A Facebook post by one Victoria Mije on Saturday, March 20, 2021, alleging that students of Government College, Zaria Road, in Jos, the Plateau State capital were being used for construction work in the school has stirred anger among students and staff of the school who said the post was mischievous. Daily Trust visited the school to investigate the issue.
In her post, Mije said the students of the school were used to construct the school fence which she was aware the contractor was already paid and given mobilisation fee, adding that the act was criminal, amounted to child labour and that the contractor should be blacklisted.
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The post went viral and generated reactions in different quarters. From the thread of comments on the post monitored by our correspondent, some people expressed sympathy, saying it was unfortunate, others called for investigation and punishment for anyone found wanting, among other comments.
A commenter, however, accused Mije of imbalance and not getting her facts right before posting.
The post reads thus:
Govt College Jos: Attention Plateau State Government (Saturday 20th March 2021)
“Students of Government College Jos along Zaria Road are being used to construct the school fence. l am aware that the contractor was paid and given mobilisation fee .
“I interacted with the students who informed me that they were asked to carry water, mix sand and cement and carry blocks by the dormitory master and mistress. l further inquired if they were paid, they said no; that they were forced to do the work.
“These are students who are supposed to be doing activities based on their outlined school curriculum and not used as ‘free labour’ for the construction of the school’s fence.
“Parents never send their children to mix sand and cement, carry water, carry blocks and dig holes for the construction of a school fence for the Plateau State Government after paying school fees, PTA levy and other charges.
“The Plateau State Government, Plateau State Ministry of Education should investigate this nonsense and anyone involved should be adequately sanctioned.
“How can a contractor be paid and instead of getting experienced labour, people’s children are being used to work.
“The principal and school officials must be interrogated.
“In Plateau State the ‘Child Right Act’ is in force. Therefore, for the children to be doing such labour on a government project is a crime.
“In addition, the contractor should be blacklisted as it’s obvious that he does not have the manpower to execute the work.
“Here are clips to authenticate this report.
Our correspondent visited the school and observed that the school which is a boarding school has a vast land housing classes, administrative block, dormitories, staff quarters, among others, but is not fenced.
The anger from both the students and staff was palpable. They said their plight in the school without a fence did not only call for empathy but support to get it done without anyone trying to use the situation for personal gains.
Our correspondent gathered that the school has been facing several security challenges as a result of the lack of fence, thereby making the teachers, who mostly live in the staff quarters, to task themselves and initiate the idea of constructing the fence for their own safety and that of the students.
The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and good spirited individuals also supported the school to construct the fence. Vital documents in this respect were obtained by our correspondent.
Meanwhile, the students on their own part volunteered to support in the project since it has to do with their safety. And the handler of the project is Illia Moses who teaches technical drawing/basic technology in the school.
Three students who participated in the fence construction work explained that they were neither forced nor arm-twisted to do so.
Jethro Joshua (SS3) said they had been facing several security challenges which made them to support the initiative by their teachers to construct the fence for their safety, particularly considering the alarming rate of security challenges in the nation which schools also had been suffering the brunt.
Joshua said in January this year, two gunmen came to the school at night, but that the students overpowered them and they were handed over to security personnel, adding that he was injured on his right hand which he showed he our correspondent.
He further said all the students vowed to support the fence construction when they heard that the teachers were making moves and tasking themselves to that effect, adding that as a final year student he would surely be remembered as someone who contributed in protecting the school and students by playing a vital role in the school fence construction.
An SS2 student, Andrew Mbai Velnoe, said the students mostly participated in fetching water from the school reservoir to the construction site, while others engaged in carrying gravel.
According to him, the students were happy to be involved in the construction, and thanked the principal for her determined thoughtfulness and initiatives that would enhance the security of the school and protect students and staff.
Similarly, Favour Kim Peter (SS3) said that Saturday was the commencement day of the fence construction and that even those who did not participate in the voluntary work were glad to witness the event because all their time in the school it had been without a fence.
He said their school was in close proximity with other government schools, but that it was only theirs that was not fenced.
He further said the person who they saw taking their pictures while working on the site was a man in a tricycle, and that the tricycle sped off, and that few hours later, they heard that their picture was on Facebook, and that a girl alleged that students were being used for child labour for a job already given to a contractor and paid for.
Peter stressed that he strongly believed the man in the tricycle must have given the pictures to Victoria Mije, saying that the claim by Mije that she took the pictures and spoke with students was false.
Godwin Hilary Dakum who teaches civic education in the school said apart from insecurity, poisonous reptiles and snakes came into the premises often due to the lack of fence.
He said they killed a snake shortly before our correspondent visited, and thereafter went and picked up the dead snake and displayed it to prove his point.
Dakum condemned the action of the Facebook poster, saying she failed to find out why the students were helping out in the fence construction before tagging it child labour.
In his explanation, Illia Moses, the technical drawing/basic technology teacher who is handling the project, and a builder himself, said he read building technology in tertiary institution, and that he was using his knowledge and skills to pilot the fence construction as his own contribution to the project.
He said the allegation that the work was given to a contractor and the money being paid was entirely false as he was the one handling the project and piloting things accordingly.
Moses said the Facebook post was just designed to bring more harm to the school than good.
In her reaction, the Principal, Salome Joseph Goshit, said there was no contract awarded on the fence construction as alleged, and that schools did not usually award contracts but only supervised the ones awarded by the ministry.
She confirmed the gunmen attack on the school on January 28, saying the matter was with the police.
She said they were trying to track the Facebook poster and bring her to account for her post, which according to her, was misleading.
When contacted, the Plateau State Commissioner for Higher Education, Elizabeth Wapmuk, confirmed that what our correspondent gathered from the school and the principal were true.