By Ekemini Simon
As 9-year-old Mercy James sits with stretched legs on the bare floor of St Paul African Church School, a government primary school in Ibaka, Mbo local government area, to write her examination, within 15 minutes, she was struck by muscle strain.
She stood up and spent about five minutes hitting her legs on the ground to recover. The discomfort made her intermittently change her answer booklet to either left or right in search of comfort. At some point, she was forced to squat to write her examination.
Right from her primary one to her current class, primary four, she has never sat on a desk, during classes or examinations. The floor of the classroom over the years has assumed the place of her seat and her writing table.
Mercy is not alone in this plight.
In the entire school, atleast 90 per cent of pupils have been sitting on the floor for classes and examinations.
In a school estimated to have over 1,000 pupils, only 60 desks were sighted by TheMail Newspaper, 50 of which the Head Teacher, Justina Uko said were donated last year by the House of Assembly member of the area, Effiong Johnson.
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The village head of this Community, Asuquo Asuquo Etifit says many pupils have fallen sick, especially during the rainy season, due to the deplorable learning condition of the school.
“It gets worse for our children when it rains. The cold underneath the broken floor coupled with rain blown into classes by the wind makes the experience terrible for our children. This makes them sick on a regular basis”, the chief said.
This is not the only community where school children sit on exposed floors. The experience is the same at the only public secondary school in another oil-rich local government area, Ibeno.
At Secondary Grammar School, Upenekang, most students sit on bare floors during classes and examinations.
When TheMail visited the school in July 2022, it was observed that due to the high population density of the school, students who sat on the ground to write examinations overflowed from the classroom to the veranda.
The poor learning condition of pupils and students in these oil-producing areas is an aberration to the volume of oil revenue they produce for the State.
For instance, Ibeno plays host to four major oil assets; OML 104, 67, 68, and 70, operated by Exxon Mobil, while Mbo hosts OML 13/14 stubb creek marginal field operated by Universal Energy. Oriental Energy also operates in Mbo. The oil and gas exploration by these companies in these two local government areas have contributed in no little measure to the multi-billion naira the State regularly gets from its share of 13 per cent derivation.
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In the last two years, for instance, Akwa Ibom State received into its coffers N182.16bn as 13 per cent derivation.
Nevertheless, the experience of these two schools is just a fraction of the many schools in the State in dire need of seats for pupils and students.
Commendably, the Akwa Ibom State Government, in April 2022, provided 100 dual carriage desks to Government Primary School Aka 1, located at the heart of the capital city in Uyo, after several pictures of pupils who sit on empty floors flooded social media.
However, the few interventions after public calls have left many schools still unattended to.
Problem Identified Amidst Questionable Political Will
Successive appropriation law of the State between 2015 and 2021 points to the fact that the state government is aware of the dearth of seats in Akwa Ibom public schools and the need to make available resources to address the problem..
For example, from 2015 through 2022, the State government through the Ministry of Education, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and State Secondary Education Board (SSEB) prioritised in its yearly budget provision of seats across its 1164 primary schools and 251 secondary schools. It budgeted a total of N510.7 million within these eight years. But this has not translated to the desired impact.
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A Freedom of Information request to these three offices seeking insight into the amount spent on provision of seats in Akwa Ibom public schools within the period of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration was not acceded to.
However, within four years of 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019, which TheMail Newspaper could access audited financial statements of the State, only N15 million is recorded as being spent on seats across all the public schools in the state.
This expenditure which was 66.6 per cent of the N22.5 million budgeted for 3,334 numbers of 3-seater desks, was made by SUBEB in 2018.
Billions Spent on Government House Jeeps in four Years will Provide 244,000 Dual Desks in Schools
Analysis of the Akwa Ibom State Accountant General’s Report and Audited Financial Statements for 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 shows that the government of Akwa Ibom State prioritised spending on Jeeps used in Government House over seats in public schools.
The office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) spent a total of N3.66bn for the purchase of 64 jeeps within these four years. These jeeps, which include Land Cruisers, Ford Explorers, Prado Jeeps TXL and Security Jeeps, are purchased under the line item “Vehicles for System”.
The amount spent on the jeeps is 25.4 per cent of the total N14.38bn (2015- N3.14bn, 2016 – N1.5bn, 2018 -N2bn, 2019- N5.4bn, 2020- N2.34bn) spent in the same office for all categories of “vehicles for system” in five years.
These jeeps are also different from other brands of vehicles purchased by the Akwa Ibom State Judiciary, House of Assembly and Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Interestingly, the analysis of the N3.66bn spent on purchasing these 64 jeeps for government house within the four years under review can provide 244,000 dual desks for public schools across Akwa Ibom State, thus ameliorating the prevalence of bare floor education in the oil-rich State.
According to the Appropriation Law of Akwa Ibom State, 2021 and 2022, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) budgeted N7.5 million to provide 500 numbers of dual desks. This implies that by the costing of the Government of Akwa Ibom State, the provision of a dual desk will cost N15,000.
At N15, 000 per desk, 244,000 dual desks can be acquired with N3.66bn. This means that each of the 1415 public schools in Akwa Ibom State can receive at least 172 dual desks.
With 172 dual desks per school, it implies that at least 344 students per school who hitherto had their education on bare floor will now have seats.