Friday, June 8, 2018

Nigerians express shock over rot in Akwa Ibom public schools

Nigerians have expressed shock and angst over the rot in Akwa Ibom public schools following PREMIUM TIMES’ damning investigative series on how corruption, poor government planning, and outright neglect has ruined the education sector in one of Nigeria’s richest states.

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 regularly 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, for instance.

Yet classrooms in several public primary and secondary schools in the state are shamefully dilapidated and roofless, while pupils and students, in some cases, sit on bare floor to learn, according to the series which started running in the paper on May 23.

The reports also show low morale, incompetence, and corruption among ill-equipped and poorly-paid teachers who sometimes go for several months without pay.

Corruption trickles down from the officials of the education ministry, to the school principals, and to the teachers, one school principal admitted to PREMIUM TIMES in one of the reports.

Ministry officials on routine inspection visits to secondary schools constantly demand gift items like tissue papers, mobbing sticks, and soaps from principals, said the school principal who is also an official of the All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), in the state.

“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,” she said.

While successive administrations in the state appeared careless about the rot, most people in the state, including low-income earners, now prefer to send their children to expensive private schools sprouting up rapidly in different parts of the state.

Many Nigerians who read the PREMIUM TIMES reports said they could not understand why a state that has built multi-billion naira entertainment centre, stadium, and five-star hotels would allow its education sector to collapse.

A non-governmental organisation, Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP), said on Twitter, through its official handle (@SERAPNigeria), “Akwa Ibom State Government and Governor Udom Emmanuel are failing Nigerian children by failing to address barriers to the right to education in Akwa Ibom.”

The group said, “Education breaks generational cycles of poverty”.

Oriyomi Ogunwale, the Project Lead of Eduplana Nigeria, a civic organization advocating for effective education management in the country, told PREMIUM TIMES that from Akwa Ibom’s budget for education it is easy to conclude that the state does not give much importance to the sector.

“From the data that we have, Akwa Ibom’s budget for education is the lowest among 26 states in Nigeria.

“Akwa Ibom dedicates only one per cent of its budget to education in 2018, Sokoto state has the highest, with 30 per cent of its budget dedicated to education,” said Mr Ogunwale.

Mr Ogunwale said the best way to tackle the rot is for the state government to make education a priority, adding that the situation in the oil-rich state is a fallout of the failure of the federal ministry of education.

“We believe that one of the first building blocks for our education is teachers’ welfare. If the teachers are well-taken care of, it could help solve a lot of other challenges in the education sector,” he said.

“This is pathetic,” a Twitter user (@therealae1963) said of the state of public education in Akwa Ibom, after reading the reports. “May Nigeria rise from the ashes through the grace and hard work of its people, in the future we will be judged by what we did and didn’t do.”

“It’s disheartening! That place is not fit for learning,” another Twitter user (@kool_timmy) said of a nauseating photo showing the squalour in the boys’ dormitory of a top science college, St. Mary’s Science College, Ediene Abak.

The Twitter user said it would be better to convert the college to a zoological garden

“This shows the government is so irresponsible,” he said.

Another Twitter user (@melekeowei_dele) said government officials in Akwa Ibom prefer to build roads so they could enrich themselves, instead of fixing broken schools.

“This is a government that spends billions (of naira) on entertainment every year, hosting jamborees and carnivals,” said another Twitter user, Paul Kalu (@Iam_PEK).

A Twitter user, Dimeji Joseph (@dymegyjoe) said “monies spent by the governor on Twitter hype is more than enough to fix” the broken dormitory at St Mary’s Science College, Ediene Abak.

“This is uncommon decay,” one person (@rotimark) said on the social media site, apparently mocking the “uncommon transformation” slogan made popular during the administration of a former governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio.

“People in this area should come out of their darkness,” said another person, Usman (@usmanshehu46). “Your real enemies are your leaders.”

Nigerians also took to Facebook to react to the PREMIUM TIMES reports.

A Facebook user, Ignatius Udokpoh, described as “a great agony” and “a great irony” the travails of Akwa Ibom teachers as reported in the series.

“An agony in the sense that after years of judicious service to your state, you are repaid with starvation, hunger, and torture.

“And an irony in the sense that an oil-rich state like Akwa Ibom is owing more than a state without any resource,” he said.

“This is a great pity. So unbelievable!” he added.

There was a failed attempt, however, by officials and agents of the Akwa Ibom state government to discredit the PREMIUM TIMES reports.

Essien Ndueso, a media aide to Governor Udom Emmanuel, on May 26 posted on Facebook, photos showing a section of the St. Mary’s Science College, Ediene Abak, still under renovation, with the intention to cast doubt on the PREMIUM TIMES photos of the decaying boys’ dormitory in the college.

Mr Ndueso also tried to invoke ethnic sentiment against the reports.

He said it was a “shame” for the reporter, Cletus Ukpong, to author the report since he is from the same local government area with the state governor, Mr Emmanuel.

“Have you ever seen Sowore (the Publisher of Sahara Reporter) do such about his state? What of Omojuwa and other influencers? You think their state is better than ours?” One Facebook user, Idongesit Uyo, commented on Mr Ndueso’s post.

Mr Uyo’s Facebook intro says he is a staff of the National Commission for Museum and Monument, Abuja.

An analysis of several of his posts on the social media site indicates he is a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is the ruling party in state, as well as an agent of the Akwa Ibom state government.

The comment of the governor’s aide, Mr Ndueso, was however challenged by other Facebook users.

“True journalism is meant to serve the common good, and not ethnic interest,” one Facebook user, Inyene David, told Mr Ndueso.

Continuing, Mr David, said “You have shown a photo of a section of the school in order to rubbish the Premium Times report. But you have failed to show us the photo of the boys’ dormitory which the report says it is dilapidated.

“The report says: ‘A section of the building (Cottage Five) had fallen down, and the debris were yet to be completely cleared away.’ Please sir, can you post a photo of the said Cottage Five for us to see?

“Can you also post for us here a photo of Cottage Three which we understand is abandoned and now desolate?

“Where is your own photo to counter the horrible photo of the Physics laboratory in the Premium Times report?

“Is it true that the students use pit toilets as reported by the paper? Why not show us a photo of a modern toilet in the boys’ dormitory?” said Mr David, who added that a dilapidated school in his village, Ntiat and Mbak 1 Comprehensive Secondary School, in Itu Local Government Area, is among the schools mentioned by PREMIUM TIMES in the series.

The governor’s aide has not responded to the questions raised by Mr David, more than seven days after, as at the time of filing this report.

But Aniefiok Macauley, another media aide to Governor Emmanuel, stepped in to assist his colleague with a response.

Mr Macauley said he visited the school after reading PREMIUM TIMES report.

“The pictures displayed by Premium Times are those of abandoned and uninhabited buildings that may have collapsed more than 15 years ago,” Mr Macauley commented on Mr Ndueso’s post. “No student used those facilities.”

Mr Macauley, like his colleague, Mr Ndueso, failed to post photos of any other boarding facility in the school, other than the ones contained in the PREMIUM TIMES report.

Mr Macauley’s claims on the photos of the cottages in the boy’s dormitory as being those of “abandoned and uninhabited buildings” are false and misleading.

Besides the fact that students were seen in the boy’s dormitory when this reporter visited the college more than three times, at least two photos published in the paper have shown the inside of the cottages, with beddings, students’ boxes, and school uniforms hanging loosely on the ceilings, which is a proof that students were still living in the dilapidated and unsafe buildings.

Meanwhile, an alumnus of the college who was on a fact-finding visit to the school after reading PREMIUM TIMES report told this newspaper he was prevented at the gate from entering the school.

“I introduced myself as an alumnus of the school. I explained to the security man that there were lots of photos of the school flying around the Internet, and that I came on a personal capacity to find out if they were true or not,” said the alumnus who didn’t want his name mention for fear of being victimised by the government.

“He (the security man) denied me access,” he said.




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