Joe Effiong, Uyo
Ikot Essien is one sleepy community in Ikot Ibesikpo clan, Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government, Akwa Ibom State. Even though the community is connected to the National Grid, it is one of the few communities in the state that has not yet seen a tarred road. Its prominent resource is the vast arable land, which the secondary school in its domain is a major beneficiary.
But the Community Secondary Grammar School, Ikot Essien Ibesikpo, appears to be regretting being located in that community due to its present state of neglect and despair. The signboard ecstatically announces its location, but the gate mocks such ecstasy with its melancholic appearance occasioned by despair if not disuse.
In fact, a time was when those who committed any offence in the area were asked to swear to the gate of the school because of its juju-like appearance. Its entrance is like a journey to the forest of no return while the gate is a picture of a typical African shrine. Thick overgrown elephant grass covers the football pitch with dangerous reptiles taking over as their natural habitat.
The school was established in 1979, initially with 38 students and nine volunteer teachers. But the student population at the moment has grown to 1,238, spread into 12 classrooms with 28 teachers. Unfortunately, infrastructure on ground does not support such a geometrical progression of both students and academic staff strength of the school.
Principal of the school, Mrs Enobong Usungurua, told our correspondent: “If you were here early this year, possibly you wouldn’t have access to this office. This place used to be inhabited by snakes. I killed two snakes in my office as I resumed duty for SSS 3 students who are preparing for the May/June 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
“When I arrived here nine months ago, I had to paint my office, make adjustments on the former doors that were burgled regularly to ensure that official documents are saved.”
Ironically, the school is such that its internally generated revenue could have solved some of the problems. It has several hectares of palm trees on its premises, but it was learnt that principals, teachers and parents connived in the past to benefit from the proceeds from the sales or leases of such crops and farmland.
Usungurua said: “I inquired about the school palm fruit plot with plans to use the proceeds to upgrade basic facilities such as the collapsed plumbing system and water. The PTA chairman told me that the plot was leased out for seven years. I was helpless.”
But she was thankful to the current PTA, which has put in effort to improve the fortunes of the school through the lease of the palm plot which proceeds were used to put a roof on one of the buildings. That seems to be the only rehabilitation the school enjoyed in years from the parents.
According to the principal, immediately she was posted to the school, she realized that it had not organised inter-house sports competition in the previous six years. She had to spend her personal resources to make sure the event was hosted early this year: “This is one event that children like. I was posted here last September. I am not yet up to a year in the school. But the painting you see here was carried out by me.”
She also attributed the unkempt nature of the school premises to the prolonged absence of academic activities occasioned by the COVID-19 lockdown. But even with the partial reopening of schools for exams, Ikot Essien Grammar School cannot still benefit from the facilities provided by the Ministry of Education for students.
As at the time The Education Report visited to the school, it has not been provided with an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of staff and students. This is because the student population is not up 1,500, only three wash-hand plastic vessels were provided while some schools got up to five.
The principal said she has written to the Ministry of Education concerning the plight of the school but there has been no positive response. Her major concern now is security, as the only night guard employed by the PTA cannot effectively police the massive school compound: “You can’t plant anything on the school land and come back to meet it. Even the door leading to my office has been burgled four times till I said I wouldn’t repair it again so that they could come in and see that there is nothing here to steal.
“Someone promised to donate computers to us but there is no building to put them. The whole story of ICT is alien to this school. As you move round you will see what used to be the laboratories and introduction to technology workshop. The last piece of equipment in the workshop was a filing machine. But they reported to me that it has been stolen. So there is nothing in the lab.
“The school was up-to-date in facilities. But stealing and neglect is what has rendered it desolate as seen now. There was a staff quarters and corpers’ (NYSC members) lodge. But they have since removed the roofs from those buildings.
“The compound master had persevered to live here alone since he started work in 2003. But he had to pack out a year before last, as I’m told. Now that building has been vandalised, there have been several pictures flying online about the deplorable nature of this school. I thank those who have taken such interest in the school’s development.”
All the same, Usunurua said the school has been doing well in WASSCE with the last batch of students performing so well that students from nearby schools came begging to register for the exams but she told them to go back to their schools.
PTA chairman, Mr Okon Ekpenyong, said the only hall that serves as a classroom for all the students was built using proceeds from the college palm fruit plot: “I am the one who made the school have the present face of development. I used the school palm fruits plot to bring a little development that you see in the school now. I appealed to the principal to allow me to use the palm fruits belonging to the school for development. The former principal accepted and we leased it out for seven years. As I speak, the lease agreement is not up to five years.”
He disclosed that the facilities in the school became worse to the extent that when somebody commits any crime such as stealing or burglary in our village, the thief will be forced to swear to the school premises as juju to prove his innocence of such crime: “This is because shrines in our community were better than our school. The people now use the school compound to administer oaths due infrastructure deficit occasioned by decay and rot.
“I wrote a letter to the Ministry of Education requesting intervention on decayed facilities in the school to no avail. Recently, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), came for inspection but nothing at the moment. All the letters I wrote to the state government have not been acknowledged.”
The village head, Chief Edem Ekpenyong, could not be reached for comment on the fate of the school. He was not available in his palace when our correspondent visited, and his number was perpetually unavailable when called.
Efforts to speak with the Commissioner for Education, Dr Enobong Mbobo, were rebuffed. Twice she told our Correspondent that she was in a meeting. At one occasion she had thundered; “Go straight to the point, I’m in a meeting. So go straight to the point.” But when the issue of Ikot Essien Grammar School was introduced, she retorted: “I can’t discuss such things now,” and hung up.
A text message sent to her phone still requesting her comment on the school was never responded to till the time of filing this report. The message read: “Commissioner, good evening. My name is Joe Effiong of The Sun Newspapers. Last week, I called you concerning the dilapidated and desolate condition of Community Secondary Grammar School, Ikot Essien Ibesikpo. You told me you were in a meeting. But you afterwards said you couldn’t discuss it then. Please, I will be very obliged to have your comment about what your ministry is planning to salvage the school that has 1,238 students and less than 30 teachers with only one functional classroom, no labs and no intro teach workshop. The story will go to bed by noon tomorrow. Thanks and good night.”