The pupils hurriedly picked up their respective belongings as sounds of the assembly bell echoed from a distance. They had walked about two kilometres from Olowojeunjeje axis, through the Ikotun-Igando road, in order to arrive at school early. Amidst the sweat, they trudged along the dusty roads, their bags suspended behind them. Time was 7:49 a.m. and these kids would no longer entertain any more questions from this reporter.
Moments earlier, they had poured out their minds on the travails of coming to school from relatively far homes in that part of Nigeria’s most populous city, Lagos.
“It is very frustrating,” began Afeez, the eldest of the group who spoke gently in Yoruba, his words punctuated with a few English sentences. “We wake up very early just so we don’t come to school late. If you come late, you know, you will get punished. But it’s not easy at all.”
Another pupil, 9-year-old Abraham Ajose, told PREMIUM TIMES that the effect of coming to school from faraway places is that they are hardly productive during school hours as they have to battle sleep.
“Many of my friends struggle not to sleep in class,” he said, amidst laughter. “The problem is that we sleep sometimes, because we always have to wake up very, very early so that we can get to school on time. By the time we get to school, we would have become tired and exhausted. So we sleep.”
Afeez, Abraham and their colleagues are pupils of Local Government Primary School, Igando, Lagos State. The school is located in Alimosho Local Government Area, one of the most populous in the country. But due to inadequate public schools in the state, Afeez and his friends walk long distances to school from their homes in Olowojeunjeje area, a few metres away from the LASU-Iyana-Ipaja Expressway.
“This is like the closest school to our house,” Abraham explained. “The other one is Egan Primary School and it is far from us.”
Afeez and his colleagues are, however, not alone in their travails. PREMIUM TIMES investigations across major parts of the state have shown that Lagos basic primary and junior secondary schools are becoming increasingly inadequate amidst rapidly ballooning population.
Findings in places like Yaba, Ajah, Badagry, Ijaiye/Ojokoro, Lagos Island and Alimoso showed that facilities meant for basic education are shrinking while the population keeps increasing.
Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, is a port city in Southern Nigeria. According to the 2006 census conducted by the National Population Commission (NPC), Lagos has a population of over nine million, of a national estimate of 150 million. The state government then disputed the census figures, saying the actual population was almost double that figure. By 2016, the population was estimated at about 21 million, which makes it the largest city in Africa. The city has since grown, with informal projections putting the population at about 23 million in 2018.
The city – located in the southwest of Nigeria – covers an immense area pegged at 1,171.28 square kilometers (452.23 square miles). With the population continuing to grow, the density is now around 6,871 residents per square kilometer (17,800 per square mile).
Public education in Lagos State is as relatively underfunded as elsewhere across Nigeria, as it accounts for approximately less than 13 percent of total budgetary appropriations. In 2018, the government pegged its allocation to education at N126.3 billion, representing 12.07 percent of its budget for the year.
However, due to population density, demand for education is high in the state. In the same vein, the population growth has put pressure on the available educational facilities in the state. According to the World Bank 2018 projection, Nigeria’s population growth was put at 2.8 percent per year.
In 2018, a research paper on Lagos finances published by civic advocacy group, BudgIT, claimed that the current demographic trend analysis puts Lagos’ population growth rate at 8 percent which has resulted in its harbouring 36.8 per cent (an estimated 49.8 million) of Nigeria’s 150 million urban dwellers.
With high student attendance levels, there has been a significant growth in the number of private schools in Lagos State over the past two decades. Experts say the increase is particularly seen at the primary level, where most poor children are enrolled in private schools, due to the lack of public schools in poor neighborhoods and slums. This engenders inequality, even as the private schools many times offer better infrastructure and more conducive learning environment through lower student-teacher ratios
There are also cases of inadequacies in the learning environment, reflected in poor infrastructure, overcrowding, scarce learning materials and insufficient availability of schools (in most cases, public) to meet growing demand.
According to a World Bank research paper on education in Ajeromi Ifelodun area—one of Lagos’ most densely populated area — sustained population growth, high population density, and a severe undersupply of public education services in the area have led to a substantial increase in the supply of private schools there. In the local government, the population growth has created rapidly increasing demand for education services that have not been met by government supply.
In 2006 for instance, data showed that there were 74 public primary schools in Ajeromi-Ifelodun among the 1,045 public primary schools in Lagos State. In that year, the population to primary school ratio was 16,797:1 in Lagos State and 19,395:1 in Ajeromi-Ifelodun. In 2011, there were 34,707 pupils in public schools in the local government area, with 94,099 students attending private schools.
The school survey for Lagos, prepared by the World Bank with support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), found 726 schools with 94,099 enrolled students in pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education.
Approximately 91 percent of preprimary, primary, and secondary schools in the local government area were non-state schools, it said. Among these schools, 85 per cent were owned and operated as private businesses. The World Bank data affirmed that in the absence of supply of public schools, private providers have entered the market to meet increasing demand for education services by parents and students. Data from the school census in Ajeromi Ifelodun provide evidence of a robust supply-side response by the private sector. Based on school census information, in 1964 there were 49 private schools operating in Ajeromi-Ifelodun, by early 2014 there were 726 total private schools providing education services.
The government-owned schools, however, have remained within the same number.
While PREMIUM TIMES month-long effort to obtain data for other local governments in the state were unsuccessful, this newspaper’s investigation has shown that the situation may not be different in other local governments across the state. While the population increases significantly, there has been no significant increase in the number of government-owned schools.
Balooning population, shrinking infrastructure
In Lagos Island, PREMIUM TIMES found that the primary school at the Ereko neighborhood, Ereko Methodist Primary School, was overcrowded. Tayo, one of the pupils who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, confessed that they often struggle to learn due to the condition of the environment.
“There are private schools here in Ereko and Idumota but our parents cannot afford it,” the 8-year-old said in stuttering English. Inside the school premises stood a two-storey building in decrepit condition.
At the Local Government Primary School, Igando, under Alimoso Local Government, the most visible and relatively new structure provided was a structure built from a 2006 intervention. They are two sets of USAID-funded renovation project, now in ageing condition. Another long stretch of abandoned building also occupied the premises. Although the school was founded in 1953, it remains the only public primary school serving residents of the Oba Palace axis in Igando area of Alimosho Local Government.
In the absence of government-owned schools, private schools have emerged.
“My kids attend Merit Private School, somewhere behind us here in Igando,” said a parent, Gbadamosi Khadijat. “I can’t allow them go to that far place (location of the government-owned school),” she added.
Another parent who declined to have her name in print told PREMIUM TIMES that she struggles to keep her wards in private schools in the Igando neighbourhood because of the unavailability of public schools.
She said: “I have three children and they are all in private schools around us here. It is not easy because I really struggle to pay the fees but it is better than endangering the lives of the kids and sending them to faraway places. If the government school is close by, of course I will send them there.”
In Sabo area of Yaba, this newspaper found that there are relatively adequate number of basic primary and junior secondary schools around the neighbourhood, unlike other parts of the state visited. For instance, on Aje Street, there is Aje Comprehensive Junior High School. There are three other schools within the neighbourhood.
“There are more schools here than most areas in Lagos,” a teacher who declined to have his name in print told this newspaper.
In Badagry, the only community primary school in Ajido area has very few classes. Some of the classes also have their roofing torn apart. Many residents told PREMIUM TIMES that the capacity of the school is becoming inadequate as the population rises. “We expect government to come expand the school here but Badagry is grossly neglected by the government,” James Oluwaseun, a parent, told PREMIUM TIMES.
But pupils residing in places outside of Ajido told PREMIUM TIMES they had to travel to Aradagun to access the government-owned school in the neighbourhood. “Many of us go to Aradagun area in Mosafejo because we don’t have any school around here and the private schools are not that much,” Jacob, a pupil, told this newspaper.
In Ijaiye, students around Ahmadiyyah, Kola and Mosalasi told PREMIUM TIMES that the schools around them are inadequate. For instance, a student, Tobi, said they had to trek from their parts of Ijaiye to Ahmadiyyah junction, hundreds of metres away.
At Olomu Nursery and Primary School, Ajah, PREMIUM TIMES’ findings showed that there are a few new constructions in the school. A tour of the school, however, showed that the relatively new buildings are not adequate for the expanding student population.
“This school serves all of us here in this part of Ajah,” Sulaiman, a junior secondary school 2 student, said. “The only junior secondary school is far from this place and located at Badore,” he added.
In November, the Lagos State Government however admitted that the number of schools available does not meet the need of the city, amidst ballooning population.
For the state government, however, only a private-sector led effort can solve the problem.
The state’s Commissioner for Education, Folasade Adefisayo, explained that there is need for more private schools to come in and bridge the deficit.
“And despite the fact that the number of schools in Lagos, especially in the private sector, has increased tremendously, the yawning gap between demand and supply clearly shows that more schools are needed to meet our educational target,” she said. “We need more private schools to come on board for us to be able to cater to the ever-increasing educational needs of a fast-growing metropolis like ours.”
When PREMIUM TIMES reached out to the state government on what it is doing to address the issue of inadequate schools amidst ballooning population, officials at the Lagos State Ministry of Education declined comment. Efforts to speak to the state commissioner also failed as the telephone number obtained by this reporter failed to connect.
Lagos from the decades past
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES in an interview, Gasper Rowland, a resident of Lagos who schooled in the state between the mid-1980s and early 1990s recalled what was the situation in their days.
“The population now is more (sic), compared to our days in school,” said Mr Rowland, who attended a primary school in the now demolished Maroko slum community in Lagos. “But I think the infrastructure is better. We were maybe 40 in a class then.”
Mr Rowland said that after the demolition of Maroko, he later moved to Victoria Island Secondary School, Lagos.
But for 48-year-old Habibat Gbadamosi, schooling experience in the 1980s in Lagos was far better than what her children go through today. The trader explained that she attended Igando Primary School and, later, Igando High School between 1988 and 1994. She explained further that in their days, the infrastructure was quite adequate for them as the population was ‘manageable’.
She said: “Population in our days was manageable as the class was fairly controllable. We had students who came from different parts of town but even Igando town was not that big in those days. So the schools—both primary and secondary—served us well and they were not far from our houses. Some of our friends in other parts of Lagos were even fortunate to enjoy ‘free education’ in the days of Jakande.
“What we have now is very sad. Igando town, for instance, is now very big with new extensions but the schools have remained the same. Children now walk many kilometres to school and learn in crowded classes. The population is bigger but the facilities are shrinking. The government needs to do more to secure the future of our children.”