Of dilapidated schools in Akwa Ibom

Pupils sitting on the floor to learn in a classroom PHOTO SOURCE: INTERNET

Between May and July1, Premium Times, the nation’s most reliable online newspaper, ran an extensive six-part series on dilapidated physical structures in public schools in Akwa Ibom State. It was a well investigated, balanced and well reported story on the decay of public schools in the state. In lucid details, the expose shows caved roofs, broken floors, leaking classrooms, fallen walls and children sitting and sleeping on bare floors. Many Akwa Ibom people, especially the political elite, were thoroughly embarrassed to be confronted with such a pervasive decay and decrepitude in schools, some of which were once the pride of the nation. The publication presented a different Akwa Ibom from the one shown in official glossy propaganda brochures and TV infomercials. For eight years, Godswill Akpabio has boasted of his ‘uncommon transformation’ mantra and presented a carefully burnished image of the state to the world. His administration earned and spent over N3 trillion, and left behind a huge debt.

Continuing in his footsteps, Udom Emmanuel, his successor, has in the last three years earned and spent over N750 billion, yet most of our public schools just look like a pigsty or at best poultry shed. It is the most criminal neglect of that all important sector that could only arise from gross misplacement of priority, lack of vision, misapplication and mismanagement of funds by the two administrations. While the Akpabio administration was obsessed with building hotels and big monuments, Udom Emmanuel is lacking in ideas and imagination on how best to touch lives.

The publication has been so discomforting that the commissioners for information and education had declined to make comments when the reporter approached them. The governor himself was taciturn for two weeks, and when he eventually spoke, he was incoherent and waffling. He blamed the decay on the steady increase in school enrolments since his predecessor launched free education a decade ago. The governor cited Uyo High School whose population is about 5,000 and claimed that such a huge head count would stretch facilities beyond their limits. He is indirectly admitting government’s lack of planning, foresight and inability to rise up to a challenge. If the school population is rising, then the government should build more schools. A growing metropolis like Uyo ought to have had at least five new public secondary schools in the last 10 years to cope with rapidly growing enrolments.

It is rather bizarre that in the midst of this embarrassing decay and rapid growth in students’ numbers, the Udom Emmanuel administration is planning to spend over N150 billion to build a new Governors’ Lodge in Lagos, a worship centre and a high rise building in Uyo, instead of spending a fraction of that sum to build more schools and modernise existing ones. Such a misplaced priority only implies that the governor is not only insensitive but out of touch with the realities of the 21st century. In an age that development is driven by knowledge, what business does a government have in building a church and our schools are falling apart and children are sitting on bare floor? How can a governor justify wasting billions on fancy buildings when our schools are in a terrible state of decay?

If there is any field of human endeavour in which the people of Akwa Ibom State should not be disadvantaged in any way, it is education. By reason of history and geography, we were some of the earliest to receive and embrace western education from the Europeans as far back as the 17th Century. This explains why every list of the 25 oldest post-primary educational institutions in Nigeria features at least two that were established about 120 years ago in what is now the territory of Akwa Ibom State. (Four, if you expand that territory to include Calabar to which people in the mainland – present Akwa Ibom – had easy access in practical terms). To put things in their true perspective, it is worth noting that at that point in time, there was not a single secondary education in what is now all of the South East (Igbo heartland), Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states!

Consider also that by 1938, the forefathers of the people of Akwa Ibom were sufficiently educated and aware to the point of recognising the need to establish a scholarship programme for the education and training of their sons and daughters in universities abroad. Under the same auspices, they also set up the Ibibio State College, a few years later in what was the only such entirely indigenous community effort at the time. These pioneering efforts yielded a land that was populated by fine  schools and colleges and these attracted students from across Nigeria and beyond. Among them are: Etinan Institute; Methodist Boys High School, Oron; Holy Family College, Abak; Regina Coeli, Ikot Abasi; Cornelia Connelly College, Uyo; Union Secondary School, Itu; and this writer’s alma mater, Lutheran High School, Obot Idim, which was founded 93 years ago. There existed also a host of highly regarded teacher training colleges as well as famed centres for technical education – at Ikot Ataku, Abak, Uyo and Ikot Ada Idem, Ibiono. These attracted the best and brightest and they were sent them forth into the wider world where they held their own in every field.

The cluster effect of early adoption of western education and the relative plenitude of educational institutions coupled with a palpable hunger for learning and self improvement meant that Akwa Ibom people took to the business of teaching and education like fish to water. From a relatively small population of people occupying a relatively tiny piece of real estate, teachers and educators of Akwa Ibom origin emerged and spread out across Nigeria to impart knowledge and mould character. Thus a Charles Akpan Ekere from Etinan who would go on to serve as a permanent secretary for education in Eastern regional government ended up teaching a Cyprian Ekwensi in faraway Ilesha and the renowned economist and university professor, Eskor Toyo and a young Gani Fawehinmi in Ikare, Ondo.
Etim is a journalist and banker.

It is therefore very sad and disheartening that Akwa Ibom State, which was among the earliest set of people to welcome the European missionaries and accept western education about 150 years ago, is now saddled with training their children in rundown and ramshackle schools in the 21st century. How did the great grand children of the forerunners of education in Nigeria end up, as the reports show irrefutably, sitting on bare floors to attempt to learn? Why are there no teachers available to teach in a land where teaching was once an industry? Why are over 100-year-old schools that once made us proud and defined the very essence of our  educational heritage left to rot when they could have been preserved as the bequests they are? Can England for example allow the venerable buildings at Oxford University or Eton College to crumble and fall apart? How can we sit idly and watch as schools are re-claimed by the forests that our forebears deliberately cleared to make way for them? Akwa Ibom deserves better than this.
Etim is a journalist and banker.

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