Fading allure of unity colleges
The Federal Government before the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970 set up three unity schools in Warri, Delta State, Sokoto in Sokoto State and Okposi in Ebonyi State. The Military Government of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, shortly after the needless war, was saddled with the gargantuan task of uniting the country hence the need to bring together children of different creeds and religions, from different tribes and ethnic groupings. Apart from being made to grow with the mentality of one Nigeria, national integration was being fostered and nation-building initiatives brought to the fore. The lucky students were availed high-quality education and orientation, whilst being quartered in standard accommodations. Unfortunately, those virtues are fast disappearing in some of these institutions, which are now a reflection of the larger Nigerian society. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY writes.
A couple of months ago, a 13-year-old student of King’s College, Lagos, appealed to his mother to come and get him from school, while the school was still in session. After a little hesitation, the loving mother caved in and went over to the school to redeem her pledge.
With her side of the bargain fulfilled and documentation in school including signing of exit card duly carried out, the homeward journey began. En route to home, the boy showed his mother dozens of spots where bedbugs had feasted on him in the school’s bedbug-infested hostels.
Once home, the boy had a fill of his favourite meal and then slept for lengthy hours over the weekend. Sadly, the honeymoon came to an end sooner than expected and the teenager had to grudgingly return to the hostel he now hates passionately.
To date, the stunned and perplexed mother is yet to come to terms with the reason why a school, which her husband speaks gloriously about, and which charges almost everything in tens of thousands of naira is finding it hard to provide the basic things needed in a 21st boarding school.
Time was when schools like King’s College, Queen’s College and indeed other prominent unity colleges were the wish of every parent/guardian for their children and wards when it comes to where to acquire secondary education.
The prominent names on the membership list of alumni associations of these schools, the high offices in the land, which they occupied and are still occupying, and the flourishing businesses, which they run, are clear pointers to the quality of secondary education they were exposed to.
Sadly, in the last decade or thereabouts, most of these unity schools across the country have become run down and thoroughly decrepit owing to the activities of some principals, who work hand-in-glove with unscrupulous Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to fleece unsuspecting parents and channel/divert the funds into highly questionable projects.
Interestingly, things did not just get this bad in some of these schools overnight. For instance, in September 2010, the then Minister of State for Education, Mr. Kenneth Gbagi, upbraided the incumbent principal of King’s College, Lagos, Mr. Dele Olapeju, over the derelict state of infrastructures at the dual campus secondary education college for boys, which was established by the colonial administration on September 9, 1909.
“You have not prepared the school for students returning from vacation. You should be able to do something worthwhile. It is not just about money, but about your interest and willingness. I was thinking of bringing my children here but now, I can never bring them,” Gbagi, had fumed while inspecting facilities at the college’s two campuses, during the school’s 101st Founders Day celebration and lecture entitled, “Sustaining the War Against Corruption; the Role of the Youths.”
Evidently, things have refused to improve at the institution and some concerned parents find it difficult to stomach any longer, the untoward scenario playing out there, hence the reason they spew out their grievances a fortnight ago.
Mission, vision of unity colleges
As against other secondary schools in different parts of the country, unity schools offered a cocktail of benefits to its attendees and which can be summarised thus. They broadened the mind-set of the students drawn from different cultural backgrounds thereby shattering age-long myths and bringing about tolerance, open-mindedness and improved world-view.
They also provided a pedestal for children of the haves and those of the have not’s, those of very educated parents and the ones sired by illiterate parents as well as children from diverse social and economic backgrounds to mingle and learn to grow as equals.
Sojourning together for five to six years enabled the students establish lifelong friends and acquaintances. Today, most of them boast large reservoirs of friends and contacts in far-flung parts of the country.
Sadly now, unending feuds between principals and parent teacher associations on the one hand, and some principals colluding with some members of the PTAs to “con” parents is threatening to ground these institutions, which have also become infamous for admission racketeering, lack of probity, rapidly growing decline in academic and living standards.
In fact, daily, stakeholders are wondering what has happened to the vision of the founding fathers of the now poorly funded, poorly equipped unity schools as well as asking their relevance in contemporary Nigeria. Specifically, they are confused regarding the ability of products of these schools to sustain national integration and further nation building.
With more than 30 years in operation, unity colleges have produced more than 500, 000 alumni, who are doing well in their professional callings both within Nigeria and in the Diaspora.
Unfortunately, while the alumni continue to revel and bask in the euphoria of being products of these institutions, their alma maters are stewing in diverse unfavorable conditions and with dire consequences to the objectives they were set up to achieve.
Troubling times at King’s College
Protesting under the aegis of Concerned Parents of Kings College, Lagos, the parents pointedly accuse the principal of taking over the PTA of the school and doing as he pleases working in concert with Mr. Emmanuel Oriakhi, whom he was accused of installing to administer the affairs of the P.T.A on an interim basis earlier on.
After the March 2012 election, which threw up new executives, the concerned parents alleged, “The imposed PTA Chairman, Mr. Emmanuel Oriakhi with the connivance of the principal single-handedly brought in some members of the interim committee into the executive as ex-officio and they are the ones that coordinates PTA key projects. For instance, the school bus shuttle services, laundry etc., in order to continue to perpetuate their fraudulent and illegal acts,” the concerned parents alleged.
At a press conference at their behest on July 3rd, 2015, the concerned parents alleged among other things, gross mismanagement and misconduct by the school authorities and the existence of an admission racketeering syndicate, which enjoy the blessing of the school authorities.
They also alleged that principal was behind the large-scale fund mismanagement in the school; deliberate negligence of school infrastructure as well as over commercialisation of the school premises.
They parents who are deeply worried about the their children’s living condition on campus, also frowned at the principal’s decision to, in concert with the PTA chairman, jerk up to N40, 000 for new intakes, the N15, 000 building levy accepted by the parents at the PTA general meeting, even as they further claimed that the principal made a promise in late 2012 at the PTA general meeting that he will assist parents whose children failed to secure admission into JSS1 and SS1 on merit to secure admission.
In keeping to the promise, they alleged that the principal and the PTA chair asked interested parents “to either bring 50 bags of cement or the cash equivalent of N100, 000 as a support for the hostel building project before their kids were admitted. About 50 parents paid the sum of N100, 000 each and were issued fictitious receipts for cement as a cover up. What was very disheartening in this act, was the fact that children with higher scores whose parents could not afford to pay N100, 000 were denied and the fund raised diverted, as the principal insisted and collected the money from PTA personally before signing the admission letters.”
Principal of the college, Olapeju after a tour of the campuses with reporters expressed shock at the concerned parents’ attitude claiming that it was “a coup d’état against his administration.
“This development is strange because it was concocted, and executed by 15 families, who had threatened to invade the college and cause commotion that would lead to the exit of the principal and the PTA. It is an unfortunate development as they attempted (and indeed) embarrassed the college,” Olapeju alleged.
“How has a visiting day become placard and press calling day? Why after, a weeklong mid-term and returning their wards to the college, this group is insisting that they must enter the college. There are 3, 000 families and about 6, 000 parents out of which only 30 members carried out the protest,” he added.
The principal, who agreed that facilities at the school could be better, claimed that the aggrieved parents were invited to state their grouse before the management board of the school and the PTA but the repeatedly turned down the invitation.
Principal/PTA festering feud at FGC Odogbolu
The face-off between authorities of the Federal Government College, Odogbolu, Ogun State, and the chairman of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), Mrs Chiyere Itesi, last month took a new turn as Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) of the college after its emergency congress of Tuesday, June 9th, said it may be compelled to suggest to the Federal Ministry of Education to ask Itesi to withdraw her child/ward from the college for her alleged “lack of respect for constituted authority.”
The 2009/2011 executive committee of the PTA was dissolved on July 3rd, 2011 due to the questionable handling of two projects- a lawn tennis and a volleyball court, which were unused after gulping a whooping N6m.
Itesi, a strong voice at that above-mentioned meeting was unanimously appointed by parents as caretaker committee chairperson, to organise another election. The parents went on to vote her in as the substantive chairperson on 16th October 2011.
But no sooner had she assumed office than trouble started, owing to her refusal to consent to certain demands on the PTA by the school authorities, without due process being followed.
Itesi, whose committee spearheaded the employment of over 40 academic and non-academic staff, which it also pays their salaries, also stood against arbitrarily jerking up of PTA charges and the upward review of seating allowances for affected persons.
These and many other reasons perhaps irked the school authorities, which began moves to ease Itesi out of office. This was after advancing a litany of allegations against her of which she is in court to clear her name and uphold her mandate.
Principal of the school, Mrs. A.N. Bassey-Duke, speech she delivered at the general meeting of the National Association of Parents and Teachers of Federal Government Colleges (NAPTAFEGC), Odogbolu unit alleged that the school authorities started having trouble with Mrs. Itesi, “As soon as she came in, … because she saw herself as an executive chairman. Without consulting with me she reeled out her plans for the school at the inaugural meeting. This was completely at variance with my own request at the meeting.
At subsequent meetings, we were never on the same page as she always had her own agenda, which was not in consonance with the needs of the college…”
Bassey-Duke, who further alleged that Itesi “made people feel I had too much control over the PTA … slashed the PTA bill of N10, 500 by the last executive to N5, 500 without proper consultation with other members of the executive.
Parents’ rage at FGC, Jos
Parents of students of Federal Government College (FGC), Jos, Plateau State, were livid with rage upon arriving the institution for a PTA meeting penultimate Saturday, only to be informed that the meeting would hold no more.
The aggrieved parents resorted to protesting outside the school gate, as it was the ninth time the PTA meeting was being postponed under flimsy guises within a period of two years.
They claimed to be in the dark about goings-on in the school especially as their children were constantly complaining of lack of social amenities.
According to one of the parents, “Each time my son who is a boarder comes home, he is always complaining of very poor welfare and living conditions occasioned by lack of water, electricity and very toilet facilities. We are always willing to engage the school authority on these issues, but the principal is being evasive. This is the ninth time we have been locked out by the school authorities.
A notice by the school, however, explained that the PTA congress scheduled for Saturday June 27th, 2015 was postponed because the principal travelled to Edo State to attend meetings of all principals of unity colleges.”
The school PTA in the last two years has been run by a caretaker committee, which by law is not supposed to function in office more than three months. So the irked parents who are of the view that the principal is being evasive in order not to be accountable are now calling for his removal.
Tension brewing at Queens College, Lagos
Matters are not different at Queens College, where some parents are queuing behind the vice chairman of the PTA, Mrs. Julie Mann to allege high-handedness, lack of accountability and execution of high cost project without proper evaluation and approval.
Mrs. Mann, who is gearing up to go to court, is really peeved at the manner in which the school’s principal, Mrs. E. M. Osime and the PTA chairperson, Mrs B. Akhetuamen are going about activities in the school, a development, which also led to the resignation of the public relations officer of the PTA.
The vice chairman expressed worries that even when the principal claims subvention are yet to come to the school from the Federal Government, the PTA contributes substantial amount of money to execute some projects. But the handling of some of these projects leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Here she questions the N39.9m in the building project from N242.8m to N282.7m without approval, saying, “The Chairman is the Head of the project committee. A case of committee reporting to itself. From time, the vice chairman has always been head of project, but in our case, the chairman decided to be head of project. And the principal vehemently supported it.”
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