June 2, 2019

‘We were 10, 15 years old when we were married off’

‘We were 10, 15 years old when we were married off’

•Oil giant’s kind gesture to dilapidated Plateau school exposes child brides

By Dayo Adesulu

Tears of joy flowed in Bungha-Gida community in Plateau State when LEA Primary School, Bungha-Gida, after decades of pupils’ learning inside dilapidated buildings, received two blocks of six classrooms and other facilities from a Foundation. 

Bungha-Gida is a community in Mangu Local Government Area in the north-eastern part of Plateau State.

With a population of 294,931, Mangu is believed to have produced more professors in Plateau than any other community in the 17 local government areas of the state.

However, in spite of the community’s love for education, its children are yet to feel the positive impact of their professors, as many of the children sit on wood or on bare floor to learn in the classrooms.

Incidentally, the present Deputy governor of the state, Professor Sonni Gwanle Tyoden, is among the elite who hail from the area.

Sunday Vanguard’s visit to the community revealed that the over 300 pupils of the school use two pit toilets built by a 2013/2014 Batch ‘A’ NYSC member posted to the community.

The pit toilets sited on a 6 by 4 piece of land has no door or window.

Our investigation shows that before the pit toilet was constructed five years ago, there was no toilet for the over 300 pupils and teachers of the LEA Primary School, Bungha-Gida.

‘We were child brides’

Some parents of the pupils, aged 20 to 31, who spoke to our correspondent, expressed deep concern about the condition of the school which they once attended and which presently admits their children.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mrs. Murjanatu Ayuba, a 20-year-old mother of four who apparently married at age 10, said: “I am 20 years old with four children. Three of my children are schooling here. My first child is 10. I am happy with what is being done here today because when I dropped out of school 10 years ago, the condition of the school was bad. I was in primary four when I stopped schooling and got married.”

On her part, Mrs Jemila Adamu, who is also a mother of four children, said: “I am 23 years old and I have four children. My eldest child is eight years old. I appreciate what Oando Foundation has done for my children’s school and I will like to bring my last child here too. I stopped schooling in primary four at age 13.”

Another parent, Mrs. Zainab Saidu, 31, who managed to finish secondary school but could not further her education for lack of funds, said: “I got married in 2009 after my secondary school. However, I couldn’t further for lack of funds. During our days in this school, there was nothing that encouraged anyone to learn.”

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Lamenting the deplorable state of the school before Oando Foundation’s intervention, the Headmistress, Mrs Priskila Solomon Dakai, said it has a population of 305.

According to her, the school, which was established in 1976, has 165 girls and 140 boys, adding that most of them in the community are Muslims.

She said: “Many of the Fulani girls, once they get to primary five and between ages 13 and 14, are married off. In fact, I was worried when I came into the school in 2015, there was no PTA levy.

“So I had to call those taking care of the community to a meeting where we sat down and discussed about the PTA levy for the maintenance of the school. Each time we built, the wind would blow off the roof and pull down the building.

“In 2016/2017, there was a storm that brought down the roof and the building to its foundation. We took pictures of the place and sent it to the Board Chairman who connected us to Oando Foundation for help. That was how Oando came to assist our school.”

Plateau State Deputy Governor, SUBEB Chairman, state Chairman of NUT, Commissioner for Education, House Committee Chairman on Education, Executive Chairman of Mangu LGA, and many others trooped out to celebrate Oando Foundation’s kind gesture.

Speaking at the occasion, the Programme Manager, Oando Foundation, Tonia Uduimoh, stressed the Foundation’s commitment to improved learning environments across the adopted 88 primary schools across 23 states in Nigeria.

She explained that the difference between the education received by pupils outside the country and the one received by children in public schools in Nigeria has a lot to do with the quality of investment.

Using Indonesia as an example, she said: “Government of Indonesia every year sets aside 20 per cent of its budget at the national, province and district levels to support education for every child.

“Every child in school is effectively tracked and supported by government at all levels. To the Indonesian government, educating a child is not focusing on the system nor the teachers but more on the child.

“Indonesian education policy is everything that supports the quality of education that a child gets and it is indirectly supported by the government.   This means that the infrastructure, teachers, school environment and extra-curricular activities are supported.

“The curriculum is enriched such that children are prepared for a competitive future, the labour market; the skills and competence essential for the labour market and prepare the children today through the things they learn in school for that future.

“Do our children in public schools get the same quality of education that children in private schools get? If they are not getting the same, what is the government doing to ensure this gap is filled? For education across all sectors in Indonesia, each child has a specific amount that the national, state (province) and the district pay to support their education and it is amazing that they don’t have a case of out-of-school children.

“With Indonesia’s population of over 200 million, they don’t have out-of-school children as a challenge. During one of our visits to their schools, we saw a lot of girl-children in the school and wondered since it is a predominantly Muslim society, similar to what we have in the North-East of Nigeria.

“When we asked them why it was working there and not working here, they said: ‘It is a strong commitment from the national level that drives down to the state and the local level that every child must be in school’. They have social services that support children whose parents are indigent to ensure that there is no excuse.

“The private schools are supported by the government, the teachers in the private schools are paid by the government and we asked them how, because it is a private school, ‘you are not making money from them, they are making money to run their schools, why are you supporting them so much as paying their teachers’ salaries?’ They said the government wants the standard to be the same across the country.

“Thus, for low income schools, they don’t want the quality to drop; they want to maintain a certain standard across board.

“We understand that the immediate environment where learning takes place is crucial to the overall learning outcomes of pupils, hence the reason the Oando Foundation is heavily investing in education to ensure our students in adopted schools learn under the right environment.”

Also speaking at the occasion, Governor Simon Bako Lalong, represented by his deputy, Tyoden, said: “I have the singular honour and opportunity to carry out this important assignment of the commissioning of these projects to help drive efficiency and effectiveness in the process of teaching and learning.

“I therefore implore the users of these classrooms and facilities to handle them with care so they can last long.”