OVER weeks into the commencement of third term classes in the 2020/21 academic session, pupils of LEA Primary School, Elugwu-Effeche in Edumoga District of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State are still at home; neither sure of when they will resume classes nor if ever they will have the opportunity to go back to school again.
At the moment, the only school, which is the sole government presence, serving hundreds of children from three villages that make up Elugwu-Effeche, is no more. A devastating rainstorm shattered and blew off the entire roof of the school’s single block of classrooms on the night of Sunday, April 11, 2021.
The Headmaster of the school, Mr David Abah, who confirmed the damage to National Record said a day after the storm, he officially reported the school’s destruction to the Education Secretary (ES) at the headquarters of Okpokwu LGA.
Mr Abah stated that although he is awaiting response to his memo from the ES, he also immediately began mobilising members of the community to see if they could collectively provide some form of remedy to enable the pupils to resume classes.
“When the storm happened, I was not in Elugwu. But when I heard the news, I came back the following day and was briefed by the PTA official who had led efforts to evacuate the school’s documents and books to a house close to the school,” Mr Abah stated.
He however noted that the communal efforts to restore the roof and commence classes seem far off as a result of a number of factors.
He said apart from lack of resources due to near abject poverty of inhabitants who are principally subsistence farmers, there is also the absence of a strong and focused community body to coordinate internal and external mobilisation of funds for immediate renovation.
“The major challenge we have in Elugwu is because, originally, nobody is an indigene here. It is just very few people who were born and brought up here, but left to study and became influential people that are serious and concerned about the poor situation here in Elugwu.
“You may wish to know that all the people living here are settlers, their fathers are not from here. That is the truth about the settlement. I don’t know if you are aware of that; there are Ogbadibo local government people here, there are people from Ado local government here. In fact where the school is located is populated mainly by people from Ado LGA, they are more in number than Edumoga people.
“I used to joke when we go to education meeting in Okpoga that whoever heads LEA Primary School Elugwu is heading a big school as it is the only village school with attendance from three local government areas. In our PTA meeting, there are members from Ogbadibo, Ado and Okpokwu,” Mr Abah stated. According to him, Elugwu’s undoing is that when those born and brought up in the community become men of influence, they completely dissociate themselves from its social and development affairs.
“When we met after the storm to assess the damage done to the school, the committee resolved to appeal to all prominent sons and daughters who were born and brought up here, either fully or partially, to come to the aid of the community of birth, Mr Abah stated.
Escalating the SOS
National Record gathered that in the frontline of efforts to escalate the Save-Our-Soul message towards mobilisation of funds for repair of Elugwu’s sole school is Mr Olohy Ejembi who is using the platform of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Initiative for Poverty and Conflict Solutions.
Mr Ejembi, who said one of the mandates of Initiative for Poverty and Conflict Solutions is campaigning for early childhood education in especially rural environments, also told our correspondent in a WhatsApp chat last Saturday (April 24, 2021) that the NGO took up the challenge to intervene because of the children that are now stranded at home because of the disaster. He said they may wait till eternity if nothing drastic was done and done quickly.
He said the focus is not only on Elugwu’s school but also on LEA Primary School, Ajide, in Eke Ward of Okpokwu LGA, which was also partly damaged by the April 11 rainstorm. He however said the priority attention being given to Elugwu is out of the fact that unlike Ajide that has several blocks of classrooms, Elugwu only has one, making it impossible for the school to even marginally operate.
Ejembi, who revealed that he was born and groomed in Elugwu up to age 6, said: “We have been trying everything to make sure the school is rebuilt. But, as you know, getting a grant to meet such an urgent need to rebuild the school for the children to start classes is not possible. That’s why we’ve been following politicians and indigenous people of Edumoga to assist.”
Asked why the community has not been able to quickly intervene through communal efforts from indigenes at home and abroad, Ejembi corroborated what the headmaster said by stating that “Elugwu is a no-man’s-land.”
“It may interest you know that Elugwu, unlike other communities, doesn’t have structured indigenous people to organise themselves and rebuild the school. Being a no-man’s-land, people there come from different places, and for that reason anyone who grows up and becomes ‘somebody’ leaves Elugwu to his/her native village proper. In fact, there is hardly a graduate that returns to Elugwu as home – after being born and raised in it, and acquired education, they leave the village. Hence, most people in the village are not well-to-do people, if not, it’s not a big project to seek people’s [indigenes’] help,” Mr Ejembi stated.
He said in the effort to, as quickly as possible, provide “a primary place of learning” for Elugwu children as the weeks pass without response from local authorities, the NGO has visited the school and assessed the immediate requirements for roofing, estimated to cost N545,000 (five hundred and forty-five thousand naira).
He said efforts to solicit for money to cover this estimate through crowd-funding from ‘indigenes’, politicians and concerned individuals has not produced the desired response as only about N93,000 (ninety-three thousand naira) have so far been realised as at press time.
Ejembi thanked Prof. Ochefu Yakubu, a non-Edumoga, for his prompt response in donating N50,000. Others who have donated, he said, include Mrs Christiana Okonkwo (N20,000), Mr Emmanuel Odoh, former Abuja branch Chairman of Edema, a social-cultural organisation and pressure group of Edumoga indigenes, (N20,000), and an anonymous donor (N3,000).
While our correspondent gathered that the Abuja branch of Edema had at its last meeting held on Sunday, 25th April, 2021 deliberated on donating some fund to the renovation of the school, it however eventually resolved against the proposal because of what some members described as the “discourteous attitude and uncomplimentary language” of Olohy Ejembi in seeking for donations.
It was only Noah McDickson, who was Abuja Branch Chairman until recently when he resigned to fully face his governorship ambition, that reportedly donated the sum of N10,000 to the renovation project.
Forgotten by Local Authorities, Politicians?
National Record gathered that none of the political leaders from Okpokwu has visited Elugwu to make on-the-spot assessment of the destruction of the school almost three weeks after the storm.
Hon Amina Audu, incumbent Chairperson of Okpokwu Local Government Council, herself an indigene of Edumoga-Ehaje who is better placed to appreciate the stark underdevelopment challenges people in the axis face, has not been to Elugwu to have first-hand understanding of the plight of the pupils. So also has the Education Secretary not shown any iota of concern by visiting the school, though he was immediately informed by the headmaster soon after the incident.
Also being condemned for abandoning the community are the legislators with clear oversight over Okpokwu at both state and local government areas. Mr Ejembi of Initiative for Poverty and Conflict Solutions said he was told that Senator Abba Moro who currently represents Benue South at the Senate neglected to visit Elugwu when he toured communities that were affected by the rainstorm.
“Someone told me that Senator Abba Moro neglected them when he went for a tour after the windstorm. He sent pictures of the school and demanded that I should send to Senator Moro which I did. But he never responded.
“However, after the headmaster told me to help them reach out to people that can help the community to rebuild the school, after nothing was heard or seen from Senator Moro, I began to reach relevant authorities (the chairwoman and councillor representing the area in the Council), but they declined that there was no money. The Education Secretary of Okpokwu only said that we were free to get anyone to do the work. Hon. Ottah and I quarrelled over the phone on this matter. Hence, we had no choice but to reach out to Edumoga’s body of people,” Ejembi stated.
Efforts to get Senator Moro or his media aide to respond to the allegation failed as their numbers were said to be unavailable. But Senator Moro had soon after the rainstorm reportedly visited some of the affected villages after which he raised a motion on the floor of the Senate and called for the immediate intervention of both the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (BENSEMA).
While efforts to reach Hon. Francis Ottah-Agbo, who represents Ado/Ogbadibo/Okpokwu Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives failed as his mobile was not available, his media adviser, Mr Andrew Agbese, told National Record that he is aware that Ottah-Agbo had already visited some communities affected by the storm.
When told that the lawmaker has not visited Elugwu whose only primary school was blown off by the storm, Mr Agbese said: “Like I said, he has visited some of the communities and he is still going to visit others affected that he has not yet visited. Those communities he visited, I am aware that he did state that he will draw the attention of the relevant authorities for assistance to all those affected by the storm. I am sure Elugwu will benefit from such assistance.”
For Hon Tony Agom, who represents Okpokwu at the Benue State House of Assembly, the news of the Elugwu school tragedy only got to him on Tuesday morning when his attention was drawn to it by a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo.
Hon Agom said immediately after the storm, he was on the entourage of Senator Moro that went to some of the villages for on-the-spot assessment of damages done to communities by the storm, and that at that point, no one heard or was told that Elugwu was affected.
“Nobody contacted me,” Hon Agom said when asked why he has up to now not visited or make any effort to respond to the SOS sent by Elugwu over the destruction of its only school.
Agom who spoke with National Record on telephone on Tuesday spoke at length on the matter: “Let me tell you; Engr Attah called me this morning and told me about the rainstorm in Elugwu-Effeche. I told him that nobody mentioned it to any of us. I had gone home to do on on-the-spot assessment, but at that time, Elugwu was not mentioned. We went to Olaidu, Okpale-Otta and then Ajide where there were colossal damages. This was what I and my boss, Distinguished Senator Abba Moro, did when we heard of the sad incidents.
“I couldn’t have ignored Elugwu if I had heard. Elugwu is a community that as a member of the House of Assembly, I brought SUBEB project to the school; three classrooms and a VIP toilet; they are doing it there now. In addition to that, I am building a bridge for Elugwu, a bridge that is connecting two villages.
“Like I said, nobody mentioned to me until this morning the impact of the storm on Elugwu. Ask Engr Attah, if you know him, he is a lecturer in Benue State Polytechnic, he was the one who drew my attention, and I told him as I am telling you now. If they said the roof of their school is blown off and their children do not have classrooms, did anybody call me from there? They should have contacted the people that are supposed to be involved to let them know. Those ones who called me from Olaidu, Okpale-Otta and Ajide, I went round to see all those places to see the level of damage.
“What am I going to do now that I have heard? We are now on recess as PASAN (Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria) is on strike. The House is not sitting; if the House is sitting, I will capture Elugwu in my motion that I will be taking to the House. I had prepared a motion, but I didn’t capture Elugwu initially. I will take the motion to the House and ask for government intervention. Whatever the government can do and anything we can do as an individual. If they want my personal contribution, fine.
“But I think the level of damage in Okpokwu is big, including in Okpoga (the local government headquarters). I cannot go round and personally take care of everything, but if the community said they are making communal effort and they need my individual contribution, I can do that. But on the aspect of the government, it is only when PASAN calls off its strike that members can go to the House to sit; then I will present it and ask SEMA to send relief materials there.”
But Contrary to the claim by Hon Agom that a SUBEB project to construct three classrooms is ongoing at Elugwu, Mr Abah, the headmaster in his conversation with National Record stated unequivocally that there is no other classroom block other than the one blown off by the storm. He however hinted of a plan by the local government to allocate a project soon but that has not yet started.
According to Mr Abah, who said he briefly attended LEA Elugwu as a child before his father relocated to Amufu said: “This school was facilitated in 1975 by the Oketas, who were then, and even up to now, very influential. Up till last year when I was transferred to Elugwu from Amufu, there were no seats and desks for pupils; they sit on logs of wood cut from the forest.
“The benches that are there now were made through communal effort with money saved from money that chairmanship aspirants and candidates who came to canvass for votes gave to the community during the last local government election. I had to convince them that instead of sharing the money, they should use it to provide benches for the pupils and they agreed.
“So since the school was founded, the pupils had never had the luxury of carpenter-made seats; they sat on logs of wood up to last year when the benches were made. Ask anybody from Elugwu, they will not deny this fact except if they want to distort history. There are still remnants of the logs in the school premises.
“When the destruction of the roof happened, some people called to find out if there is any other block of classrooms that could be used to accommodate the children; I told them there is no other block and anyone can come to Elugwu and verify. They can also go and find out from the Education Secretary. It is only recently when we visited the local government chairman that we were told that the local government will give us a project as they hinted that the school ought to have a SUBEB project.”
High Profile Children of Elugwu
National Record gathered that Elugwu Community began as a small cluster of farmers who migrated from a few Edumoga-Ehaje villages and settled at the southeastern fringe of Edumoga District in Okpokwu LGA during the colonial era that was and still has very fertile land for farming.
The settlement gradually expanded when other migrant farmers moved in from parts of present day Ado and Ogbadibo local government areas, which were hitherto under Okpokwu.
While the entire clusters are collectively known as Elugwu-Effeche, the three villages that make up the settlement include Elugwu-Efaufo, Elugwu-Ehaje and Elugwu-Ijigbanu. Each of the villages is said to be composed of approximately 15-20 family homesteads with a total population of over one thousand.
As noted by Mr Ejembi and the headmaster, under normal circumstances, Elugwu should not lack some of the basic markers of civilisation in the context of the very important personalities said to have been born and partly brought up there.
Elugwu’s sad fate has therefore been largely determined by the nature of its origins as a migrant settlement. Therefore, situation Mr Ejembi described as ‘no-man’s-land’ or in the headmaster’s conception, the ‘settler’ or ‘indigene-less’ status of Elugwu people largely remain the biggest factor for Elugwu’s underdevelopment woes in spite of the rich profiles and pedigrees of personalities who are supposed to be entitled indigenes or children of Elugwu.
Among people born and partly brought up in Elugwu, National Record learnt; include Professor Ambrose Okwoli of the University of Jos, whose father and grandfather were said to have been among the early settlers in Elugwu. Prof Okwoli is from Ogodumu Village of Edumoga.
Other personalities said to have settled in Elugwu whose parents and grandparents had lived and groomed their children are the Oketas – Engr Simon Oketa, Innocent Oketa, a retired senior Police officer, and Richard Oketa, a senior civil servant, among others. The Oketas are from Ijigban District in Ado LGA.
There is also Comrade John Odah, former General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the current Executive Secretary of the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA). Odah’s grandfather is from Agbangwe in Edumoga but he was said to have lived in Elugwu for a long period and gave birth to Comrade Odah’s father there, who in turn also gave birth to Comrade Odah in Elugwu. As a teacher, Comrade Odah’s father, Mr Onyilo Odah, was said to be one of the influential personalities in Elugwu community who championed consistently the cause of education.
Others born and brought up in Elugwu are Dr Andrew Ejembi, who was said to have just finished his tenure last December as Dean of Business Administration, Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo. In Dr Ejembi’s family are said to be other very influential personalities.
There is also Engr Simon Ogaje, popularly known as Ogason, MD/CEO of Ogason Construction Nigeria Ltd. He had at a point served as Vice Chairman, Caretaker Committee of Okpokwu LGC in 2007. Ogason’s great-grandparents and some of their siblings were said to have all lived in Elugwu and became prosperous farmers before his father returned to live in his original village, Ojigo.
There are numerous other children of Elugwu, National Record learnt, with tentacles in business, bureaucracy, academia and other endeavours with the connection and capacity to lift the settlement beyond the past and current pall of despondence perpetually threatening to undermine this melting pot of a community that ought to be a perfect example of mutual tolerance, egalitarian and folk living that is the trademark of Edemoga.
The days, weeks and months ahead will tell if the current tragedy of the rainstorm, the pre-existing problems in addition to multiple other existential crises that morphed into wide-ranging hopelessness will meltdown the aspirations of Elugwu’s future or help to further its transition into bloom and prosperity.