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Lagos communities in desperate need of public primary, secondary schools

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Some out-of-school boys working as labourers during school hours at a building site in the area

The decision of a few yesterday’s men is today jeopardizing the future of over 9,000 children of school age when the plots of land allocated for the siting of public primary and secondary schools were sold off in two Lagos communities. This is today swelling the 11.4 million out-of-school children population in the country. UJUNWA ATUEYI reports on the dilemma of the communities shut out from basic education.

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today, so says Malcolm X, the popular American Muslim minister and human rights activist; but in some communities in Lagos State, it is not so, as their leaders tend to see education differently.

For such communities, they are not bothered about the large number of school-age children loitering the streets and markets when they should be receiving lessons in class.  

The latest report by The Business of Education in Africa has it that Nigeria is home to 11.4 million Out-of-School Children (OSC), a hard nut for officials of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) in the various states to crack.

It is more worrisome when Lagos, which touts itself as the Centre of Excellence in the federation, contributes to the figure of out-of-school children. 

A walk through the streets of Lagos on weekdays reveal the large number of children of school age loitering the streets and not productively engaged in some vocational training.

Findings reveal a lot of factors responsible for this trend in those communities, which range from poverty to poor awareness and non-availability of public schools in their localities.
 
Okerube and Abaranje are two nearby communities in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos.

The two communities with the population of over 9,000 pupils, according to community leaders, have only one public primary school providing basic education to their children.

Not only that, there is also no public secondary school in the two communities. 
 
Residents of the area in their interactions with The Guardian were quick to blame the government for the non-availability of primary and secondary schools in the two communities.

No mention was made of how their actions and inactions had contributed to the disturbing situation; which is that some community leaders had in the past sold off the plots of land allocated for the siting of primary and secondary schools for momentary gains.
 
According to some of the residents, pupils from Okerube will have to travel miles to access the only primary school serving the two communities, which is located at Olakunle bus-stop.

The non-availability of government-owned primary and secondary school is affecting basic education in the two communities.

Only those who can afford private schools have access to the lowest and basic of education.
 
Absence of public primary school also hinders children from the communities a smooth transition to junior and senior secondary schools in adjoining communities. For secondary education again, residents are left at the mercy of some shylock private school operators.

Those who are barely living from hand to mouth but know the value of education as a passport to the future they desire, are forced to pay through their nose for tuition and spend fortunes transporting their wards daily to and back just to access public schools in nearby communities like Ikotun, Ijegun and Igando.
 
The present situation at Okerube and Abaranje is like a death knell on a sound future, with no apparent help in sight from both the state and local governments. 

A first time visitor to the area would be taken aback to find pupils loitering around when they are supposed to be in classrooms.

Sometimes, in company of their parents or older siblings, but at most times, they can be seen alone in groups of twos and threes at odd places like uncompleted buildings, undeveloped plots of land, and unoccupied kiosks.

A few enterprising ones are busy learning apprenticeship in generator repairs, vulcanizers, carpentry or serving as labourers in construction sites.

 
It is noteworthy that under the 2004 Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Act, parents’ inability to send their wards to school attracts a fine of N2,000 or a jail term of not less than six months, a provision of the law many are not aware of.
 
Apart from parents being ignorant of the law, The Guardian checks revealed that the law exists only in paper as the regulatory bodies are yet to indict a single parent despite the increasing number of out-of-school children.
 
A petty trader, Mrs. Abimbola Shola, who hawks groundnut and Ijebu Garri in Okerube community, was sighted with her three children in an undeveloped plot, off Ile-eja road, fetching firewood during school hours.

The three kids, who ought to be in school at the time, went about their duties unperturbed.

Upon enquiries, Shola said she was not aware her action is capable of taking her to jail.
  
Shola, after the brief interruption, continued with gathering her firewood and other items.

When The Guardian persisted about the consequences of her action in the face of the fact that primary education is free in the state, Shola described the Act as laughable, saying: “Which Act? Which offence?

Are they the one that gave birth to my children that they would want to punish me for not sending them to school?

Are they aware that my family exists? Are they aware of the hardship we are going through?

Are they aware that there is no public primary and secondary school in this (Okerube) community? They should first find out the reason before prosecuting any parent.
 
“I am a petty trader, I sell groundnut, Ijebu garri and sugar, which I hawk around the streets with my children. My husband is jobless. I am the only one fending for my family.

My two sons have completed their primary education, there is no public secondary school around and I cannot afford to send them to private schools because of their fees, neither can I afford to send them to Ikotun, Igando or Ijegun where government secondary schools are situated.

It means I will be spending more than N400 on transportation for the two of them daily and it is not sustainable. I cannot afford it.”
 
On why she did not send the younger ones to Abaranje Primary School, in a nearby community, she complained of the distance, saying: “These children are too young to trek that distance, the nearby primary school is located at Olakunle bus stop and my children cannot walk that distance of about 25 to 30 minutes everyday, that is why we are managing the private school located on my street.

But there were so many challenges this term, following my first daughter’s ill-health, which led to her death. I cannot afford their school fees, so they were sent out of the school.

Not only that the only public primary school is far, it is also congested due to the overwhelming number of pupils.”
 
Shola is not alone in this predicament, as another parent, Mr. Samiu Olajide, laments the non-availability of government-owned schools in the community.

He also said the only primary school serving the two communities apart from being far, is already congested.
 
“For now my children are still in primary and nursery school.

They are schooling at Abaranje Primary School, the school is far from where I live, but that is the only public school close to us.

There is no government primary or secondary school in this Okerube.

Even at Abaranje, the community that houses the only primary school, they don’t have secondary school.

I don’t know how we are going to cope when my children gets to secondary school.
 
“This is a big challenge for most parents here, that is why we have a lot of child apprenticeship and children of about 15 years and above riding okada when they are supposed to be in secondary school.

It is really sad, we are not feeling the presence of government in this part of Lagos,” he said.

When The Guardian visited the palace of the Baale of Okerube, Semiu Jemoh, he confirmed Shola’s and Olajide’s stories that there is no public primary and secondary school in the community at the moment.

More shocking was the confession of the traditional ruler that their predecessors sold off the plots of land allotted for the establishment of primary and secondary schools in the community.

Jemoh, who was in company of the Secretary General of the palace, Mustapha Kabir, affirmed that it is indeed depressing that in this 21st century, a community that has over “9,000 population of children of school going age cannot boast of providing basic education to its people, even when it is free across the state.”

 
He said they have been going back and forth on the issue even repeated presentations to the state government for the all-important social infrastructure, but there has been no positive response.
 
“I am not happy that our people and even residents in this locality do not have access to basic education.

Education here is provided by the private schools and not all parents can afford it.

For those attending the public schools in the nearby communities, it is not right for these children to travel long distance before they can access a school. It will no doubt affect their academic performances.
 
“Our brothers in the past made a lot of mistakes. Our elders mortgaged the future of our children before they left.

They sold off the plots of land allocated for the establishment of primary and secondary schools.

Even the area marked for recreational facilities like football pitch and prayer grounds were sold off. We are in a discussion with the Kabiyesi of Ikotun on the matter.

The only place left is a swampy land, which the previous administration assessed and concluded that it is not conducive for siting a school.
 
“Government is not to be blamed at all for non-availability of primary and secondary schools. It is our problem.

We can only appeal to governor Akinwunmi Ambode to assist us. We have over 7,000 pupils.

We need our own school; we hope government will be willing to assist us.

If we provide access to basic education for our children the rate of crime and indiscipline will definitely reduce and our society will be better.”
 
Kabir, on his part, argued that government can still assist the community if it wished to, saying, “just like they are sand filling the bar beach and other areas in Victoria Island and Lekki, they should help us sand fill the swampy plots at Odueran Okerube.

They have to consider the education and future of our children, it is very important.

The only primary school at Abaranje serving the two communities is congested. We hope government will come to our aid.”

For the Baale of Abaranje community, Lamidi Hassan, he reminisced on how the leaders of Okerube sold off the plots of land allocated for siting of primary and secondary schools, simply saying, “the situation is not funny today.”
 
Abaranje primary school, he said, “is the only school serving the two communities.

The problem they had at Okerube was that they sold all the land earmarked for both primary and secondary schools.

Now they are managing their name (Okerube Primary School) at Abaranje School in the same compound. 

The villagers/predecessors for the sake of immediate advantage mortgaged their children’s future.

It was for peace sake that we allowed Okerube to be sharing name with us at Abaranje primary school, as the school is situated on our land.”

On why there is no public secondary school in Abaranje, his own community, Hassan said: “In our own case, there is a place we allotted for secondary school, the plot is located towards the end of K & S street, close to a swamp.

It was surveyed about 10 years ago and the survey is still with our surveyor, one Pastor Joseph Adegboro.

He demanded for N300,000 to take the survey to Alausa for approval then, but we couldn’t raise the amount. The survey is still with him.
 
“Thereafter, I warned our people not to tamper with the plots that it is meant for secondary school, but our boys/the villagers sold it off eventually.

The occupants knew the site was surveyed for school.

If government will assist us the survey will be provided to government and they can take any action on the property on the land.

Abaranje is a big community and is supposed to own at least two primary and two secondary schools.

It is shameful that we do not have a secondary school of our own.

Our kids have to go to Ikotun, Ijegun or Igando to access secondary education. It is indeed a dire situation.”
 
Appealing to the government to come to the aid of his community, Hassan said: “The situation is terrible as it is also affecting my position as the Baale.

Even when I protested against the activities of our boys, they threatened the existing peace in the community. This is my predicament.

Basic education is key in every society, and we must do everything possible to give our children basic education.”
 
When contacted on the matter, the Public Affairs Officer of the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Mr. Seyi Akitoye, described the situation of the two communities as unfortunate, saying it is not enough to appeal to the government on the pages of newspapers, as there are requirements every community must meet before they can own a school.

 
According to him, any community that desires a primary school must meet stipulated guidelines for the establishment of school, which are: at least 12 plots of land in a good location, which can be easily developed for rural areas and for urban areas for a school complex; at least three plots of land must be made available for a school.
 
This is in addition to a survey plan of the land; title document; evidence of transfer of ownership; and at least construction of six or three classroom blocks for urban and rural areas respectively. Toilet facilities must also be available.
 
“This is to show evidence of ownership and commitment to the fact that the land is indeed free.

They must also show evidence of minimum of 50 pupils by way of registration or transfer from other schools as an indication that they are ready to start a school. These are cogent conditions.

Now the communities in question are not ready to own a school, if not, why did they sell the land allotted for the establishment of schools?
 
“Before demanding assistance from government, you must show evidence of commitment. Government is not ready to spoon-feed anyone now.

Those communities must show commitment by way of making land available and erecting a structure,” he said.
 
Akitoye advised the communities to go back and seek practical solutions to their problems, as government cannot forcefully take people’s land to site a school.

“If they desire government’s intervention these are the requirements.”

 
On the distance a child should trek before accessing a school, he said for now there is no documented information on that, but “schools are not expected to be far from pupils.

Pupils don’t need a bus to go to school in communities, except in urban areas.”

Reacting to the development, the Assistant Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Education, Adesegun Ogundeji, counseled the leaders of the two communities to relocate the people on the land if they are yet to occupy it, and ensure there is no further encroachment before seeking government’s intervention.

“This they must do if they are serious about owning schools.
 
“In fairness, we have a number of communities that do not have secondary schools that they can claim as their own.

Some of them share one secondary school until government discovers the facility could no longer accommodate the pupils.

Some communities are around themselves and not too far from each other. The problems with some of these communities are cumbersome.
 
“There are situations where communities of existing schools will go behind government to procure judgment that the land belong to their father that government should come and remove schools. It is that bad.

Much as I won’t say that we have established enough schools to cater for everyone in Lagos, if we have a community with available land seeking government’s intervention and another community saying come and buy land, you know the one that can easily get help,” he noted.
 
On what the fate of the two communities is, he said: “It will be difficult for me to speak on that, the decision on those two communities would be taken at executive council level where the governor will be involved.

Supposing the land was handed over to the government with survey and government gazetted it before people encroached on it, it will be just a matter of time before the illegal structures are pulled down but if the community just earmarked it, and say let us use this place for school, but the land is not handed over to government, it is still their land.

So I won’t know what extent of documentation they have on that land for such purpose.”


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