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INVESTIGATION: Learning in tears: Inside the massive decay in public schools in oil-rich Akwa Ibom
By Cletus Ukpong
IT has just finished raining and it is cold this Tuesday morning in July 2017. This reporter is visiting the Annang Peoples Primary School, Ikot Iyire, Abak, in oil-rich Akwa Ibom State.
Three pupils between the ages of three and four lay fast asleep on bare floor inside a classroom. The doors and windows are wide open and the sleeping kids are not even covered with blanket, despite the cold wind.
It is such a pathetic sight. The kids are visibly shivering, teeth chattering, and bodies shaking. They coil themselves up ostensibly to conserve whatever heat remained in their bodies.
A few other kids sit idly on two desks. They aren’t looking cheerful at all. At a corner, in front of the classroom, sits a lonely woman – their teacher.
A teacher tells PREMIUM TIMES the pupils are part of the Early Education programme of the school. She says there is nothing teachers and the school authorities can do to help since the school lack even mats to spread on the floor for the poor kids.
Aside from this, the school has been in dire need of help, infrastructure wise. The two main classroom blocks are without roofs. The other remaining blocks are at various stages of decay, making them unsuitable and unsafe for pupils and their teachers.
Most pupils sit on bare floor to learn because of lack of chairs and desks. Inside the Primary Two classroom, for instance, 42 pupils are made to share only three desks.
The Early Education classroom has only two desks. There are no toys or learning materials for the kids.
The school, built around 1947 by the community before it was later handed over to the state government, has no staff room, so the teachers sit under a mango tree to hold meetings and prepare for the day’s lessons. They scamper into leaky classrooms when it rains.
Also, like most of the public primary schools in the state, it has no urinary, no toilet, and no source of drinking water.
“Whenever it rains, the pupils feel discouraged to come to school because the classrooms are flooded,” one of the teachers tells this reporter.
“We are suffering because we don’t have any godfather in government,” the Village Head of Ikot Iyire, James Akpan, says while showing this reporter round dilapidated buildings in the school.
“I have been a village head for more than 22 years now, we have not received any support for the school from any government official or any politician,” he says. “Sometimes I have to use my personal money to buy chalks for the school.”
Mr Akpan points at a minor concrete work in one of the classrooms, saying he used his personal funds to buy two bags of cement to execute the repairs.
“I have written several letters and forwarded several photos of the school to government, but there hasn’t been any response,” the village head says, adding that the school caters for the educational needs of more than seven villages around the area.
But as this PREMIUM TIMES reporter leaves the Ikot Uyire village head wondering why a government would allow its future leaders to learn in such a dehumanising situation, he soon happens on another school having what appeared a higher level of decay.
At Ediene II, about 20 minutes’ drive from Ikot Uyire, the only government primary school in the village is in ruins. One of the classroom blocks in the school is without roof, while tall weeds sprout from the broken parts of the cement floor inside the classroom.
At St. Ignatius Catholic Primary School, Ukana Iba, Essien Udim Local Government Area, it is a similar horrible sight – a pupil is seen sleeping on bare floor at the verandah of a classroom at 12:16 p.m. when he should be attending lessons. The main classroom block in the school is without roof, doors, and windows.
Our investigation, spanning more than one year and involving several schools in urban and rural communities, shows that only a handful of schools in this state can be considered reasonably conducive for learning. The rest are in terribly appalling situation. Some are not even good enough for raising animals, says Mbebe Albert, a lawyer based in the state.
PUPILS IN PRIMARY THREE, FOUR, FIVE AND SIX LUMPED IN ONE CLASSROOM
At the Community Comprehensive Secondary School, Nto Osung, Ekpenyong Atai, Essien Udim, the teachers and principal do not worry much about their decaying infrastructure. They are more concerned about the regular invasion of the school premises by criminals.
The school is unfenced, allowing armed gangs to keep invading the school in broad daylight to rob teachers and students of their belongings.
For the school’s dilapidated structures, the school authorities say they had since forwarded videos and photos to the state’s ministry of education and Governor Udom Emmanuel’s aide on education monitoring. They are still awaiting response from government.
Several other schools visited in Essien Udim and in the neighbouring Obot Akara Local Government Area have similar challenges of decayed infrastructure, inadequate teachers and classrooms, and lack of functional laboratories and libraries.
One school in Essien Udim, Government Secondary School, Nto Nsek, was fortunate some years back to have an information technology laboratory built there, a rare facility in secondary schools in the state. But the laboratory has since become an eyesore. The small hall, with leaky roof and broken furniture, has now been neglected and abandoned for years. The school’s electrical laboratory has suffered a similar fate.
The school, which caters for more than nine villages in Essien Udim and the neighbouring local government area of Obot Akara and has a student population of 2,414, no longer hold science experiments due to lack of laboratories, this newspaper was told.
The school is grappling with the challenge of inadequate classrooms, having shut its main classroom block – a storey building – a year ago when the 55-year-old building showed cracks on its walls and vibrated whenever students climbed its stairs.
The ensuing accommodation crisis compelled the school to abolish its long-established boarding system. The hostels were then converted to classrooms, officials say.
Out of the three blocks at the Methodist Primary School, Nto Obio Ikang, Obot Akara Local Government Area, one is dilapidated and abandoned, while another is without roof.
Friday Idot, the Chairman, Nto Obio Ikang Village Council, appeals to the state government to urgently renovate and equip the school. He says the school, built since 1940, is the only school in the village.
Still within Obot Akara, the Community Secondary Commercial School at Nto Edino, requires complete overhaul of its aging classroom blocks, some of which have had their roofs torn off and their walls broken down.
St. Raphael Catholic Primary School, Ndon Eyo II, in Etinan Local Government Area, built around 1930 by the Catholic Church, has just one school block which houses classrooms and administrative offices.
To make the best of a bad situation, the school authorities divided the classroom along imaginary lines, lumping Primary one and two pupils together at one end. Those in Primary three, four, five, and six were also combined and cramped at the other end, with four chalkboards at the different corners. It is a chaotic spectacle as the cacophony of sounds from the different corners remains a constant distraction for the pupils.
The roof of the ageing building is depressed in the middle, indicating that it might cave in anytime, therefore putting the lives of the 459 pupils and their seven teachers at risk.
A teacher tells PREMIUM TIMES a decaying rafter once fell from the top and hit a pupil on the head. Luckily, the little boy only suffered a minor injury, the teacher says.
St. Raphael does not have a toilet or urinary. It does not also have any source of drinking water. Teachers and students rush into nearby bushes anytime they need to relieve themselves.
Within Etinan, there are several other schools with dilapidated structures like St. Louis Catholic Primary Sch, Mbiokporo 1, Community Secondary Commercial School, Ikot Nte, and even the once prestigious Etinan Institute.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the community school in Ikot Nte, the students were writing examinations inside a dilapidated building with leaky roof.
“Whenever it rains, we packed the students into a corner in the hall,” one of the teachers says, adding that the student population has dropped to about 200 from 350 because of shortage of classrooms.
The situation forced the school to convert its staff quarters to makeshift classrooms.
MORE AND MORE DILAPIDATED SCHOOLS
One classroom block at St. Theresa’s Catholic Primary School, Ikot Anam/Ikot Inyang, in Ekparakwa, Oruk Anam Local Government Area, is without roof, while another block is dilapidated.
All the three classroom blocks at Government Primary School, Mbon Mbere, still in Ekparakwa, appear new and in good condition, but pupils in the school sit on bare floor to learn because of lack of desks.
The roofs of two classroom blocks at Atakpo Community Secondary School, Mbiaya Uruan, Uruan Local Government Area, are decaying fast and showing signs they could collapse any moment soon.
One school in Uruan, Community Secondary Commercial School, Ifiayong Usuk, is currently bearing the brunt of corrupt practices by government officials; the concrete pillars and walls of its newest classroom block, built in 2010 through the state government inter-ministerial direct labour project, are already cracking due to substandard work by a contractor.
More than 200 students accommodated in the block have been moved to safety in other blocks, thereby leading to overcrowding in the classrooms, a teacher tells PREMIUM TIMES.
“A classroom that should have taken 50 students, now has like 150 inside it,” the teacher says, adding that the school has over 2,000 student population.
Also, the school, which serves about seven villages, can no longer organise science experiments for its students because of lack of laboratory equipment and chemicals, PREMIUM TIMES learns.
At Community Secondary Commercial School, Iffe Town, Ikot Ebak, in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, one classroom block has collapsed, while the others have broken roofs, funneling rainwater into the classrooms whenever it rains.
Other schools in Mkpat Enin that require urgent intervention are Community High School, Ikot Esen Akpan Ntuen, Ibiaku Community Secondary School, Ikot Ebak, Government Primary School, Ikot Obio Nso, and QIC Primary School, Nya Odiong, Mkpat Enin. They are all at various stages of decay.
The following schools in Esit Eket Local Government Area are in deplorable state: Government Primary School, Etebi, Government Primary School, Akpautong, and St. Theresa’s Primary School, Ntak Inyang.
At Government Primary School, Ikot Ntuen Oku, located within the heart of Uyo, the state capital, renovation work on the main classroom block awarded by the Governor Emmanuel administration has been abandoned for about eight months, by the time this reporter visited there on April 18, 2018.
One classroom block in the school is dilapidated and roofless.
One classroom of the two blocks at Government Primary School, Udi-Ika, in Ika Local Government Area is without windows and ceilings. The broken cement floor in the classroom requires some work. The school is also clearly in need of more desks and more teachers.
At Asutan Ekpe Comprehensive Secondary School, Okop Ndua Eron, Ibesikpo-Asutan Local Government Area, eight uncompleted buildings which would have served as dormitory have been left to rot away after being abandoned for several years by the state government. An uncompleted classroom block – a storey building – have also been abandoned for several years.
Ironically, there are not enough classrooms in the school for the over 1,300 student population.
Teachers say they used their personal funds to renovate their quarters before they moved in.
COASTLINE OIL-COMMUNITIES WORST OFF….
It is quite a bizarre sight at Ntiat/Mbak 1 Comprehensive Secondary School, Itu Urban, where some female students are seen chatting freely inside a partially collapsed structure meant to be a classroom. The rafters and the remnants of the ceilings dangle menacingly above them, making the place a deathtrap.
The school’s staff quarters are dilapidated and abandoned. Same with one of its major classroom blocks.
The assembly hall had collapsed, while the library and the laboratory are in a terrible state and could go the way of other collapsed structures if not urgently rebuilt.
“Yesterday, we had to spread out books, the school records and other materials in the field for them to get dry under the sun after being soaked by rainwater,” a teacher in the school says, as he points at the leaky roof in an empty library.
Moreso, the 37-year-old school, built through community effort, is threatened by gully erosion.
Bassey Ekanem, the Village Head of Ntiat Itam, says the community is working on relocating the school.
“Since 2007, we have been writing letters to the state government to come to our aid,” he sys. “We’ve not given up, we are still expecting that government will one day wake up to help us.”
Everywhere – from Uyo, the state capital, to the hinterlands of Etim Ekpo, Ikot Abasi, and Oron – the story is the same: roofless school buildings, collapsed classroom blocks, shortage of teachers, lack of basic learning materials, and the haunting sights of poor little children struggling to learn under the most dehumanising environment.
Coastline communities within the oil producing local government areas of Ibeno, Eastern Obolo, and Mbo seem worst off, as pupils have to cross rivers to get primary education elsewhere because of lack of schools in their own immediate communities.
Government Primary School, Isotoyo, in Eastern Obolo, for instance, with its wooden skeletal structure loosely covered with dried palm leaves, can easily pass for a shrine.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the school in November 2016, there were only two teachers teaching Mathematics, English, Social Studies and other subjects to its 40 pupils.
“I sometimes feel like crying,” one of the teachers, who simply gave his name as Fingesi, said about the state of the rundown school. “But you know I can’t do that before the pupils.”
Fingesi had vowed never to abandon the school, despite its neglect by the state government and the local authorities.
“The community is my own,” he had told this reporter then. “If I abandon my job, it means that this school will be closed down.”
But he couldn’t hold on. Some few months after, Fingesi and the other teachers left the school, PREMIUM TIMES gathered, leaving the poor children stranded.
Meanwhile, the improvised school used to serve a group of villages – the Amazaba – with over 7,000 population.
The community, like most other communities in Eastern Obolo, is cut off by a river. Access is only by water, using canoes.
Eyo Abasi is an ill-fated water-locked community in Ibeno Local Government Area. Apart from being abandoned and severely underdeveloped like most other communities in the local government area, Eyo Abasi had its only school washed away by tidal waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
A model secondary school at Atabrikang, Ibeno, started by the state government during the administration of Governor Victor Attah, has been abandoned for years now. Mr. Attah left office in 2007.
The case of the Government Primary School, Okori-Itak, is shocking. While the six-classroom block, commissioned in 2011 by the immediate past administration of Godswill Akpabio, is furnished with school desks, no activity takes place in the school, as the classrooms and the and the administrative offices are locked.
Locals tell PREMIUM TIMES no single teacher has been posted to the school.
Ibaka, a commercial town in Mbo, where the state has plans to build a deep seaport, has no single public secondary school.
There are other riverine communities in the local government area without a primary or secondary school. The children have to cross rivers to attend schools elsewhere.
With only five public secondary schools, Mbo Local Government Area is clearly in need of new schools to cater for the educational needs of the growing population in the area.
Some say what is happening to education in Akwa Ibom is an unbelievable contradiction because the state, with abundance of oil and natural gas, is one of Nigeria’s richest.
“What we are seeing here negates the aspiration of the UN sustainable development goals which is targeting free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education for all girls and boys by 2030,” says one teacher who asked not to be named for fear he might be punished by government
The SDGs, launched by the UN in 2016, is a successor programme of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which expired in 2015.
SEVERAL EDUCATION MONITORS, SUPERVISORS, YET NOTHING TO SHOW
The state ministry of education has Area Education Officers (AEOs) spread across the state with the mandate to monitor education in local communities. There are also senior ministry officials whose job schedules include paying supervisory visits to schools and submitting reports on the condition of schools to higher authorities.
Governor Udom Emmanuel has four special assistants on education monitoring alone, with three of them covering each of the three senatorial districts and reporting directly to a Senior Special Assistant, Idongesit Etiebet.
Mrs Etiebet says she is well aware of how bad things have been.
“I do drive around Akwa Ibom and I know what we saw in 2015 and how much we have intervened,” she says in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
She however says the governor is ‘doing a lot’ to salvage the situation.
“They have done renovation and new constructions in almost 400 schools,” she says. “With the lean resources accruing to the state, you cannot expect that everything will be done immediately.” But Mrs Etiebet failed to provide names and photographs of the “renovated” schools.
Infographics produced by the state government and posted recently on Facebook by the state Commissioner for Information, Charles Udoh, claims the Governor Emmanuel administration has so far constructed and renovated 62 school blocks in the state, a number far less than that presented by the governor’s aide on education monitoring.
The infographics, titled ‘How Governor Udom Emmanuel spends your money’, did not, however, identify the schools where the “constructed and renovated” blocks of classrooms can be found.
AKWA IBOM’S TRILLION NAIRA REVENUE
Akwa Ibom has multinationals like Mobil, an affiliate of the American oil giant, ExxonMobil, drilling oil in the state. And because of its contributions to Nigeria’s oil earnings, Akwa Ibom receives more money from the Federation Account every month than each of the other 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
This is beside the revenue the state generates internally.
In five years alone, between 2013 and 2017, the state received N1.029 trillion (about $2.8 billion) from the country’s Federation Account.
Comparatively, a state like Osun, South-West of Nigeria, receives less than one-tenth of what Akwa Ibom gets from the Federation Account.
In the first quarter of 2017, for instance, Akwa Ibom received N34.8 billion, while Osun received only N1.7 billion.
Ironically, Osun state, for the past five years, has remained among the three top Nigerian states with an unmistakable lead in university JAMB admissions into courses leading to the award of degrees in Engineering. The other two are Oyo and Ogun.
For Medicine, Imo, Anambra, Delta and Enugu have been in the lead for the past five years.
Akwa Ibom has also not been among the five best performing states in the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
BILLIONS OF NAIRA BUDGETED FOR EDUCATION
When Godswill Akpabio was governor, the budget for education in the state in 2014 and 2015 was N10.9 billion and N16.7 billion respectively.
Five hundred million and N450 million was budgeted for the sector in 2014 and 2015 respectively for the renovation and refurbishing of buildings, including the provision of facilities, in 124 secondary and primary schools in the state.
The administration’s plan then, as documented in the budget, was to pick four secondary schools and four primary schools for renovation in each of the 31 local government areas in the state.
The Akpabio administration had specifically budgeted N100 million (in 2014) and N200 million (in 2015) for the renovation of boarding houses in secondary schools in the state.
That was beside the N100 million and N40 million budgeted in 2014 and 2015 respectively for the provision of 2,725 beds for 62 boarding schools and the N100 million and N55 million budgeted for in 2014 and 2015 respectively for the provision of 5,500 mattresses in secondary schools.
There was also provision for N300 million, both in 2014 and 2015 budget, as government subventions to 234 secondary schools heads.
Mr Emmanuel succeeded Mr Akpabio as governor in May 2015.
In 2016, N9.8 billion was budgeted for education by the state government, out of the N426 billion total budget sum.
In 2017, the education budget in the state was reduced to N8.620 billion, apparently following the decrease in the total budget sum – N365.251 billion – for that year because of the economic recession Nigeria experienced.
It is unclear what proportion of these budgeted funds were released during the Akpabio administration, and how they were utilised.
Tijah Bolton-Akpan, the Executive Director of Policy Alert, a non-governmental organization that focuses on fiscal governance in Akwa Ibom and other states in Nigeria, says “The education sector is suffering not just from poor prioritisation in the budget, but also from poor implementation of the little that has been budgeted.”
Samuel Efuo, a lawmaker and Chairman, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Education, says the problem is partly due to poor contract administration by the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Committee saddled with the responsibility of finding quick-fix solutions to the infrastructural deficits in the social sector in the state.
several “In some schools, you have enough infrastructure, while you don’t have anything in other schools. Some people just sit down in their offices to award contracts without visiting the schools to see their needs,” Mr Efuo says.
“MORE THAN HALF OF THE PUBLIC SECONDARY SCHOOLS ARE IN RUINS”
Akwa Ibom, with a landmass of 7,081 km², is said to have a population of five million, as at 2016.
The number of public secondary schools in the state was about 250 in 2016, and a good number of that number is in ruins.
The four science colleges – St. Mary’s Science College, Ediene Abak, Abak; Qua Iboe Church Senior Science College, Ndon Eyo, Onna; Lutheran Senior Science School, Ibakachi, Ikono; and Methodist Senior Science School, Oron – are in shambles.
So also are the technical colleges in the state – like the Community Technical College, Ikot Akata, Mkpat Enin and the Government Technical College, Abak, which have become eyesores because of their many dilapidated school blocks.
The Government Technical College, Ikot Adaidem, Ibiono Local Government Area, built through the assistance of the World Bank, has been closed down and abandoned to rot for several years now.
A retired teacher in the state, Nicholas Luke, blames the situation on corruption among politicians.
“Most of those schools were listed for renovation under the Godswill Akpabio’s inter-ministerial direct labour projects, and because they were part of political patronage, those work were not done,” Mr. Luke says.
“The contracts were captured in the state budgets and the money released, but the politicians pocketed them. That’s why you still find most of those schools as dilapidated as they were before Godswill came to power.”
Several years back, an attempt was made to revive public education through the building of seven model secondary schools across the state. It was initiated by the then governor, Victor Attah. But the project was jettisoned by his successor, Mr Akpabio.
A retired permanent secretary at the state ministry of education says N3 billion was needed to complete the model schools when Mr Akpabio became governor.
He accuses the Akpabio administration of suspending subventions to schools during the 2014/2015 session, a development he says led to funding crisis with ripple effects that are yet to abate across the schools.
Principals and head teachers now rely on the collection of “illegal” levies from parents to run their schools, the official says. They also generate revenues by renting out spaces in their school premises for funerals and other events during school hours.
“You want to organise a send-off party for a principal of a school, the students are levied. Students are forced to pay money for brooms, cutlasses, brushes and all sorts of things. In fact, a school that doesn’t even have a toilet, still charges students for cleansing liquid,” the retired teacher, Mr Luke said.
“Now, if your child isn’t admitted into the secondary school through the normal placement examination, you have to pay as much as N10, 000 directly to the principal for admission. All these, no receipt. Then you pay PTA fees. In some schools, it is as high as N5, 000.
“If you add up all these, then you would realise that it is better for the people to be asked to pay a certain amount of money as school fees than to deceive the people that there is free education,” he said.
A school principal, who is also an official of the All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), in the state, admitted to PREMIUM TIMES that corruption indeed existed among principals, but she, however, put the blame on the officials of the ministry of education who she claimed were always demanding bribe from school authorities.
The ministry officials also expect gift items like tissue papers, mobbing sticks, and soaps from the principals whenever they visit the schools, she says, adding that the abuse of office and stealing of public funds start from the top and trickle down to the lowest public servant.
“The situation is hopeless,” she says. “If you don’t give in to the demands of the ministry officials visiting your school, be ready to have your promotion and other entitlements delayed because of the negative report they will surely write after the visit.”
Almost everyone – teachers, parents, government officials, unionists and development experts – who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES acknowledged that the education sector in Akwa Ibom is at a critical juncture, pointing at the rate parents are now abandoning public schools for private ones and the poor performances of pupils and students in public examinations.
The situation has led to an increase in the number of private schools in the state.
For instance, the number of private secondary schools in the state was 120 in 2007, up by 106.90 per cent from the previous year, according to the World Data Atlas. The number increased to 422 in 2017, says an official of the state ministry of education.
“It is surely higher than that if we include those ones that are operating without license from the government,” the official says, adding that the number of private nursery/primary schools in the state is 699, as at 2017.
The retired teacher, Mr Luke, describes Governor Emmanuel as lacking the ability to revive education in the state.
“Udom Emmanuel administration is more confused, their priorities are not right,” he says. “Our governor is paying lip service to education.
“If you look at the budgets and also look at what they are doing physically, this government is not adding anything new to education in this state. So, they are more confused,” he says.
When PREMIUM TIMES met with the new Commissioner for Education, Victor Inoka, he declined comment, saying having just been appointed to office, he is still “studying the situation”.
But while Mr Inoka continues to study the situation, the Village Head of Ikot Iyire, James Akpan, is looking forward to urgent action from the state government that would save pupils across the state from learning in leaky, dilapidated or overcrowded classrooms, sitting on bare floors, and relieving themselves in bushes when nature calls.
“The situation is really bad,” Mr Akpan says as we walk past the kids sleeping on bare floor at the Annang Peoples Primary School. “I really pity these children because their future is in danger.”
This is the first in a six-part series on how corruption, poor budget planning and implementation, and outright neglect led to the near collapse of public education in Akwa Ibom, one of Nigeria’s richest states.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).