Nigerian villages, abandoned by govt, hack trees to produce school desks

Pupils carrying the new desks into classrooms (1)
Pupils carrying the new desks into classrooms

Three communities in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria’s South-south, resorted to hacking down big trees to produce desks for their local school, after failing to get help from the government.

There has never been a single school desk for more than three years in the state government-owned primary school, Obio Abasi Itok, Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, the communities’ leaders said.

The 600 pupils in the school have been sitting on the bare floor to take lessons.

The school caters for the educational need of three neighbouring villages – Ikot Itok, Ikot Abasi Ebin, and Obio Aduang.

The people from the communities, worried about the poor situation in their only school, sought help from local authorities. But the help did not come.

And then a new headteacher in the school, Edet Usanga, offered some suggestions they considered attractive.

“The executive councils of the three villages met with the school headteacher to see how we could collectively intervene and bring succour to our children, who have been attending school and have had to sit on the bare floor to be taught,” Anietie James, the village head of Ikot Itok, wrote on Facebook, in July.

“On our own, we would not have been able to raise the required amount to meet up with this challenge so we made frantic efforts to meet with our council chairman for support but failed since we couldn’t reach him on phone and text (message) sent did not elicit a response.

“On a subsequent meeting, the new headteacher suggested something that we adopted and implemented because waiting for the government (for everything) didn’t work.

“We hacked three tall trees of hardwood to make 30 dual desks for the pupils.

“Each village was then asked to contribute N7, 000 each for the carpenters’ labour. Each of the three carpenters engaged is from each of the three sister villages and their work was largely a sacrificial service to the children,” Mr James said.

There was so much joy in the three communities when the new desks were delivered to the school.

Even the pupils happily helped to carry the new desks into their classrooms.

The school still needs about 200 desks. Also, one of the oldest buildings in the school needs some renovations to fix its broken walls and leaking roof.

The villagers did not stop there; they were now concerned about how to replace the hacked trees.

On a later date, the people went on and bought the seedlings – seven of them – at subsidised rates from the forestry department of the state government, and with a brief and joyful ceremony, they planted new trees in their communities.

An environmental group, Sofer Initiative, was invited to talk to the pupils and the community residents about climate change and the importance of tree-planting.

“Our target was to see how the communities could plant up to 1,000 trees, but the department of forestry couldn’t give out trees because they said they are not being funded by the government, they said they were no longer getting subventions from the Akwa Ibom state government,” Emmanuel Sofa, the head of the environment group, told PREMIUM TIMES.

“It’s not a problem if you cut down a tree; if you fell one tree, you should plan to replace it with two or more trees,” Mr Sofa said. “It was necessary for the communities to build school desks for the pupils.”

The forestry officer in the local government area, Kufre-obong Okon, who was there to witness the tree-planting ceremony, told PREMIUM TIMES it was the first time she saw a people exhibit such consciousness in the state.

“It has not been done before,” she said. “I was so happy, and I hope other people can copy from them.”

She said, “We are trying to create awareness to encourage people in Akwa Ibom to plant trees because we may not have trees anymore in the future with the rate at which people are cutting down trees.”

The village head of Ikot Itok, Mr James, told PREMIUM TIMES Akwa Ibom was fast running out of palm trees from where they get palm wine.

“The state government has not invested in forestry for the past 10 years when the tree planting exercise stopped.

“The funds that are needed to maintain the state tree nursery have not been available for all this time. To plant trees people have to buy seedlings from private farms, whereas the government nursery would have provided the seedlings at no cost or highly subsidised,” Mr James said.

The heads of the other two villages expressed sadness that the state government has left their only school to rot away.

The school’s headteacher, Mr Usanga, said he was happy the three communities were united in solving the challenge of the school.

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted a councillor in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, Nkereuwem Udom, under whose constituency the school is located, he said the local government council lacks the funds to execute a number of community projects.

“I was a pupil in that school, so I’m very much aware of the sad situation of the school, but unfortunately the local government council doesn’t have money to do any project,” Mr Udom said.

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