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AGONY IN RIVERINE AREAS

By NBF News
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Looking wearied and troubled, Master Tobi Michael, a 15-year old student of Amuwo Junior Grammar School, Lagos, stood at the Ijegun water front, waiting for a boat that would take him home after school. His sunken eyes betrayed the inner worries of his mind. He poured out his agony, as he spoke with Daily Sun reporter who visited the area recently to assess the challenges facing children schooling in riverine areas.

Michael lives in one of the coastal communities in Amuwo Odofin and Ojo Local Governmnent of Lagos State, where transportation to the Mainland is only by boat. The skyrocketing cost of boat transportation, especially during rush hours and rainy days, has all contributed to make life miserable not only for Michael, but also dozens of under-aged pupils and teachers in the area.

From our investigation, 90 per cent of school children, starting from Amuwo Odofin to the remote end of Badagry, live in coastal communities. These children, according to reports, are among the most educationally-disadvantaged in the country. Apart from the poor state of facilities in their schools, the schools are equally under-staffed, due to the problems associated with transportation. Since all the public schools in the area are day school, many pupils, who couldn't afford boat fare to school, spend days and weeks in their homes.

Our reporter gathered that transportation by boats in the area is quite expensive, a situation that compels children from low-income families to trek for hours through bush paths to local schools. These children often pass through difficult terrains and bushes, replete with poisonous snakes, in their bold struggle to be in school. On daily basis, they are exposed to vagaries of life, smitten by the scorching sun or drenched by the chilling rain, on their way back to their homes.

Our reporter visited the Ijegun jetty, located in Satellite Town, Lagos, recently where he came face-to-face with the shabbily-dressed pupils from Irewe, Ibeshe, Egan, Shagira, Igo-Oja, Ojogun, Ita-Gbesa and Irede, Ikare, Ibasa, Agaja and Okun-Agbado. One of the pupils, who gave her name as Risikat, said they have no choice than to pay through their nose, or risk not going to school. Our reporter also discovered that most of the boats, owned by private operators at the jetty, have very few life-jackets, a situation that leaves some of the pupils at the mercy of the furious sea.

Narrating his ordeal to Daily Sun, Michael said he often uses his money for lunch to complete his transportation fare, especially on rainy days when the fare is as much as N400. According to him, some of his school mates, who couldn't afford the fare, pass through the bush paths, an arduous journey, he said, could last for an hour. He admitted joining them in the endurance trek on this dry days. With his very poor command of English Language, there was no doubt that Michael has very poor concentration at school, which could be easily traced to the buffeting challenges he faces on daily basis.

Some of the pupils told Daily Sun that the journey could last for 20 to 30 minutes on speedboats, depending on the distance of the community to the school. One of the local boats used by the operators, popularly called Kpako, could carry as many as 27 passengers, all seated on wooden slabs, with their legs resting in the hollow bowel of the creaking boat. The smaller engine boat has a fabricated body, with a Yamaha engine fitted on its back, and could carry 12 passengers. But during rush hours, boat operators load the passengers like sheep destined for slaughter, disregarding the regulation for brisk business. For first-timers, riding in a speedboat could be as frightful as hell. The waves of the deep sea roar furiously, splashing handful of waters into the boat, as the engine forces its way through the rapid current of the flowing sea.

The Secretary, Ojo Local Government Education Authority, Tolani Sule, confirmed to Daily Sun that 90 per cent of pupils in schools in the area are from riverine communities. He said majority of the teachers living on the Mainland face the difficulty of going to their respective schools.

'We have been in this doldrums for a very long time. Most of our children reside in the riverine area, about 90 per cent of them are there. Our teachers are living upland. When the teachers get to Ojo or Ijegun shore, most of them will still take road transport to their various homes. This makes the job extremely difficult for the teachers. Taking a boat from Ojo to Irewe is as much as N300 (to and fro will be N600),' he lamented.

Sule said the Ojo local government authorities bought some boats in 1997 which brought relief to teachers and students in the area, but regretted that most of the boats are no longer in use due to poor maintenance culture. He noted that the officials of the local education authority, who are the supervisors and regulators of those schools find it difficult to apply sanctions on teachers that are not regular in schools because of the exorbitant cost of transportation in the area.

The Vice Principal of Irewe Secondary school, Adeniyi Adenuga, who has spent barely six months in the area, confessed that he was tempted to run back during his first day in school. He said boat operators at the shore also added to the burden by taking undue advantage of the passengers. 'Sometimes, they will deliberately refuse to load. Stranded passengers would be compelled to bargain for a charter, which could cost over N1500, you have to pay them because there is no other option,' he said.

Another teacher in Local Authority Primary School, Moba Sea Beach, Ikudoro Sulayman, said the stress of teaching in riverine communities has made him look older than his age. 'I started teaching at Igboja. Within six months, the job wore me off to an extent that I looked older than my mates. People were mocking me that I have become a grandpa. I know the difficulties we face here contributed to my miserable condition,' he lamented.

The cries of both pupils and teachers didn't go unheeded. Consolation came to them recently, as the members of Rotary Club Amuwo Odofin launched their boat transportation project in support of education in the area. At the unveiling ceremony of the three engine boats at the Ijegun jetty recently, the President of the club, Ikechukwu Onodi, told Daily Sun that the club had to initiate the project to halt the mass failure recorded in public examination over the years.

'Last year, there was this news about mass failure in WAEC and NECO examinations, where about 80 per cent failed. In one of our programmes called Special Training for Action in Rotary, we were analysing the cause of the mass failure. We noted that students do not have the facilities to read, and even where the facilities are available, the reading culture is no more there. Students spend more time in cybercafés browsing all sorts of things that do not profit, instead of being in the laboratories or libraries. We thought of what we can do as a club to reduce the decadence in our education. The idea came that schools in riverine areas often face difficulties going to school,' he noted.