By Gabriel Ogunjobi
Gabriel Ogunjobi travels to the borderland between Nigeria and Benin Republic in Ogun State where brutal attacks on farmers by marauding herdsmen have caused untold tragedies. He reports on how COVID-19 realities are worsening a situation already too painful to describe, but which is creating a new army of out of school children and young people.
At Agbon village, Abidemi Ilo is laid on a mat at the veranda. He is being encouraged to ingest a little more of pap-cake and vegetables. He struggles because his whole body still aches badly from his hospital-dressed wound. January 10, 2020 was the day what he had long feared finally occurred.
He became another victim in the long-running but ignored violence that cattle herders routinely inflicted on farmers across the border corridors of Ogun State. He was attacked, along with his father, Pa Sola, who was 80-year plus, on their two-plot yam farmland. The older man was not so lucky. He was hacked to death. Sola received machete wounds on his arm and his right foot.
The only reason Mr Ilo opted for home-care after spending three months at Federal Medical Centre in Ilaro, Ogun state, is to look after three of his children who are still at primary school.
“There is no one to take care of them. They wandered in the neighbourhood. They have not been going to school because their mother stayed with me at the hospital for nights and days since I was rushed-in.”
As he spoke, Mr Ilo’s children were standing behind the door that leads from the inner house to the veranda. They looked on watching as their father sobbed emotionally.
Mr Ilo is yet to overcome the trauma from the farm attack and is very unlikely to return for cultivation anytime soon. It also means primary education for the children will be on hold until further notice because of the lack of income to bear school needs. Maybe, they would even learn some crafts just like their elder brother, Sola, did learn vulcanizing.
The story bears similarities with that of 15-year old Folarin said to be in primary three at Community School, Asa, and whose father was killed on a farm in the same community.
Determinedly, Folarin returned to school after his father’s gruesome killing and has since been undertaking all sorts of manual labour to keep himself in school. But his younger brother had to halt his education and opted for motorcycle-riding business instead.
This sort of tragedy and the consequences on the education of the children of direct victims illustrate the vulnerability of children and young people on this Yoruba borderline between Nigeria and Benin Republic.
In March 2020, a newspaper reported on reduction in school enrolment in Ogun border communities due to the persistent clashes between local farmers and wandering herders.
In the prominent Ketu constituency at Yewa (Egbado) North Local Government, at least 53 of the 60 plus communities are in the frontline of violent marauding by cattle herders. Some of the most affected communities include Ogunba-Ayetoro, Asa, Ijoun, Igan-Alade, Ibore, Iselu. The 2006 national census puts the population of the constituency at 99,000. This is equivalent to 60 per cent of the 181,826 total population of the entire local government.
Apart from the continuum of community despair about safety and its telling effect on school enrolment, there is also the issue of lack of schools and the parlous state of most of those available in those communities. Such is the situation that the number of out-of-school children in the region may be growing exponentially.
School building in the area dates back to the 70s or earlier. Many of them are in a state of disrepair and in the most unsanitary environment, to say the least.
At Ogunba-Ayetoro, for instance, the local community school is a building of about five classrooms built of wood and iron-sheet. At full capacity, it can house up to 70 students. However, it is lacking in all the amenities one can associate with a school. This includes toilet facilities for the students or water for drinking. The environment is overgrown with elephant grass\weeds and severely neglected such that the building now looks the picture of a derelict storehouse.
One of the farmers cultivating on the land, Sunday Oke, informed this reporter that up to 200 children could show up in dry seasons when the herders rarely pasture and it is felt to be safe.
“Around last year, there were barely 60 to 70 school-children because herders scared them away. This year, we have only heard of those herders in Asa. They’re not yet here and may not be until around November/December,” he adds.
More and more schools are in a sorry state…
Of the twelve villages serving the Community Primary School at Ogunba-Ayetoro, only children from the near villages of Araromi, Ori-Oke, Agbale, Abe Isin and Saba would, by that November, be able to find their way to school if their parents ever let them.
Abidemi Ilo was injured in a machete attack on his village.
The sight is not different at the Community Primary School in Oke Odo, Ibore, about 10km from Ogunba-Ayetoro. While children are subjected to learn under the perils of reptiles,
the school is peculiar for yet another reason: it has two structures but neither of them meets UNICEF’s standard of primary school of providing significant personal and social environment in the lives of the pupils and the environment being physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling.
If it ever rains, it only means the children will be learning in swamps owing to the deplorable farmyard area.
Source: Premium Times
Additional Report By: Emmanuel Udom