Despite Allocated Funds, Students, Staff Lament Dilapidation, Neglect in Two River Schools

By Helen Okechukwu

What was intended to be a modern educational facility has become a haunting symbol of broken promises and neglect, as UDEME witnessed firsthand.

ON A DREARY Thursday, June 6, 2023, at about 3.35 pm, Government Secondary School (GSS), Abua, students were trudging home beneath gloomy, rain-laden clouds.

That is aside the cold, damp air that reflected the desolate state of their school in the Omalem community of Abua/Odual Local Government Area, Rivers State.

A School in Name Only

From information obtained before this investigation, the Government Secondary School, Abua, was supposed to be an ideal of educational advancement, combining day and boarding facilities to accommodate a growing student population.

However, reality tells a different story.

What UDEME saw instead of a school intended to nurture young minds, was a crumbling shell with incomplete structures and inadequate amenities.

On approaching the school, the first sight seen was a partially constructed security post, abandoned and unguarded. A dwarf fence offered no protection, and the gate was conspicuously missing.

The entrance was wide open, like a stark imagery of the helplessness of the school and its students. Dilapidated and abandoned structures dot the premises of the school

Voices of Despair

Among the students heading home was an outspoken male student named Favour Kpie, a Senior Secondary student and a native of Omalem.

When asked about his school, his bright mien suddenly turned into a sorrowful expression as he shared the grim realities of their daily life at school.

“We have abandoned buildings that were our playgrounds during breaks, but now, they have become our toilets because there are no proper facilities,” he said.

The student, Kpie described a more harrowing scene.

He said, “We used to urinate there (pointing). Occasionally, some students will carry their faeces and keep them in places we used to go and play. And when we are on break to play, we see faeces on the ground. Sometimes, we even have to tell our teachers that we needed to ease ourselves.”

UDEME noticed the absence of essential facilities like laboratories within the school, further hampering the students’ educational experience.

Kpie lamented, “We have no labs in the school for practical sessions. Even the chemicals in there have all expired. We can only hope that the government will come and fix all the buildings to make it a good government school.

When other parents see that, they will want to bring their children here. We are just praying that the government will come and help us and upgrade the situation of our school.”

Another SS 1 student, Timi Divine, confirmed their recent relocation to two completed one-story buildings with 20 classrooms each.

She said, “We started using the building a few weeks ago. They asked each of us to bring N100 so they could make a board for us because there was none at that time.”

As she spoke about the lack of toilets, her voice grew quieter. “We manage because we have nothing else to do. We go to the bush to ease ourselves.”

Israel Somiari, another SS 1 student, echoed the frustrations of his peers. “There’s no library, sickbay, desks, windows, or doors. For the toilets, when students want to ease themselves or urinate, they go into the bush and then return to class,” he said.

Terrible conditions of both schools on which millions of naira was budgeted and supposedly expended.

About the school

The GSS school dates back to 1971. Recently, the students had to be moved to an uncompleted building to pave the way for senior students who were to sit their 2023/2024 West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) exams.

The old structure was also said to have been sectioned into different classes as it had been in existence since its inception in 1971.

The new building the students were moved into was intended to be a fresh start. However, it is plagued with dangers.

Chipping in, Kpie recounted how the students bumped into snakes in the uncompleted structure at one point in time.

He said, “As the WAEC exam was going on, they told us to move to another building that is not yet completed. As we got there, we saw a snake. One of our students shouted, ‘See snake, oh,’ and we ran. So, they killed the snake. But since then, we have not seen another snake.”

Principal’s perspective

Left with no option but to acknowledge the dire situation, the school principal, Millions Kebin, narrates their challenges.

“There are no toilet facilities. And let’s say we have; they’re not functional because the whole structure still needs to be completed.

Continuing, “Sometimes this toilet facility affects both teachers and students because if you are pressed now, the possibility of visiting a proper toilet is a serious challenge. And the students, too, may ease anywhere they like, but we cannot reprimand them because there’s no alternative. So, they, unfortunately, can defecate anywhere. However, if proper facilities existed, everything would have been up to standard”.

Kebin also spoke on the lack of security.

“I must admit we have not experienced anything like a security breach that could lead to danger to students and teachers since I became the principal here. However, the unfinished fence could pose a security challenge in any eventuality. If the fence were completed, it would be difficult for people to trespass, and not even farmers could encroach. But as you have seen for yourself, we have no fence because they are merely half completed,” he explained.

Community’s Outcry

When approached by the reporter, Chief Odeamiodi Samuel, the Paramount Ruler of Omalem Community, lamented the impact of the unfinished school projects.

He said, “Some days ago, we were here past eight or nine in the night. People called, saying they saw those trying to vandalize one of the buildings. They were said to have jumped through the fence and got into the bush. So, the most part that gives us insecurity concern is the lack of a school fence. One side of the only old fence ever to be in the school has fallen down.”

Also, one of the key members of the Community Development Committee, Kipe Akari, said that ‘’essential projects like these turn out worse when awarded to political party members rather than experienced contractors’’.

“I can tell you that this school project was not handed over to a contractor or team of contractors who own the necessary equipment to do appropriate jobs. Instead, they give them to political party members who need to learn about the contracts they got.

“Can you imagine that the school project was flagged simultaneously with a government secondary school at the state capital, and up till now, GSS Abua schools remained unfinished.

The project was just flagged up before the Rumoukuta Girls Secondary School.  It was one of the first schools that (Governor Nyesom) Wike first flagged off. But still, up till now, nothing,” he said, adding that only a few contractors completed their assignments in the community.

Blame Game

In 2017, former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, reportedly awarded GSS Abua, including Western Ahoada County High School in 2018 as a multimillion-naira project for reconstruction and remodelling and reinstatement of boarding facilities, to several contractors.

Seven years later, the two school projects also listed in the 2021-2022 Rivers State budget still need to be completed.

The sad aspect is that official statements claimed significant progress had been made in the schools. However, the reality on the ground shows a stark difference as the schools remain decrepit.

The former Commissioner for Education, Prof Chinedu Mmom, insisted via a state government report released in November 2021 that the schools were completed and contracts for furnishing and external works were awarded.

“In fact, we also have another Government Secondary School in Abua and Western Ahoada County High School, Ahoada, that had been completed, and contractors were mobilized for its furnishing in readiness for its commissioning at any moment now.”

It was revealed that during a meeting held with the ex-governor, Mr Wike, the sum of N78 billion was released for the completion of all ongoing projects, and both schools were mentioned as part of projects covered.

When UDEME contacted Prof Mmom on June 18, 2024, for follow-up, he told UDEME, “I will be out of the country till August. We can talk then if it won’t be too late for you.”

The reporter suggested that she could arrange a virtual interview with him. He retorted, “I am not free for now. I am going out for something. Until I get back, I can’t get settled. Today I am not settled.”

Contractors Contacted

UDEME contacted some of the contractors awarded the projects

Hon Dickson Adike, a contractor awarded one of the projects, told UDEME that he only got N20 million worth of contract to construct two school buildings ‘’back then’’, adding that ‘’budget shortfalls and structural defects plagued the project’’.

Though UDEME could not get any details of his company name or address, he said, “We discovered that the actual amount awarded for the project was vastly insufficient, and no further payments were ever made up to the day I talked to you.

So, we had to try to roof it (building) as they advised, and we are waiting for them to do what they were supposed to, which has just been done.

“I need to let you know that mine was the least project at that time, and I was not willing to delay. However, on getting to the site, we discovered that there were no provisions for planks needed for some aspects; that was why we quickly wrote to the then-commissioner and have yet to get any feedback.

You may find it hard to believe, but I had to borrow money to pay for the job. Then, when they came for inspection, they raised some queries about some particular woods I used and ordered that we pull it down. I told them they didn’t make provisions for woods, and all tensions halted.

“Thereafter, there had been changes of commissioners. The one we started with left, and they brought a new one, and that stalled so many things that made us keep waiting for their next line of action.

On another side was the problem of defects in the bill of quantities but I need to find out to what extent they have gone with those investigations. In all, we were about 20 contractors on that project. And I suggest you find those major contractors rather than coming to me, who was the least of them all.”

UDEME also reached out to another contractor, Oye Fubara Igenewari, who told her to redirect her inquiries to the Ministry of Education to get details on the project’s status or his involvement.

Another contractor, Oyekuotor Ukwe, was also said to be awarded and mobilized. He admitted he was paid after he completed his aspect of the project, which was to erect a standard field with a goalpost, but he wouldn’t disclose how much it cost.

Mr Ukwe said, “Some contractors got classrooms and a dinner hall, but mine was just the football field to be completed in six months, and it does not include anything about maintenance. I was to construct and leave. Then, the education ministry officials went and checked, and they paid me off. I am sure the records are in the education ministry,” he said.

Hon Oga Aselemi Umughani, another contractor was also contacted via phone, but he declined ‘’because he won’t speak with a stranger on such an officious matter’’. So, he asked the reporter to meet him at the government secretariat at 10 am the next day.

When the reporter reached out to him on the phone the next day, he abruptly cut off the call.

Attempts to reach him again and a few other contractors were futile.

At Western Ahoada County High School

The reporter also visited Western Ahoada County High School in Ahoada East LGA, an all-boys college.

Its story is nothing short of the scenario in GSS Abua, where incomplete buildings, lack of basic facilities, and security issues plague the school.

The Principal, Ifeanyi Nwoke, who said the only administrative Block in the school was where his unfurnished office was sited, recounted how thieves had vandalized new buildings and the sick bay, stripping them of fittings and electrical installations.

‘’Then, imagine the students getting into school and seeing a mad person that made them scamper in different directions,’’ he said.

“Things like that would negatively affect the children. I’m even paying for electricity recharge cards so we can pump water to use in the school. The students had expectedly felt that they would be the ones to use these building upgrades; suddenly, all those dreams vanished into thin air right before their eyes,” he said.

UDEME also spoke with some students: Benjamin Greatman, Kenneth Victor, David Samuel and Bestman John, who narrated tales of woe and despair as they confessed that the situation made the future seem bleak and uninspiring.

Contracts Awarded

One striking finding by the reporter were instances of contractors who got the jobs sub-letting them to other contractors, according to a source who spoke with UDEME in confidence. He noted that was mostly the norm in the state back then.

One of the contractors, Cassidy Ikegbidi, got the contract to build teachers’ quarters but left them uncompleted. When reached via a phone call, he just disconnected and sent an SMS saying, “I will call you back.” 

Other contractors said to have been awarded jobs were Osinikachukwu Ideozu and Chibudom Nwachi. Another, Eze Igbu Ahoada said to have been awarded a contract for the entire school fencing, is deceased.

Even then, a few of the acclaimed completed buildings were damaged and defaced with waste products littering the buildings.  

UDEME was told by the school vice principal that students were relocated to the dilapidated old building ‘’to be adequately monitored’’.

Visits to the Education Ministry

UDEME visited the Rivers State Ministry of Education about 10 times to request information on the status of the contracts in the two schools.

An official who gave his name as Mr Pius, director, Research and Planning said he could only respond if he received directives from his boss, Ovy Chinedum Chukwuma, the Commissioner for Education.

“Address and resubmit your request letter to the commissioner’s office. That’s where it’ll be determined because it’s not officially my place to attend to letters like this. We are career civil servants, and protocols are important to us.

Even if I have the required information, I can’t give it to you without any directives because I don’t know who you are or what you will use it for. At the commissioner’s office, your request would be stamped, then assigned to the appropriate person or office to handle it,” he noted.

No Response to Submitted FOI

On Friday, June 14, 2024, UDEME took a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the education ministry to ascertain the status of awarded projects.

But till the time of filing this report, no feedback on the requested official information on the state of the contracts, allocated budgets, monies disbursed to contractors and other necessary details have been received from the ministry.

Photos By Helen Okechukwu

The story was supported with funding from the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID)

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