Omelugboma: Delta Community with Deprived Children, Impoverished Adults
Hannah Ojo captures the needs of a slum in a city where children and adult suffer deprivations as a result of government negligence.
When nature decides to stretch beyond it course and the tides of river Niger overflows to submerge the major access road to Omelugboma, a settlement along Asaba/Onitsha express way, it takes courage for a first time caller to the community not to give in to the fears of Aquaphobia. Caution is the watchword as one take guided steps in using the fragile wooden bridge constructed by members of the community.
Omelugboma, a settlement located in Oko community, Oshimili South Local Government Area of Delta state is best described as a place where children are deprived and adults are slaves to the cost of living. The community which has long existed before the time of the Nigerian civil is inhabited majorly by the Ijaws, Isokos as well as Igbos from neigbouring states like Anambra and Imo. When this reporter visited the community recently, the atmosphere was rift with a sense of abandonment. It bears the insignia of a no man’s land with signs of government neglect. There is no electricity, school, hospital, roads but only a polling booth for election purpose.
“Our transformer had a problem since 2012, we called for replacement but there has been no answer. We don’t have any health care facility and our farmers do not get access to loans. There is no government school, the private schools here are owned by our people who just finished secondary school and would go and open a school. Our children go as far as Asaba and Onitsha to attend government schools and we have lost a number of them to accidents on the express way”. These were the lamentations of Mr. Anthony Onukwube, the community leader of Omelugboma who was born in 1964 in the settlement.
As an urban slum, the needs of the community appear to be in myriads, a major concern which portends devastating effects not only to residents of the community alone but to the entire state.
In Omelugboma, children idle away during school hours as a result of lack of access to education. This was the scenario when this reporter visited the community. At age 12 in primary 4; Favour Obinna has lost the liveliness expected of a teenager. She lacks the flow of words to express her presence in the neighborhood when her peers are exercising their brains at a learning facility. Upon a keener enquiry, one discovers that her inability to communicate should not be attributed to shyness but the dispossession of an educational child’s rights whose devastating effects has left her dull and discolored. Her mother, a middle age woman impoverished with dishevelled appearance submits an explanation for her daughter’s deficiency. “I sent her to stay with my sister in Onitsha but my sister did not put her in school. That is why she is not as smart as other children. She was 8 years when my sister took her, she is 12 now. If she had been placed in school, her life would have been better”.
Favour’s brother, Miracle whom the mother eagerly prodded as the ‘sharp one’ to answer this reporter’s question is 10 years and in primary two. He too has been out of school for two months due to his parent’s inability to pay school fees. Asked of his future ambition; Miracle stares into blank space with his head bowed as if in a pensive state. Recoiling from his mother’s embrace to reply to want to be a medical doctor, he promptly blurts out: “I want to enter work”. What type of work? “Electronics!” he sharply offered, a statement reflecting the mind of a youngster who cannot appreciate the value of education as a result of staying in and out of school. This is the fate that many children in the community suffer.
Like Favour and Miracle, a larger percentage of the over 1500 children in Omelugboma are either too advance in age for their class or not able to reason and communicate aptly. Many of them are dispossessed of childhood ambition with lustre. With the precedence of teenage pregnancy, hurried marriages, drugs, and gangster living laid by the young adults of the community, the children look forward to being old enough to go out and work in the city, while coming back to lay their head in the slum.
For some parents, the inability to send their children to school dates back to the devastating effect of the flood which swept across some parts of the state in 2012. With the proximity of the settlement to the river Niger, it did not come as a surprise that it was one of the communities submerged by the flood. Many are yet to recover from the story of loss. Like Mrs. Obinna, some could not even assess the relief fund provided by government as some smart alecks made away with other people’s share of the money. For this reason she had to withdraw her four children from a private school in the community where she pays N1500 per child each term. At the moment, she is waiting for the year to run out so that she can register them in a government school in Asaba. That decision too, is not without its own consequence as further investigation would come to reveal.
What standard of teaching and learning should one expects from a private school where tuition fee is N1500 per term? Dilapidated structures, noise pollution, unqualified teachers, and tattered appearance: these were the state of despair at Peculiar Private Primary School Omelugboma. Yet, upon listening to the account of Mrs. Caroline Oraegbunem, the proprietress of the school, one would commend her courage rather than castigate her for running a shallow system. The school which has been in existence for 10 years has over 150 students on enrolment. It has 6 teachers who receive between N5000-N6000 thousand as salary. However, Mrs. Oraegbunem laments that most times when the building is ravaged by flood, she finds herself building and building again.
“We have trained many people but there is no money. We ought to have expanded but for lack of funds. When some officials from the education board came, they wondered how I manage to pay teachers and even praised me for the work I am doing here.
“When the flood came, I was the one who had to build again. Another small time again, the wind would blow the building off. My major challenge as the proprietor of the school is that the payment is small. When you finish paying teachers, you barely have enough for yourself”.
GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS FORLORN AND DESERTED
There are government schools in Oko community located in villages such as Amakom, Oni-Okpu and Anala; these are places not too far from Omelugboma but it would take a thick tread to pass through a needle than for parents to register their wards in those schools. This owes to the dilapidated structures of the schools, some of which are at the point of carving in.
The school compounds are overgrown with bushes which has made it an abode for reptiles. There have been reported cases where pupils have been bitten by snakes. When compared to the glistering government schools in Asaba and other parts of Delta state, it is hard to believe that schools with such infrastructures exists in communities within the same local government in the capital city.
Rather than send their children to the school, people of Omelugboma would rather send their kids to government schools in Asaba and Onitsha. As early as 6 am, there is a sea of school children from the community crossing the express road to get to Asaba or Onitsha but this tall duty has not been without casualties.
About a month ago, Chiezie Godwin, 12 year old lass was knocked down while trying to cross the express road to go to school in Asaba. She was in coma at the intensive care unit of the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba for some days before she regained consciousness. Another of her peer, the niece of the community leader died while trying to cross the express to attend a school outside the community. Some other children were said to have drowned in the river while using canoes to cross outside the community when the main access road is submerged. It was the prevalence of these needless deaths that prompted a group of persons in Omelugboma to construct a bridge which they maintain by collecting N10 from anyone coming into the settlement through the bridge.
With these tales of loss, it leaves less to be desired that the government owned primary school in Amakom, a nearby community which used to have 300 students now count less than 100 students who attend the school. The school environment is also overgrown with weeds and the teachers’ attendance is poor save for some few dedicated ones. It is the same tale of neglect at Anala, another neigbouring community with a government school that is not functioning as it should be.
Commenting on the plight of the schools, Samuel Atawe, the zonal pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Jehovah Jireh parish in Omelugboma who confirmed the state of the schools believed that the schools have not been functioning because government is not tough on the teachers.
“The problem is that government is paying the teachers and they are not doing their work so people are pulling their children to the township. Come here in the morning and you will see lots of secondary school children going to town. Before they get to Asaba and trek back, what will remain is an empty head. Both teachers and students do not come to school. Look at their environment, there are bushes everywhere, if the school is functional, will the place be left like that”?
Intervention: Corporate Social Responsibility to the Rescue
Being a settlement where nothing can be done on a permanent basis, a truth lies in the fact that the plight of the community cannot be relieved by government alone. There is a need for individuals as well as corporate bodies to work towards ameliorating the plight of the community.
Miss Motilola Olola, a graduate of Mass Communication from the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo state is a batch ‘A’ corps member participating in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Delta state. The young lady whose place of primary assignment is the Ministry of Information, Asaba is working on a project in Omelugboma community tagged “Rural Kids Project”. She speaks further on the concept; “As a corps member, we are advised to reach out to communities around us. I call Omelugboma a no man’s island because there are lots of people here who are poverty-stricken and do not have access to the good things of life”.
Motilola has written letters to plead with the state government to bring a school to Omelugboma in order to serve the educational needs of the children in the settlement. She has also initiated a process with the NYSC where corps members can be deployed to some of the schools in need of teachers in Oko. But with the state of these communities, it is doubtless that any corps member posted to any village Oko would want to stay.
Ameliorating the plight of the impoverished children is another area of need where help is sought. Presently, Motilola is seeking support with the “Gift A Thousand” Project, which aspires to present 1000 children of the community with gift packs during the yuletide. Though neglected, Omelugboma is not a barren land as evidence in the community has shown. The land is very fertile for farming; that is an area in the community that can boast economic prosperity.
Education is the soul of the society, without a fair chance at education; it is doubtless that these children could grow up as threats to the larger society. Where are the angels of mercy who will meet the need for a corporate culture of genuine charity arising from the higher matters of love and care in Omelugboma?