Children of Nkari community in Ini Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State have been out of school for two years while their mates within the council area and across the state are forging ahead academically. Daily Trust Saturday reports on the crisis disrupting academic activities in Akwa Ibom.
Instead of being clad in their school uniforms, finding their way to their classes every school day, some of the children are either pregnant or have become gangsters.
The sight of these pregnant teenage girls roaming the streets or hiding from public glare, and boys who would end up terrorising the community in future has become a thing of concern for the elders and leaders of Nkari community.
The elders are afraid that the grounding of academic activities in the community since 2020 due to the boundary crisis between the community and its Usaka Ukwu neighbours in Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State is already a problem with serious consequences for the development of the community.
Already, agricultural activities have been grounded as the vast piece of land under contention has not only been abandoned, but the crisis discouraged the cultivation of rice, a crop Nkari is known for, and any other possible developmental projects the government would have sited in the community.
Though ‘normalcy’ has returned to Nkari eight months after a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the local government Chairman of Ini, Hon. Israel Idaisin, and his counterpart in Ikwuano, Chief Steve Mpamugo, in a Joint Peace Agreement Drafting Committee meeting on January 26, 2022, in the presence of the Nigerian Army led by Lt. N. G. Kebbe, the consequences of the crisis still remain.
A visit to Nkari Community Secondary School revealed that the school has been covered with overgrown grass and a visitor would have to wade through the bush to notice the already deteriorating classroom blocks, and the collapse of some of the facilities.
It was gathered that despite efforts by the community to clear the overgrown grass and bushes in the abandoned school premises, in preparation for resumption of classes in the just concluded academic term, classes did not resume.
According to Obong Martins Udo, Village Head, Ifa, and Clan Head, Nkari community, the Ministry of Education failed to keep its promises that academic activities would resume in September in the community and teachers would be posted to the school to resume teaching.
Udo explained that the community was elated when a team of education inspectors from Abuja visited the community and also promised that the school would resume.
“We have suffered to no avail, especially last May, when we had a crisis with our Igbo brothers. The expanse of land you saw on your way here has been encroached. They caused problems and so many lives were lost. Thank God for how He brought about a settlement and we signed an undertaking last year, at least to calm down the situation.
“During the crisis, valuable equipment within the school compound was destroyed. If school was in session and there were day and night security guards, it wouldn’t have been like that. So, we are in tears. Since 2020, for three years, our children have not gone to school, and this has affected us. These three years without teaching in the secondary school is a thing of surprise.
“For the sake of their lives, the teachers refused to come to school; not only that the only Community Secondary School teachers were posted out. With our contact, the ministry promised to send teachers at the start of this school year but with that fear of the killings, the teachers refused to return to school.
“Our children are suffering. Our children now school outside; Odot Ikono and other areas. Because of a lack of parental care, our children are spoilt, especially the female children, and the males join bad gangs.
“The future of our children would be marred because if the school is not in operation, the children would turn to animals; unruly, violent. But if they are in secondary school and progress to the tertiary level, they would be trained. Our girl children would not be vulnerable to pregnancy.
“In September, a team of inspectors from Abuja came here, saying they came on a surprise visit. They made promises that academic activities would resume before the end of this school year, but nothing has happened in the secondary school.
We have gone to complete the clearing of the school compound,” he stated.
Commenting on the implication of the crisis on the community, Caretaker of Gateway to Nkari, Obong Okon Joseph Akpan, urged the government to intervene so their children would return to school, noting that education would make their children responsible.
“As a result of the boundary crisis, we find ourselves in this kind of situation academically and it is a problem. If you are not educated, you could find yourself as a trouble maker because education shapes a person and makes them responsible.
“We have been involved in a crisis with our Ikwuano neighbours in Abia State and because of that, on May 20, 2020, they planned an annexation to this community but God said no; and it has been a big battle. We saw hell, and we were strangulated, with a lot of psychological and emotional problems that we passed through. So we need government support to help us with education and health, both in manpower and facilities,” he said.
Speaking on the efforts the local government council has made to ensure students and teachers resume academic activities in the community secondary school, Mr Utin Okon, the Supervisor, Political and Chieftaincy of the LGA, said he has written letters to the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the Ministry of Education requesting for teachers for the primary and secondary schools in the community.
Okon lamented the absence of government presence in the community, saying the school was their only consolation that there was hope for their children as the area has totally been neglected by the government.
He explained that the crisis has long ceased in the area with the agreement signed by the warring communities and wondered why it was difficult for the state government to ensure that academic activities resume in the schools, adding that the community had to employ support teachers to teach in the Methodist Primary School in Mbente Village, close to the house of the Paramount Ruler of Ini Local Government Area, Edidem Udoette Edon, as the school is without teachers.
“Some of them will seek transfer and some will blatantly stay away. The excuse was that there was a crisis but the crisis has long ceased over a year now. We have signed an agreement with the Commander of the Military Base in Ibawa that there would be no more problems.
“The youths have stopped making trouble, no more fighting. That is why you see them coming to clear this place so that academic activities would begin.
“I have worked with the local government chairman for seven years for the development of this community. I want a government presence in this community. Unfortunately, we have never for once had a representative from this community in government.
“Last two months, I was still with the National Boundary Commission on this matter. The last time, I was with SUBEB. What we want now is for the government to send teachers to our school so that our children can resume studies.
“These would help these girls getting pregnant, stem down the rate of pregnancy we have seen ourselves so that the future would be okay with them. And the boys that have joined bad gangs in exile should stop so we can give them our own moral rectitude as God has given to Nkari people,” he said.
When Sir John Udo, Board Member, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), in charge of school services, was contacted on the challenge in Nkari, he said teachers who were posted to the secondary and primary schools there were threatened by the crisis and fled for their lives.
Udo revealed that many of the teachers posted to the community requested for a reassignment to other schools, adding that the board was working on the modalities of posting indigenes in the employ of the state government from the community to serve as teachers in the schools there.
“You know that area is a war area; there is always a problem around that side. When the last war came, boys from that area came with guns, and in their numbers. They came with escorts to arrive at Mbiabong Ikot Udofia.
“If you are not from Nkari and I post you to that place to go and work; maybe when you go, there is no problem, and you think peace has returned and suddenly they start fighting. As a government teacher, what would you do?
“Nkari has a peculiar case. Even if you keep the police there, there would still be trouble. Can you be in an environment where they are warring, and there are vices?” he queried.
The SUBEB member explained that aside from waiting for a confirmation from the community that they have ceased fighting and prepare the school for the resumption of academic activities, the commission was working together with education supervisors at the local government level to ensure that the teachers posted to the schools there resume classes.
He, however, lamented that as a result of the crisis, parents have withdrawn their children from the public schools in the area, adding that even if the government sends teachers to the primary school, it would be in proportion to the number of pupils available.
“We had asked for peace to be returned; community, settle your matter, and when you settle, we would come and start school. I learnt that the two communities met and had settled. Resumption was in September, and we have posted teachers to the schools and expected the school to start (I think there are about 5 schools in that community).
“What we are trying to do as a board to get people to respond is that we want to post people from that community there. We are looking for measures to take to force teachers to go there.
“We have posted teachers, and we go out for inspection. We have quality assurance, we have education secretaries in the local government areas that will help us for the inspection. The problem may not be the board again.
“Many parents have withdrawn their children from those (primary) schools, so we cannot send teachers because we don’t have teachers to waste. If we have 40 pupils, I can’t keep more than 5 teachers; the head teacher and other teachers, that is, one teacher handles one class. If you divide 40 by 4 you have 8 pupils per teacher.
“We don’t have teachers because every year teachers are retiring, and government must plan; include in the budget for the recruitment of teachers.
So much money has gone for the payment of teachers’ salaries, so we may decide that this year; we would spend a big chunk of the money for road construction. Government cannot recruit teachers every year,” he said.