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INVESTIGATION: Inside Kwara school where students are used as labour on teachers’ private farms

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In this report, SHEREEFDEEN AHMAD uncovered how young students in Kwara State, Nigeria, are being used for labour work on private farms of some teachers, discouraging many of them from attending school

Issa Sambo (not real name) came back from school at about 2:30pm on Wednesday. But he did not pay full attention to the lunch served to him, despite the grumbling about being famished.

Everything indicates that the 14-year-old Junior Secondary School one (JSS1) student, Sambo has his thoughts divided ever since he returned home from the Government Secondary School, Kosubosu in Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State. He wears a blue short trouser with a black polo shirt, and hangs up a small hoe on his right shoulder as he steps out of the house.

The sun is already at the peak of its scorching heat as he comes out of the house. From the appearance of Sambo, especially his facial expression, one could tell he is under pressure, or on an assignment that does not go down well with him.

“I’m going to labour at my master’s farm,” he said with an uncheerful tone. At first, the word ‘labor’ in the context seems ambiguous, but Sambo unravels, “what I mean is that I’m going for work (weeding in particular) at the teacher’s farm”.

At Government Secondary School, Kosubosu, labor is a practice of students working for their teachers on their private farms or houses. This practice has already gained ground as part of school activities.

Further findings reveal that the school has earmarked Wednesdays as labour day. Though there’s a school farm, the students work on it in the morning, 8:00am-10am on Wednesdays.

On this day, the students of the Government Secondary School, Kosubosu will be divided into different groups, and each group will be assigned to different member of staff to work on their private farms or houses after the closing time.

“But sometimes, a whole class will be allocated to a staff for labour at his farm,” Sambo added.

However, failure to attend the labour is not without consequences. According to Sambo, “you will be punished severely on the following day (Thursday) if you don’t attend. And sometimes, you will be pardoned on the condition that you will go and do your work later in the day.”

Sambo happens to be among the 72 million child labourers between the ages of 5 to 17 in Africa, according to a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The National Bureau of Statistics 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), shows that about 43 per cent of Nigerian children, between age 5 and 10, are working and about half of the working children are estimated to be engaged in child labour. Children in Nigeria are engaged in the worst forms of child labour, including work in quarry granite and gravel fields, commercial sexual exploitation, and armed conflict.

“Child or forced labour is a crime against fundamental human rights of children,” a Child Right Advocate, Mr Taoheed Adegbite said. “There is no place in any provision that substantiates education as every child’s right where it is stated they have to be subjected to labour of any kind before being granted.”

Meanwhile, section 28 of the Child Right Act of 2003 (a law in Nigeria that was enacted to safeguard the rights of children) stipulates that no child shall be subjected to any forced or exploitative labour; or employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed by a member of his family on light work of an agricultural, horticultural or domestic character; or required, in any case, to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as to be likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development; or employed as a domestic help outside his own home or family environment.

Subsection three (3) of the Act provides a punishment of a fine not exceeding fifty thousand Naira or imprisonment for a term of five years or both for any person who commits the offence of child labour.

Today in Nigeria, 28 states, including Kwara, have adopted the Act into law, with nine remaining.

But, Mr Taoheed still noted that the implementation of the law is not enough, “there is more that needs to be done in terms of creating awareness for our laws so as to promote the culture of speaking up.”

“The fact that no one is reporting doesn’t mean human rights violation or abuse of such nature isn’t happening. It’s just a communication gap between what’s ‘societally correct’ and legally right,” he said.

Labour as substitute for C.A

“There are some staff that use the labour as their continuous assessment (C.A),” Musa Jubril said.

Jubril,16, a Senior Secondary School one (SSS1) student remembers that his chemistry teacher used the work he attended at his farm as his continuous assessment for the second term. That very labour actually recorded a huge number of students, following the pronouncement that it would replace their C.A for that term.

Missing the labour is akin to missing Chemistry’s C.A for that term. And this same pattern has also been employed by some of the staff in the school to lure students into working at their private farms.

“Most of us attended the labour because we know full well that it has been the act of some staff in the school to substitute labour for their C.A.”

For Hamza Aliyu, a Junior Secondary School Two (JSS2) student failed one of his subjects which he prefers not to mention. He could not attend the labour that was meant to be used as their continuous assessment for that term, and ‘make up test’ is not a language of the subject’s teacher.

The teacher announced it unequivocally in the class that those who do not have attendance for his labour, should count themselves to have scored zero, and Aliyu happens to fall among the group.

“I was crestfallen when writing the examination, knowing that I have no C.A.”

Labour does not have a specific day again

It was on a Tuesday, not the usual labour day (Wednesday) and Fauziya has to trek to his friend’s house to borrow a small hoe. She is not accustomed to going to farm as a girl. Even though she is, Fauziya stated that weeding is not part of the work usually assigned to females in her house.

But, being a student of Government Secondary School, Kosubosu made her test the taste of weeding in the farm for the first time while she was in Junior Secondary School three (JSS3).

“Everybody finished their work but I couldn’t because that was my first time using a hoe on the farm.”

Read also:INVESTIGATION: How Kano SUBEB awarded contracts to inactive contractors, non-existent schools

It was some Fauziya’s male friends that would later help her to complete the four roles that was set out for her to weed by the teacher.

Fauziya lamented that it was ‘hell’ for her trying to get herself in the act. And for this reason, she is even considering changing the school, because, “They (the teachers) won’t consider any excuse not to attend labour regularly. Once you skip once, you would still be punished,” she said.

Labour is chasing away students from school

Jimoh Hamidu is not a regular student on Thursdays. He hardly has attendance for this day. Not because he is always sick or any force from his parents, but the reason is that Hamidu has a phobia for any kind of punishment.

He does not like attending labour and in order to evade punishment, he avoids school on Thursdays. Knowing full well that the aftermath of the failure to attend labour on Wednesday is corporal punishment on Thursday.

Hamidu, unknown to his parents, always sacrifices his lessons to escape the “severe beating” from the teachers. And this does not only have an effect on his academic performance, it’s also distancing his mind from the school.

“I don’t feel like going to school anymore,” he said.

The fear of the punishment of failure to attend labour is chasing and discouraging many students away from going to school, most especially on Thursdays when they know a punishment lurks for them.

Unlike Hamidu, Kabiru Ishak always has his mind divided on Thursdays: one for concentrating on lessons, and the other for keeping an eye on the teacher whose labour he didn’t attend on Wednesday.

“The moment I realize he (the teacher) is heading to my class, I will run to hide in the nearby bush and come back later. But sometimes, I will hang somewhere and not come back again,” Kabiru said.

Community is aware but…

A resident of Kosubosu, Woru Yakub, 35, said many people in the community could not challenge the school authority because the act has already come to be accepted, coupled with the fact that it’s the only affordable government secondary school in the community.

Calling a halt to the practice of the labour according to Mohammed would be “a herculean task.”

“Most of the teachers of the school are residents of this community. So, we cannot take it harshly on them, they are our brothers,” another resident of the community, Yusuf Aliyu added.

However, Abdullah on his part believes that the act is still not unconnected to lack of knowledge of the Child Right Act. Because, “if you care so much about your child, you won’t allow a teacher to take him to his private farm, despite knowing full well that the Nigerian educational curriculum and the law do not provide for that.”

The school knows labor is unprofessional but practice it anyway

When this reporter visited the school to speak with the principal, Mr Mahmoud Ahmad, he was unavailable. But in a telephone conversation. he said the school authority was working tirelessly to clamp down on the practice of teachers taking their students to labor in their private farms for whatever reason.

In his words,”last week, we talked about the issue of labour. The school authority even spoke with the particular teachers that are engaging in the act. Because it’s illegal.

“The school authority was not aware about it before, the only one they are aware of is working on the school farm in the morning on Wednesdays, where the students are tasked with growing a cashew nut. We will hold another brief this week again to address the issue.”

However, a staff of the school who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the school is not ignorant of the unprofessionality tied to practice of taking students to their private farms. The staff said it had become an integral part of the school’s activities, which has already come to stay.

“It’s unethical and unprofessional to compel a student to work on your private farm, but the issue is, this thing has been a long practice, incorporated into the school system already. We met it like that.

“The community is aware of it, the school management and even the students know that it’s now part of their curriculum.”

*Editor’s Note: To protect the identity of the students, their real names were not used in this article.

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