Nigeria has been abuzz with the recent outburst of little Miss Success Adegor of Okotie-Eboh Community Primary School, Sapele, Delta
Nigeria has been abuzz with the recent outburst of little Miss Success Adegor of Okotie-Eboh Community Primary School, Sapele, Delta State. The innocent little girl demonstration via a recorded video that went viral on Facebook, frustration over the penchant by schools all over the South South at least, to send students away from school for failure by their parents to pay school fees and sundry levies.
In this case, Success’ school, a Delta State government owned public school is supposed to be a free education school but somehow, a handsome levy of N1000 was imposed for examination. The West African Examination Council, WAEC charges N5000, the National Examination Council, NECO, N.. and the Joint Matriculation Admissions Board, JAMB, N6000 for their qualifying examinations yet this rundown school whose teachers are paid monthly by government, were demanding N1000 to write questions on the blackboard for the pupils to answer on their own sheets of paper, an examination that would cost nothing extra to conduct.
Many schools both public and private indulge in sending students home daily for failure to pay school fees, sports levies, excursion this, handwork, etc. It is not surprising that Delta government schools are milking parents while the education officials who should sanitize the system claim ignorance.
A young girl in my country home, Ogwashi-Uku to enroll in a public school was given a bill of N19,000 to cover.
None of these items are to be provided by the parents/guardians in kind only cash.
The story is no different in Rivers State as principals task parents and guardians to raise money for this and that, sundry needs. Only last year, the state governor called school heads to order demanding an end to levies stating categorically that as the Rivers government was a free education state for primary schools, nobody was authorized to collect levies.
the school heads however complained that they deserve money to run schools hence the levies in lieu of imprest no longer being provided. We are yet to ascertain if the schools are complying with the Wike directive. For the school administrators, all they see is students as avenues for an endless flow of easy cash, one nobody really accounts for.
For Delta State government, little Success has exposed the rot beyond the levies as the horrible state of schools especially in the suburbs. in a swift reaction the government sent Success’ headmistress on suspension warning that no school is supposed to charge beyond the approved N100 levy which begs for explanation as the state is one of the states that receive the highest allocations from Abuja.
Moving a little further, one finds a pool of corruption in the registration of candidates for the WAEC/NECO .External candidates coming in to sit for the examination are charged from N40,000 to as much as N150,000 for an examination that is actually N6,000 while private schools lump this with the second and third term fees making parents go through severe stress to meet up.
To relieve parents of this burden, some state governments step in and pay the WAEC and NECO fees for students from their states. Others, especially non-state indigenes have to cough out money for the obnoxious fees and Social Media users can attest to the fact that appeals have been hitting their in boxes from mothers seeking help to ensure their children conclude their education.
This is very ad for the harassed students, parents and society. There should be regulations in place pegging such fees. Private school tuition is their business but it should be the business of government to stop the unfriendly financial castration of parents and guardians as well as the psychological abuse this places on children. Fees for WAEC/NECO should e uniform in all schools, public or private, the exact charge from the examining bodies; levies should be moderated and only if necessary and that should e built into the total packaged fees in private schools.
Emphasis should be on helping students create things, working their minds through thinking outside the ox rather than approximating everything to cash. I can attribute my resourcefulness today to the drillings I received from having to do a lot of things for myself as handwork in my primary and early secondary education years. In this era of massive unemployment with a record 28 million losing their jobs in this country in under four years, the least we can do is empower our young ones with life-skills while still in their tender age so they can shake-off the mentality that they need to be employed by government or oil companies rather than seeing themselves also as potential employers.
Worthy of attention also is the deplorable state of many state owned schools now being unearthed thanks to the Success saga. The state of our schools demand emergency actions. It is disheartening to see schools in this oil rich zone in such disreputable state. That Sapele school at sent Success home is nothing but a death trap yet the government would be hounding private schools in more habitable state with better facilities. What teacher would give his/her best under such a structure?
And how come the UBEC administrators did not see the danger the poor kids are being placed under. Is that not in the same state with the collapsed school building that claimed lives in Lagos recently? That Sapele school is a disgrace to efforts towards education for all in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and am pained that more schools in worse conditions are being captured daily. Make no mistakes, these terribly run down state is all over the Niger Delta and a big shame in view of all the resources that flow into the region.
Pure love for education made Success cry out against being sent out of school. What were the school head and that of schools in such shameful and dangerous states waiting for to cry out and demand rehabilitation? And the parents? But for that girl, Success, life would have gone on as usual until the roof finally hits the children. The Delta State government has suspended the school headmistress and sacked some 35 school heads and some officials in the ministry and State Universal Basic Education offices over the levies saga.
But the rot is deeper. There are some questions begging for answers-Are there no budgets for schools renovations? Do the inspectors really visit schools outside the cities? Is it any wonder that left abandoned by the system the school heads resort to every means to collect money?
The Delta State government and indeed, all Niger Delta governments should take an inventory of the state of schools in their domain, audit of the number of students in the schools, available teachers, state of teaching facilities, how monies budgeted for are disbursed and begin to address identified problems. Sacking school heads is not the answer.
Many schools are in highly unhygienic and inhabitable state yet each year huge sums are budgeted for rehabilitation of schools and contracts supposedly awarded.
All monies budgeted for education in states and local governments must be appropriately disbursed by government and transparently utilized for the common good of the children so that healthy, bright children with sound mind who can rebuild and uphold Nigeria can be nurtured.
The onus is on all of us as parents, civil society and the media to keep watch to ensure the right things are being done.
# Gender Accountability and Transparency
Constance Meju is a Port Harcourt based veteran journalist, publisher and women advocate