When in 1927 – 92 years ago – the father of education in Northern Nigeria, Mr. E. L. Mort, built Teachers College Bauchi and, two years later, Teachers College Toro, he included in each a large hall that would serve as the dining rooms of the schools. These Dining Halls were a common feature of the schools designed throughout the region.
To Mr. Mort, the halls were big enough to contain all students of the school and in them he placed for each 4 or 6 students a dining table. Their food will be waiting for them on time. The bell will ring at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The students will fall in files and walk into the dining hall, with each going straight to his allocated permanent seat. A prayer is said, an announcement is made and go…the students clear their meals at once. All this is done within 30 minutes or less.
When I went to GSS Ganye in 1973, the dining hall culture was the same. But by the time I would start managing public schools in Bauchi State in 2000, there was not a single school with a functional dining hall. Students would queue at the kitchen like beggars, present their plates and served the handful meal they would be lucky to get – in the open. I had to reintroduce the dining hall culture in the three schools I managed then as it was in my student days at Ganye.
2019 – 20 years later – I am faced with the same problem. Students in all our boarding schools are served in the open, they eat in the open and in their rooms, which, to say the least, is unhygienic. To us, the old boys, it is appalling. That is why in the take off budget of our 23 Merit Secondary Schools, the MoE has included full dining hall furniture. Old habits die hard.
Food – the Sole Agenda
However, that expenditure is not just to serve a nostalgia. It is critical to the learning process of a child in boarding school. It allows for the smooth running of other school activities. Without the dining hall – food being so important to all of us – nothing will flow smoothly. Lessons will be late. There will be no afternoon siesta nor afternoon or night prep. All time will be spent on the queue for a food that itself will always be ready late coming. Without the dining hall and the students served at once, one can only be sure of few classes holding. Other activities, including studies, are forfeited. Food becomes the sole agenda of the child.
This is the painful reality that the MoE must live with for some months. But arrangements are made to draft NAFDAC into the equation to advise and train our food monitors (‘police’) on food hygiene. These ‘nemesis’ of some principals will all be graduates of science courses.
We are grateful to God Almighty that made us to successfully fulfill our pledge to students of General Hasan Unity College. When I addressed them that hungry Saturday evening, I promised them that never will they starve again. I declared persona non grata. That pledge is fulfilled today. Alhamdulillah. They now come out in droves, queue up, receive their food and eat to satisfaction.
After two days in satisfaction, the most obvious sign started to appear: Noise. The hostels are now so noisy that you can hear the students like bees from a distance, instead of the pitch silence of hunger before. This reminds me of the story of Caliph Umar and Abdulrahman bin Auf that night when they met a woman with her hungry children.
Sacking the Principal has sent the right signal to others. Last Wednesday, 14 boarding schools were visited at the same time , 11 am, for food inspection. Substantial improvements were seen, though in some schools there are still some worrisome gaps in quantity. Well, the monitors and ‘The Devil’ are coming. All forms of cheating will soon become history. We are just awaiting approval.
Let me finish this piece on a lighter note. The food monitor at General Hasan College overheard a senior student commenting on the new atmosphere of noise in the hostel area, saying:
“… Dole kuyi ta ihu a hostel. Ba kun koshi ba …”
“Yeah. You got to be noisy in hostel, now that you are full.”
Dr. Tilde is the Commissioner, Ministry of Education, Bauchi state.