Why hundreds of Lagos pupils didn’t show up in school last term

•Govt always warns against illegal fees —President, PTA

TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE dug into alleged scandals rocking public schools in the face of a spike in number of students not returning to school.

IN September 2020, when schools resumed in Lagos State after the first wave of COVID-19 and the nationwide lockdown, the state government found itself grappling with an unusual absenteeism among pupils and students of primary and secondary schools in the state, leading to the deputy governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, raising the alarm. In a series of posts on his verified twitter handle, Hamzat claimed that over 21,000 pupils in public nursery and primary schools failed to show up in their various schools.

In a 2018 students’ census carried out by the state government, a total of 480,110 pupils were deemed to be attending state-owned primary schools. If 21,000 of them stayed away, that would mean close to five per cent of the pupils not showing up for one reason or another. While Hamzat didn’t put a figure to those staying away at secondary school level, findings by Saturday Tribune showed that many students didn’t resume classes in September and didn’t participate in the first term learning and examination before the schools closed on December 18 for the Yuletide.

The number of students in public junior and senior secondary schools as captured by the said census stood at 337,724 and 229,980, respectively, bringing the total number of students in all the 1,687 state-owned secondary schools to 1,047,814.

Hamzat, while lamenting the drop in school resumption and attendance, reasoned that the economic crisis that came with COVID-19, which affected millions of homes, as well as the reluctance of many parents to release their wards out of fear, accounted for the academic crisis which he promised would be fixed by the government.

However, investigations by Saturday Tribune revealed that a combination of underhand dealings by officials of the state Ministry of Education and teaching/non-teaching staff members of public schools in the handling of fresh admission, school-to-school transfer and payable fees for public school students are at the heart of the spike in the failure of parents to send their children back to school. Government policies on education, particularly the issue of tax clearance for new students, especially from primary six to Junior Secondary School I, are also frustrating parents and guardians who desire to have their children and wards in school.

The culture of silence among top government officials in the education sector in the state also greeted Saturday Tribune’s quest to have official reactions to the issues of admission racket, illegal fees and other malfeasances discovered by our correspondent in the course of genuinely seeking to register two students in a public school.

 

Perm sec, tutor-general keep mum

Saturday Tribune, expectedly, turned to the permanent secretary of the state Ministry of Education, Mrs Abosede Adelaja, through the head of the public affairs unit of the ministry, Mr Kayode Abayomi, for answers to the issues discovered while interacting with certain public schools. Questions were sent on request and having reportedly gone through Saturday Tribune’s demands, the spokesperson, Mr Abayomi disclosed that the permanent secretary had decided to refer Saturday Tribune to the tutor-general/permanent secretary of any of the state’s six education districts, although they are junior in rank to Mrs Adelaja. Her reason, according to Mr Abayomi, was that having studied the questions sent to her for response, she decided to refer our correspondent because any of the six juniors would be able to respond in detail to all the questions since they were expected to be more familiar with the school operations.

When the permanent secretary of Education District 1, Agege, Mrs Titilayo Margaret Solarin, was contacted through the head of the public affairs unit of the district, Mrs Alabi, she initially promised to respond to the set of questions earlier sent to Mrs Adelaja. After staying quiet on the questions for days, Saturday Tribune reached her on the phone and she said she could only respond to the enquiry on the directive of the state’s Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo. “And the commissioner didn’t tell me anything concerning that,” she said before making it very clear she didn’t want to speak further on the matter.

 

Running a racket

By a stroke of coincidence, our correspondent had to be at a high school instead of a junior school, which is a stone’s throw away, to seek admission for a JSS 2 student moving from a private school in the neighbourhood to a government-owned school. And instead of being directed to the junior school, a teaching staff member that was approached took over the matter and decided to ‘help’ our correspondent. He introduced the vice principal, a lady, who was set to close for the day and mentioned the need of the “visitor” which the lady directed him to handle, acknowledging his capability.

After assuring our correspondent, whose identity was not known to him, that he was in safe hands, he led him to another teacher who was described as the one with solid assurance if the transfer would be. After explaining the procedure, he disclosed that someone would determine if the deal would sail through. Then came the question of cost. Applying a lot of caution, he said he would not be mentioning a particular amount as bribe money but once the assurance was solid that the transfer would be approved, then whatever would come in as “gift” could be discussed. This reporter consented.

The go-between (the first to be approached) then launched into an expose about how the admission clique in the education ministry at Alausa conducts its business. He warned the “visitor” to stay with the colleague he introduced instead of behaving like some who, in the past, went to the Alausa clique and got their fingers burnt. He said that touts in the ministry who are also staff members charge N50,000 for the type of transfer being sought and that they had the habit of disappearing into thin air after collecting the money.

According to him, once they give contact numbers to their “clients,” they remove the SIM cards, never to be available again. He said they always dress well in suits and could easily attract “clients.” He said people who had fallen victim to the Alausa gang always came back to them in their various schools. By his admission, the admission racket in Alausa is wide. It was also established that schools also run their deals and see the Alausa gang as competition.

While the “crew” in the senior school was trying to sound nice and claim not to be in the extortion game, the experience of a foster mother trying to register a girl into SSS 1, having completed junior school in Abuja, put a lie to the impression. The woman in question, personally known to this reporter, was charged N37,000. She didn’t return to them. According to her, she was “picked up” at the gate by an apparent non-teaching staff member who “connected” her, the exact experience of this reporter.

These developments were part of the enquiry which the authorities refused to dignify with a response.

 

N100 tax per day?

Daniel Kaine (not real name) just gained admission to a junior high school located in Kosofe Local Government Area of the state as a JSS I student. Weeks after resumption, a Saturday Tribune correspondent kept seeing him around the neighbourhood and an enquiry was made from his mum as to why he hadn’t joined his mates in school. According to her, when she went to the school, “we were told he must come with his birth certificate, the Lagos State Resident Registration Agency card of one of his parents, evidence of tax payment by parents and that he would have to buy a set of school uniform that consists of a shirt and short knickers, a tie, school badge, cap and sport wear.” Now the shocker: “They also said he should be coming to school every day with N100 which they said was tax,” the woman said amid confusion when Saturday Tribune asked how long the N100 per day “contribution” would last.

Saturday Tribune stepped into the situation and made further discovery. Monitoring the boy’s progress to join his mates in school, it was discovered that while utility bills, i.e. prepaid meter payment printout and waste disposal receipt not matched with the student’s surname, were accepted to prepare LASRA clearance for the mother, which the school accepted, the authorities in the school rejected any tax receipt not bearing the surname of the intending student. A tax of N5,500 was demanded from parents as what would go directly to the state government, while the N100 per day could not be officially explained. The mother was almost giving up hope on the son ever resuming with others due to lack of fund until a Good Samaritan stepped in and cleared all the payments (N5,500 tax, uniform was initially put at N5,200 but the woman was later asked to go sew for the boy because his size wasn’t available, though there would be payments for beret, tie, etc).

By the time the registration would be completed, the boy spent exactly a week in school, three days in actual sense, due to the rotational arrangement, before the first term examination began. What happened to the daily “contribution” could not be ascertained.

Unlike Daniel, Ladipo, a seven-year-old pupil living in the Oniwaya area of Agege and Obinna, a six- year old pupil in Ikotun, Alimosho, aren’t back in school, featuring among the thousands mentioned by Hamzat.

While tax payment is a legitimate demand by the government, parents are saying for families that are still battling recession due to COVID-19, insisting on tax clearance for new students would only scare parents away and add to the out-of-school crisis.

 

Govt always warns against illegal fees

The Deputy National President, National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria and South West Coordinator, Chief ‘Deolu Ogunbanjo, for example, said the issue of forceful payment of income tax by certain individuals on certain occasions such as student admission into schools, has become a recurring decimal in the state, particularly when government wanted more income.

He said although he and other responsible parents were not against payment of such minimum income tax by every taxable adult, the government, on the other side, should overlook the policy this academic year because of the financial hardship that COVID-19 pandemic and EndSARS protests brought on many. He noted that many parents lost their jobs because of the two occurrences, while many others who are working, especially petty traders, are not earning income. He asked the government to come back to the law next academic year.

On the collection of illegal fees for any purpose, including admission, in the state’s public schools, he said as far as he knew, the state government didn’t encourage the practice and always asked people to report erring school heads to appropriate quarters for sanction. “And I want to believe that the state government meant that because the Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo, always sounds such a warning at every stakeholders’ gathering,” Chief Ogunbanjo said.

 

Statewide fraud?

Saturday Tribune’s findings revealed that many public secondary schools in the state are into one form of extortion or another, taking from unsuspecting members of the public and engaging in admission racket, particularly in the first term of every academic calendar, like the just-concluded term, in the name of assisting and registering new students into their schools. For example, some of them make huge amounts of money from the sales of school badge, tie, cap and sportswear because the students are in their hundreds and accruable extras from such deals become substantial when put together. Some schools, according to investigations, include the sale of school uniform at bogus prices in their deals.

Although the majority of schools which Saturday Tribune investigated eventually left the sewing of school uniforms to parents to handle, only providing the parents with the fabric type, colour and the style to sew, the school’s badge, cap, tie and sportswear (where available) must be bought from the school. The prices vary from school to school, with the lowest being N2,350 and highest, N2,700, per student. In these schools, just like many others, students are encouraged to sew uniform on their own while items like tie, cap\beret and badge are sold to them directly by the authorities.

In the state model colleges, particularly the ones that are more competitive, the items cost more, while it is lower in many senior schools.

Investigations by Saturday Tribune revealed further that some schools are also replacing students who, for one reason or another, delayed in showing up for registration or did not show up at all in schools they are posted to, with other names for a fee. Although this practice is more prevalent in the state model colleges which are more competitive and perceived to parade better facilities, including hostels, regular secondary schools also indulge in it.

Many schools also collect money from their JSS3 students for the purpose of collection of their Basic Education Certificate (BECE), which is part of documents required to move them to SS1 whereas students are expected to be given the certificate free of charge.

An English Language teacher in a school in Ikeja said the money was a voluntary payment and was meant to meet certain needs of the schools like purchase of diesel and stationery.

 

We’re also affected –Private school owners

Leaders of various private school associations, including Mr Olawale Amusa, National President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools(NAPPS), Lagos State chapter; Mr Orji Kanu, National President, Association for Formidable Educational Development(AFED) and Mr Raheem Fatai, Chairman, League of Muslim School Proprietors (LEAMSP), Lagos State, among others, also told Saturday Tribune that many of their students, particularly at the nursery and primary school level, didn’t show up for the just-completed term.

They said parents of the affected students complained of lack of money due to COVID-19 lockdown which they claimed badly affected their earnings.

In a private school in Kosofe Local Government Area (identity withheld), it was discovered that some of the students in SSS2 and JSS3 didn’t resume with others, with a parent saying her daughter would resume with her mates for the second term after sitting out the entire first term and despite having a few months to transit to SSS3 for final secondary school examination.

 

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