By Ikenna Asomba
IN 2009, when Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State obtained a whooping $90 million (N13.5 billion) World Bank Education Loan, to fund teaching and learning infrastructure under the State‘s Eko Secondary Education Project, many a Lagosians thought the era where pupils and students across the public schools in the state sit on bare floor, tyres, broken furniture or even windows is now a thing of the past.
But this is not yet so, own to gory experiences currently being witnessed especially by the JSS1 and JSS2 students at the Ajeromi Ifelodun Secondary School, AIJSS (alias Sinclair), in the popular ghetto city, Ajegunle.
At the school, sited in the heart of the Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area of the state, investigations by South West Voice reveals that despite the over 52, 532 furniture, said to be procured by the state government between 2009 and 2013, several schools in the state, including AIJSS, annually, compel parents whose children get admitted into JSS1, to pay N2, 000 for the provision of furniture (chairs and desks).
Provision of furniture
Parents who failed to pay the said amount have their children sit on bare floor, tyres, broken furniture, classroom windows, or even stand during lessons.
Recall that in December 2013, the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP had sought the order of the Federal High Court, Lagos to direct the state government to release information on its spending of the loan.
SERAP also asked the court to demand details of the projects executed with the loan in the 667 schools across the state in line with the Freedom of Information Act.
52, 532 furniture in 4 years
Fashola, had on June 23, 2014, while launching a book entitled “Eko Project: A Legacy of Excellence,”in Lagos, explained that there was nothing to hide as the funds had been deployed judiciously.
He affirmed that the loan, which was obtained to fund teaching and learning infrastructure under the State‘s Eko Secondary Education Project, was achieving its purpose as it had significantly improved students’ performance.
In the same vein, Ms. Ronke Azeez, Special Adviser to the Governor on Eko Project, in her own explanation, said the $90 million loan provided direct funding to schools between 2009 and 2013.
Among other things, Azeez who said that the government spent some of the funds on 7,786 white boards, 20,592 mathematical sets, 4,668 teaching modules and procurement of 52, 532 furniture, boasted that the World Bank had given the state a pass mark on the funds utilisation and rated the Eko project as highly satisfactory.
However, despite the state government’s defences, when South West Voice visited the Ajeromi Ifelodun Secondary School, Monday, students in JSS1 and JSS2 were seen sitting on bare floor, tyres, broken furniture and classroom windows receiving lessons, even as others were seen standing during lessons.
Parents, students lament
Lamenting the situation, a parent who pleaded not to be mentioned, whose daughter just got admitted into JSS1 said “All of us whose children just got admitted into JSS1 were asked to pay N2, 000 each for the procurement of furniture for our children to sit. I am hesitant in paying the money to the school management, because of my past experience last year.
Procurement of chairs and desks
“Last year, when my eldest child, got admitted into Awodi-Ora Secondary School, parents were asked to pay the same N2, 000 for procurement of chairs and desks. After months of payment, my son and other students didn’t get the furniture on time. It took several months before they got them.
“You had to see my son, each time he returns after school hours, his uniforms were always very dirty, because they were sitting on the bare floor. It’s so horrible,” she said.
Another parent, Mr. Okafor, whose son just got admitted into JSS1 expressed displeasure that the state government’s claims to operate free-education, but fails to provide chairs and desks for students to sit.
His words: “I thought the Lagos state government operates free-education, but when I came here to register my son, we were asked to pay N2, 000 each for the procurement of chairs and desks. I was skeptical of the immediate procurement of this furniture, so I had to look for two other parents that contributed N2, 000 each, and we found a carpenter that made a chair and desk for our three wards.
“Now, they have a seat to sit during lessons. But I am unhappy that when you visit their classroom, there are a lot of other students who don’t have chairs and desks to sit, but resort to sitting on the floor, tyres and even the windows. It is worrisome and I hope the state government can urgently address this situation.
According to John, one of the students in JSS1, “Governor Babatunde Fashola should please come to our aid. It is very difficult for us to see the blackboard during lessons, because we sit on broken furniture placed on tyres at the back.”
Confidence, a JSS1 student caught sitting on the window while lessons were on said: “We were asked to pay N2, 000 for the procurement of chairs and desks on resumption. But because my parents cannot afford the levy, that is why I am sitting on the window.”
Luckily for Ifeoluwa, the parents were able to join two other parents to procure a chair and desk for she and her friends. She told South West Voice that “I feel uncomfortable with the overcrowded situation of my classroom. Most times, we are five students on a sit instead of the usual three, because other students whose parents can’t afford to procure chairs and desks for them join us. I and my friends who are the original owners of the chair and desk, can’t send them away, because it is not their fault, but that of government.”
The Principal of the Junior School (name withheld), who was said to be ill and could not speak to the press, directed our correspondent to another senior male teacher, who attested that the parents were asked to pay N2, 000 in order to complement the efforts of the state government in the provision of chairs for the student.
The teacher who pleaded anonymity said: “It has not been easy for us the teachers in our day-to-day routine of teaching these massive number of students. Own to the fact that the state government operates a free education, we have discovered that so many parents are now withdrawing their children from private schools and they are now swarming the public schools. This has brought about overcrowding in public schools, including our school.
“So, because of this overcrowding situation, the available furniture is no longer enough for the students, that is why you see some of them sitting on the floor, broken furniture, tyres and even on the windows.
“Government earlier this year, sent chairs and desks to our school, but they are still not enough. I don’t see anything wrong in parents complementing government’s efforts because government cannot do everything,” he affirmed.
Complementing government’s efforts
Also reacting, the Education Secretary, Ajeromi/Ifelodun LGA, Adewale Adeogun said: “We are aware of the inadequate furniture in the school, because of the high number of students flocking the school, as well as other public primary and secondary schools in the state, own to the state government’s free education policy. However, as for the N2, 000 payment by parents, it may not be untrue, as the Parents Forum (PTA) of the school, may have decided that every parents with new intake should pay the levy, in order to complement government’s efforts in the procurement of chairs and desks to easy learning.”
Meanwhile, efforts to speak to the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye, as at the time of filing this report proved abortive, as calls to her phone was not connecting.