Alhaji Akinwunmi Tijany, Proprietor As-Haabul Janat Nursery/Primary School, Igbologun

By Nurudeen Oyewole

The topography of their communities and the seeming government inability to provide adequate educational services had thrown up a challenge that now force of hundreds of pupils, even with the risk of patronsing rickety boats to seek low-cost education in riverine areas of Lagos State.
Dateline was Friday, October 9, 2015. At the popular Under-bridge Coconut jetty in Apapa, Lagos, about 18 passengers had scrambled to take their respective positions in a wooden boat destined for Igbologun village which is about 13 minutes journey away.  The navigator identified as Joseph kick-started the engine tied to the boat’s rear. It roared. Sailing commenced immediately.

Four minutes into the journey, Joseph paddled his boat into a strewn of water hyacinths. Like a clog in the wheel, the hyacinths with a big nylon got rolled into the engine’s shafts. Sensing the danger, he used all the energies in him to battle the clog. But that won’t achieve any sucess until the engine had been forced to switch off. In the course, he lost focus of where the boat was headed. The boat circled a while before sailing towards the brick of Tin-can jetty which was just few metres away.

“J-E-S-U-S!” A woman among the three passengers on the second row screamed as the boat inched closer to the underneath of the brick bridge. Her yell was all that was needed for a three-year-old girl sitting on her mother’s lap at the third row to also scream. “Mummy!” the girl in her school uniform shouted as she made a sudden turn to grab her mother’s cloth. That dramatic scene ran anxiety through many passengers, some of whom began to heap curses on the boat navigator.

“Nothing dey happen, children of God,” a middle age man sitting beside this reporter, however said calmly in pidgin. And just at that point, Joseph re-started his boat engine. It roared back to life. With few inches for the boat to go underneath the brick of Tin-can Jetty, the navigator expertly made a detour to the right track and in about eight minutes later, it berthed at Igbologun jetty with passengers safely disembarking.

Turbulence on water is recurrent: The five-minute scary experience of the three-year old pupil, alongside other passengers is said to be a common experience for hundreds of other children who commute between the upland and riverine communities in search of low-cost private school education in the area. Indeed, as there are pupils coming from upland areas such as Olodi Apapa, Ajegunle, among others to seek education in Igbologun and other adjoining 37 riverine communities, so are pupils in riverine communities coming out on daily basis to seek education in the upland areas.

Though the cost of transportation is relatively cheap with an average trip costing N100, of greater worry is the state of the wooden boats often boarded by the school children. The pupils, unlike some adults, are vulnerable and lack swimming skills but the drive to seek education appears to be above the turbulence of boat rides they are constantly subjected to.

The boat paddlers, community residents accused, appear to be driven by pecuniary gains attached to their paddling-business.

“Most of them run boat engines with terrible noise and hazardous smoke. They hardly invest in repairs nor adopt new waterway safety measures except for the dirty and tattered life jackets often distributed to passengers. We have only be lucky not to have recorded any boat mishap that claimed lives for many years, ” Alhaji Sanu Saliu, a community leader and Chairman, All Progressive Congress (APC), Ward J, Amuwo Odofin Local Government, said.

Ironically, the boat paddlers do not believe they have to invest all their earnings on repairs despite accepting the fact that they rake in more money from transporting the pupils to and fro on daily basis.

“It is true we are making money from the business, especially with the upsurge in the number of pupils we ferry to and fro on daily basis. Let me confess to you that many of us do secretly pray that there should not be holidays. But you don’t expect us to invest all our earnings here. Though it is for our own safety too if the boats are in good conditions, but don’t also forget we have responsibilities at home. And that it is not to say we don’t spend money at all on our boats,” Joseph said when approached by the reporter.

This development appears to have forced some parents to have devised alternative for their commuting children with personal life-jackets which they often strap atop their school uniforms.

“My father bought for me this life-jacket because he said he was not comfortable with the life-jackets often provided by the boat paddlers,” John Ambrose, a pupil of Pathfinder Nursery and Primary school, Olodi Apapa said.

John is among pupils whose fathers can afford the wherewithal of a new life-jacket. Many others whose parents could not still make do with the inferior types being offered by the paddlers.  What John’s father and many other could however not save their children from was recurrent turbulence on the waterway as well as total abandonment of schools anytime water current rises beyond what could be managed.

“There is no escape route on water. The rain often drenches our uniforms, bags, and life jackets. When it happens, we develop cold within and certainly can’t concentrate even when learning is on,” Ambrose said.

Reasons for school establishment differ: Yet the risky voyage experiences is one out of many other challenges confronting pupils, parents, proprietors of schools as well as other community members dwelling in riverine areas of Lagos. The Igbologun community which appears to be the most developed among the 37 riverine communities that form Snake Island under Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area has just a public primary school and a secondary school serving it and other adjoining communities. Local Government officials put the population of the entire 37 communities at 100, 000.
With such a teeming population and the apparent failure of government both at state and local governments to provide the communities with schools and essential educational facilities, private owners of schools have swung into action, feasting on the lacuna, providing from near-decent to horrific educational services.
“Until 2007/2008 when there was an intervention from the administration Comrade Ayodele Adewale, the immediate past LG chairman, if you are a good parent, you won’t dream of having your child in LA primary school which was established in 1952 to serve Igbologun and other neighbouring communities. Even with his additional block of six classrooms, children are still in dire need of more infrastructures. If not for the private schools around, you can be sure of many children roaming the streets,” Akinwunmi Tijany, Proprietor As-haabul Janat Nursery/ Primary School, Igbologun said.
Tijany, an indigene of Igbologun who established his school 13 years ago, added: “with apparent lack of commitment of government to improve education and teachers’ unwillingness to teach in riverine communities, some of us who believe there is a need to salvage the future of the younger generation around here, went into establishment of schools. And what may even interest you is that despite being in riverine areas, more pupils from upland communities are patronizing our schools because of quality and affordability as against exorbitant charges in upland areas”.
Yet there are those who were motivated by lack of jobs and desperate needs to earn their living.

“As a proprietress of a school, I must say that I didn’t start the school on the ground that someone will come and assist me. I started it because I don’t want to go into labour market. My drive was to start and see what I can achieve with my own hands. I didn’t graduate as somebody who will go to the labour market to start looking for job. This is borne out of my creativity. I am a young starter. And I have been on this island for the past 13 years. If government wake up one day and say they want to cancel private schools, well, to your tent O’Isreal!,” Mrs Joyce Adeyemi, Proprietress, New Dawn Nursery/Primary School, Igboeyosore said.

Cheaper fees in riverine private schools: Whereas, pupils of As-haabul Janat Nursery/ Primary School, Igbologun where the proprietor charges between N5,000 and N7,000 per term for different class levels, have near-decent facilities, pupils of New dawn Nursery/Primary School, Igboeyosore, whose proprietress charges N4,000 per term urinate on dumpsite situated in front of the Primary Three class to ease themselves.

Infrastructures not impressive: Though pupils in both As-haabul Janat and New dawn Nursery/Primary schools can be said to be using descent chairs, tables as well as paved floors, pupils of Salvation Army Nursery/Primary School, Igboeyosore on the other hand, are jam-packed under one make-shift tent, where they make do with ageing wooden chairs and tables. The tent accommodates pupils in all classes of the primary school. The owner also runs a secondary school known as Rehoboth Secondary School, using facilities of a Redeemed church. At the site of the primary school, however, this reporter was able to observe on-going construction of new blocks of classrooms. The proprietress was said not be available for comments while the investigation lasted in the community.

Quality of teachers and their salaries within the riverine communities vary. For instance, while there are three graduates and six NCE holders as teachers in As-haabul Janat who earn between N15, 000 and N25, 000, the six teachers working at New Dawn are SSCE holders who earn N7,000 on monthly basis. Pupils who fail to pay their fees are also not finding it funny.

“My school fees are N4000 and I have had to send home some students today for their inability to pay their school fees for last term because they are oweing. You can imagine pupils still in debt of fees for last term even when they spent almost two months at home for holiday they cannot even come to pay. For me, they have no excuse and simply walk them out,” Adeyemi said.

Many schools are not registered: On registration of schools with relevant agencies of governments, the school operators accused officials of the state Ministry of Education and Office of Education Quality Assurance, the Agency in charge of regulations and registration of schools in the state of irregular monitoring to the areas, saying the development many not be unconnected with the fact the geographical locations of their schools. Wheareas, As-haabul Janat still has its registration process on-going in the last 13 years of operation; Proprietress of New Dawn said the school has not been visited in the last five years of operations by any government official for registration.

“Our registration process has begun but not yet completed with the state ministry of education and that is why we have not been issued a certificate as a fully registered school. The same is the challenge with most of other schools on the island. None could be said to have completed the registration process, rather, all of them are on-going,” Tijaniy said.

In a survey report of January 2014, titled; “Schools as a Sustainable Business”, commissioned by  the Developing Effective Private Education Nigeria (DEEPEN), 62 percent the schools sampled are neither registered nor approved by the Lagos State Government’s Ministry of Education.

“Sixty one percent believe the process is cumbersome. However, some schools are concerned that registration will only increase government scrutiny. Two schools stated that in their opinion, registration with the Association of Formidable Educational Development (AFED) is sufficient. One of the comments made was that they prefer not to be registered so that they can continue to operate under the government’s radar,” the report stated. Many of the riverine private schools apparently fall within this category.

“We can’t monitor all private schools”: Though officials of State Office of Education Quality Assurance will not want be quoted in newspaper, a list of requirements for private schools made available to Daily Trust on Saturday shows that for any private school to be approved by government, it must have a minimum of 13 rooms, three for Nursery, six for Primary, one room for Head teacher’s office, one room for sick bay, one room for library, and one room for ICT.

“School must be fenced round and gated. It must have qualified teachers with minimum of NCE for primary and minimum of TCII for Nursery, must have a playground, must have good supply of water and piped. If there is a well, it must be well covered. Schools found not to comply are investigated and when necessary prosecuted. The Office of Education Quality Assurance also works in collaboration with the Lagos State Task Force on environmental offences to arrest those who violate the laws as regards operating a private school,” the requirement list states.

A ranking officer at the agency who will not want his name to be mentioned also debunked the allegation that officials are afraid of inspecting schools in riverine areas because they are afraid of travelling on water. He said although it is not possible for government to properly monitor all the schools in all parts of the state, it is nonetheless true that “Quality Assurance officers are posted to riverine areas of the state”.

Though efforts to get officers of the Lagos State Waterways Authority proved (LASWA), abortive, one of the boat safety tips put on its website was that passengers on waterway should always wear “buoyancy jackets and keep a special eye on children”. How the agency has been achieving this set objective is however remained to be seen in riverine areas of Amuwo Odofin LGA.

Nevertheless, Alhaji Saliu who spoke on behalf of other community members said though they are aware of the life-jackets recently distributed by the Lagos state Governor to pupils of Sabokoji primary school, they are nonetheless weary of a water turbulence similar to the one that claimed the lives of six pupils in Ojo Local Government in July 2015, and as such want government to provide pupils in the area with modern boats that would ease their children movement on waterways.

“We are also calling for quick completion of a block of classroom which foundation had been left abandoned at LA primary school while at the same time appealing to the state government to assist private schools in riverrine communities because they are rendering educational services to our children,” Saliu said.

Source: Daily Trust