Nigeria, and the alarm bells for the deaf

kidnapped in Nigeria

In the middle of the week, I had made my mind up to engage my readers in an admonition about our education, our future and where we were unknowingly knowingly headed to. Then several home callings happened that reinforced my decision and it was pertinent I do this admonition. First, we lost our mama in Bauchi (Rukky, my prayers are with you and the entire family) and then my friend Wakili Arewa Nupe Abdulrahman Hussaini was equally snatched by the cold hands of death. It was both so quick, one moment they were with us, and the next they were gone. The futility of life, that many still deny. I pray may Allah the Almighty Azza wa Jal accept their return, forgive their shortcomings and grant them the best place in Jannatul firdaus.

Not done crying Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un! Another death, that of the lad, Sylvester Oromoni who was ‘reportedly bullied to death by fellow ‘alleged’ cult students in his school at ‘Dowen College Lekki’ for refusing to get conscripted. For the parents and siblings, I can only pray that the Almighty God gives them the fortitude to bear such irreparable and preventable loss.

So here it is, the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, announced the school has been temporarily shut down, and the Lagos Commissioner of Police Hakeem Odumosu, has ordered an investigation into the death of the boy. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, of Delta State and the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) have called for investigation into the death. The narrative in the narratives boils down to a society that has simply let down its own. Whether we hear the ‘true’ story or there are future twists and turns. The boy was bullied to death, we are again, faced with the lies we tell ourselves; we have refused to address the rot and, collective decline, and seeable decay in our schools’ system and our long-lost cultural parenting steeped in African anthropology.

I know Sylvester’s story first hand because, I would have been a victim too, I nearly lost my son in his first year in high school, in one of these terribly run, nonchalant establishments called schools, we removed him from there immediately. Thank the Almighty for a wife with strong maternal fighting spirits; e for choke. In the last four years, as PTC chairperson, I can tell you stories that touch across various secondary schools and the negligence in the systems and the structures.

However, herein lies my concern. NOTHING will happen! We will make all the noises. But the collateral damage has been done, Sylvester is gone. No one would be held accountable. We all are the puns in the game. We pretend holy anger, we wail, but all ‘na wash’. Was it not just months back, July to be precise that we had an incident in Abuja…I still hear that mother, Mrs. Vivien, her daughter Keren-Happuch, was allegedly raped at the private school and she died days later from sepsis.

I watched her lament, “I named my daughter Keren-Happuch, which means God has filled my cup, but Premiere Academy, Lugbe, took the cup, emptied the water and broke the cup.

“The cup I gave to Premiere Academy was full; they returned it to me empty and broken. This is too much to take. My heart is in turmoil.”

She called out the school for what she called a “deliberate distortion of facts and publicity stunt by the school to preserve their business interest without regards to the life of my daughter, which they have cut short.”

Vivien said, “You would have noticed that since my daughter died, instead of the management of Premiere Academy, Lugbe, allowing my family to grieve and mourn her, it has been preoccupied with looking good to the public rather than work to fish out the rapist.

Like Dowen, and its ilk, rapists and cultists at impressionable ages litter our schools and yet we feign ignorance, everyone’s child is a saint, passes with good grades and one wonders where these demons’ infested teens are coming from. In local parlance ‘na person wey dem catch be thief, na wen e touch you, e concern you’, but fact is that these matters indeed do concern us all. There are good kids in Dowen, Premier, FGCS littered everywhere but sadly there are terrible kids and horror minded teachers and tutors alike with parents who have made parenting a part time job. Thus, it’s laughable that we are all acting the part of a drama whose script we are guilty of having written.

While reflections on the above bothered me, those below could not have been pushed aside because they are part of the general problem our 2023 chasing leaders have refused to confront and I do hope and pray it does not consume us all.

Almost every single child of the poor and the fast-depleting middle class in Nigeria, (over 80% of them) had their education disrupted by the pandemic. This statistic is not startling, nothing startles again in Nigeria, it was certainly necessary to close schools as the infectious COVID-19 virus tore through society. However, in many parts of the North, we have also closed schools for other security concerns despite the fraud called “Safe Schools Initiatives”. Our leaders and in fact even citizenry have simply turned a blind eye on the current and future impact of these decisions on education.

In 2014 before the Chibok girls, almost now forgotten, or in 2016 when school kidnapping wasn’t a hashtag, and 2019 before the pandemic – at least half of Nigeria had no access to electricity, which meant that, for many children, online education was impossible. A third of that figure had and still do not have access to the internet, which – even if they had electricity – makes online education impossible. If we go deeper, we find that the rates of those who do not have access to the gadgets necessary for online learning – such as computers and smartphones – are even more dire, let me leave out stats on out of school children and the girl child conversations and declining incomes and loss of earnings and livelihoods. In Kaduna state, for example, and many parts of Nigeria, despite the best efforts of additional school terms, physical closure of schools has resulted in hundreds of thousands of children missing school for nearly two years.

For example, before the pandemic, one in ten children in Nigeria, had never entered a primary school classroom. One in three girls didn’t have access to education, compared to one in twenty-five boys. Projections show that one in four children will likely not go to school at all. Studies of the reading levels of children under the age of ten deepen our sense of these inequities: in low and middle-income families, 53% of children cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school, while in very poor homes this number rises to 80% (it is only 9% in high-income or ‘stealing’ families).

The distribution of low and high-income reveals the same old divides. While we fight tribes, religion, politics and politicians. Large numbers of children had no school last year and less than 20% were able to access online or alternate education. As the economic situation for middle-class families worsened during the pandemic, enrolment declined in private schools and increased in public schools. This shift in the wake of dwindling government spending on public education will only lead to intensified pressure on students and public-school staff, especially teachers.

And back to Dowen College and schools in Nigeria, education is not only about devices and classrooms, or elitism and class. It is about how teaching happens and what is taught, who is teaching and what the children are learning. The kids who bullied Sylvester to death, who were they learning from. What we see today is only a manifestation of the killing, for how long will a nation continue like these—Only time will tell.

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