BY Innocent Duru
After many years of defecating in bushes within and outside the school premises, teachers and pupils of decrepit Chesire High School, Ijokodo, Ibadan, heaved a sigh of relief when the then lawmaker representing Oyo South Federal Constituency, Senator Adesoji Akanbi, facilitated the construction of a block of three classrooms and a VIP toilet in the school.
The VIP toilet was part of a three-classroom block and furniture project meant to alleviate the sufferings of the teachers and pupils and also enhance learning in the school.
Findings showed that the project, which was commissioned in 2017, was worth more than N18 million.
Not quite long after the project was commissioned, the toilet, which lacks every feature of the VIP it was tagged, collapsed, leaving the school community to return to the archaic practice of defecating in open places and consequently polluting the environment.
“It is disheartening that this kind of project could be said to have been constructed by a certified contractor.
“I bet that if this project had been handled by local bricklayers, they would have done a much better job that will last for decades.
“There is nothing VIP about this toilet. It is a glorified latrine,” a teacher who preferred anonymity said.
Also lamenting the condition of the collapsed VIP toilet, another teacher noted that the toilet was actually not meant for the students.
“In fact, it is a no go area as you can see. If you put your leg inside the place, that portion will cave in and you will find yourself inside the rubbish. This is despicable.
“All the people involved in the execution of the project should be probed because they endangered our lives by carrying out this shoddy job for a sum that you can be very sure is far and above what a local bricklayer would charge.
“Imagine somebody was using the toilet when it caved in. The person would have fallen inside the mess and may not have come out alive.
“When people get contracts, they should endeavour to execute them well. They shouldn’t put monetary gains above the safety and well-being of the citizens they are claiming to serve.”
Some of the pupils who spoke with our correspondent also decried their experiences defecating in the bush.
One of the pupils said: “We were defecating in the bush for a long time. As boys, we were going deep down the bush to defecate, but the females couldn’t go far because they were afraid of snakes.
“We do kill snakes within the school premises. In fact, we killed one two weeks ago. We are never scared of them.
“If we are in the classroom and see a snake passing, we would run after it and make sure we kill it.
“Apart from snakes, we also have seen an alligator within the premises. It was when the alumni saw our plight that they constructed new toilets for us sometime last year.”
Aside from the challenge of not having a toilet, the dilapidated state of the school is another source of worry for the pupils.
Decrying the state of their learning environment, a pupil said: “Our classrooms are not in good conditions. We are in the heart of the capital city, Ibadan and yet our school looks like a rehab home. It is very disturbing.
“As you can see, some of our classrooms have no doors and windows. The roofs of some are leaking and it is a sorry sight when it rains.
“Each time it rains, we would have to be moving around the class to settle down in a place that is not so much affected by the rain. This is obviously not healthy for us.”
The pupil added: “The sets of furniture are also in bad shape. Hardly will you find a chair and a table that are in good condition. Many of them are broken, and for us to write we have to be patching things together.
“We deserve more than this. It is not a crime that we are studying in a public school.”
Internet project suffers setback
Apart from the failed toilet project, findings around the school revealed that internet cum computer projects said to have been facilitated by a lawmaker are also not functional.
The first set of computers delivered to the school were said to have been carted away by robbers shortly after they were installed.
One of the teachers said: “The computer project was meant to teach and enhance the education of our pupils. Shortly after they brought some computers, robbers broke into the school and carted them away.
“The problem was that the people who facilitated the project didn’t consider the porous nature of the school and didn’t make efforts to put security measures in place to prevent the computers from being stolen.
“One wonders the kind of leaders that we have as nothing was probably done to investigate the theft. The assumption obviously was that it was government’s money and once it is gone, it is gone.
“An ‘honourable’ facilitated the project. It is just unfortunate that I cannot remember his name.”
The teacher continued: “They also brought some dishes for internet training purposes but the whole thing is not working because there is no subscription on them.
“The school does not have the money to pay for subscription. Those who facilitated it through the NCC should do something about this because it is a federal government project. They are the ones that should be paying for it.
“When the first dish was not working, they brought another. When the officials came earlier, they signed the documents that they were meant to sign after visiting but for them now to subscribe is the only challenge.
“We have not been having computer training. The new computers they brought are only being used to type examination papers. It was facilitated by the then principal because he knew some people in the NCC.
“They brought the new set specifically for the special and disabled students. It came with a braille machine.”
Alumni save situation
It was gathered that a silver lining appeared behind the cloud for the teachers and students last year when the alumni association took it upon itself to build a befitting toilet for them.
“That has been our saving grace. Their intervention ended the pains of going to defecate in the bush where pupils also defecate. It could be denigrating and embarrassing rushing into the bush to pooh.
“Aside the toilet, the alumni association has also helped us to renovate some of the buildings and equipped them with good furniture. They also intervened in our library.
“It is very unfortunate that we have to rely on the alumni to put the school in order. If not for their intervention, this place wouldn’t have been good for learning,” a worker in the school said.
We’re not responsible for choosing contractors – UBEC
The signpost placed by the collapsed toilet showed that the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) project was the client.
Spokesman of UBEC, David Apeh, exonerated the commission of any guilt in the project.
He said: “Yes, UBEC was the client, but who brought the contract there? It must have been brought by a House of Reps member or a Senator.
“What we do is that if there is a contract by a House of Reps member or a Senator, before we were giving them those monies for their constituency.
“Now we tell them, this your constituency, what are things to be built? When they bring the work, most of them come with their contractors. Those are the people concerned.
“What I know is that the honourable facilitating the project brings the contractors.
“Most of these things that are happening are between the contractors and the politicians; not UBEC.”
I didn’t pick contractor – Ex lawmaker
The facilitator of the project, Senator Adesoji Akanbi, said he was not aware that the toilet collapsed.
“After leaving office, I have done quite a lot for my people. The old students can come together and do another one for them,” he said.
Asked if the development was an indication that the contractor didn’t do his work well, the former lawmaker said: “Well, I have left office and I have done quite a lot for my people. The contractors are not allocated by us. we don’t bring contractors. We don’t bring contractors, that I know.
“I think it was SMEDAN that was in charge of it.”
Contacted, SMEDAN Public Relations Officer, Ibrahim Kaula, demanded to know the connection of the agency with a project that UBEC was the client.
“Which is the agency responsible for that project?”
UBEC, our correspondent replied.
“What is the connection with SMEDAN now? If it was a SMEDAN contractor, it should have indicated it as the client.
“Send me the name of the contract and the name of the project. I will send it to my procurement officer to find out if we were the one that awarded that contract. I will send it right now to the procurement officer and I will get back to you. “
Reacting to questions about the stolen computers, NCC spokesperson, Reuben Muoka, said: “I wouldn’t know about the computers that were carted away.”
He went on to say that the project wasn’t a constituency project but a social responsibility project.
He said: “There is a project that we do that is called DAPT, Digital Appreciation for Tertiary Institutions and Computer Awareness Programme for Secondary Schools.
“We give these facilities to schools. We don’t monitor them. If it has any problem, the school will know how to report it for us to remedy the situation.
“It is not anybody reporting that it is not working. That is not what happened. This is a corporate social responsibility that we give to schools across the country.
“Ours is to give them those facilities, make sure it is working and hand it over to them. We don’t have a staff there that monitors whether it is working or not.
“If it is not working they know what to do. They have all the channels to meet with us to do what is necessary.
“It may interest you to know that the internet subscription we give is for a period. If it expires, we expect the people to continue the subscription.
“We buy bandwidth and we don’t buy it forever anywhere we install it. We buy it for a reasonable period of time that we think that those people should be able to buy the bandwidth.”
He added: “The most important thing you need to know is that we install these facilities and hand them over to the schools, and if there is any problem with it, especially problems that we can solve, those people know what channel they contact. They know how to reach the NCC to remedy the situation.
“It is not a matter of it is not working. That is not how it works.
“Even the one you said about carting away computers, we also give the responsibility to the people to protect the facilities.
“We cannot send security men to go and be protecting facilities that we have installed in a school. We expect the school to take responsibility.
“In fact, that is one of the major messages we give to them during commissioning. They are to ensure that those equipment are secure and not left for people to vandalise.
“It is the responsibility of whichever institution that is receiving to protect them. We can’t be sending security men to all the schools to go and protect them.”
Concluding, he said: “We are giving these things to the institutions. If any institution is porous, who would take the responsibility? They should have told us that it is porous.
“In the place where you schooled, if you say we want to give you computer, build the lab, refurbish the building and equip it with computers with a protector, would your school say we will not take it because there is no protection?
“We assume primarily that every school has security. It is a school and not somebody’s house.”
Concern over growing number of special children in school
Apart from the failed projects in the school, parents have also expressed worries about the growing number of special children in the school.
A parent who identified himself simply as Mr Taju said: “The school was established as an able bodied school. Oluyole Chesire Home, which was a private institution, gave the school that land and in turn expected the school to admit pupils.
“Now, it is like the school is being hijacked by the physically challenged. The categories of special students being admitted into the school now are the kind of pupils that should be in special school.
“Their being in a regular school is like wasting the teachers’ efforts. It is just like giving the teachers tick forest to clear. There is no competition among the students.
“The government will need to look into this and change its strategy. If they want a special school for special pupils, they should establish one.”
Reacting, a high ranking official of the school, who didn’t want her name in print because she was not authorised to speak to the press, said: “The inclusion of special children in the school is an integration policy of the government meant to help the physically challenged pupils.
“We always give able pupils orientation about the need to assist their physically challenged colleagues. This has been yielding fruits as there is no discrimination among them.
“There are tremendous improvements in the lives of many physically challenged as a result of their interaction with able bodied colleagues.”
Adapted from The Nation