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Nigeria’s unity schools, from glory to ordinary

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On the outside, it is a symbol of pride, privilege and pedigree. Inside, it lurks rot engendered by corruption. Unity Schools, once the bastion of quality education, like many others of its kind across Nigeria, appear to have quietly sunk in standard, and now, what is remaining is memories of good days, awaiting revitalisation.

A decrepit septic tank discharges waste near a water source meant for drinking. By the side, is a dirty kitchen taken over by giant roaches and defiant rodents.

The scenario has been like this for some time now and nobody seems to care. Really, nobody cares, because the lucre-minded principal with flair for commerce and no scruples for conscience is not bothered by what happens to the children. Aided by a government that does not listen to tales of the children but waits for disaster to happen all league together to define the new narrative of unity schools..

From Lagos to Damaturu, Gusau to Enugu, Calabar to Minna, the same story has written an epitaph for the once glamorous unity schools. The schools are now a disgrace. You can hardly pick anyone that is better. Where did things go wrong?

A glorious past
A FIRST set of unity schools was established by the British colonial government. Three new ones were added in Warri, Sokoto and Enugu in 1966 while General Yakubu Gowon, in 1973, ensured there were such schools in all the 12 states.
For at least two decades, the schools brought about cultural and religious integration on one hand as well as academic excellence on the other.

Speaking of such glorious past, Omoniyi Animasaun, an alumnus of Federal Government College, Odogbolu, in Ogun State, said, “Unity schools were unique. Students that passed through these schools till the end of the last millennium were privileged. Though there are 104 of such schools, there is a striking similarity in the attitude, behaviour and mindset of the students.
“I am privileged to have attended one of the oldest of these schools, Federal Government College, Odogbolu, established in 1973. Till the early 90s, admission into the schools was very competitive, though consideration was also given to students in the catchment area of each school. Merit was the foremost consideration. This ensured that each college admitted mostly brilliant students, precipitating healthy academic competition, which helped average students to up their ante.”
Animasaun added that ethnic, cultural, religious and social backgrounds of the students were diverse with pupils from wealthy and influential families mingling freely with those from humble homes.
He added that the schools had good structure and were well built. “We never heard or witnessed building collapse or roofs being blown off by winds. The structures were built to last.”

A disgraceful present
SADLY, things have changed in these schools.
The worn-out school gates and internal roads in the school premises are enough indication of the level of abandonment that has visited the once glamorous Federal Government College, Enugu.

Inside the school premises, the buildings are old and unkempt. It could not be guessed the last time infrastructural uplift was done on them. A mini-stadium located inside the premises was overgrown with weeds, just as other facilities that have not been put to use for sometime suffer similar fate.

The double carriage school gates, originally meant for “entry” and “exit” for students, teachers and visitors have been reduced to a single lane for those entering and exiting. This is because; one part of the gate has broken down and waiting for repairs.

Sources in the school, located on the highbrow Independence layout, said no new building had been raised in the premises for some years now, even with high population of students that sometimes sit over 50 per classroom.

They noted that the only new buildings on the premises were constructed by Anglican and Catholic churches, which serve as chapels for members of the church living in and around the school.

Water and electricity are said to be seriously challenging in the school, with day and boarding facilities. With its population put at over 2,500, water is said to be a problem. The precious liquid is sourced from boreholes at the Nineth mile corner in Udi local government, using the school’s only functional water tanker. Water provided by the tanker is used for cooking and drinking, while an underground well dug on the premises is substituted for other domestic use.

A teacher in the school who identified herself as Ifeoma, told The Guardian that supplies from the tanker were barely enough for students and staff, forcing students to draw water from a nearby stream or moving into streets in search of water from time to time.

She disclosed that the school relies on public power supply to run its activities and service hostels, while students use rechargeable lights to read and do other things in the night when power from public sources is off.

Indeed, The Guardian observed that there was thick darkness in the school and in the dormitories anytime public power supply went off. Ifeoma lamented that the proximity of the school to the heart of Enugu urban has not positively impacted its facilities, pointing out that the only functional school bus was supplied to the school in 2010 by Education Trust Fund (ETF).

“But that bus is attached to the office of the principal. Anytime we have events that require teachers moving out of school, mobility is usually a problem. We have to go out there to hire a bus because if you deprive the principal of this one, it will affect his movements and other activities,” she said.

She blamed part of the ordeal of the school on politicians and government officials who live around the school premises, stressing that though some worship at the chapels, none had taken up a project or facilitated one for the school in the guise that it is a Federal Government establishment.

“If you stand at the gate, you will see the family house of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi facing this compound. We have appealed to him severally to help us rebuild the internal road to no avail. His family members still worship in this place. The wife of former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, was a teacher in this school. All through the period her husband was deputy senate president, we kept appealing that they should help us, but it came to nothing. There are so many others like that. We need to understand what it means to own projects brought by the government,” Ifeoma said.

The school was recently engulfed in crisis as parents and leadership of Parents Teachers Association (PTA) engaged each other in words over alleged financial irregularities in the school.

The parents had accused the PTA leadership of charging excessive fees and allegedly abandoning the school to rot, pointing out that the environment where children study and reside is not fit for human habitation.

They identified decrepit condition of hostels, meals cooked in the school and other sanitary issues as some of the problems, saying the situation is compounded with the sack of teachers on payroll of the PTA without the knowledge of parents.

One of the parents, Mr Chris Agu said they pay N5, 000 each term to keep the services of hired teachers, who, though had been with the school for close to 14 years, were allegedly sacked without being paid their salary. Agu said the teachers were owed for three months before they were relieved of their duties, while accusing PTA executives of allegedly collecting as much as N65, 000 from parents of fresh students and failing to remit same into Federal Government’s account.

Speaking on the state of infrastructure in the school, the new PTA Chairman, Mr John Martin Okolie, said that the story about infrastructural neglect is real and seriously affecting the progress of the school.

Okolie, who assumed office last month, said his administration would intervene in several identified areas to give the school a lifeline.

“The hostels are dilapidated and nothing to write home about. Water is a major problem for both students and staff. If you come to the school at night when there is no power supply, everywhere would be dark. These are areas we need to intervene to improve the school. We have not taken off because we just came on board. We are still trying to access the school account to know what is there and where to begin. The truth is that the school needs some facelift,” Okolie said.

In Imo, parents contribute to pay teachers
PARENTS and guardians of students in unity colleges in Imo State have expressed disgust over the level of neglect in the schools, calling for urgent government attention. There are two Federal Government colleges in Imo. While one is situated in Okigwe town, the other is located on Okigwe Road, in the state capital.

Outgoing PTA Vice Chairman of FGC, Owerri, Chief Chidi Nkwopara, said after waiting in vain for government to engage more teachers, parents contributed money for salaries and allowances. He noted that the hostels are too small to accommodate the students, prompting parents and guardians to opt for day schooling.

Although, Nkwopara, accepted that majority of the students in the colleges
Parents petition Education Minister over condition of FGC Nise students
MIFFED by the situation, parents of students of Federal Government College, Nise, in Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State, petitioned the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, over the condition of their wards in the school.

The parents expressed concern over deplorable living conditions and called for urgent government intervention.The petition signed by Dr Kenenna Obiatuegwu, raised weighty allegations against the principal, including poor infrastructure, unhealthy environment, malnutrition and intimidation of parents.

The petition read in part: “Our children are presently living in overcrowded hostels with maggot-infested overflowing toilets. The school management has refused to improve these children’s living conditions despite all the resources channelled in by the PTA.

“The children are malnourished, due to very poor feeding, despite support from parents. The hostels and dining are worse than prison. They are so overcrowded with a population of about 2,200 students.”

But the old students of the school, under the aegis of Concerned Alumni of FGC, Nise, explained that the poor state of infrastructure and amenities did not start with the current principal who has spent about two and half years.

In the statement signed by Mr. Chinedu Aniagboso, the group noted that like most government owned institutions, FGC Nise, has its own infrastructural challenges, which are being genuinely addressed. On the way forward, a teacher, Mr Jude Okere called on the Federal government to increase funding for unity colleges.

No sanitary facilities in Calabar, Ikot Ekpene
MOST of the hostels in Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene and Federal Government Girls College, Calabar, do not have good toilet facilities, water or adequate electricity.

In most cases, the students prefer to use open environment to bath or defecate. To ensure toilets and bathrooms are clean, the students are asked on resumption to bring disinfectants, yet the places are unkempt and in the process, some of the students defecate on the floor.

In Rivers, parents decry poor hygiene, infrastructures
OBVIOUSLY, the glory of unity schools is fast eroding as findings showed that students in Rivers State live and learn under deplorable infrastructure, poor sanitary systems and substandard health facilities.

A visit to the Federal Government College, Abuloma, showed very dirty toilets. It was also observed that the school lacks steady power supply, which has affected water and sanitary systems.

Further findings, through interviews with students revealed shortage of food, which has led to pockets of stealing among students who often break into other people’s cupboards to steal their beverages.

One of the students in Senior Secondary School 2, who gave her name as Princess, said: “Some teachers will come any day they like and any day they do not meet up their classes, they fix lessons for Saturdays.

“Our toilet is always messed up. As a female, it is really difficult to use it because it is not properly washed. Our kitchen is very dirty and the cooks prepare our meal in a very dirty kitchen, which is close to an open gutter, this calls for concern.”

A parent, Chidi Ojo, however, believes that the economic challenge faced by Nigerians has contributed to some of the problems. He urged government to refurbish the school, provide electricity and water and also set up a committee to monitor the system. Another parent, Mrs. Adaeze, stressed the need to improve on the school’s facilities.

Source: [THE GUARDIAN]

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Flickers of Hope is a Non-Governmental Organization with a primary focus on Education. We aim to educate, mentor, empower and equip young people, as beacons of hope for the nation.
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