…His pupils threatened by partly collapsed school block, refuse dump
Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Teachers and pupils of St. Mary’s Primary School, North Bank, Makurdi Benue State, are expectedly still grieving over the murder of Mr. Steven Tavaku, who until last week was the head teacher of the school.
Tavaku was among six teachers who were gruesomely mowed down by invading herdsmen on a farm in Ikpayongo, Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State. He, along with nine other members of his cooperative society, had gone to the area to acquire 13 acres of land where the members of the society planned to cultivate rice to augment their earnings as civil servants, when the messengers of death suddenly swooped on them and killed six of them in the process.
Incidentally, a few hours before his demise that day between 10:00a.m and 11:30a.m, the soft-spoken head teacher had granted an interview to Sunday Sun, and commented on major issues affecting his school.
Tavaku’s last wish
During the interview, he had expressed his wish that the remaining part of the collapsed building in the school premises would be completely demolished so that the unstable structure would not collapse on its own one day and kill any of his pupils or anyone at all.
Sadly, what he feared most happened to him as he was killed alongside five others that same day by herdsmen while they were inspecting the land.
He had earlier that fateful day spoken about danger posed by the block of three classrooms which partly collapsed in 2016 as well as the heap of large refuse that was daily growing within the school premises.
A resident of the St. Mary’s area of North Bank had drawn the attention of Sunday Sun to the collapsed building as well as the refuse dump.
The resident lamented that the collapsed school block had not been demolished despite the real possibility that it could completely fall someday and kill or injure people in the process.
They also decried the health danger posed by the stench oozing from the dump site and the nonchalant attitude of the relevant agencies to evacuate the refuse from the area.
Speaking passionately on the two matters, Tavaku (now late) said he had reported both matters to the relevant authorities without eliciting any positive response yet.
“We have reported to the appropriate authority. The engineers came to inspect the building but since then, we have not received any response from them. The building collapsed on October 12, 2016. It is one of the oldest buildings in the school. The school was established in 1931 by the Roman Catholic Mission (RCM),” Tavaku said.
The deceased Head Teacher, who revealed that the contract for the renovation was awarded in 2011 but the work was not done until early 2015, said the building had three classrooms which accommodated the whole of primary four before it collapsed.
He said he immediately relocated the over 100 pupils to the school’s computer center built and donated by Hon. Emmanuel Jime, an alma mater of the school.
“The population of the school is currently 821 as against almost 1500 when the economy was good. But because of the economic situation coupled with the Fulani pogrom in the state, the population has been dwindling,” he said.
He stated further that he had made several efforts including writing to relevant authorities as well as holding meetings with market associations in the area to ensure that the big refuse dump within the school premises was removed, all to no avail.
“It’s a sad situation. The stench coming from the dump site is something else. We have made efforts to sanitize the place by burning it and even tried to stop dumping of refuse there. We met with the market committee and reported to them, warning that the school would get security to arrest whoever was caught dumping refuse in the premises.
“We started doing that initially by seizing the wheelbarrows of anyone caught in the act of dumping refuse in our premises but because we didn’t have security personnel, we had to release seized items to the owners after warning them. Sadly, the dumping continued especially at night.
“I even wrote to SUBEB and also went to the Ministry of Education to lodge complaints about the refuse dump. We wrote letters but no response. When Governor Ortom’s administration came on board, we heard verbally that the dumpsite was going to be removed and we were happy that the government was finally looking our way, but they never came back.
Tavaku said that although some security personnel were posted to the school by SUBEB, the only time they were seen was when they came to sign in or sign out.
“SUBEB has security who are posted to guard this school but we don’t feel their presence at all. There had been robberies in the school which nobody could account for.
“I had made efforts to fence the school by approaching SUBEB which took measurements of the entire area but they had promised that when funds were available the fencing would be done. Aside that, we need security and the cooperation of the community.
“We also called the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) and discussed with them but they haven’t been able to do anything because of economic recession. The PTA has been very helpful in the area of providing furniture as well as pavements for the school,” he stated.
For Mrs. Patience Tavaku, it is still like a dream that her husband who woke up hale and hearty that morning and even dropped her off at work would just be killed like that before the end of that day. Speaking to our correspondent at their North Bank residence on Monday, Mrs. Tavaku, a primary school teacher with SUBEB posted to UBE Primary School, North Bank recounted the activity of that fateful morning this way: “My husband woke that Wednesday morning about 5am and went to the church for morning mass. When he returned, he asked the children to fetch some water for him so that he could water some blocks that were molded for us the previous day.
“While I was cooking and preparing for work, I noticed that the children were running late for school and he was still watering the blocks. So, I begged him to allow the children go and he said they were almost through with the watering of the blocks and would soon leave. “He came in and ate the food I prepared and we both left the house for work around 8am. He had earlier told me of his proposed journey with some members of his cooperative society that day but he said they would be leaving around 10am. I called him back around 10am and he said the journey had been postponed till around 2pm and I wished him safe journey,” she said. Tavaku’s wife of 15 years and mother of two explained further that by 4pm, their last daughter called him on phone and told him to buy fuel to power their generator and banana for her on his way home.
“When our daughter called him with my phone, he told her that they were still on their way to the place and and promised to buy the things she requested on his way back home. He actually bought the banana because we saw it when we retrieved his car the next day.
“When I came back from church around 6pm and he was not still home, I even asked the children to fetch water so that he would water the blocks when he got back and they did. He usually watered his blocks morning and night.
“About 7pm when he still hadn’t come back, I started trying his number but it was not going again. I kept trying and the number was not reachable. I then called my friend whose husband is the chairman of the cooperative society to know if her husband had returned.
“My friend told me that her husband was supposed to go with them but couldn’t go with them because he traveled for another event.
She then said she heard that herdsmen attacked them but that none of them was hurt as they all managed to escape and were all at Ikpayongo preparing to return to Makurdi.
“When I heard that, I became allarmed I asked if she had the number of those who went with my husband so I could call and confirm if my husband was alive and safe since his number wasn’t going through. She said she would check.
“After a while, she called me back that she didn’t have the number of any of them but said that I should call the number of my husband’s cousin, Nicholas Andema a former DGSA who also went with them.
“I quickly called Andema’s wife to ask if she had heard from her husband and she said she too had been trying her husband’s number and it was not connecting. She promised to keep trying and that she would call me back as soon as she was able to contact her husband.
“Andema’s wife later called and said that she had gotten through to her own husband but that he said they were still in the bush waiting for my husband to join them.
“I quickly called Andema and he told me that while they were examining the land and sharing it portion by portion, somebody raised alarm that Fulani were coming and they all ran in different directions.” Mrs. Tavaku said her husband’s cousin told her that although some of their members, who came out from the bush were wounded, they were still waiting for her husband who might have run to another direction and was trying to join them where they were converging.
“Andema told me that two women who were hurt were immediately taken to the hospital. I then asked him if the Fulani had attacked them with guns and he said yes. That was when I said that if they were shooting, then maybe they would have shot my husband. “They informed me that mobile policemen stationed in the area that night said it was already late for them to enter the bush but promised to go look for him the next day. They went on Thursday and found the dead bodies of my husband and his colleague, Mr. Christian Anankpa, as well as the bodies of the secretary of the cooperative. Another member of the cooperative is still missing till now.”
Mrs. Tavaku recalled that she had had a dream in the early hours of that fateful Wednesday. In the dream, she and some other people got trapped in the village farm and when they finally came out no vehicle stopped to take them to Makurdi. She said she didn’t know the dream was about her husband.
“You know, my husband is from Andema, Mballagh Council Ward of Makurdi Local Government Area where Fulani have chased the locals away and occupied the area since January this year. Nobody is in that village again. The whole village is presently deserted.
“When I had that dream, I thought about my husband’s brothers children who moved from the village to stay with us since January. They still go to the area to farm. So, I was even telling them that they shouldn’t go near there that day or if they must, they should be careful. I never knew it was my husband that I dreamt about,” she said and broke down in tears. She described her late husband as a very kind, loving and generous man who sacrificed for everybody saying she would miss him greatly.
“He was a friend, a brother and a father to me. He was an orphan who grew up without his parents and he had been suffering from childhood. That is why his death pains me so much. He was the last of six children out of which only two are now alive. Some of his late brothers’ children are even with us.
One of his childhood friends, Mr. Mike Ogbole, overcame by the loss, down in tears as he spoke glowingly about his late friend.
“Tavaku Steve and I have been friends since 1982. We stayed together at the barracks in Yola and Kano. I later relocated my family to Makurdi from Kano in 2012 and he gave me two rooms in his brother’s house to keep my people. I joined my family in 2012 and today, I am the caretaker of that house.
“Steve was too good to everybody. He was too generous to everyone. Even though some of the tenants are owing, he did not disturb them because of the economic situation of the country. I haven’t even been able to pay my own rent and he had never for one day asked me. Indeed, I have lost a dear friend,” Ogbole said.