(For six weeks, PREMIUM TIMES’ Oladeinde Olawoyin travelled to the riverine communities of Ese-ofin, Ojota and Egan-Oromi in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State to monitor the conditions under which pupils of St. Phillips Anglican Nursery/Primary School, Ese-Ofin, are being taught. With no functional toilet, tattered ceilings and an unfenced premise, our reporter documents the challenges of pupils in the school).
There was palpable discomfort written boldly on the faces of the pupils as offensive odour momentarily filtered into the classroom environment. In what appeared as their way of guiding against the putrid smell, some of them had their hands placed around their nostrils. This reporter, who was at the school, St. Phillips Anglican Nursery/Primary School, Ese-Ofin, observed an open space around the classroom windows, which serve as makeshift ‘toilet’ for pupils in the school. The offensive odour filtered in from the open space, pupils said.
“That is what we confront here sometimes,” a source at the school, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES under strict condition of anonymity, said.
“The open space behind the classroom is what serves as ‘toilet’ to pupils. They defecate there because there is no functional toilet. Although they try to monitor them so that the place can be kept clean, the offensive smell of faeces still come into the classrooms sometimes ––but not all the time.”
A pupil who introduced himself simply as Alaba confirmed the claim in a chat with PREMIUM TIMES, adding that other pupils prefer to go further into the bush to defecate.
“We don’t have toilet as the one we had broke down for long. The open space at the back of our windows is where we defecate. Many of us who are older prefer to go to the bush but the small ones do it here because it is safer,” 7-year-old Alaba said in Yoruba, pointing at a nearby bush located at a spot not far away from the open space that serves as ‘toilet’ for the pupils.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that although as the source claimed, the pupils made efforts to keep the makeshift toilet clean, there were still faeces on the floor of the open space, some of them covered with clay and sand.
“That act (of covering faeces with sand) is mostly done by the little children,” Alaba told our correspondent amidst laughter.
When PREMIUM TIMES raised the dangers of epidemic that could spring up due to the use of the ‘toilet’, the source who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES and the pupil dismissed such possibility, adding that the school had been operating the makeshift ‘toilet’ for a while.
“They have been using the ‘toilet’ like this for a long time. We try to keep it clean and hope that nothing bad happens to them (the pupils),” the school source, who declined to be named for fear of victimisation, said.
Earlier in March, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode lamented the state of infrastructure in public schools in Lagos, especially in riverine communities. He also promised that government would intervene in these schools.
“This year, a major intervention is also going to take place from our budget to see that at least let the existing schools even compete favourably with the private sector schools. That is the whole idea. I went to a public school and I must give back. Then, some of our riverine areas don’t really have schools. If you go to Ilashe and other places, there are no schools there and you see people taking canoes to go to school. So, that intervention is what we are also doing this year to see that there is continuous capital expenditure in public schools,” Mr. Ambode said.
But Mr. Ambode’s intervention might not have been effectively felt at St. Phillips Anglican Nursery/Primary School and the government may need to do more.
LEARNING UNDER TORN CEILINGS
Built in the middle a riverine community in Oto-Awori Local Council Development Area of Lagos state, St. Phillips Anglican Nursery/Primary School is ensconced in Ese-Ofin village, situated few kilometres up the Etegbin river in Ojo Local Government Area of the state. The school primarily serves Ese-Ofin village, including three other riverine communities in the area: Ojota, Egan-Oromi and some parts of Ishangira. But a few pupils also attend the school from Etegbin, a community located on the bank of the river.
Apart from the absence of functional toilet, which prompted many of the pupils to defecate near their classroom windows and in the thick bush behind the school, PREMIUM TIMES investigation also revealed that the ceilings in some of the classrooms had been eaten up by termites. There were also visible cracks on the wall of some other classrooms.
The school has one block of six classrooms which also serve as administrative building for academic and non-academic staff. The classrooms, PREMIUM TIMES gathered, still contain the pupils now. But there had been an increase in the population of pupils in recent time, raising fears that the classrooms might not contain them in a few years.
John Awesu, a resident of the area who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, said the community dwellers had complained to the government about lack of facilities in the school in the past. Mr. Awesu, who said he has a child in the school, explained that although there had been a few inspections by government officials, they yielded no result.
“We wrote them few years ago and they promised to inspect. I think there had been inspection but it has not translated into provision of facilities,” he said.
Sources in the community school also corroborated Mr. Awesu’s claim that there had been inspections. They, however, lamented that the inspections had yielded little or no result as pupils still lack some of the facilities they complained about.
UNFENCED, INSECURE SCHOOL PREMISES
Built on an expansive plot of land away from the river bank, villagers said passers-by and hoodlums have unfettered access to the community school because it is not fenced. Pupils and villagers who spoke to our correspondent explained that after closing hour, hoodlums often besiege their classrooms to smoke hemp and engage in illicit sexual affairs.
“We always lock the classroom doors with keys but they would break it open always and use the classes for their nefarious activities,” a source at the school explained.
“Some married men and women from communities in the mainland often come here to hide and engage in sexual acts with their concubines. We hear all sorts every time and we also see the signs once we come every morning.”
Although, the communities in the area are said to be peaceful, residents expressed concern about the porous nature of the school.
“The school is open and not secure. Pupils who are lazy sometimes sneak away from school too because there is no fence,” a parent, Ezekiel Ojelabi, told our correspondent. “Although our town is peaceful and there is no unrest, but this is not good for the security of the pupils,” he added.
Another villager who identified himself simply as Gafari explained that the lack of fence exposes the school property to theft and vandalisation.
INADEQUATE LEARNING MATERIAL
Sources at the school also complained of the pupils’ poor attitude to learning, a situation they said is compounded by inadequate learning materials. Although there are enough chairs and desks, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that many of the pupils do not have the necessary textbooks and notebooks needed for effective learning.
In a particular class surveyed by PREMIUM TIMES, many of the pupils do not have exercise books and no student in the class has any of the recommended textbooks.
“That’s one of the big challenges in riverine communities here. They are not ready to learn. In my class, some pupils have just two notebooks out of the basic ten they are expected to have. Nobody in this class has a textbook,” a school official who requested anonymity, said.
“The government, too, may need to come in in this area––some of the textbooks provided by government do not tally with the curriculum of the pupils.”
When interviewed by our correspondent, some of the pupils said their parents could not afford the notebooks and textbooks.
“My dad is a fisherman but he is trying his best,” a pupil who preferred to be identified as Tola, said.
Similarly, on one of PREMIUM TIMES’ visits to the community on a Friday, it was observed that the population of pupils in school was scanty as many of them were not in school.
“That is a peculiar case here: pupils barely come on Fridays. Even sometimes on a regular day, parents come to school during school hours to take away their wards for some flimsy excuse or the other,” Tola added.
Mr. Ojelabi, a parent and community dweller, confirmed the development. He explained that it is a peculiarity of the riverine communities as many of them still do not value education.
“Many of them prefer the children to go farming or go fishing on Fridays rather than go to school. They still largely do not value education but with continuous orientation, things are changing and things will change,” he added.
He also blamed the situation on the inefficiency of the School Based Management Committee, SBMC, in the riverine communities, adding that it is not as effective as the SBMC’s in other parts of the state.
When PREMIUM TIMES met with the Baale of Ese-ofin, Olusegun Alabi, he admitted that he was aware that the pupils defecate in the bush but said he wasn’t aware of any effort made to inform the government. He also attributed the lack of adequate learning materials to the economic situation faced by parents.
“I know the pupils defecate in the bush and it is dangerous, especially during rainy season when snakes and other reptiles can attack the pupils. But I am not sure the government is aware of this. More so, one can hardly meet our local council representatives for any help now because most of them would likely complain they just got to office,” he explained.
While lamenting the danger inherent in the pupils defecating in the bush, the traditional ruler expressed hope that the government would intervene and fix the challenges confronting the school.
INEFFECTIVE LOCAL REGULATORY BODIES
PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed that the School Based Management Committee, SBMC, is not operational. Efforts to speak with members of the committee were unsuccessful as sources at the school and community dwellers said the committee does not function.
“The SBMC in riverine communities are not always functional like other places; some are even non-existent,” a source at the school said.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT, Segun Raheem, he promised to get back to our correspondent. But nearly a week after the conversation, his number has remained switched off.
Similarly, efforts to speak with the local unit of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT, yielded no result. When PREMIUM TIMES visited the Ojo Local Government Secretariat, officials said the NUT at the local government level are concerned about teachers’ welfare and not state of school facilities.
LAGOS SUBEB REACTS
Efforts to get the reactions of officials at the Local Government Education Authority and the Oto-Awori Local Council Development Area, Ijanikin, on our findings were unsuccessful as they declined to speak on record. Similarly, at the Ojo Local Government Secretariat, our correspondent was directed to the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, as officials declined to speak.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Lagos SUBEB, Seyi Akintoye, the Public Affairs Officer of the board, said no school in the state was being neglected.
Mr. Akintoye also explained that government was making efforts to address the challenges of infrastructure in the basic primary schools in the state, adding that ‘it is receiving attention; but it is a process.’
He said: “Recently, the House of Reps committee (on Basic Education) commended Lagos state schools’ projects. There are not less than 1, 110 schools in Lagos so the government is not neglecting any school. It is a process that must be budgeted for. Every school is receiving attention.”
When told of PREMIUM TIMES’ findings showing the school had written several times and that there had been inspection yet nothing was done, the SUBEB spokesperson admitted that it might be due to administrative bureaucracy and government resolve to prioritise allocation of limited funds.
“The mere fact that inspections have been done shows that the government is not neglecting the school. We just released procurement details for construction and rehabilitation of classrooms in some schools recently; it is a process,” he explained.
On the unavailability and inadequacy of textbooks for most pupils as observed in the school, he said the situation might have been caused by the rising population of pupils in Lagos in recent years.
He noted that due to the insurgency in some parts of Nigeria, there have been increase in the number of people who settle in the state and the riverine communities are the easiest places for migrants to settle down. This, he suggested, might have resulted in population explosion and, consequently, inadequacy of learning materials. He, however, said the government would take it up and address that concern.
“We are doing excellently well and qualitative education in Lagos is compulsorily free,” he said.
The headmaster of the school declined to speak on the matter, saying he had received a circular not to grant press interview.
He, however, directed our correspondent to the Local Government Education Authority in Okokomaiko for possible interview with the Education Secretary.
EVASIVE MONITORING AUTHORITIES
When PREMIUM TIMES, again, visited the Local Government Education Authority in Okokomaiko, an official who declined to have her name published because she was not authorised to speak feigned ignorance of the state of infrastructure in the school.
The official also made mention of efforts made by government to renovate secondary schools in the neighbouring riverine communities as proof of government’s resolve to fix the schools. She added that the school might not have informed the government of its challenges.
When PREMIUM TIMES probed further for the LGEA’s official explanation on the findings, the personal assistant to the Education Secretary, ES, who simply identified himself as Mr. Ajibade told our correspondent that the ES was not available. He, however, rejected request to provide the ES’ phone number but offered to call our correspondent for interview later that day or the next day, a Tuesday.
The next day, Tuesday, he didn’t call. Neither did he send any message.
Again, PREMIUM TIMES visited the council the following day, a Wednesday, and officials said Mr. Ajibade was not available.
Two days after, a Friday, PREMIUM TIMES again visited the council and officials said both Mr. Ajibade and the Education Secretary were not in the office. More than two weeks after the visit, Mr. Ajibade is yet to revert to our reporter.
(This report is facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre For Investigative Journalism, WSCIJ, as part of its Regulators Monitoring Programme, REMOP, on education project).