Community leader claimed parents of pupils of flooded Lagos school, others dip babies in dirty water at birth —Lawmaker

3 weeks ago 30

SUBAIR MOHAMMED, TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE and SEGUN KASALI went in search of answers to questions thrown up by the viral video of pupils singing national anthem in a pool of dirty water in their school.

AMIDST moves by the Lagos State government to relocate pupils of Mawumadoka Orphans and Less Privileged Home/School, Oko-Agbon, who were seen in a viral video singing the national anthem and walking through flooded and filthy school compound, their parents and other members of the community, according to official claims, have expressed their contentment with the life the slum offers them and their children.

Oko-Agbon is a riverine community and a slum in the Makoko-Iwaya area of Yaba Local Council Development Area.

Officials of the state Ministry of Education and the House of Assembly probing the disturbing visual confirmed to Saturday Tribune on Thursday that the parents of the pupils numbering about 350 were eventually convinced by the agents of the state to allow their wards attend the six public schools government is moving them to.

However, the proprietor of the school, Mr Martins Joshua, who had earlier rebuffed Saturday Tribune’s offer to state his own side of the story, eventually opened up on Thursday, rejecting the government’s plan to move all the pupils away from his now-demolished school.

In a chat with Saturday Tribune, Joshua said he was building a new structure to accommodate the pupils, presenting evidence of building materials on site.

Shedding more light on the interface with the pupils’ parents before securing their buy-in, the chairman, House Committee on Education, Honourable Sanni Okanlawon, representing Kosofe Constituency 1, said the parents told the government officials on the fact-finding mission that they didn’t want air conditioner or fan for them and their children.

When asked if the state law which forbids parents from stopping their children from being educated would apply to the recalcitrant ones among the parents, the lawmaker said it would be more of persuasion than the force of law.

He said: “During the visitation, we spoke to them and they all agreed to register their children in proper schools. Hence, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has been charged to immediately discharge its responsibility by registering the said children.

“It is not about forcing them. It is by changing their orientation because they have a fixed mindset. Their orientation needs to be changed before talking about moving them to school. They have this mentality of living in the aquatic line.

“Their Baale told us that it is in this stinking water that they have all their children. He told us that when they have a baby, according to culture, they must throw their babies into that water. Can you imagine that?

“They said they don’t want air conditioner or fan but we told them that they can’t continue this way. They need to be educated.”

They dream of producing governor someday —Education Ministry

The head of the public affairs unit of the Ministry of Education, Mr Ganiu Lawal, told Saturday Tribune that although the ministry had not conducted a headcount of the children involved since the old structure had been demolished before the visit, the proprietor put their number at 350. “So, we can only know their exact number when SUBEB is done with their registration,” he said.

Mr Lawal, however, explained that not only were the people of the community, including their Baale and youth leaders, happy to receive the government officials, including the Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo, and the chairman of SUBEB, Mr Wahab Alawiye-King, at a meeting held with them, but they also welcomed  the plan to enrol the children in public schools.

According to him, the people of the community made it clear at the meeting that they wanted their children to be governor, lawmakers and successful in life.

He said the government would continue to intensify the advocacy for parents and guardians in the community and elsewhere in the state to access quality education as provided by the government for their children.

Earlier in the week, the spokesman told Saturday Tribune that officials of the ministry had visited the school and another team comprising officials from different departments and units of the Ministry was there Monday last week to assess the situation.

He said state officials had seen the owner of the school, who was at the state House of Assembly on Monday based on an invitation by the lawmakers.

“So, findings are still ongoing on the incident and what actually has been happening in the place. The ministry will come up with a comprehensive report on its findings very soon,” he stated.

On measures being taken by the government to control proliferation of schools, especially in slum communities like Oko-Agbon, he said: “The state government will keep encouraging private school owners, irrespective of areas of location, to register with the government. Such registration would afford them to be in the government’s database and their activities can easily be monitored. This is why the Lagos State government is always asking every school owner to register so as to follow operational guidelines in their activities, including safekeeping of their environment.”

Govt can’t take all my pupils away  –Proprietor

Amidst the national outrage that trailed the viral video of his pupils singing national anthem in flooded and filthy school compound, Joshua broke his self-imposed silence in the face of the threat to lose all his pupils to the state.

On Wednesday, the state government, through the Ministry of Education, disclosed that pupils at the learning centre would be distributed to six state schools in the neighbourhood.

Mr Joshua had earlier turned down a request to speak on the viral video, referring this newspaper to his legal adviser, Florence Adewale. He claimed he was under instruction not to talk to the press.

But on Thursday, he reached out to Saturday Tribune, stating that state officials had visited the site of the old school structure which had been pulled down, with its planned reconstruction approved.

He provided pictures of building materials on site, purchased for the planned rebuild, while saying that the state government coul not move away all the 350 pupils.

Joshua, who began the school as an orphanage, also said the state government had demanded for information on all the pupils, with its agents visiting the orphanage on Tuesday.

He said: “The orphanage had been demolished before the video of it went viral on social media. We have bought all the materials required for its reconstruction. If we decide to stop reconstruction, all the materials will go to waste.

“Officials of the Lagos State government visited us on Tuesday and they saw all the materials. I explained to them the need to reconstruct the home. The acceded to our demand and said we should start construction and that they would return for an inspection. But the government cannot move all the pupils away to public primary schools. Some would be taken to the public schools while some would be left with us.

“We have 350 pupils and either today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday), we will submit their names to the state Ministry of Education because they need to know all the pupils that are with me. What I would say is that all of the pupils cannot cope in public schools. I am not saying they cannot cope academically but many of them would find it difficult to cope outside of the community.

“What we do is that once they move to primary three, we enroll them at private or public schools and seek donors to sponsor their education.”

What the owner told us during interrogation —Lawmaker

The probe of the embarrassing viral video initiated by the state House of Assembly had led to the interrogation of Mr Joshua by the lawmakers.

Before the Thursday chat, Hon. Okanlawon had told Saturday Tribune that at a meeting Tuesday last week, the proprietor claimed that the pupils were not willing to go to regular schools.

He quoted Mr Joshua as saying that the pupils were used to the riverine life and scared of anyone attempting to take them upland, adding that findings showed the centre wasn’t registered as a school, but a foundation duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission to cater for the underprivileged and the vulnerable.

The lawmaker disclosed that at a point, state officials were considering teaching the children in a big boat under the Open Schooling initiative as a way of striking a compromise if they actually didn’t want to come to the upland as claimed by the proprietor of the school.

Parents eventually agreed to enroll their children in public schools.

The lawmaker stated that there are different public schools in the area capable of accommodating more than 3,000 pupils in the community as confirmed by the Ministry of Education.

Okanlawon said: “Unfortunately, the school proprietor, Mr Joshua told us that the pupils were not willing to come to the regular schools. He said they were used to this riverine life. He said the pupils said they didn’t want to come to the upland; that they liked living their riverine life and that if they saw anyone coming to bring them upland, they would run away.

“When they wake up, they would go and fish and come back to go to where they called school. Come back in the afternoon to fish again.

“There are three different public schools that can accommodate as many as 4,000 pupils. We have all those schools there as we were told by the chairman of SUBEB and the Commissioner.

“On Tuesday, I met with the education family, talking about the Commissioner of Education, SUBEB chairman, the DG, Office of Education, Quality Assurance and others, including all stakeholders — the proprietor of the so-called school, Mr Joshua, his counsel and some of his teachers. The youth head was also present. We were all there to address the matter.

“We pride ourselves as the centre of excellence. Such a gory sight is not good. It is embarrassing to the state, really. So, in digging deep into what actually happened, we discovered that the place is not supposed to be a school in the first instance. They called it a foundation registered with the CAC. It is a care-giving foundation for the underprivileged and the vulnerable. It is not a school and not supposed to operate educational activities.”

He called on the Ministry of Education and other concerned bodies to embark on sensitisation, enlightenment and education of the people in that area in order to pull them from the riverbank to the upland so that they could have a decent schooling experience.

Okanlawon stated that the ministry had also informed the state legislators about launching open schooling, which is a school in a very big boat, in a bid to accommodate their culture, if necessary.

He said: “Sensitisation, enlightenment and education of the people. We must begin to do it. And so, we have asked the ministry to commence this so that they know that life upland is better than life in the riverine area. After doing that, we are looking at how we can pull them from the riverbank where they are staying to the upland so that they can have a decent schooling experience.

“The local government chairman is also cooperating with the ministry.

“The ministry also told us that they are looking at open schooling, which is a school in a very big boat and all that. We are looking at that possibility. If they say they don’t want to come upland, let us take the facility to the riverine area because they are Lagosians in the first instance and we have a social contract with them to provide life abundance.”

The lawmaker noted that the assembly was yet to conclude its investigation. The Ministry of Education also said the state would continue to encourage private school owners, irrespective of the location, to register their schools with the government for easy monitoring and safety.

No ulterior motive –Lawyer

Analysing the content of the viral video, the legal adviser to the foundation, Florence Adewale, said there was no ulterior motive behind the viral video.

The video, according to her, was shot some months ago on the request of a Germany-based donor who offered to assist the foundation.

She said: “On Monday, we went for a meeting at the Lagos State House of Assembly. There is no ulterior motive about the viral video. The place is a riverine area. I want the public to know that the video was recorded some months ago and it did not, in any way, denote the present state of affairs at the foundation because the building had been demolished.

“My client, Evangelist Martins Zannu Joshua, established the foundation to render humanitarian services to orphans and out-of-school children in the Makoko-Iwaya riverine area of Lagos State in order for them to get easy access to free education, feeding, clothing and school materials.

“This project came into being on the 5th of August, 2018, during the long vacation but got registered on the 16th of February, 2021.

“It was registered as an orphanage and not as a school as held by the public and it is aided by some charitable organisations, individuals, churches and some individual donors. These good Samaritans help in providing for the over 350 orphans’ and out-of-school children’s education and general welfare, including payment of the teachers’ salaries.

“In the community where the school is situated, however, there is perennial problem of flooding mainly between September and November.

“During the period the community was flooded, one of the sponsors of the foundation who is living in Germany requested a video recording of the children in school in order to raise funds for the land-filling. The video was sent to her but surprisingly, it went viral.”

Lagos shanty schools

According to United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria with about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged between five and 14 not being in school. Only 61 per cent of 6-11-year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged between 36 and 59 months receive early childhood education.

Of the states in the country, Lagos State, with its 2021 N1.163 trillion budget, is the most economically-viable with a mega-city status.

Ironically, in spite of its economic viability and a huge literacy level of 96.30 per cent, Lagos is defaced with crudely built primary school structures across slummy communities in the state.

These schools, with an army of uncertified teachers, have uniquely tailored curriculum for their pupils outside of the approved syllabus by the state government.

Among such communities with shanty schools is Ago-Egun, a settlement of majorly indigenes of the Republic of Benin, where assimilation is most unlikely as pupils study in filthy and unfriendly environment.

At least five shanty schools are located within the Ago-Egun community. Of these, Khan Foundation Academy stands out in structure.

It is a one-storey building, built of mixture of planks and bricks and prone to flooding at the slightest rainfall. The academy has striking resemblance with Mawumadoka Orphans and Less Privileged Home/School in the viral video.

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