- Philanthropist renovates schools, praises Ugwuanyi
Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
In some communities in Enugu State, schoolchildren and pupils in public schools acquire knowledge through the ‘hard way’ owing to neglect by previous administrations in the state.
Though the incumbent administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has made strenuous efforts to address the rot, it will take a declaration of emergency in collaboration with the private sector and philanthropists to make such public schools rise completely from their parlous state.
The reporter’s recent visit to Umuopu community, Enugu-Ezike, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of the state, revealed an ugly situation brought about by the lackluster performance of education supervisors and the negative effect of working and studying in an environment lacking in modern facilities.
Accompanied by an information manager, it was 8:55am that Tuesday morning when the reporter drove into the premises of Community Primary School, Ugwueze, Umuopu. Ordinarily, at 9am, the morning assembly should have been over, and the teachers almost through with the first class of the day. But here, no single teacher had come to school by then.
Schoolchildren, at least 30, were at the assembly ground. On sighting the reporter’s car, the very little ones among them took to their heels in fear while the older ones retreated in measured steps.
It was when the reporter alighted from the vehicle and spoke to them in their native dialect that they regained confidence and came back to continue their morning assembly ritual.
The oldest among them, Apehja Samson, a Primary 6 pupil, told the reporter that the pupils conduct the morning assembly on their own almost on a daily basis since the teachers hardly came to school early. He informed Daily Sun that, after the assembly, the pupils would retire to the classrooms to wait for the teachers, some of whom might not turn up throughout the day.
Thirty minutes later, while still chatting with the pupils, a female teacher arrived on her motorcycle. With apprehension on her face upon seeing two strange faces with a strange vehicle discussing with the pupils, she parked the bike swiftly and dashed into the headmaster’s office.
She later joined the visitors and was told the two strangers were not government officials but concerned individuals seeking to help the school.
Inside the decrepit office, which served as the staff room and headmaster’s office, the teacher, identified as Onu Judith, opened up to the reporter on the real situation in the school.
Though an Umuopu indigene, Teacher Judith said she was posted recently to the school from another remote school in Ette community, an Idoma-speaking part of Enugu State. She said she met a few pupils in the school and a shortage of teachers, adding that many parents withdrew their wards from the school when the classroom collapsed years back before a philanthropist rebuilt the school recently.
“Now, we have only 11 pupils in Primary 6, six pupils in Primary 5, four pupils in Primary 4, 10 pupils in Primary 3, and seven pupils in Primary 2. We also have 11 pupils in Primary 1 and about 15 pupils in the
Early Child Care class. We used to study in a hut-like structure where rain and sun beat the pupils until an illustrious son of this community, Cyril Ayogu, popularly known as Okpoko Snr, came and built a new structure for us to complement the effort of the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration. Now we have a befitting solid structure. But the parents are hesitant in bringing back their kids because we are still facing other challenges.
“We have only four teachers presently. Two N-Power teachers sent to us reported for about one week and left. The school feeding programme of the federal government is not working here and this is a big drawback too for us. Parents are more eager to send their children to other public schools where the children enjoy such free meals, but those posted to feed the schoolchildren here are nowhere to be found.
“The headmaster, Odo Gabriel, has been sick for some time and has not been attending school. The one acting on his behalf, Amandi Cyprian, is also suffering from diarrhoea and has been absent. We are forced to combine two classes to make up for the manpower shortage. We have no school band, while we lack textbooks, chairs, and toilet facilities, among others,” she said.
It was the same story when the reporter visited the Community Secondary School, Umuopu. Though the SS3 students were writing their National Examinations Council (NECO) exams, the school has
no functional laboratory, ever since a windstorm blew off the roof of their science laboratory, damaging the equipment there.
The twin-block classrooms were also in a dilapidated state. But it was gathered that the same philanthropist took up its reconstruction, and work is now in its final stage.
One of the students writing the examination, Ugwuoke Timothy, shared the students’ experience with the reporter: “I have been here for the past six years
and now that we are passing out, I believe learning the hard way will also shape our life in one way or the other. Those before me experienced it before we came in and it has been like this for years. Before the reconstruction began, we studied in the classrooms holding umbrellas when it rained, because everywhere was leaking. The structure was also so low that a tall student could hit his head on the rafter while entering the class.
“There was no principal’s office and no lodge for corps members. We had to improvise to do our practical exams. But I believe that those coming behind us will enjoy, since the work has reached an advanced stage,” he said.
The principal, Hyacinth Ayogu, was not around when the reporter visited. But a senior teacher in the school, Ogbu Benedict, told the reporter that it was very difficult for the students and staff before the philanthropist intervened. He praised the efforts of the incumbent administration in addressing long years of neglect of public schools, and commended the government for providing adequate manpower for the school.
Ogbu said the Okpoko family was rebuilding the classrooms and building a security post and lavatory for the school. The family had also built churches, provided electricity and water project for the community, he said.
When the reporter spoke with Cyril Ayogu Okpoko Snr, the philanthropist said all his family had been doing was a little service to humanity. He stated that all the public interventions were geared towards complementing Ugwuanyi’s developmental efforts in the state. He added that his family was planning to build clinics and markets in other communities in the state.
“In our family, we do everything in unity as brothers. Our late father was the one popularly known as Okpoko and we inherited the name from him. My two brothers, Kevin and Great James, are also known as Okpoko and we are together in whatever project we carry out.
Government cannot do everything alone. That is why we decided to complement government’s efforts in this way. Governor Ugwuanyi has been in office for just three
years but most of this public infrastructure has been in a sorry state for many years before him. He has made great strides in this first tenure, and it is only right that public- spirited individuals support his mission and vision. I witnessed the commissioning of a road built by a private person by the governor sometime ago and this is what we are doing here too,” he said.
Ugwuanyi’s media aide, Louis Amoke, said the Ugwuanyi administration would continue to ensure the renewal and upgrade of public infrastructure in the state despite the prevailing paucity of funds. He noted that the Enugu State Executive Council recently approved N2.5 billion for the immediate construction of new classroom blocks and renovation of dilapidated structures in primary and junior secondary schools in the state under the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board.
A community leader in Umuopu, John Paul Onu, commended the Okpokos and urged other individuals to complement government’s efforts so that development could spread rapidly to all parts of the state.