of the success stories in this regard is the case of Hussaini Salisu Musa, who was awarded full scholarship in 2006 and graduated in 2012. Musa was reported to have constructed a radio transmitting facility in his native Bunkore town in Kano state, from where he and his team were broadcasting programmes. When Adamu heard about him, Musa was invited and given a full scholarship. He is currently a final year Electronics Engineering undergraduate at Bayero University, Kano.
On moral discipline, the school has plenty of measures in place. The principal explained: “The school has a zero tolerance for indiscipline. Therefore, erring students are usually punished and handed over to the school Counselling Unit to be given good guidance and counselling as well as mentoring by qualified and competent staff of the Academy.”
On how the perceived insecurity, especially the Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country had affected enrolment figures at the college, Wuyahku admitted that the general feeling of insecurity had had a negative impact on the school. Although, the academy has never had its security arrangements breached since its establishment, the principal said: “The insecurity that has trailed the insurgency and the last presidential election has actually affected our admission figures, especially since 2011 negatively. The fear of parents in taking their wards to boarding schools has grown in proportion, even as many parents of northern origins are also withdrawing their wards, thus reducing the admission figures.
“But in the light of such reality, Zaria Academy has taken other proactive measures, with the help of God and the immediate community, to build assuring security network and services.”
However, both the head girl and head boy told the magazine that their school was adequately secured. Miss Khadijah Tukur, the head girl confidently described the security measures put in place as superb.
She explained that when she first got to the campus about five years ago, she was worried like every other student about safety. But in the last five years, she averred, “there hasn’t been any breach of security in my school.” She affirmed that male students are not allowed near the female hostel at any time. The only interaction between both sexes is limited to classroom activities.
According to her, students also do not need to go out of the campus for anything as everything the students need is provided in-house. She said: “I want to assure parents that they should not be afraid of sending their daughters to Zaria Academy. Adequate security measures are in place here.”
Corroborating Tukur’s submission, the head boy, Muhammad Hammawa said the school management accords safety of staff and students priority attention. According to him, should any student sneak out of the campus, “that student will be apprehended within five minutes because of the security measures both within and outside the school.”
He said he had never witnessed any negative security situation since he was admitted as a student. “We feel very safe here. We don’t have any problem,” he assured.