With 10.5 million children already out of school in Nigeria, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF),’ Gabriel Ogunjobi reports how the situation gets even bleaker as the farmer-herder crisis has denied over 800 schoolchildren access to basic education in Oke-Ogun and Ibarapa regions of Oyo State.
OLDEN DAYS OF MYSTICAL POWER AND TRANQUILITY
In the olden days, the founding fathers of Ibarapa and Oke-Ogun, Oyo State, lived a communal and modest life, marking different festivals, including Yam and Aso-Oke Day. They were hospitable and gave their children in marriage to nomads with different cultures.
The entire indigenous Oyo State enjoyed bliss and the people kept faith with tradition. Ibadan, the capital of the state, would later be described as “the city that accommodates all walks of life”.
But things did not remain the same in Igangan and Ibarapa. Decades later, both young and old scampered for safety. Parents no longer sent their children to school freely. The youths used their inherited Dane guns to hunt down intruders both day and night.
A PEACEFUL NIGHT WELCOMES A MOURNFUL DAWN
During my journey through Igboora, known as the home of twins, to Igangan, a town that is now volatile, I heard a woman-farmer and the driver reminisce about good old days.
They spoke of the mystical powers that three mountains – out of many in Ibarapa area – possess. Gbohungbohun (a sound recorder) at Ayete was known to repeat spoken words after the speaker. Kosomonu was known to shield the natives of Idere from kidnappers and Oke Elefufu was said to breathe fresh air on farmers returning from the scorching sun on the farm.
“Gbohungbohun doesn’t talk again. Its powerhas been sold by those who understood its workings for the advancement of science,” says the taxi driver.
“No wonder there is no more peace anywhere again,” the farmer, presumed to be in her late sixties, added.
My tour guide said at least 10 people had died because of the recurring clashes between January and June, but to track them was a herculean task. Why?
“Families of the deceased relocated for fear of more attacks,” he answered.
FIJ eventually tracked family members of two of the dead victims in the June farmer-herder clash. The first was 70-year-old Fatai Ramon, a farmer at Oke-Alafia. He was shot in the head while trekking back home on the night of June 5.
Thirty-year-old Akindele Rasaq, a barber, was another victim of the attack. His unexpected death sent his 5-year-old set of twins out of school.
The twins now help their widowed mother sell petty goods instead of joining their agemates to write third term exams. “Returning to school remains a matter of luck,” says Jimoh Ramon, the twins’ uncle.
“It’s not as if their father contributed the highest stakes in the extended family. He was still very young but at least he sustained himself with his craft and kept his own family.”
At the moment, Akindele’s aging father and the rest of the extended family are torn between mourning the death of their son and catering for his two little children, especially as the wife intends to remarry.
Hopefully, luck will shine on the twins to return to school. But how long will it take them to shake off the trauma of their father’s death in the same town?
SCHOOLS LIKE A WAR FRONT
At 11 am on Wednesday, August 4, I met two local vigilantes manning the border of Gaa Seriki, a junction named after Saliu Abdulkadri, the evicted Seriki Fulani of Igangan.
This was where the crisis broke out in the town. It was dominated by Yoruba farmers and Fulani herders. Seriki Fulani used to dwell a few miles away until he fled to Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State.
Now, the place is desolate. A Peak Milk processing factory used to be there, but it was razed during the crisis. The mosque where Fulani residents worshipped has been torched. Seriki’s edifice was not spared, too. Only the nomadic school there was not damaged, but it is now overgrown with weeds. The last time the school opened was in January 2021 and no one seems to know where over 200 schoolchildren are.
Each of seven Igangan communities – Apebiowo, Alagolo, Pakua, Ojumu, Gaa Yusuff, Alubembe and Asunnara – have a nomadic primary school. The clash between farmers and herders led to the closure of all these schools in January and till date, they are not functional.
The teachers were scared to go to classes and so sought transfer to schools in urban areas. Like Seriki, the herders, whose children mostly learned in the schools, headed for the forests far away from Igangan. They took the books from their children and handed sticks to them for herding. These young herders may never return to the classroom until their parents find another village that can accommodate them with their cattle.
Only a few Yoruba parents re-enrolled their children in schools in urban areas.
“The schools are usually on the outskirts of the town so a teacher used to take us on a bike from home,” Abibat Lawal, one of the teachers transferred from the nomadic school at Pakua, told FIJ.
“But we were scared to go back to school after the crisis in January.
“When we were transferred to schools within the towns, some children followed us. We also tried to look for some others but learnt they had left Igangan.”
As of early August, the indigenes of Ibarapa were reconstructing their houses and did not want to see the Fulani herders and their children ever again – either within the town or in the forests.
Out of the estimated population of 9.4 million nomads in Nigeria, 3.3million are children of school age. The Nigerian Government acknowledged that with a literacy rate ranging between 0.2 and 2.9percent, the participation of the nomads in the existing formal and non-formal education programmes was abysmally low. This led to the establishment of nomadic education in 1989.
According to the National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE), some constraints to nomads’ participation in formal and non-formal education include constant migration in search of water and pasture and their lack of access to school in their immediate environment.
The current ‘No to nomadic education in Igangan’ means that the future of the Fulani children is bleak.
‘OUR HERITAGE IS GONE’
Alimi Saheed is Fulani but his forefathers and those of the evicted Seriki migrated to Igangan a long time ago. They made families and their cattle grazed the land at the same time.
“That’s why we are Yoruba-Fulani,” he began. “The crisis doesn’t affect us because everybody knows we are not the ones destroying farms and burning houses. We have nothing to fear.”
Alimi is confident that he is spared in the reprisal attacks but his kindred is not. Only his and his elder brother’s families stayed back in Pakua forest to farm; others have fled with at least a dozen schoolchildren.
Although the Saheed brothers stood back, their children’s education ceased. While speaking with FIJ, he waited for his two children to return from the farm he described as ‘nearby’.
Alimi lamented the closure of the Pakua school right in front of his hut, saying, “This school is like our heritage because our children don’t have to travel far to be educated.
“Some other places within the town don’t have schools in close proximity, but we are blessed with one here. It’s painful that it has remained shut since the crisis erupted.”
Lawal, a teacher in Pakua, had estimated the number of attendees at 120 pupils.
On a general assumption, the remaining nomadic schools cannot have over 120 schoolchildren. Therefore, an average of 840 schoolchildren dropped out of school in 2021 because of the farmer-herder crisis in Igangan.
Unlike Igangan, FIJ confirmed that all the 15 primary and secondary schools across Ago Are, Ago Amodu, Saki, Otu and Iseyin in Oke-Ogun, another agrarian region with a significant presence of Fulani herders in Oyo State, are open.
Johnson Akinloye Olaoye, the Alamodu of Ago Amoduland, told FIJ that strict instructions and resolution not to collect dues from herders willing to graze their cattle had helped him rule over his town with relative peace.
SAFE SCHOOLS INITIATIVE
Over 100 countries, including Nigeria, have endorsed the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, which is the only international agreement dedicated to protecting education amid armed conflict.
Between October 25 and 27, 2021, Nigeria will host the 4th International Conference for the SSD Member States in Abuja, but this investigation revealed that the country is behind in the declaration’s implementation.
The Safe School Initiative, which Nigeria is a signatory to, recommends that schools should consider reinforced infrastructure, which includes the use of boundary walls and/or the installation of barbed wire to prevent attacks.
The document also emphasises the need for security plans, including use of armed guards, in schools.
In Oke-Ogun schools, children learn in highly deplorable conditions and under high risks due to lack of fences and local security agents.
For instance, the Second Baptist Primary School at Ago Amodu had no toilet and the foundation for the school’s block fence was just being laid when FIJ visited.
The Oje Grammar School, Oje Owode, sited in the middle of a one-acre thick forest, is the most deplorable of all the schools visited. First, there was no block/perimeter fence to protect the students from marauders. The classrooms and library roofs were also disjointed and falling.
Students excreted in the bush, and the school had no local security. In some other schools, cattle were seen grazing.
“Even if we get any funds to fence round, we would rather re-channel it to the renovation of classrooms,” said Monsurat Adetola, the principal of the school. “The classrooms are worse than you can imagine. It is not more terrible than this because of maintenance by teachers and parents.”
Other visited schools lacking adequate security and fences are: Muslim Primary School, Igbope; Muslim Model Nursery and Primary School, Kisi and Local Authority Primary School 1, in Agede, Kisi.
Laha Community Primary School 1 in Oke Laha, Kisi, Muslim Grammar School, Baptist Basic School in Igangan, and Oje Grammar School in Oje Owode are also among them.
With the lack of block or perimeter fences in most of these schools, the children are susceptible to intrusion.
Hamzat Lawal, an education expert and founder of Connected Development, a non-governmental organisation interested in grassroots projects, suggested the adoption of educational technology initiatives to make up for the deplorable school conditions.
He said, “Education shouldn’t be restricted to buildings. We can leverage technology to create, design and model innovative ways to educate children across the country”.
Lawal, who has also worked as a Malala Education Champion, further stressed the need to sensitise parents of schoolchildren in rural communities on the need for education, especially for the girl-child that is more prone to abuse.
“However, this model can only work if it is corroborated with safety in schools,” he said.
SCHOOL CLOSURE: ‘SAFETY OF TEACHERS, PUPILS PRIORITY’ – OYO SUBEB CHAIRMAN
Asked about the closure of the schools in Igangan, Nureni Adeniran, the Chairman of the Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), explained that it was more important to preserve the lives of teachers and pupils in the nomadic schools than to keep them in school.
However, he expressed hope for the reopening of the schools by the next academic calendar.
“Everyone is aware of the high level of insecurity within schools in the North so when we received the reports that the children and the teachers were not safe in Igangan, it was only reasonable to prioritise their lives, hence, the school closure,” Adeniran said.
“It is in their best interest to take that decision rather than allow the children to be kidnapped. Right now, the Oyo State Government is strengthening local security agencies and state actors to beef up the security in those volatile areas. By the time the next session begins, I believe the schools will be good enough to reopen.”
He also said that the local security team in each of these schools would be supervised by the School Fees Management Board, which would be able to address local issues in the areas.
The chairman also blamed the previous administration in the state for not implementing the recommendations of the Safe School Initiatives.
“Before we came into office in 2019, there had been a lot of deplorable schools across the state and the absence of armed guards to prevent vandalism,” he noted.
“If the past government had addressed these issues, we would only support their efforts now. Nonetheless, we received approval from UBEC to construct new schools with our intervention funds and have started building Model Schools in Saki, Iseyin and Igbeti, among other places.
“The Oyo State Government also released counterpart funds for 2020 and 2021. Action plans have been sent to UBEC so that the matching grants can be released.
“The schools listed in the action plans will be constructed.”
Apart from the nomadic schools where learning is currently suspended, all schools in Igangan were closed for four weeks at the peak of the crises in January and June, partly disrupting their academic calendar.
This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, under its Regulators Monitoring Programme.
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