Amid the maniacal celebration of Nigeria at 60, filled with self-adulations, and before the D-day that featured the showcasing of colourful cultural ensembles and breathtaking air displays by the Nigerian Air Force pilots, this reporter’s visited some public primary schools in Oke-Oba, Ibadan, Oyo State. But it served as a sad reminder of those famous lines from Birago Diop’s immortal poem “Vanity.”
“If we tell gently, gently/All that we shall one day have to tell/Who will then hear our voices…?/Sad complaining voices of beggars/Who indeed will hear them…?/ If we cry roughly of our torments…/What eyes will watch our large mouths…/What hearts will listen to our clamouring?/What ear to our pitiful anger?/In the black depth of our plaintive throats?…/”
When leaking roofs, cracked, gaping school walls, hanging windows and doors, termite-eaten, unhinged door frames, dilapidated structures, unsanitary school environment form themselves into the proverbial large mouths and plaintive throats, and are now the ones sending out distress signals in insalubrious echoes, then the government of the day or whoever is in charge of putting those schools back to shape had better listen and do something urgent about it before the embers of celebration die down.
Remembering past glories
Ironically, the affected schools under focus were once known for their healthy competitions like the ones we had the other day on October 1, during our 60th Independence celebration but now they are a shadow of their former selves. The schools are: Aladura Mission Schools, Seventh-Day Adventist School, Ayaba Alafia Primary School and IMG Kings Barracks Primary School. Today they are either partially occupied by reptiles and bushes or totally abandoned.
They used to stage local cuisines and cultural competitions that were mostly won by Aladuras’ pupils. The sports competition was rightly won by Ayabas’ pupils, while Seventh-Day and IMG always came top on the academic competitions. In those days, before the change of uniform by former governor of the state, Lam Adesina, the schools almost shared same colour of uniform: Aladura and Seventh-Day pupils were dressed in brown for both top and down but Ayaba were dressed in all blue. In those days, you could only identify students by their school badges.
But now, the uniforms are clearly differentiated: Ayabas’ pupils dress in white and blue checkers to and a plain-blue down; Aladuras’ are adorned with white-and-purple checkers top and plain purple down; IMGs’ pupils wear white-and-red checkers top and a plain red down, while Seventh-Day’s differently dress in white-and-blue stripe and a plain blue down. It always made a lovely sight to see these pupils on the road, either going or coming back from school. In fact, they were the benchmark for public primary schools in the whole state, but as they resumed for a new school session on September 21, 2020, after the forceful shutdown by government owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the pupils walked into the school compound in dirty, faded and torn uniforms.
IMG, set on a rocky hill, now in the ‘valley’ of life
Located on Koyejo Street, IMG is known to be a school set on a rock. It was known for its population due to the number and influence of old pupils association. It had about 40 students in all the classes. Ironically, while its gate is intact, the fence of the school is no more, making you wonder what the gate is there to protect. Under lock, used bamboos from a building under construction are what have been used now to temporarily form its fence. Located on the hills and founded in 1930s, it is said to boast some of the finest teachers who started the policy of teachers and pupils not speaking “vernacular” (local languages) while in class because of its mixed tribes. This was reportedly done to eschew suspicion and to foster unity. The buildings are solidly built because their foundations were set on the rock.
But today, the rocky foundation has been swallowed up by tall bushes. About nine classrooms out of 12 have been abandoned as the bushes tower above the buildings. The street mechanics turn the field into workshops after school hours. The few available buildings could hardly prevent raindrops or sunrays from streaming in.
According to an account given to this reporter by its gateman called Alfa, “the building started decaying from 1998. The class that the pupils are using now was mended by the teachers. The roofs were spoilt by those who play football in the school. We can’t stop them because there is no gate or fence. We had to beg the person building his house across the street to give us those bamboos. The mechanic helped a little by filling the rocky side.”
He added that the pupils of Aladura who could not write the common entrance in their school were sent down to the school. “The pupils were indeed transferred here for their exams but they had returned. There is still a probability that the rest of the pupils will be transferred here since the government is not concerned. The school didn’t have up to 10 pupils. We have roughly 40 students in the school. I can’t count the buildings on that side because we can’t see all of them. The little we could see was as a result of the resilience of the head teacher who hired some men to clear it up to this level but there are still buildings at the back. The mechanics were the ones who leveled the ground here because they are using it. The fence was demolished completely long time ago because part of it was fallen and the safety of the pupils was threatened. The fence was built together with the school. It was old and needed to be renovated.”
On their part, the teachers have not been folding their arms. Saturday Sun gathered that they had been writing the government albeit to no avail. “When we write, the government would send representatives who would come and take pictures and have some chitchat with us and that would be the last of it,” one of them said.
Aladura, needs a lot of prayers to get back to shape
As the name suggests, it used to be a place of intensive prayers by pupils. The school first started as a church when the late Evangelist Joseph Babalola, Founder of Christ Apostolic Church, CAC, used to go round the country to minister to the needs of people. But out of the 14 buildings, only one and that of the head teacher’s office is standing. Today, the school which was founded in 1946 is in utter ruins. The first building, from the drawings on it, is for kindergarten. But the walls have been so scraped by wears and tears occasioned by inclement weather so much as to reveal the clayey inner part of the building. The roof can no longer hold out raindrops from the sky. The floor is flooded as lizards of various sizes take their turns to play around. As the reporter ventured to advance into the empty school, he was warned not to try it as there had seen snakes sighted there recently and which escaped into the church premises when people try to give them a chase.
According to one of the leaders of the church, Mr. S. Elijah, the major fear is the dilapidated nature of the buildings. He added that because of it, parents are no longer confident to send their wards there for fear that the buildings might one day cave in on them.
“Before the government takeover, it was the church that started the school and it was awesome,” he explained. “There were great teachers who wanted to be part of the school legacy. The students were fed twice. It was not free but there was a system that allowed them to feed the pupils until the parents could pay. They were two food vendors, one for the morning session and the other for the evening session. The problem started when they started posting teachers without requisite passion to the school. The policy declined with ease. The school was known for football and sports excellence because it had big field and other playgrounds.
“Another factor that affected it was the increase in private schools. Parents became ashamed when they tell their friends that their children attend public schools. The school was filled with police officers’ children then. Together, they founded their Police Children School. The few parents who left their children here took them away because the bricks started to fall. They fell anytime. Most times, it was in the night or after rainfalls. The teachers were also not safe. The fear struck everybody. Even we ourselves were scared for them.”
Asked what they did or are doing to remedy the situation, he said they always complained about the state of the school to no avail. “There were times the government sent representatives who took pictures and notes but they did return after that. The government might be afraid that there is much work to be done in this area.”
Seventh Day Adventist, sorry state of ‘Stand-Up’ school
Right from the entrance of the school, it was obvious that things have changed. Not only has the length of the fence been turned to shops up till the gate, also the logo of the school that is always visible on the gate has disappeared. On the day that this reporter visited, there was nobody left to man its gate. Hence it was left wide open. But while the first building, on the right seems new, recently renovated but was locked, the rest of the buildings are a shadow of their former structures. They looked like the abandoned ship found by the mythical Captain Jack Sparrow in the bottom of the sea; it’s only that this time around, there is no treasure, only ruins.
The school known for its popular “stand-up” song that formed its school anthem, ‘Stand up, stand up, the pupils of Seventh-Day, Oke Bola,’ is unfortunate to have fallen on bad times in both the standard of its buildings and its learning. To start with, not even the wall on which the anthem was written was spared; it has cracks all over it. In fact, part of the anthem has been cleaned off by the pilling paints. The head teachers’ office smells of dust while poor drainage has divided the assembly ground into shreds.
As the reporter approached the head teachers’ office, a woman carrying a baby and trying to register his second son by her side approached also. The head teacher who declined to speak to the reporter, quickly attended to her and her son whose name was later revealed as Basit Akeem. In the course of the exercise, she was asked to bring broom and notebook as part of the registration requirements.
Not long after this, the head teacher left the office to attend to a classroom that suffered from a leaking roof. Some documents sighted by the reporter showed that though the state runs a free education policy, it provides less learning facilities. The requirement states that each student must have at least 19 books for English Language but only one textbook was provided.
In further discussion with Basit’s mother while the head teacher was away, she stated that the government has misled many parents with its vague promise of free education. The woman who spoke in mostly Yoruba dialect said: “It is the politicians who have done this. They have deceived us all with free education and free feeding but they don’t keep to their words. They have made us to relax. There are parents who don’t bother to give their children money again because the government promised to feed them. The last administration before Seyi Makinde came in fed the children and the parents expect same to continue under the present government. But we have suffered in their hands because they gave free education only on paper, during their campaigns.”
Ayaba without its usual vibrant voice
Neither the students nor the teachers want to talk about the school. Located in the same compound with St. Andrew Catholic Church, the grace of the church does not cover it. Most of the ex-students are police children who lived in Iyaganku Barracks or parishioners in the church but the politics of the government has kept the school in the limbo of progress. Ayaba might have a chance if the government decides to return the school to the church. If not, the school will be history after the tenure of the present government because it is as silent as a graveyard.
Oyo state government reacts, adopts wait-and-see attitude
When Saturday Sun reached out to the state Commissioner for Education, Barrister Olasunkanmi Aremu Olaleye, he claimed to be unaware of the state of the schools and referred the reporter to the Executive Secretary of State Universal Basic Education Board. But the man who refused to give out his name promised to relay his message to the board chairman.
“You need to give the names of the schools, then you will have to speak with the officers who are in charge of the education because they rolled out some new projects so that you can be sure,” Olaleye stated.
Before the reporter contacted him, he was warned by those who should know that he has an attitude of not taking responsibility for any matter that fell under his jurisdiction. Nobody knows how true the allegation is. The Executive Secretary whose phone number he provided the reporter with stopped responding to calls. Who knows, in the long run, the fate of those schools may lie in the hands of God, perhaps, through the help of ex-students who might remember that they once attended them.