Government schools in Abuja are turning away hundreds of students displaced by Boko Haram from northern Nigeria, denying them education on the grounds that they are unable to produce the appropriate documents they failed to grab as they fled the rampaging terrorists.
The FCT government secondary schools are demanding the originals of age declaration, birth certificate, testimonials, transfer certificate from the last school and junior school leaving certificate before the displaced students can be given admission.
Denied education, these students have resorted to odd jobs to fill their time and make ends meet. No papers, no education.
Back in December 2014, Jeremiah Andrew, 17, and many others ran to Abuja for safety, fleeing repeated Boko Haram attacks in the northeast states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
Jeremiah said he fled his village – Gwoza, Borno state – with his uncle when the terrorists attacked.
“When the attack started, we had to run and the only place we found was under a tree,” he said. “We stayed there for days, till we spotted a bus. I and my uncle ran to it and joined (the passengers) to Abuja.”
Jeremiah said he was in senior secondary school when they fled. He is now a carpenter in Waru, an Abuja suburb popular with displaced persons.
When he arrived Abuja, he tried to continue his education at the Apo Government Secondary School, but he was turned away by the authorities because he could not produce the documents the school demanded.
“I can’t go back to Gwoza to get those credentials,” he said. “Now I’m a carpenter. I make furniture.”
A displaced mother of seven, Mary Paul, has two of her kids out of secondary school due to the rejections. She told PREMIUM TIMES that the registrar at the Apo Government Secondary asked parents affected by the insurgency to go back to their states to get the credentials before their kids can be admitted.
“When we got to the school the registrar said I should go and get the original age declaration, birth certificate and junior school leaving certificate before they can admitted into the school,” she said.
“When we were all running for our dear life, when would we even remember to get documents? Some of us could not even carry our clothes let alone certificates.”
Mrs. Paul’s story cuts across many IDP camps in Abuja.
In Waru, many school age kids loiter around the community. The girls turn to hairdressing while the boys become Okada riders.
Rules are rules
PREMIUM TIMES visited three schools in the FCT – Government Secondary School, Apo resettlement, Junior Secondary School, Jikwoyi and Government Secondary School, Karu – and found the claims of the displaced persons to be true.
The documents demanded by the school authorities were indeed a prerequisite for any of the IDP students to be admitted into a class. That condition could not be waived, the schools said.
The vice principal in charge of admissions at the Government Secondary School Apo told PREMIUM TIMES that it was rather unfortunate that the IDPs were affected by the insurgency but they had to bring the “necessary’ documents”.
“They need to get the original of their birth certificate, junior leaving certificate, age declaration, testimonial, and transfer certificate, or they should go to court to get the papers,” the vice principal, who refused giving his name, said.
The Education Resource Centre in Abuja, in charge of all government secondary schools in the city, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES the decision to keep IDP students away from school is backed by the authorities and inspired by the government’s inability to differentiate IDPs from regular admission cheats.
“In a case where they cannot provide those documents, then we ask them go back to the state and get a letter from the Ministry of Education to give to us here, and based on that we give them the admission,” Ramatu Ibrahim, the director of the centre told PREMIUM TIMES.
She explained that the reasons for demanding such documents was because a lot of people have hidden under the umbrella of IDP to seek admission into government schools.
“Unfair and unfortunate”
Some members of the civil society have condemned the government embargo on school admission for kids who are willing to go to school after they were displaced by Boko Haram.
They blamed the government for the unfortunate attack by Boko Haram terrorists in the Northeast Nigeria, noting that the government had failed to provide security for its country.
Shola Okpodu, group managing director of School Hunters, told PREMIUM TIMES that the government is exposing the kids to grave danger by denying them education.
“Not giving them an opportunity to go to school simply means they may end up as miscreants, they may end up discouraged, this is like creating more thieves,” Mrs. Okpodu said. “I see no reason why those kids should be stopped from attending schools. Some of them, from my experience are going through depression. They are traumatised. So how do you expect them to go back to that same place they ran away from (to pick up documents).”
Mrs Okpodu argued that it was inconsiderate and unfair for the government to place such demands on the displaced school children.
A youth advocate, Samson Itodo, described the situation as “pathetic and unacceptable”.
He explained that if the children affected by the insurgency show interest in going to school and the government is giving them reason not to, then it should be condemned.
“If the government is asking them to go back to the state to get a letter from the Ministry of Education, are they willing to give them transportation fare?” he asked. “Will the government guarantee the safety of their lives?”
He argued that it was the government’s responsibility to identify each IDP and ensure they are properly attended to, rather than traumatise them.