- Govt: We require over N1bn to fix our schools
- Parents: Our children have stopped going to school
Over 20,000 children in Benue State, who are either out of school or learning under deplorable environment in IDP camps, are calling on the federal and state governments to help them
These are not the best of times for Benue State children and their parents, as they are either completely out of school or learning under deplorable conditions, especially under sheds and trees, make-shift structures as well as dust infested floors without furniture and other learning materials.
This is no thanks to incessant attacks by armed herdsmen, who unleashed terror on their communities, forcing them to abandon their homes and schools.
The children and their parents, who have continued to count their losses in the last 18 months, are from Agatu, Logo, Guma, Gwer West, Kwande, Buruku, Gwer East, Ogbadibo, Okpokwu and Markurdi Local Government Areas of the state, which are mostly affected by the herdsmen attacks.
Expressing worry over the development in the last 18 months, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), said more than 50 public primary school structures had been destroyed between January and December 2018, forcing over 20,000 children out of school with over 16,000 of them housed or taking shelter in different Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps across the state.
However, when New Telegraph visited some of the areas for on-the-spot assessment of the situation of the children, especially in terms of education delivery, it was discovered that most of the pupils are still psychologically traumatised following the attacks, which led to the death of either their parents, siblings, colleagues or teachers.
For instance, RCM Primary School, Ikyule in Logo Local Government Area, which was established in 1972 and one of the schools noted for sound and qualitative education, had been deserted due to the attack.
Today, the 47-year-old school, reputed to have produced several old students, who have excelled in their various endeavour, and which used to be the pride of the community, is in total ruins owing to herdsmen, who reportedly set the school ablaze in 2014.
The attacks forced the state government to close down the school, which is now being occupied by cows, grazed on the premises that have been over grown by weeds and bush.
As a result of the mindless attacks and palpable apprehension of members of the community, the pupils and teachers had since fled the school.
Now, the closest school to the community, NKST Ayilamo, is also not the best option for the pupils and their parents as the school had also at various times been attacked by the herders.
Meanwhile, the schools at the local government area of the former governor of the state and now a Senator, representing Benue North East in the National Assembly, Dr. Gabriel Suswam were not speared as the area had been declared a war zone by the herdsmen.
New Telegraph, however, noted that the education of the children in various IDP camps had been greatly affected, as there were no longer functional classrooms, conducive learning environment, quality and adequate teachers to enhance effective teaching-learning process.
The displaced children at Abagena IDP camp, located along Makurdi-Lafia Road, when New Telegraph visited the area, were being taught by a volunteered teacher, Ninbei Abeche from Tokula community in Guma Local Government Area, who was said to have continued classes in the IDP camps following the takeover of their communities by armed herdsmen.
Since the attacks by herdsmen who also took over many communities in the area, the over 15,000 pupils and students are out of school or learning in the make-shift classes in the IDP camps where they and their parents are taking refuge.
Lamenting their plight and that of their children, a parent at one of the IDPs camps, told New Telegraph that their children had since stopped going to school because the schools have often been the targets of the attackers each time they strike.
Due to this, he said the education of the children had suffered negatively in the last few months as their schools had been taken over by the herdsmen.
But, according to Abeche, one of the major challenges confronting him in ensuring effective teaching is the large number of the students that has outstretched the capacity of the make-shift structure put in place in the IDP camp which could not accommodate the pupils as well as pave way for adequate teaching-learning process.
“We lack school facilities such as teaching materials and conducive environment to impact knowledge to the students,” he said, adding that the children were already lamenting their plight and deplorable learning conditions in the camps.
Towards this end, he called on the Federal and state government to come to the aid of the children so that they could return to their schools and ancestral homes as soon as possible.
Abeche, therefore, expressed worry and concerned about the learning environment in which the children are exposed to, saying such learning situation would never aid quality learning or knowledge acquisition.
Meanwhile, a JSS 3 student, Sunday Swaku, who bemoaned their predicament, also expressed the hope that the situation would be resolved as soon as possible so they could go back to their schools for normal lessons to continue as they have in the last 18 months been left behind by their peers in other parts of the state and country.
He recalled with anguish: “No fewer than 10 people were killed in our village, so we had to run for our dear lives to this place. Although, I am going to school here, my hope is to return to our community. We are going to school here free and I will also sit for my Junior NECO free, but I still want to go back home. I want the herdsmen to leave our village.”
Also, another Senior School (SS 2) student, Kelvin Liam, lamented that the attacks had affected their education adversely, saying: “We are young children; we should be in school and not at IDP camps. All our schools have either been shut down or converted to IDPs’ camps. This forced us out of school. The government should do something urgently to help us.”
This was as the students appealed to the Federal Government to intervene in their plight and help to end the crisis once and for all, for them to learning like their other peers across the country.
However, the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, whose administration had been working relentlessly to ensure that the crisis was resolved, had during one of his regular visits to the IDP camps, quoted as regretting that 60 per cent of the displaced are children of school age and who have not been able to return to school.
Also, condemning the development, the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Teaching Service Board (TSB), Dr. Wilfred Uji, while speaking with New Telegraph about the plight of school children in the various IDP camps, however, disclosed that at least 200, 000 students in post-primary institutions alongside 1,000 teachers were displaced as a result of herdsmen attacks and terror unleashed on the state.
According to Uji, no fewer than 20 out of 64 government-owned post-primary schools across the three senatorial districts of the state were destroyed by the militants.
He noted that the state would require over N1 billion from the Federal Government as intervention to fix the schools and facilities destroyed by the insurgents, as well as to rehabilitate affected teachers to enable the students to settle down for normal academic work.
Uji, who lamented the level of devastation the invasion had caused the education sector in the state, further explained that the areas that is worst hit by the mayhem include Agatu in Agatu Local Government Area as well as Udei, Gbajimba, Torkula all in Guma Local Government Areas and Gwer East, Logo, Ukum and Katsina-Ala LGAs respectively.
“At one instance, the herdsmen wrote a letter to the Principal of Community Secondary School, Tongov in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area and the man was to be killed later,” he lamented, even as he described the future of children displaced by the attacks as bleak.
“It will take the state and other parts of Northern part of the country more than 100 years to catch up with the rest of country educationally,” he stressed, regretting that the North accounts for over 80 per cent illiteracy rate in the country.
While adding that there were over five million school drop-outs in the region, Uji added: “There is no future for our children educationally. Urgent intervention is needed to restore confidence in the system. We should stop playing politics with the education of our young ones. In the next 100 years, we will still find ourselves quarreling over the issue of education.
“The North is the one marginalising itself. The Northerners, especially the President should wake up in order to sanitise the educational system in that region.”
As part of moves to address the educational needs of the displaced children, he recalled that Governor Ortom’s administration had in the interim provided temporary classroom structures, instructional materials and facilities, recruitment of volunteer teachers to teach the children, while feeding of the children has also been taken care of by the government.
Uji disclosed that the wage bill of the board had dropped from over N600 million to N500 million following the retirement of more than 500 teachers and death of over 100, stressing that the state requires 5,000 teachers to replace those that either retired or died.
He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to establish the Secondary Schools Commission like the National Universities Commission (NUC), Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), and the National Board of Technical Education (NBTE) for polytechnic education to regulate the activities of secondary school in the country.
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