By Emmanuel Edukugho
While some factors and reasons were identified as responsible for the poor, dismal state of education in Iwereland, at a lecture to mark the 24th anniversary of Alpha/May Club in Lagos over the weekend, the attitude and character of Itsekiri leaders have worsened the situation.
In the lecture titled â€œEducation In Iwereland: Which Way Forward?â€ by Mrs. J.O. Ejueyitchie-Oroye, she submitted that the Warri crisis that engulfed the entire Itsekiri homeland in 1997 – 2004 was characterised by vandalism and outright destruction, sacking of whole villages/towns/settlements and killings of innocent and unprepared Itsekiri people.
â€œThis therefore, has led to total desertion of many erstwhile thriving Itsekiri communities with many, many Itsekiri becoming refugees in laces like Sapele and Warri.â€
Another factor for the pitiable status of education in Iwereland is â€œthe location of our homeland cum the down stream and upstream exploration of petroleum and gas products in the area,â€ adding â€œIwereland is situated in the riverine area, a most difficult geographical terrain, cris-crossed by creeks which create distances between towns/village and pipelines.
Also is the emergence of the new uneducated rich people who now wield political power, â€œwhich in the Nigerian context of corruption being the order of the day, also wield economic power, so are able to control too the social life of the people.â€
Ejueyitchie-Oroye, whose paper was read on her behalf as she was not present, said the effect of all these factors on education and schools, the only established organs for teaching and learning cannot but be enormous, if not devastating.
â€œThe crisis has left the towns and villages deserted with hardly any buildings standing including school buildings; the geographical terrain makes transportation a major problem; the high costo f transportation can hardly be accommodated by teachers salary, so teachers are most unwilling to accept posting to the schools in the terrain, the exploration has impoverished the people, many are thus not in a position to make any contribution to their childrenâ€™s education.â€
She noted the conditions in the schools, drawing attention to infrastructure whereby primary and secondary schools have no classrooms as â€œvirtually all the classroom blocks were burnt down and destroyed.â€
According to the seasoned educationist, in Warri North, the situation is terrible as whatever educational facilities available are mainly in Koko, with only three primary schools.
In an unaccessible place like Gbokoda, children in primary one to six are lumped together in one type of shelter and are taught by a single teacher.
By way of infrastructure, almost all the schools inj Itsekiri homeland lacked classroom blocks, staff quarters, borehole facilities, electricity, no libraries, no furniture â€“ desks, chairs are not there.
The buildings in the few school functioning are in a terrible state of disrepair. The roofs are falling off, there are no windows, the hostile attitude of the people and being unappreciative of importance of education as foundation of wealth, development and comfort in the technological age, are compounding the issues of having facilities in the schools.
In respect of standards, there is shortage of qualified teachers, and the few ones do not, most of them, have requisite qualifications.
There are problems related with teaching of subjects in the curriculum, like the Itsekiri language not even taught as a subject in the functioning schools.
â€œThere is the difficulty of getting literature in Itsekiri.
Also with no laboratories, no workshops, the pre-vocational subjects in primary schools and the vocational subjects and the sciences are neither effectively nor competently taught. Standard i n the few functioning schools is generally low.â€
The next important issue is funding: government funding of the public schools is grossly inadequate.
Referring to the existence of DESOPADEC, she said that if it functions as expected, it should provide an additional source of funding for the building of some schools in Iwereland (Warri South, Warri North, Warri South West) which is the number one oil producing area in Delta State.
As a way forward, Ejueyitchie-Oroye called on Itsekiri people irrespective of status to be involved in the effort to improve the situation of things. â€œThere is the need for all of us Itsekiri people to look inwards and take the necessary changes in our attitude and behaviour.â€
She lamented the lack of commitment and dedication to issues pertaining to Itsekiri homeland many Itsekiri people maintain some link with only the big towns like Warri and Sapele while a lot do not even know Koko.
Saying that the average Itsekiri person is tight fisted, and generosity not our way of life, she appealed to the people to develop the spirit of giving, make integrity our watchword, cultivate the fear f God, promote the use of Itsekiri language as a medium of expression, promote the reading culture, establishing Itsekiri Education Fund, provide trained manpower for teaching of science and technology.
In her own contribution, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, said that the Itsekiri homeland has money and no need to be linked with poverty, but the chiefs, elders, elites, and those in leadership positions are callous, only interested in getting funds allocated to Itsekiri and sharing the money among themselves.
â€œWeâ€™re not poor. Itsekiri has money. Our chiefs, elites, elders just go to DESPADEC (Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission), take Itsekiri allocation and share.
Elites take contracts and donâ€™t execute the jobs,. They are selfish. What they do is share the money. If anything happens to Itsekiriland, the chiefs, elites should be held responsible,â€ she said.
Professor Grace Alele-Williams, former Vice Chancellor, University of Benin, commended Alpha/May for organising the lecture, saying that the tasks of providing quality education for our children in Iwereland is enormous. She noted the issues raised in the lecture and the suggestions made.
â€œA lot contained in the paper. What should we do to assist our children in getting good education? This is difficult to anser. But we will do so.
Letâ€™s revive the speaking of Itsekiri at home and teach our children the language. On physical facilities, we can approach our banks to see what can bd done.
Promote education at all levels, build schools and encourage our university undergraduates to go and teach in the villages during long vacation, provide incentives for teachers in difficult terrains.â€
She recalled the idea of a former Education Commissioner for â€œfloating schools n boats, which will go from one village to another, teaching English, Mathematics to children in villages too small to own schools.â€
Alele-Williams also recounted that about 30 years ago when Nomadic Education Commission was being established, there was also a suggestion for â€˜Riverine Education Commission to take care of riverine areas. But this did not raised its head again. â€œWe can tell government about education for people in difficult terrains.â€
Among those present were Mr. Sam Amuka, publisher of Vanguard, Engr. Frank Ogbemi, Pa Nuke Ogbemi, Chief Okotie-Eboh, and other prominent Itsekiri people from different walks of life.