On coming to office, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State unveiled his "transformation agenda," toeing the line of similar moves by other southwest states, including Lagos and Osun, under the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Shortly after 12:30 pm, at the old Liberty Stadium in Ibadan where he was sworn in on May 29, 2011, Mr. Ajimobi said: “I am happy to inform you that our journey to restoration has begun. Today, we begin the journey to restore efficient infrastructure in place of the year-long decay. Today, we begin the journey to restore integrity in our public institutions that have been perennially abused and compromised. Today, we begin to restore the faith of our people in government, as against the regime of widespread skepticism and fright in the institution of government.”
Again, in 2015, after breaking a seeming jinx to become the only governor in Oyo State voted in for a second term, Mr. Ajimobi once again restated his commitment to transform the face of Oyo State, pledging a better and improved educational system in the state.
“We will take seriously the upgrade of schools to functional, modern models of learning. Their physical infrastructure will be ensured and our commitment to the mental development of our children, as well as an upgrade of their teachers, will be irrevocable," he said.
However, six years have passed since he first sold the transformation agenda to residents of Oyo State and two years since he emphatically stressed his mission to improve the condition of schools in the state. Unlike Lagos and Osun states, with testimonies of transformed public secondary education in terms of structural facilities, Oyo State schools remain in shabby shape.
To assess how public schools have fared under the leadership of Governor Ajimobi, Saharareporters sent out a correspondent to visit schools across Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. What she found, contrary to the governor’s promises, were dilapidated structures, inadequate and unqualified teachers with students who receive a substandard education. Below are the reporter's journal notes.
On Monday, June 17, I visited Zumratul Hujaj, a public Muslim secondary located close to Challenge bus stop. ‘Sumura’, as it is mostly called by teachers and students, is a group of four schools differentiated only by their uniforms. The students, although sporting in different colors of uniforms, suffer a similar fate: ill-education!
About 10 am when I entered the large expanse of land that serves as Zumratul Hujaj Secondary School, students were seen in clusters,
chatting away. A group of boys, wearing disheveled shirts, strutted past me.
“Hi guys,” I called out with the intention of starting a conversation, but the students seemed offended by my choice of language. They turned to see where the greeting had come from and simply made to continue their discussion, obviously ignoring me.
“Hey big guys, be nice. I only want to know where the principal's office is," I said, greeting their attention with a broad smile.
One of the boys pointed the direction to the principal's office. “Go there,” he gestured and made to resume conversation with his friends. But Kabiru, which I later found out was the student's name, injected a note of caution.
“Sister, are you not a Yoruba person?” he asked in an Oyo dialect. “Yes, I am," I said, sharing my name.
“So why are you speaking English to us like you don’t understand Yoruba?" he cut in before I could fully respond to his earlier question.
Kabiru is in senior secondary school, just like his other friends who looked on while he expressed his aversion for speaking English. I found out he was writing his NECO examination.
I saw an opening for the conversation I hoped for.
I discovered Kabiru was in Art class and would not mind writing his Literature in English examination in Yoruba. It was Yoruba paper he had on Monday, only that, he was going to the exam hall an hour after the examination had started.
Kabiru’s lackadaisical attitude towards exams perhaps reflected his social background. The better part of my interaction with Kabiru and his friends taught me not to initiate conversations with any student of Sumura in English. That lesson got me through many discussions, effortlessly.
Like Kabiru, Like Principal--Haters of English Language.
One of the principals apparently spoke with me because he thought I was from a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that had come to aid in the renovation of the school. He, like Kabiru, did not forget to register his distaste for the country’s official language.
“I only speak English when it is extremely necessary. I am very indigenous," he said proudly.
The principal, a tall, dark man, probably in his early 60s, showed no patience to listen to any teenage looking girl, and was clearly irritated by an accent that “sounds like that of a foreigner." His mood changed only when he heard, “I am from Objective, an NGO that gives educational succor to needy schools. We are on a mission to renovate at least ten schools within Ibadan.” That was my "cover" story which many of the principals bought with undisguised excitement.
He showed me around parts of the ruined buildings that were under his purview as a principal. Broken classrooms, dingy offices, a derelict library, and an event hall with an open roof.
“The roof of the hall was blown off by heavy rain some years ago," he explained.
As we moved from block to block, what I saw was not a school but a place damaged enough to deform impressionable minds.
Our Laboratory Is Dustbin
Rukayat’s description of the dirty, empty room that has ‘Chemistry Laboratory’ in front of its door would easily describe most of the schools I visited. In many cases, the designated space for laboratory had been abandoned due to years of decay and lack of maintenance. In some other schools, what was shown to me as a laboratory was bereft of any equipment.
Once we were done with the ‘dustbin’, Rukayat and her friends, with whom I had bonded less than five minutes after I joined their conversation at the back of one of the dilapidated buildings, showed me their toilet--a single pit latrine used by all the students and teachers.
“That’s our toilet there," one of the girls said.
They followed behind as I walked into the heavy stench that enveloped the cube-like building used as the toilet for both teachers and students.
The door to the teachers’ toilet was locked, so I reached for the students’ toilet. The floor was plastered with poop, the smear of feces on the walls: it was a dump of excreta!
"Is this the only toilet for the students?” I asked
Rukayat’s friend explained that many of the students do not use the toilet. Instead, they defecate in the bush.
She waved her right hand around, showing me the surrounding bushes.
“There are bushes around. Many students just go in there to pee.”
She suddenly seemed embarrassed to have shown a stranger an unflattering part of her school.
“The toilet is like that because we just finished exams and we have not been washing it.," she explained.
Oh, okay. That explains the poop on the floor but the blots on the walls are not damage caused in months, they are the effect of long years of abandoned hygiene, I thought to myself.
The libraries are no different from the laboratories. The story was the same in Zumuratul Hujaj as in Muslim schools. It was not different in Okebadan High School nor did Olubadan Grammar School fare better.
When It Rains, Students Leave The Classrooms
When I got to the office of Muslim Secondary School principal, I’d thought my "cover story" would be blown. The junior school principal introduced me, but the principal did not seem convinced.
“Can I see your ID card?” he asked.
I do not have an ID card that identifies me as an employee of ‘Objective NGO’. Nevertheless, I gave him the ID card I have and continued to talk about what the NGO has come to do, hoping that he would be distracted. It worked!
He looked for about two minutes, handed back the ID card and welcomed me to “Muslim Secondary School, Senior." We spoke a little more before repeating the ordeal of going around the school to identify “the needs that my NGO would help meet."
We started with the classrooms, which were not different from what I had seen in other schools. The classes were overcrowded, with less than enough chairs for a quarter of the students.
The principal told me if I had come a few months earlier, I would have met entirely roofless structures, adding that with “little money we were able to raise, the school fixed the roofs and flooring of some classrooms."
Only 16 teachers in a school of over 700 Students
“Good Morning ma, you’re welcome to J S S 1 B," the green and white wearing students chorused as one of their teachers led me into their classroom. The students, over 100 in a class, were cramped in a poorly lit room where they receive lessons from different teachers--a total of 16, my tour guide had confidently informed.
There were limited chairs, many of the students had to hang flat woods in-between chairs to improvise seats. Desks were a luxury. For the students who decide to write, their exercise books were settled on their laps while they slouched 60 degrees to write.
I was led towards the school hall where the senior students were writing NECO examination. There in front of me, in the midst of all the chaos of eroded standards, a block of 6 classrooms stood, neatly painted in brown and yellow.
That was the only building that had the semblance of a classroom.
Ironically, the classrooms were locked as the contractor who renovated the building had refused to release the key.
“That block was renovated about a year ago but the contractor has refused to release the keys to us. When we asked, he said the government has not paid him and he had used his money to renovate the block. We then went to the secretariat to ask, but to our surprise, the state could not trace the contractor. They said they cannot find the file of the contractor. The classrooms have been locked since ” the principal explained.
It had rained all through the day but the downpour intensified as though on a mission to prevent the principal from showing me the worst places.
We got to a ramshackle hall where students were writing NECO. There were bowls and buckets on the floor to receive rain drops that fell from the old roofing sheets. The students, sandwiched in the limited chairs, also had to dodge rain drops that threatened to ruin their exam papers.
In Apinrin Oniyere, a student said, “We no get school for here na."
If Qudri had not been clad in the sky blue and navy blue uniform of Aperin Oniyere Grammar school, I would not have accepted that he was indeed a student. The dark, lanky boy, briskly walked towards me, where I was hidden, trying to take pictures of the ruins the Oyo State government listed as a school.
Qudri came closer and said, "You dey take pishure of my school. No be so o, no dey do am." He spoke in a voice that was menacing.
To say I was thrown off balance would be an understatement. I was scared! I had a camera worth more than a million naira with me, in a desolate pathway, with a fierce-looking young man in front of me. All the odds were against me but fear, like every other emotion, can be masked.
“How far na? This your school get k-leg o,” I said, throwing in a warm smile to suggest I came in peace.
He looked round himself as though to be sure of what I said. “This government people, I hope after taking the pictures, the governor would come and do something about this place because this is not a school," he said in pidgin and went his way. I did not bother to stop him or make further conversation. I was relieved that he left.
As I walked away from the lone path, trying to find another hideout for more pictures, I met Temitope, a student of the school who I later found out was the senior prefect. She was a breath of fresh air from the other students I had to interact with.
Unlike other students, she seemed bright. My conversation with her was much easier but not until she had asked my name and what my mission was did she agree to speak with me, freely. Of course, I gave her the NGO story and she was excited that help was finally coming to her school.
I brought out my camera to take more pictures as it appeared I was already friends with Temitope and her other friend. “No o, you can’t take pictures of the school without the permission of the principal," she said in a matter-of-fact voice.
She led me down the stairs towards the administrative block. We passed some students working on some old typewriters. One of the teachers in the classroom demanded to know who I was and where I was coming from.
“I am trying to locate the principal’s office,” I simply said.
The principal had gone home but I could talk to an administrative staff that was around, she informed me.
She called one of the administrative staff, the typewriting teacher, I presumed. He also said I would have to come the next day to see the principal. I made to leave, as I already had enough. The structure of the school said it all.
Handicapped Oyo School Governing Boards (SGBs)
The Ajimobi-led Oyo State government inaugurated the Oyo School Governing Boards (SGBs) in February with the mandate to revamp the 628 public schools in the state. The board, constituted in every school, was given the responsibility of raising funds for the renovation and maintenance of their governing school.
However, for many schools, I observed that their boards lacked the capacity to raise the resources required to embark on total overhauling of the schools.
Once I was done with the schools, I requested to see the chairman of the SGB. The chairmen had similar complaints except for those in schools with flourishing old students’ association.
One of the chairmen I met told me in confidence that the board could not adequately perform the responsibilities the Oyo state government had assigned them.
“There is no money. The parents of our students are very poor. The N1000 educational levy the students pay every term, some of them have not paid. Where then do we get the money from?” he asked.
He went on: “In fact, when the government handed over to us, they had collected the levy for two terms and the governor emphatically said they levy that had been paid into the government account won’t be given out to schools. We practically had nothing to work with until the students started paying again and, so far, what we have raised cannot renovate a classroom not to talk of the work needed to be done in this school.
“The governor has handed the school over to us and we are to manage it. We are trying to track down some old students but fingers are not equal. Some schools have old students who are rich already, but some other schools cannot even pin down who the old students are. It is a heavy task the governor has given us to do but we believe we are up to the task as we are trying all within our means to do something."
Oyo State students had been paying an educational levy of N3000 per year, but no one knows what the government does with the funds. Up until the schools were allowed to receive and use the levy, “the government just collected and used it for only God knows what," said one source.
We are Here Because Of Old Students Association
I had toured Ibadan for a whole day, moving from Zumuratul Hujaj at one extreme of Ibadan to Olubadan Grammar School at another extreme and all I had seen were ruins. So, the next day, I called my friends and specifically asked to visit the good schools, if there were any. I believed there must be a semblance of quality education somewhere inIbadan and I wanted to find those good schools, at least, for the purpose of balance and fairness.
“You can go to St. Louis, St. Anne's, Ibadan Boys High school and Ibadan Grammar school. I think those schools are okay," my friend told me.
The next morning, I set out for St. Louis which is located at Mokola, and what met my gaze was disappointing. The buildings looked old and lacked maintenance. I brought out my phone and discreetly took some video recordings.
“Where is your Laboratory?” I asked one of the students playing on the field.
The girl looked at her colleagues and they exchanged suspicious glances. She pointed at an old building with doors and windows locked but she was interr by another student. "That’s not out Lab. When last did they open that one?”
“No o! That is senior school lab. This one," pointing to the old building she had earlier directed me to “is our introtech lab”.
I saw the confusion building up, the students did not know which lab was theirs.
I’d asked the gateman where the principal's office was, so I left the students in their confusion and headed for the principal's office.
For the first time, I decided to tell what my mission was. “I am from Saharareporters. I have been checking out schools in Ibadan and what I saw has been disappointing. I am here for the good news," I told her after the initial introduction and pleasantries.
The principal spoke better English and was more receptive, although I sensed that she was merely being courteous, having heard I work for Saharareporters.
She insisted she could not say anything about the school--whether good or bad.
“Somebody put me here. I am answerable to someone and we have been warned not to address the press. I can’t say anything to you."
I cajoled and even promised not to mention her name, but she remained adamant.
I left St. Louis unfulfilled but with some pictures.
Ibadan boys High School was my next stop. For the first time in the last two days, I saw a school. A whole building was designated as a library and reading room. There was a computer room with less than 10 computers, but compared to what I had seen, it was better by far. I saw classrooms with doors and chairs, tiled floors and covered roofs.
I had to ask if it was not a private school.
Ibadan Boys High School, located at Oke-Bola, was established in 1938 by T.L. Oyeshina, but was handed over to the government in 1973.
The 79-years old school has its structures well maintained but I soon found out that it was so not because the Oyo State government funded it but because it has a vibrant old students association.
“We thank God for our present government in Oyo State that allows private individuals adjudication in education. He gives a chance to the old boys to function and the old boys are instrumental. Those structures have been there since but the old boys are now maintaining them. The old boys are making a great impact in the school.”
The principal, eager to narrate the good nature of the old boys, further explained that the old boys employed a better mathematics teacher for the students when they realized they were not doing well in Math.
I left Ibadan boys High School, having gone round the premises, and headed for St. Anne's, Molete. I met another female principal who was
not willing to talk. While I trying to convince the principal of my good intentions, four students of the school walked in, in company of two teachers. They had just won a debate competition organized by Obafemi Awolowo University Alumni Association.
The students, beaming with excitement, came in with their prizes to show the principal.
“You see, I don’t even need to tell you anything. This is the good story you’re looking for. You don’t need to go to other schools. Go back to Lagos and write good things about Ibadan schools," the principal said.
Eventually, she agreed that I could look round the school but extracted a promise that I would not take any picture.
“On my honor," I promised.
“The old girls are very passionate about their school. Madam Okonjo Iweala and the wife of the Vice President are Old girls of this school and they are very passionate about the school. I am not in their good books currently and I don’t know if they will approve of any picture of their school in public,” the principal told me.
I went round the school under the guard of a corps member but I had promised I would not take pictures.
It was just past 4 pm when I got to Ibadan Grammar school, the alma mater of Mike Adenuga, the Globacom boss. The staff had gone, but the ICT building donated by Mr. Adenuga and another named after Emmanuel Alayande were testimonies.
We Thank The Governor
Ironically, many of the principals I spoke to sang the praises of the governor.
“We are very grateful for this governor. He has empowered us to now manage and collect the education levy from the students. Now that we have this money, we can start renovation little by little,” one of the principals said to me.
I often wondered what they were thankful for--the horrendous condition to which students and staff were subjected or the quality of the future generation the schools are churning out.
As the world is a global village, competition for a quality living has moved beyond one's immediate environment. No doubt, the caliber of students being educated in most of the schools in Oyo State would find it almost impossible to compete on a global level, not because they lack the inherent capacity but because their foundation had been deformed and their worldview skewed by a degenerated educational system.
By 2019, Governor Ajimobi would have completely ‘served’ Oyo State for eight years and it would be clear to all that there has been transformation but the transformation had failed to meet up with his promises. What the state would have experienced would be a transformation of a decaying educational system to a totally collapsed system.
However, two years is still enough time for the governor to take his promises seriously. In the interest of Oyo state residents, the Ajimobi-led government would do well by evaluating its progress or retrogression for the last six years and come up with a reform that would address the rot in the 628 state-run schools. Media propaganda and cosmetic reforms would not suffice.
Editor’s Note: Some of the names are not the real names of the students. This was done to protect the students from possible victimization. Also, we hope that staff members who spoke with our correspondent, with the intention of bringing aid to their school, would not be made scapegoats.