Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Prof. Wildred Uji is the Executive Secretary of Benue State Teaching Service Board (TSB). In this interview, he bore his mind on what the Fulani invasion portends for the educational sector of Benue State. Prof Uji appealed to both Federal and State Governments to come together to address the issue warning that unless that is done, “we might find ourselves not being able to compare with the people of other parts of the country.
What does the herdsmen invasion portend for the educational sector in the state?
There are some serious aspects of political undertone in what is going on. Somebody somewhere we may not know this whole kind of systematic pogrom that is aimed at distabilizing the north in terms of the development of the area. This is what is going on. And I expect that President Muhammadu Buhari should see this big picture and be able to see beyond the issue of Fulani and local farming communities. There is a greater design because the north, day by day keeps shrinking back but there is relative peace in southern Nigeria and of course, that part of Nigeria is already educationally developed and more advanced than the north. And so, in the next 30 years, we are really going to have a crisis on our hand more than what we even imagine now. In Benue state, the herdsmen invasion has done lot destruction to our school system most especially the primary and secondary schools. In Guma, Logo and Ukum, these are local government areas where schools have been closed down completely. If you take the student population, almost about 200,000 student population in the secondary schools and over 100,000 pupils in primary schools are out of school as a result of their displacement following the Fulani invasion of the state. So, you can imagine about 300,000 students and pupils displaced. What is happening to these children in terms of the future of education? Some of the schools in these affected local governments have been burnt down completely. Like in Guma for instance, the Government Secondary School (GSS) in Gbajimba, the headquarters of Guma was totally razed down by the herdsmen. Like I said again, one would question the motive of burning down a whole school. That also happened to GSS Agasha also in Guma Local government Area. If you move unto Logo Local Government Area, schools like Government Secondary School, Logo and many other community driven schools have been closed down or burnt down completely as a result of these crises. And that has adversely affected primary and secondary schools in these affected local government areas. Now, there are local government adjuncts like Katsina-Ala, Makurdi, Gwer West for instance. These local governments have been affected by these crises and of course, resulting to not a near closure of schools but sometimes you find students falling out completely as a result of one displacement here and there. And not to forget that Okpokwu Local Government Area, Ogbadibo, Agatu Local Government Area and to some extent, Apa Local Government Area have been hit also by these herdsmen invasion. I have been to all these local governments in the course of my tour of schools as the executive secretary of the Benue State TSB and that schools are closed, children are forced to be at home, totally displaced and of course, with the destruction of economic activities, you hardly find the fate of these children tomorrow. So, this is where we are in Benue State in terms of the herdsmen invasion and what is happening to the development of education sector in Benue State.
I went round the schools within Makurdi metropolis, and I noticed there are expressed fears even in Makurdi which is referred to as an urban setting where we think that people are secured. There are all kinds of rumors and counter rumors most especially in recent days with the kind of skirmishes that took place on the outskirts of Makurdi town. So, generally, the whole crisis has overshadowed the state of education in Benue State in the primary and secondary schools. We are yet to record the deaths of teachers in these crises but definitely, our students have been affected and we are going through the process of documentation to see how many students have been affected in the crises or who were killed as a result of the crises. There is this other terrible dimension also relating to the crisis where several of our teachers most especially from Zone A have received letters of threats. Several principals and teachers have walked into my office to show me letters of threats they received. And once these kind of letters are written to you, you better take it seriously or the next thing, you might find yourself abducted or totally eliminated in the process. So, the future is under attack. Education is compromised completely in the situation we find ourselves. I suggest President Buhari take a second look at the unwholesome development of the crisis between herdsmen and farmers communities. It’s not just the economy that is being attacked, education which is the future of the country. And if we destroy education to such an extent that we are beginning to see, there is hardly any future for our children tomorrow.
You said some teachers have reported cases of threats to their lives. May we know where those threats are coming from and whether you have reported to security agencies?
The threats are from criminal elements in the area. The Sankera axis houses over 100 schools. Every teacher wants to be transferred away from that axis. We have seen letters where teachers tells TSB that, I want to be alive, so, I don’t want to be principal any longer. You asked where the threats are coming from. You see, when there is a break down of law and order, all miscreants and criminals exploit or cashes in on that situation. We wouldn’t say that everything that is happening is blamed on the herdsmen. No. There are criminal elements, miscreants taking advantage of the degeneration in terms of the provision of security to achieve their desperate aims in all these areas. Someone told me and I thought the person was joking that if you drive into places like Katsina Ala and you drive in a good car and you slow down anywhere, criminals will catch up with you and ask for their own share of the money and if you can’t give them what they want, they would deal with you. When I was touring Katsina-Ala under this tough condition, I literally had to suppress my identity as ES of TSB and the reason was simple. If they had known that this caliber of government personnel had come into town and is going round, they would simply just waylay or even kidnap me. It’s as bad as that. Whatever this herdsmen invasion has done, it has created room for other criminal elements or activities to go on to unleash the kind of mayhem that we see.
How many teachers do you have in Zone A?
Zone A has roughly about 2,000 teachers while zone B has about 1,500 teachers with about 100 schools too. And of course, when you move to Zone B where you have Makurdi, Guma and also Gwer West, these are areas also affected by the herdsmen’s invasion. So, if you take the affected local governments alone, the number of displaced students is overwhelming.I pray that this carnage should stop because it’s going to be a nightmare if it continues. With what has happened already, take it that this is a whole school year that has been disrupted. If you go round the IDP camps, there are internally displaced persons schools established in the camps. But the fact is that the situation in the camps is so overwhelming in terms of population and of course other logistics that it’s so difficult to control the teaching/ learning situations in these IDP camps. For instance, how do you teach these children when they are hungry? You need food first before you can even listen to a teacher. How do you also take care of some basic medical care? So, the school system is not the best that can operate under what you call a refugee system. Despite the fact that Benue State Teaching Service Board, the ministry of Education, SUBEB and other spirited private individuals have taken efforts in terms of providing IDPs infrastructure education yet, it’s simply overwhelming. But in the situation that we have found ourselves, it has to be just that way. But I think it will take the intervention of the president and the governor of the state, working together in some kind of atmosphere of diplomacy to end this crisis quickly so that the future of our children will be restored. There is a challenge for northern Nigeria in terms of educational development in the next 50 years. We might find ourselves being unable to compete with the rest of Nigerians.
Thinking about the effect of this crisis on education in the affected areas, how long do you think it will take people of these areas to be able to recover academically?
That is a thoughtful question because the infrastructure is destroyed and you need to fix the buildings and so on. But that is just in terms of the physical infrastructure which you can fix within a year or two so that these children will be back to school again. But the basic thing you are going to battle is the psychological confidence in the minds of these children. They have gone through horrors, they have seen terrible times. It’s almost like a holocaust also referred to as a pogrom. So, these things are vivid and fresh on their minds. They have lost their parents, they have lost their loved ones, they are traumatized. So, there is much more to be done in that respect and that can take a whole lifetime if care is not taken. Most especially where adequate attention is not properly given. So, I can say that recovering is going to take a long time. It’s not going to be sudden. Even if you move in now and provide all the necessary physical infrastructure everywhere, you still have a lot to do in terms of working on the minds of these children. It’s like a war situation. And of course, in the aftermath of the war, rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction takes time. It’s something that never comes overnight suddenly that way. But we are working hard within the resources that we have that as soon as this crisis is put behind us, these children will return back to their normal schools and of course, continue with their studies and we will see how we can equip our teachers with the necessary intellectual capacity to help in the rehabilitation of these children.