THE order by the state government to fix Holy Aruosa Primary School, Benin when it was hurriedly closed down last June following a damning online video of the dilapidated structures which went viral on social media sounded like an iron cast promise. The pupils were relocated to nearby Agbado Primary School to complete the session and were supposed to go back to a completely refurbished school at the beginning of the 2018/2019 session.
The message from Mr. Crusoe Osagie, the Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy issued on behalf of the Seceretary to the Edo State Government, Mr. Osarodion Ogie who visited the elementary school as early as 7 in the morning on Thursday June 22 to announce the government’s decision on that rainy and bitterly cold morning was clear. It had to be immediately shut down.
With blown off roof and without windows, doors, tables and chairs, it was obvious that the classroom block was most inappropriate for learning. Holy Aruosa Primary School was established for the children of priests and workers of the Holy Aruosa Cathedral. Located some three hundred meters from downtown Ring Road, the traditional church of the Benin monarchy is tailored after the Catholic Church, and was established over 400 years ago during the time of Oba Esigie as a result of his contact with Portuguese missionaries.
Without a sign post, many city residents who daily thronged Akpakpava, Igbesanmwan, Forestry, Ehondor and other neighbouring streets are oblivious of the existence of the school. Following the footprints of his glorious ancestors in 2016, shortly after he mounted the throne, the revered Benin monarch, Omo N’Oba Ewuare 11 was at the cathedral for a thanksgiving.
In sharp contrast to the ambience of the traditional Bini Church with interlocking tiles, Holy Aruosa Primary School which is situated right behind the massive compound of the cathedral is in shambles. The reality of the situation is distressing.
The pupils who had to squat on the flooded floor to learn were ordered to move along with their teachers who herded them in the mid day downpour to their temporary abode, pending the renovation of the dilapidated and unsafe structure. What was however supposed to be a temporary solution is fast turning out to be a permanent relocation.
Eight months after they vacated the school on June 21, nothing has been done as the structure, situated right in the heart of the Edo State capital remains the same. The school now provides shelter for lizards and other reptiles who bask in the morning sun.
On June 21, when the school was hurriedly closed in what was apparently a desperate move, Osagie noted that the decision to move the pupils was informed by the shocking reports, that despite an earlier relocation order given by the state government, the teachers curiously ignored the order and went about their activities in the ramshackle block.
In the statement, the Edo state government spokesman had disclosed that all such schools, with crumbling structures throughout the state had been shutdown with immediate effect, while the students and pupils in the affected schools were relocated to other schools that will be announced soon.
The statement read in part: “The state government has ordered an investigation to ascertain why the initial relocation order of the pupils with their teachers was not enforced.”
According to the spokesman, one of the allegations being investigated is the suspicion that some teachers, who refused to be transferred out of the school, selfishly kept those kids in the school under unsafe condition.
On the ongoing reform in the state’s education sector, Osagie said that “on assumption of office in November 2016, Obaseki ordered an inventory of facilities and the enumeration of primary and secondary schools in the state.
“After the census, the schools were categorised into three: those in grade A are in good condition; those in B need little intervention and schools in grade C require total renovation.
“It is obvious that Holy Aruosa Primary School and Osula Primary School, among others, fell in the third category and require urgent attention. The worst of them like Holy Aruosa were shut down.”
He added: “As is the culture of this administration, groundwork has already begun for this renovation process to commence, as only few months ago bid rounds were held for the rehabilitation of some of these schools.
“The renovation work is expected to cover 1,200 public schools in the state, with the first batch of 230 schools captured in the pilot phase of the exercise.”
He lamented that despite the huge investment in remodelling most of the schools by the Adams Oshiomhole-led administration, “some of them have been vandalised, with facilities looted by hoodlums.”
To correct this anomaly, Osagie said that the Obaseki administration has made commitment to partner communities hosting government projects such as schools and hospitals to ensure they are protected from vandals.
“We assure that work will soon commence at these schools within Benin metropolis and other parts of the state, and call on communities to protect the structures as soon as they’re built.
“The state government will expedite action on the renovation work to ensure that our pupils learn in conducive environment, even as we roll out the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (Edo BEST) programme to some of these schools in coming weeks” Osagie added.
Investigations by the Nigerian Tribune however revealed that the June order for the closure, transfer of pupils to other schools and immediate renovation of the ramshackle schools in the state was not carried out as the schools are still passionately pleading for attention.
At Agbado Primary School, a mistress who would not want her name in print as she is a civil servant and as such not permitted to talk to the press said that the over 400 pupils who were transferred to the school have no doubt added to the infrastructural stress at the school.
She said that overcrowded classrooms were now the order of the day at the school. Teachers now go the extra mile of coping with the new additions, adding that even before the redeployment, facilities at the school were stressed to breaking point.
According to her when the children were transferred in what was more or less a fire brigade approach, the teachers had believed the government line that it was for the rest of the third term session which was about to end in July.
She wailed: “Agbado Primary School was before now overcrowded with an average of 60 pupils in a class. It was difficult coping but the problem was exacerbated by the relocation of the pupils. Now, we have close to 70 students in a class. It is a very difficult situation as teachers are overworked. The government should find a solution. We can’t continue like this. The atmosphere is not just conducive for learning.”
Against the backdrop of these controversies, the views of Osagie were eagerly sought. Determined efforts to reach him proved futile as he neither bothered to pick numerous calls placed to his mobile phone nor respond to text messages which he sought.
“Text me,” he wrote on November 6, 2018 after he refused to pick several calls on his telephone. The Edo state government image maker also ignored a text message dated November 14 sent to his mobile number. The message read in part:
“My SA. You’ve not been picking my calls. Anyway, this has to do with the state of Aruosa Primary School which was closed down and the pupils relocated to Agbado Primary School. It was supposed to be rebuilt in three months. Wanted to get the government’s side of the story so as not to appear biased. Much thanks. Hendrix.”
Similar messages to the Special Adviser on Basic Education to the Governor, Ms. Joan Oviawe were not attended to as she neither picked her calls nor responded to the messages.
A conducive environment is no doubt a sine qua non for effective learning. Bringing up the Edo children of the future in overcrowded and dilapidated classrooms is certainly not the best. Shutting down Aruosa and other crumbling schools in the state in a move which bore all the hallmark of a military fiat may just turn out to be the easiest way of killing public education in the state.