Despite its size and population, Odu Opkpakili Ateh, a community in Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State, lacks every facility – good roads, functioning hospital, telecommunication, etc – to link it with modernity. Its primary school, in the last 10 years, has only one teacher, who also doubles as the headmaster, reports DEBORAH OCHENI
Odu Okpakili Ateh is a community in Odu Ward 1, Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State. According to the traditional ruler of the community, Chief Ikani Etuh, Odu Okpakili Ateh is home to hundreds of thousands of people whose major occupation is farming. Odu Okpakili Ateh is a typical example of an underdeveloped community as it lacks all basic amenities such as education, health care facility, road, electricity, water and more.
“We lack the basic social amenities in the community. Communities that are less than ours in terms of population and even geographical landscaping have access to telecommunication but in our own case we have to climb mountains and trees to access networks. We have written to major network providers in the country; some came to survey the land but it ended there.
“It is painful that the future of our young children is at stake as we have school buildings without teachers. Three major reasons are poor funding of education, poor implementation of educational policies and programmes and poor attitude to schoolwork. Our school lacks teachers who are dedicated and punctual to their duties. This has contributed to the falling standard of education, high shortage of teachers in all subject areas in the school is a terrible situation and our community is the worst hit to the extent that we are left with one teacher in charge of the entire school.
“We have a primary school building with no teachers and chairs. Our children are willing to go to school but there is no teacher to teach them. As a community, we contribute to pay teachers but we don’t even see any now because the government has not posted any teacher here for over eight years now. In the whole school, we had just two teachers – the headmaster and one class teacher – taking primary one to primary six. Unfortunately, we lost the teacher.
“Since the death of the teacher, Mr. Silas Amodu Makoji, we have not had teachers. When he was alive, he facilitated the posting of teachers here as a senior official of the Kogi State Ministry of Education. It was in his days that he attracted the government’s attention to our community which led to the building of two primary schools here. Since his death about 10 years ago, everything died with him as all the teachers he brought retired and our children are left hopeless in terms of education except for a few well to do who can afford taking their children to other villages to acquire education because the retired teachers were not replaced. Etuh also said the community does have a good hospital, although there is a primary health centre opened in 1979.
He said: “But since its launch, all we have is just the structure that is dilapidating yearly. As a community, we adopt a means of contributing individually to prevent the building from collapsing. Recently, we reroofed the hospital because it was blown off. We don’t have medical doctors. Our people travel to nearby villages to access health care services because no doctor is on ground and the hospital we have is not equipped.
“Some years ago, a company known as Zak Ventures PVT Limited discovered coal in the only river we have. We agreed that the company will extract the coal but on the condition that it will help us to develop our community and employ our youths.
“The agreement was reached and the company promised to drill a borehole for us and other amenities because the river which we drink from will be polluted during the extraction.
“The owner of the company pleaded that he had spent so much money on licence so we should allow him to extract some to raise money for the borehole. We allowed him. He has extracted several times but he is yet to fulfil his own part of the promise.”
The Headmaster of The LEA Primary School 1, Odu Opkpakili Ateh, Mr. Orah Samson, confirmed that he is the only one in charge of the entire school. He said: “We have two primary schools in the village here, which are School 1 and School 2. This division was made when the school had a good population of pupils and teachers.
“But later we had a teacher and two headmasters in both schools – School 1 had one headmaster and one teacher and the same was for School 2. But I lost my partner, leaving the whole work load on me alone. What that means is that the total number of staff we have for both School 1 and School 2 is three. “I wouldn’t say the community is not trying but their effort is limited in engaging qualified teachers.”
Samson said School 1 has a population of over 100 pupils while School 2 has about the same population. The state government, according to him, has bastardised a lot of things and as such it has affected the population of pupils in both schools.
He said: “The entire school population now, was what we used to have in a class about seven years ago, which was further categorised alphabetically. Now parents who are rich will rather send their children to private schools which they feel are better than the government primary school.
“We also have State Universal Basic Education, which has a larger population because the community has employed some teachers whose salaries are paid by the community and it’s a centre for students to sit for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) otherwise called Junior WAEC.” Samson also spoke on how he copes heading the school and at the same time teaches from primary 1 to 6.
He said: “The government is not paying attention to teacher’s welfare. I had to talk to the community head to engage some youths to assist in teaching the children. The implication of this is that pupils are asked to pay a certain fee to augment salaries of those who were engaged. For the past six years that Yahaya Bello assumed office as the governor of the state, no teacher has been posted here. Some of those who were here then have retired while some are dead.”
Pupils’ level of performance
The headmaster acknowledged that the pupils are doing well. “They are doing well. Despite our scarce resources, we still give them the best that is available to us and they are doing well in secondary schools,” he added.
When asked if pupils from his school can compete at any national competition, Samson said they have never had such an opportunity to participate in such a competition, so it’s difficult to tell how they will perform at the national level.
Appeals to government
The headmaster appealed to the state government to look into teachers’ welfare and work on improving it. This, according to him, will help to encourage teachers in discharging their duties.
“How can a civil servant on Level 14 be earning N20,000 or N15,000 monthly? That is what has been happening to us for the past seven to eight years. The year the teachers had no issues in terms of salary payment, school activities ran smoothly. The few ones remaining on the field are complaining about poor salaries coupled with the high cost of livelihood now. Government should also try to redeploy staff to our community because it is not a healthy thing that a teacher heads and at the same time teaches in the entire classes of primary school.
Some teachers who were on the field for over 20 years were dropped when Yahaya Bello became the governor and there was no fresh employment to replace those who were relieved and those who retired or died.
Steps taken so far
Samson said the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Dekina branch, has complained but that does not seem to yield any favourable result. “The only medium we can channel our problems through is the union because the government will not listen to me as an individual. I have channelled the complaint through the NUT, Deki- na branch and I was told that the complaint was tabled at the state level but I cannot tell how far that has gone,” he added.
Some parents expressed dismay over the neglect the primary schools in the community have suffered in the hands of the state government. A mother, who gave her name simply as Safiatu, said she was not happy about the standard of the school anymore.
She said: “This is the school my older children attended years ago. But the value they got in those years was far from what the younger ones are getting now. The standard drops by the day but we are left with no option because it is the most affordable school and the only one close to us.” Another parent, Opaluwa Ochala, said the pupils are not taught daily.
“The school lacks teachers. According to my son, it’s not every day that they go to school that they teach them, so that does not even encourage me to send the boy to school anymore. He goes to school anytime he likes because they don’t teach them daily,” Ochala added.
Yet another parent, Abilo Amodu, said the pupils go to school to play most of the time. “The teachers are trying; at least, it is better than keeping the children at home. Although my daughter tells me that they go to school to play most of the time, she can speak English now,” Amodu said.
Nimatu Shaibu is a 10-year-old pupil in primary 4. Nimatu said she was embarrassed when travelled out of the community to a nearby city, Ayingba, where the Kogi State University is located. She said: “I don’t like my school because I travelled to Anyigba during the last holidays. My cousins over there speak good English and I was embarrassed with a lot of questions which I did not know the answers to, from the one who is even younger than me. They are not teaching us properly here and my mother did not allow me to stay with my cousins.”
When asked if she would prefer to go to school in another community, she said: “Since I travelled to Anyigba, I have always wished to go to the school my cousins attend but my mother said I can’t go there until I finish primary school.”
On her own, Susan Okoliko said she likes the school but she misses her friends who were taken to another school. She said: “I like my school because the teachers don’t flog me and the whole class members are asked to clap for me whenever I answer any question correctly. I miss the company of my friends whose parents have taken to other schools.”
Johnson Idoko, a young man in the community, said the residents have suffered a lot in Odu Opkpakili Ateh. He said: “We call on the state government to come to our aid because we travel to other communities and states and we see how developed the places are.
“We have no basic educational facilities and no social amenities. Whatever you see in this community is achieved with communal efforts. Take for instance the road, we don’t have a motorable road. The youth in the community go all out once a while with hoes and diggers to repair our access road otherwise erosion will wash it off.
“We have so many graduates in this community without jobs. I am making a passionate appeal to the government of Kogi State and the Federal Government to come to our aid.
Another resident, Ademu Yakubu, said the state government has not provided the community with any facility. He said: “We are all farmers here and we depend on farm produce and God for survival.
“We feel better during cashew season because we sell the cashew seeds and generate money from it. Each family is levied during this season to contribute money for our community development, like the renovation of the hospital building whose roof was blown off.
“We are trying our best to develop our community but how far can we go with this little contribution? We constructed benches in primary school classrooms for our children but as I speak to you now the school is no longer functioning due to lack of teachers.
“We are begging the Kogi State Ministry of Education to redeploy teachers to our community because our children are suffering. A good number of our children are deprived of access to education. We need the intervention of international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and well-meaning Nigerians to come to our aid. A formal youth leader, Alidu Idakwo, said the community has depended so much on the government but the government has woefully failed the people.
He added: “Our community is not developed and as a community, there is a limit to what we can do. The youth and elders of this community live in harmony and as such we achieve whatever we set out to achieve.
“We have written letters to telecom companies because we don’t have a network in this village but residents of villages which are not as big as ours communicate from the comfort of their homes. We really need that network in our community.”