Nigeria is estimated to have the highest number of out-of-school children globally, with over 10.5 million children, according to United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Of this lot, Lagos State is said to share 33,000 of the number, as noted in a 2014 DFID report. The majority of the children live in rural areas and the antics of local school authorities contribute highly in forcing them out of school. Ripples Nigeria, in this investigation, unravels the corrupt acts of some local school authorities in Ajegunle, Lagos state.
For Peter and friends, there won’t be school this term or even next term!
On a cool Monday morning at a slum in Ajegunle, a surbub in Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State, Peter Adekanbi, an 11-year-old boy who had just concluded primary education in a public school, and waiting to be enrolled in a public secondary school, was lost in a game of football.
He was not alone.
There were six other children, aged between 7-12 years, who were enjoying the round-leather game with Adekanbi. Many other teens in Tolu-Ajegunle community loafed around while their mates were in different schools learning. This Monday morning held no special attraction to these seemingly jobless young lads. Just, perhaps.
Adekanbi loved football but he also had beautiful dreams about schooling. When asked why he was not in school but playing football on a Monday morning, he said: “I have not paid the N1, 500 registration fee the principal of Alakoto Junior Secondary School asked my mum to pay.
“We are in the middle of the first term and I do not think I will go to school this term again or even next term because my mum does not have money.” Adekanbi hurried back to join others who had suspended play in his absence.
Adekanbi’s case is one of the thousands in Ajegunle where parents lament that authorities in public primary and secondary schools deprive their children of education, as a result of the inability to pay some illegal fees and other levies imposed by the schools.
Some parents in Ajegunle, who felt the need to send their children to school as a result of persuasions by concerned Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and individuals, alleged that the corrupt practice of collecting money from them, in the form of fees and sundry levies, forced families to withdraw their children from schools.
A mother’s cry… ‘I took them home since I couldn’t afford to pay’
Adekanbi’s tale was amplified by a mother in her late 30s who simply identified herself as Iya Aminat. She shared the story of her encounter with authorities at Wowo Nursery and Primary school, Ajegunle, where she had made futile attempts to enrol three of her children. “The child I wanted to put there was to be enrolled in primary one but the teacher demanded N3, 000. The other child was to be enrolled in a nursery class, but the teacher asked me to pay N2, 000 before the child could be admitted.”
Iya Aminat’s pleas for some concessions fell on deaf ears, and when the authorities insisted that she had to part with the exact fees, she sought cheaper alternatives that were far from her abode. “I now took them home since I could not afford to pay. I then took them to Apapa. At a school in Apapa, they collected N500 for one of my children to be enrolled in a nursery class. Apapa is very far from here (Ajegunle). Sometimes, if there is no money for transport, they will stay at home and not go to school for days, sometimes weeks,” she said.
Iya Aminat, whose abode is a decrepit one-room apartment, runs a make-shift tailoring outfit in the same one-room structure which she shares with the rest of the family. She fears that if nothing is done to alleviate the plight of the poor, many parents would end up not sending their children to school. She added that there were already numerous children in the area who had stopped going to school.
‘There’s nothing free in government schools…we pay N1,500 per term’
Snide remarks now trail what is generally known as Parents-Teacher Association (PTA) in Alakoto Junior Secondary School and other schools in Ajegunle. Indigent parents now organize meetings and provide funds in order to assist schools in rendering quality education to their children.
“I pay N1, 500 per term in Alakoto which the Head Teacher uses to run the school, in addition to government funds,” says Mrs. Comfort Ogar, whose daughter attends Alakoto School.
“Many parents have not paid and it is a big problem. They asked children who have not paid to go home. There are about 500 students in the school, only few students passed in the last Junior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (JSSCE).”
Ogar said that pupils in the school offer 13 subjects, and that school authorities in Alakoto claim that the institution had only three teachers. The shortfall, Ripples Nigeria learnt, is addressed through extra recruitments funded by parents. “We were asked to pay N1, 500 per term as school fees so that the teachers can teach and be paid,” says Ogar.
Ripples Nigeria searches revealed that some retired teachers were brought back by the school management without the knowledge of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). Students are, however, compelled to pay N1, 500 in Alakoto, N2, 500 in other schools, and students who fail to pay as and at when due are forced to go home.
Ogar said, “Schools in Ajegunle lack teachers and students are being affected academically. Since the government is not employing, they have to bring back retired teachers. They had to call the parents. It is the parents that now pay salaries of the extra teachers instead of the government. There is nothing free in government schools. They speak of free education. I do not see anything free because my daughter just resumed JSS1 and I know what came out from my pocket.”
Parents get scammed, free education policy suffers
When Ripples Nigeria visited Alakoto Junior Secondary School for further investigation, the school principal acknowledged that they lacked teachers in the school but denied that they charge parents to pay school fees.
Further investigations, however, revealed that teachers in some areas of Ajegunle charge parents some amount of money to admit children into various schools. This is usually paid per term. Some of the teachers do not care if parents had the money to pay or not. They only admit pupils whose parents pay the fees demanded and abandon others.
‘It’s N2,500…there is no negotiation’
Dressed like an indigent fellow, with bushy and unkempt hair, Ripples Nigeria undercover Reporter visited schools in Ajegunle, posing as a prospective parent in search of admission for his wards, the objective of which was to establish if he would be charged illegal fees. At Olodi Nursery and Primary School, his experience with the secretary to head of the school went thus:
“Please, I want to register two of my wards in your school and I have come to know the requirements; one in primary two and the other in nursery one,” our Reporter said to the man who seemed to be in his late 50s.
He replied, “N2, 500 is for the registration fee, both for nursery and primary school pupils and there is no negotiation. You will sew the uniforms yourself, buy a badge for N100.”
“This is a public school and I am not supposed to pay any charge. It is supposed to be free,” the journalist retorted.”
He restated that the fees were non-negotiable, and that if the undercover agent was not ready to pay, he should leave. The Reporter agreed to pay the fee but was told he could not be issued a receipt for verification. Convinced of the illegality of the transaction, the journalist left!
‘It’s a token…if you pay this term, you only get to pay again next session!’
At Wowo Nursery and Primary School, the story was the same. The Headmistress said primary one pupils would have to pay N2, 000 while those in Nursery one would have to cough out N1, 000 for registration. “It is just a token; when you pay this term, you will not pay anything till a new session begins. At the point of entrance, this is what we pay. Sportswear is N1, 500, a badge is N200 and cap is N300. Sports levy N1, 000. Soak away is N500. Uniform is sold for N1000.” She also failed to issue a receipt after an attempt to pay the fee.
At Local Authority Primary School 2, Amukoko, the headmistress, Mrs. Rachael Adenola said registration is N1, 000 for nursery and primary. She said the school employs people to take care of the toilets and that each student in nursery and primary school is expected to pay the sum of N200 every month. This claim was confirmed to be true but Ripples Nigeria could not ascertain the exact student population to figure out income earned from toilet fees.
The leadership at Local Authority Primary School 2 would also not issue any receipts to our undercover Reporter even though he was willing and ready to pay. It was clear that if the payments were legal, the school administration would have been confident to issue receipts.
The headmistress of Ajeromi Public Primary School, Mrs. Eucharia Kamalu, in order to convince our Reporter to pay the fee said that the form which is being used to register students can only be obtained at Lagos State Secretariat in Alausa or at banks, adding that, because of the stress, they collect the money and purchase the forms themselves.
“N1, 500 is the registration form for both nursery and primary. We go to Alausa to purchase the forms or you pay the money in the bank. Because of the stress, that is why we collect the money here and obtain the form for them and fill the necessary things,” she said. Ripples Nigeria requested for the account details so that necessary payments could be effected at the bank but this was declined.
The Reporter was persuaded to pay the fee instead of going to the bank or Alausa. Of course, this offer was resisted, knowing the illegality of the act.
Dialogue of the deaf…Government officials unmoved to act
The founder of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Dreams from the Slum Initiative, Mr. Isaac Omoyele, who grew up in Ajegunle and established the initiative to take out-of-school children in Ajegunle back to school, has been fighting teachers for over two years to stop illegal collections.
“Lagos State government made public school education free. Teachers collect money ranging from N1, 500 to N3, 000 from parents and there are thousands of them who do not have anything to eat. We threatened the teachers. Yet, nothing happened. It is a big barrier and that is why many children do not go to school in Ajegunle,” Omoyele said.
A frustrated Omoyele drew the Reporter’s attention to a letter he sent to the Education Secretary, Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area, Mr. Aboluwodi Solomon Ademofe, in which he raised concerns about the corrupt activities of some school administrators while at the same time pleading for absorption of indigent children into schools.
Dated Friday, September 11, 2015 and signed by Mr. Omoyele, the letter read in part: “As part of our mission to ensure every child has access to quality basic education, reduce the number of children that are out of school by adopting them back to school and facilitating access to psychological support for children and youths with special needs, we humbly request for approval from your office for the following:
‘Give access to us to send poor out of school children to school without monetary restrictions.’
A copy of the letter seen by Ripples Nigeria indicated that it was duly acknowledged by the office of the Education Secretary. However, the requests by the NGO have not been replied and or approved nearly two years after.
“It was as a result of actions not being taken that teachers continue charging parents. The Education Secretary since then has always prevented me from seeing him. His Personal Assistant gives us excuses whenever we go to his office to see him. If he refuses to approve the letter, then it could be assumed that he is the one telling teachers to charge parents for fees,” Omoyele of Dreams from the Slum Initiative alleged.
Enmeshed in corruption…Education Ministry officials dump merit for bribes
Teachers in Ajeromi-Ifelodun may have been collecting school fees and other sundry levies from students and parents, but a very reliable source who is a Head Teacher (names withheld) in one of the 78 primary schools in the local government said that the teachers’ action is tied to the pressure being mounted on them by the Education Secretary of Ajeromi-Ifelodun, who allegedly compelled teachers to pay him what she referred to as “duty post.”
According to the Head Teacher, who repeatedly pleaded not to be mentioned for the fear of being victimized, the ‘duty post’ fee is a huge sum of money being paid to the Education Secretary to influence appointment as Head Teachers or Assistant Head Teachers in schools in the local government. The ‘must pay’ arrangement, she claimed, is the reason that teachers compel students and parents to pay school fees, and those who refuse to pay are forced to withdraw their children from school.
“Duty post is not even meant to be paid for. It is supposed to be a form of selection. You go for the exam, so when you qualify, you will be appointed to head a school. But in this case, it is no more exams. When you pay, you will see a place where, maybe a level 14 officer will be heading a level 15 because he could pay,” our source said.
“They pay according to the population of their schools. If the school is large, teachers will pay about N150, 000 to be appointed as a Head Teacher. Some pay N100, 000. If you want to be an Assistant Head Teacher, you will have to pay the sum of about N80, 000. The amount being paid is dependent on the population of the school. You pay, either to become a Head Teacher or to become an assistant. His Personal Assistant collects the money and gives to his boss,” our source alleged.
How to fall out of favour…An insider’s account
“Because I could not pay, that was why I was moved to another school, a less attractive location. A teacher is supposed to stay for five years in a school but I stayed for a year and few months and I was transferred because I refused to pay. The Secretary only puts teachers who are ready to cooperate by milking indigent parents and making returns to him in order to occupy positions of Head Teachers. But I will not and never do it,” the insider said.
“The normal thing is that we are supposed to go for an exam at SUBEB. We are supposed to be called for an exam or interview before we can be appointed as heads. But that rarely happens. The secretary simply collects gratification and will not make appoints until a teacher is retiring from any of the schools and he will replace same with teachers who pay him,” she added.
Is the office of the Education Secretary a cash cow?
There are 78 primary schools in Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government under the control of the Education Secretary. With N150, 000 fleeced from each Head Teacher, that would amount to N11.7 million. If a similar computation is done for Assistant Head Teachers who are allegedly fleeced about N80,000 each, that would amount to N6.2million. Altogether, the office of the Education Secretary may attract a handsome informal income of N17.9 million which is allegedly shared by a cabal.
“Corruption is eating deep into our local school authorities. You can hardly go to that Secretary’s office without paying something. He is in charge of every payment. He was appointed for political reasons and I think he is doing that because of the political pressure,” our source who is very familiar with goings-on in the system said.
‘Out-of-school children? We’re taking care of them’
The Education Secretary, Mr Ademofe, appeared a very busy man with an endless stream of visitors seeking his attention. Like every public servant, he first looked uncomfortable in the company of our Reporter but eased off soon after Ripples Nigeria sought to know what his office was doing to address the case of out-of-school children.
“The Lagos state government is taking good care of them. For instance, we have different programmes to empower them. We have creative centres where we train some of them. Some of them are trained as fashion designers. Some of them are trained as hairdressers. Some of them are trained for different handiwork,” Ademofe said.
He said that the local government was also empowering them. “After we train them, we get materials for them to empower them so that they will continue to move forward. Virtually, as far as Ajegunle is concerned, God has given us the vision to take care of our children that are out of school. As far as Ajegunle is concerned, out-of-school children are not having problems in Ajeromi-Ifelodun.
“There are no challenges because through the School-Based Management Community (SBMC) forum, we have been able to tackle all the problems. We have the Parents’ Forum. The educationists and all the politicians are on it. We have been able to tackle the problems,” he said.
Perhaps, to further drive home the clinical efficiency of job done, Ademofe added, “That is why there are no hoodlums in Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government. Everybody now moves freely. No bad boys attacking people, anybody or snatching bags unnecessarily because everybody is virtually engaged.”
‘No bad boys but…There are always bad eggs’
Confronted by findings dug up in the course of Ripples Nigeria investigations, Ademofe vigorously denied the allegation of local school authorities extorting money from indigent parents.
He said, “As far as teachers are concerned in this Ajeromi-Ifelofun, there is no teacher collecting that (school fees). Some parents are just telling lies. I am just hearing it. There is nothing like that.
“Teachers are now refined. I have warned them. No illegal collection from any angle and they have complied. No illegal collection at Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government. I’m on top. And none of them is collecting money from anybody.”
For emphasis, he added, “I want you to take note of it… in any organization, you must have one or two bad eggs and I have been trying to fish them out. Registration from primary one and early childhood care and development is free. For transfer from public to public is N1000 whereas from private to public is N2000.”
Ademofe would also vehemently deny knowledge of a request by any NGO asking for accelerated attention to be given to the case of parents who were alleging corruption on the part of local school authorities, and demanding for unadulterated implementation of the state’s free education policy.
“I am not aware. Don’t mind these people. I have not seen it. I think it’s there with my Personal Assistant and he has not presented it. Well, I was not on the seat at that time. I came on board December 1, 2015. So, I don’t know anything about it. The then-officer had left. He did not present it to me.”
However, contrary to his claims, Ademofe was the substantive Education Secretary when the letter from Dreams from the Slum Initiative, dated September 11, 2015, arrived his desk. He had assumed office on December 1, 2015.
Omoyele who led the NGO told Ripples Nigeria of his frustrations, lamenting that Ademofe’s Personal Assistant always prevented him from doing a follow up each time he visited.
And… One more scandal
The school for the physically challenged, Anglican School, Abukuru, was not spared the incidence of mal-administration. A reliable source had confided in Ripples Nigeria that a bus assigned for the comfort of the students was being abused by politicians who were deploying same for political rallies.
“Every day I see the students who can’t walk, speak or see grappling to trek home because the bus provided for them was being used for political activities. It is bad,” said the source that refused to be named.
Another staff of the institution, after much pressure, volunteered, “Sometimes, the bus is used for distributing posters or flyers within the local government, especially during the local government election or when the school is not in session.”
The Education Secretary, Ademofe, however, admitted that such tales belonged to the past.
“That was before. It has been peacefully resolved. If you go there now, you will see the bus taking the pupils to their various homes and bringing them to school. The bus was bad before, that was why it was not in use for some time. The bus is only used for rallies, maybe during holidays when the pupils are not in session. But they are now using the bus for the purpose that it’s meant for,” he said.
Is Lagos SUBEB being out smarted by corrupt local school authorities?
The Lagos state government operates a compulsory free primary and secondary school education system and no school or teacher is mandated to charge parents to pay school and registration fees, according to the Executive Secretary, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Mrs. Abosede Adelaja, who was interviewed in the course of the investigation.
When confronted with Ripples Nigeria findings in the Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government, Adelaja expressed shock saying, “There is what we call zero tolerance for illegal collection in our schools and all schools have been warned. I am surprised to hear such. Series of meetings have been held to let school authorities know that illegal collection is not allowed in our public schools. Parents are not required to pay a dime. If you look at the registration handbill and posters, it is clearly written that registration is free.
‘If they charge and you pay, you are also a collaborator’
“I don’t see why someone who will read that will be required to pay and still go and pay. In fact, we are giving out numbers that in case such things happen, parents should feel free to call us. If they charge you and you pay, you are also a collaborator, because it has been clearly written. I do not see why people will pay because if unscrupulous elements request for such money, I expect such people who are supporters of quality education in Lagos state to call on the authorities to take action.”
As regards the lack of teachers in the schools, Adelaja said that the state government just employed 1, 300 teachers for primary schools and 1, 000 for secondary schools. “We provide cleaners and security in public primary and secondary schools. Parents are not supposed to pay a dime. There is a shortage of them but this government is trying to provide all. It is zero tolerance. You cannot rule out unscrupulous elements whom when they are discovered are seriously dealt with according to the rules and regulations in Nigeria,” she said.
Questions…and more questions
The assurances from Adelaja, though consoling, leaves many questions unanswered. What internal mechanisms are in place to fish out corrupt local school authority administrators who are bent on frustrating the state’s free education policy? How can the State help indigent parents who are already too weak financially to overcome intimidation and blackmail from desperate and corrupt public servants? Indeed, given the very sensitive nature of the education sector, should strategic portfolios be used to settle political allies who may well be ill-equipped to manage public schools?
These are the key questions the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration in Lagos must choose to address if it’s not to dangle dangerously on the list of states with rising number of out-of-school children.
By Kelechukwu Iruoma….
***This investigative project by Ripples Nigeria was conducted in partnership with the Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism.
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