How COVID-19 deepens children’s education crisis in border communities

At Agbon village, Abidemi Ilo is laid on a mat at the veranda. He is being encouraged to ingest a little more of pap-cake and vegetables.

He struggles because his whole body still aches badly from his hospital-dressed wound.  January 10, 2020 was the day what he had long feared finally occurred.

He became another victim in the long-running but ignored violence that cattle herders routinely inflicted on farmers across the border corridors of Ogun State.

Bidemi Ilo who came in close contact with death after his father was gruesomely killed
He was attacked, along with his father, Pa Sola, who was 70 years plus, on their two-plot yam farmland. The older man was not so lucky.

He was hacked to death. Sola received machete wounds on his arm and his right wrist.

The only reason Bidemi opted for home-care after spending three months at Federal Medical Centre in Ilaro, Ogun state, is to look after three of his children who are still at primary school.

‘There is no one to take care of them. They wandered in the neighborhood. They have not been going to school because their mother stayed with me at the hospital for nights and days since I was rushed-in.’

As he spoke, Bidemi’s children were standing behind the door that leads from the inner house to the veranda. They looked on watching as their father sobbed emotionally.

Bidemi is yet to overcome the trauma from the farm attack and is very unlikely to return for cultivation anytime soon.

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It also means primary education for the children will be on hold until further notice because of the lack of income to bear school needs. Maybe, they would even learn some crafts just like their elder brother, Zaccheus did learn vulcanizing.

The story bears similarities with that of 15-year old Folarin said to be in primary three at Community School, Asa, and whose father was killed on a farm in the same community.

Folarin began life’s struggle after his father was killed in 2006
Determinedly, Folarin returned to school after his father’s gruesome killing and has since been undertaking all sorts of manual labour to keep himself in school. But his younger brother had to halt his education and opted for motorcycle-riding business instead.

This sort of tragedy and the consequences on the education of the children of direct victims illustrate the vulnerability of children and young people on this Yoruba borderline between Nigeria and Benin Republic.

In March 2020, a newspaper reported on reduction in school enrolment in Ogun border communities due to the persistent clashes between local farmers and wandering herders.

In the prominent Ketu constituency at Yewa (Egbado) North Local Government, at least 53 of the 60 plus communities are in the frontline of violent marauding by cattle herders.

Some of the most affected communities include Ogunba-Ayetoro, Asa, Ijoun, Igan-Alade, Ibore, Iselu. The 2006 national census puts the population of the constituency at 99, 000. This is equivalent to 60% of the 181, 826 total population of the entire local government.

Apart from the continuum of community despair about safety and its telling effect on school enrolment, there is also the issue of lack of schools and the parlous state of most of those available in those communities.

Such is the situation that the number of out-of-school children in the region may be growing exponentially.

School building dates back to the 70s or earlier. Many of them are in a state of disrepair and in the most unsanitary environment to say the least.

The deplorable state of Community Primary School at Ogunba Ayetoro
At Ogunba-Ayetoro, for instance, the local Community School is a building of about five classrooms built of wood and iron-sheet.

At full capacity, it can house up to 70 students. However, it is lacking in all the amenities one can associate with a school.

This includes toilet facilities for the students or water for drinking. The environment is overgrown with elephant grass\weeds and severely neglected such that the building now looks the picture of a derelict storehouse.

One of the farmers cultivating on the land, Sunday Oke, informed this reporter that up to 200 children could show up in dry seasons when the herders rarely pasture and it is felt to be safe.

‘Around last year, there were barely 60 to 70 school-children because herders scared them away. This year, we have only heard of those herders in Asa. They’re not yet here and may not be until around November/December’, he adds.

More and more schools are in a sorry state…

Of the twelve villages serving the Community Primary School at Ogunba-Ayetoro, only children from the near villages of  Araromi, Ori-Oke, Agbale, Abe Isin and Saba would, by that November, be able to find their way to school, if their parents ever let them.

The sight is not different at the Community Primary School in Oke Odo, Ibore, about 10km from Ogunba-Ayetoro.

While children are subjected to learn under the perils of reptiles, the school is peculiar for yet another reason: it has two structures but neither of them meets UNICEF’s standard of the primary school of providing a significant personal and social environment in the lives of the pupils and the environment being physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling.

Community Primary School, Oke Odo, Ibore
If it ever rains, it only means the children will be learning in swamps owing to the deplorable farmyard area.

More shocking is the 2015-built school directly behind the palace of the Oba Eselu of Iseluland. The flamboyant pillar offering direction at the express-road between Ilaro and Oja Odan is luring to assume the pupils’ learning facility would be an impressive structure to behold. But, the Community Primary School in Ilupeju, Oja Odan is yet another eyesore.

Knitted with bamboo and palm-front roof, the parallel structure is a makeshift abode for goats at night-time, lacking ventilation and proper illumination; it’s like a hut-like of a school.

The Eselu of Iseluland in Oja-Odan, in the Yewa-North Local Government Area of Ogun State, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi, bore his worry about the future of the children in his kingdom.

According to him: “communities here are abandoned, maybe because they are on the border and far from the attention of the government but the consequences are now evident. That’s why there’re increased rates of child labor for the girls and smuggling for the boys because they lack education.”

“It’s unfortunate.”

The killing of children, hacked to death in ambushes, in some of those clashes aggravated the fear of parents about the safety of their children on their way to or return from school.

With the state of those schools, it is a moot point to ask if they would be fit for learning purposes in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.



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How COVID-19 deepens children’s education crisis in border communities How COVID-19 deepens children’s education crisis in border communities Reviewed by Osigwe Omo-Ikirodah on July 29, 2020 Rating: 5

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