- We want to go back to school, they groan as number of out-of-school children swells over herdsmen crisis
ROSE EJEMBI, Makurdi
It was a busy mid-morning and everyone seemed to be going about their businesses within the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp located at Agan Toll Gate in Makurdi, the Benue State capital. In one corner of the camp, some young boys were engrossed in a football match while others watched and cheered.
At another corner, some women and men displayed their wares for sale at a makeshift market within the camp while a few others patronized them just as older men and women either chatted their time away or took a nap under the few available shades within the premises.
A schoolboy’s worry over disruption of his education
But while all these were on, 10-year-old Joseph Tsuwa, a Primary 2 pupil of LGEA Primary School, Kuduku, in Keana Local Government Area of Nasarawa State sat alone atop a tree stump, engrossed in thoughts.
As our correspondent moved closer to him to inquire what the matter was with him, after observing him from afar, little Joseph seemed jolted out of his reverie. Looking somewhat embarrassed by the question, he could only mutter: “I want to go back home. I want to go to school.”
Perhaps, that was the same thought that preoccupied others who, like Joseph, had been tenants in the camp for over one week after being sacked from their village by Fulani herdsmen.
“My parents and I have been in this camp for over one week now,” he explained after coming back fully from his daydreaming. “I can no longer go to school as a result of this crisis. Our whole village is deserted and I heard that our school has been closed down as a result of the crisis. We ran to this camp for refuge and now, I am not in school.”
Sorrowful tales of similarly affected students
Joseph is not alone in this quagmire; many other children like Helen Gbatim, a primary five pupil of St. Gabriel’s Primary School, Mzough, Kaseyo, in Guma Local Government Area and Ngunan Iorher, a primary four pupil of International Primary School, Yelwata in Nasarawa State, are also affected.
Although Helen had been at the camp for only three days as at the time our correspondent visited, she is so much in a hurry to go back home because according to her, aside from the fact that she is not in school at the moment, the poor condition of the camp is another factor that is making her homesick.
“I am pleading with the Federal government to bring the invasion and killings in our villages to an end so that we can return home and continue with our lives. I am sick and tired of staying in this camp. I want to go back home and continue with my education.”
Patience Kparun, 13-year-old JSS 3 student of Goodnews Baptist High School, Yelwata and 15-year-old Ityendezwa Emmanuel, SS3 student of Mt. Sinai Academic College, Kardarko lamented that while they were supposed to be preparing for their JSCE and WASCE respectively, they were hounded into the IDP camp with no hope of returning home and back to school anytime soon.
“I came in last Sunday to camp because Fulani herdsmen attacked our village and everyone ran away. They didn’t burn our school but no one is left in that village. Many people were killed and houses burnt in the village. That’s why I’m in this camp. But my problem is that I have not been going to school. I want to return soon so I can write JSCE exam”, Patience said.
“I am an SS3 student of Mt. Sinai Academic College, Kardarko. I am here because of Fulani attack on Kadarko where we live,” Emmanuel explained. “The killer herdsmen invaded our area that day, shot and killed many people including some of my uncles. Before the incident, I had registered for both WASC and NECO examinations and just while I was warming up to write them, this calamity befell us and we suddenly became tenants in the IDP camp.”
Emmanuel who is very apprehensive about his continued stay at the IDP camp disclosed that for now, he is not sure whether his plans to write the two final examinations would be realized or not as his school has been closed down and the community is deserted as a result of the attack.
Of dreams truncated by crisis
For Jennifer Apaer-Doo, 25-year-old SS3 student of Government Secondary School (GSS) Kadarko, the memory of how she watched, from her hiding, herdsmen kill twelve people in her area, will ever remain indelible in her mind.
Jennifer who is lucky to be alive, lamented that her dream of finally having an opportunity of remedying her result and gaining admission into institution of higher learning might not be realized this time.
“I wrote WASCE before now but my results were not good enough,” she said. “So, after working for some years and saving some money, I decided to go back to school and re-write the exam so that I can go to the university. But tell me, how can I achieve my goal now when my community has been ravaged and deserted because of these killings? Now my school is closed down and here I am at an IDP camp wasting away when I should be in class, learning and studying for my exams.”
She, however, praised the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, for his quick response in sending vehicles to evacuate all the Tiv people in Kadarko when it became obvious that the herdsmen would attack the area. She added that the move was a saving grace for many of them as the casualties would have been more.
Agbache Mmbei, the cashier of Government Secondary School (GSS) Torkula in Guma Local Government area of Benue State disclosed that his school which had registered over 120 students for WAEC and NECO examinations and 49 students for the JSCE examination is now under lock-and-key as a result of the sacking of the village by the herdsmen.
“We don’t know the fate of these students now because nobody is in Torkula again except security operatives who were drafted there to keep law and order. Before this unfortunate incident, over 120 students had registered for WAEC and NECO examinations while 49 students did for the JSC examination. Now, these students are nowhere to be found.”
A camp official at the Agan IDP camp who did not want his name in print told our correspondent that the camp was housing IDPs from Azara, Keana, Awe, Kardarko, Yelwata, Giza, Jangwa in Nasarawa as well as IDPs from Udei, Yogbo, Ukpiam, Torkula, Umenger all in Benue State.
He revealed that as at the time of this visit, the camp had registered 10520 male and female children but could not give the exact number of out-of-school children and youths in the camp as, according to him, registration and classification was still ongoing.
Addressing the issue
When contacted on what the state is doing about rehabilitating the out-of-school children in the various camps, Executive Secretary, State Emergency Management Agency, Emmanuel Shior said SEMA in collaboration with the state’s Ministry of Education has put in place extra-mural classes for them in all the seven camps to cater for their educational needs.
The SEMA boss who put the total number of school-age children affected by the dislocation, across the seven camps at 60,846, also noted that in addition to the seven camps for the internally displaced persons in the state, the state government is also grappling with the burden of catering for about 10,000 Cameroonian refugees who had been placed in two camps in Kwande local government area of the state.
Shior who listed the location of the seven IDP camps to include Agan Toll Gate, Daudu, Umenger, Gbajimba, Tse-Abi all in Guma and Anyii, Ugba camps in Logo stated that government is working hard to ensure security of the state so that the IDPs can return to their homes soon.