The presence of IDPs in schools disrupted academic activities.
The school authority had barely rung the bell signalling the end of the day’s academic activities, when pupils at Ozi Primary School in Koton-Karfe town in the Kogi local government area dashed towards the assembly ground for the closing prayer. But less than 50 metres away from the joyous pupils, a moody Zakariya Ajara sat quietly, waiting for the children to disperse.
Ms Ajara, a 40-year-old fish seller, is one of the many victims of the flood incidents that destroyed homes in Kogi State, who now take refuge at the Koton-Karfe primary school. The widow said that although life has been challenging since the death of her husband, the floods have worsened her socioeconomic conditions.
Looking pale and withdrawn, the mother of six said she and her children barely eat well because the relief materials supplied to camp residents by government officials, politicians, and non-profit organisations were insufficient to go around.
”I was only able to get a portion of a cup of rice, beans, two noodles and small oil,” she said.
She told PREMIUM TIMES that staying in the school remains her only option because other affected friends and neighbours who are not seeking refuge at the school are either squatting at mosques or churches or had travelled to their distant relatives in other parts of Kogi State.
‘’Many of our houses have collapsed, and the ones that are there have sunk in the waters. We have been here for five weeks,” she recounted.
Our reporter gathered that Ms Ajara and over one hundred displaced persons had occupied some of the classrooms, leaving the school management with no other option than to allow the pupils to cohabit with IDPs in the few classrooms available.
The recent flood incidents that disrupted communities and village settlements in various parts of the country have negatively impacted Kogi State residents, especially in regions located along the banks of the rivers Niger, Benue and their tributaries.
Similarly, hundreds of riverine communities and village settlements in the state, and the state capital, Lokoja, have been largely devastated by flood waters, just as commuters who ply the Lokoja-Abuja highways have been severely affected.
In his address in October, the state governor, Yahaya Bello, revealed that a total of nine local government areas (LGAs) along the Niger and Benue rivers—Lokoja, Kogi-Koto, Ajaokuta, Ofu, Igalamela-Odolu, Bassa, Idah, Ibaji, and Omala—were affected by the flooding.
Official data from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) also revealed that at least 1,380 schools and an estimated 5,550 children were affected by the flooding in Kogi state. While many residents interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES attested to the annual occurrence of the flooding, they also stated that the damage done this year remains the worst since 2012.
The minister of water resources, Suleiman Adamu, said that 80 per cent of the floods in Nigeria were caused by rainfall. Experts and ecologists have also said that the contributory factors include climate change and the poor state of drainage systems, dredging, and dams, among other infrastructural facilities.
Although the flood waters have subsided in several villages visited across Kogi State, residents lamented how their houses had been completely damaged by the flood waters. PREMIUM TIMES gathered that this has forced the local inhabitants and fishermen to seek refuge in the houses of relatives in Koton-Karfe and Lokoja towns, while others sought shelter at Internally Displaced Persons Camps (IDPs) in various primary schools scattered across the state.
Learning disrupted in schools
Musa Aliyu, the head teacher at Ozi Primary school, complained about how the presence of the IDPs in schools has made learning extremely challenging since the floods destroyed peoples’ homes in the state.
“Just take a look at where they are,” Mr Aliyu said, pointing in the direction of the classrooms now occupied by displaced persons. “Since 2012, they (IDPs) come to the school to stay and use our classrooms as refuge whenever there are floods. And they come with their farm produce and livestock, as you can see from the environment. But when they leave the building, they do not clean it up. They leave it in a condition that is unsuitable for learning.”
Mr Aliyu explained that because the IDPs were occupying a large portion of the available classroom space, the school was compelled to merge some students in the remaining classrooms and as well ask other pupils to occupy classrooms from the secondary section.
‘’The secondary level doesn’t start until the afternoon,’’ he continued. ‘’So the school also had to borrow classrooms from there since we didn’t want the students to be affected by the situation.”
The school head also noted that the authorities never showed up to assist with renovations once the displaced people left.
More schools affected
Like Ozi primary school in Koton-Karfe, St. luke’s Model School UBE JSS, Adankolo district in Lokoja, the state capital city, accommodates hundreds of displaced people who have taken over several of the classrooms since the floods swept away people’s houses.
There are over 434 displaced persons living in the classrooms in the school, according to the Kogi State SEMA official who spoke to our reporter.
‘’Initially, they counted 1,500, but since the flood rescinded, the numbers have reduced to about 434. The state government has been providing palliatives and NGOs. Since 2012 they used to come as it has become a yearly problem,” said Aliyu Adoga, a SEMA official and head of the IDP camp in the school.
A flood victim at the school, Lubabatu Aminu, who is also a mother of three, said she doesn’t know when to leave the camp because her house has already been submerged by the waters.
She said: ‘’When the flood waters came, my family and I were told to move to the mosque, and later when I went back to see my house, I saw that thieves had stolen most of my properties. I don’t have anywhere to go so we were told to move here to this school. And I have been staying here for more than a month now.”
PREMIUM TIMES observed that as a result of the displaced person’s daily activities, the school’s grounds are littered with broken furniture, animals, baskets of vegetables and fish, farming equipment and cooking pots.
The school’s principal, Adeniji Omoyemi, said the situation had led the students to use libraries and staff offices for lectures.
“All of our students have been asked to merge in libraries and Staff offices,” he said.
‘’JSS1 and 2 are being lumped into one class. Ordinarily, we cannot teach both classes together because their curriculums are different, so we have to move the class to the laboratory for easy teaching for both the student and teachers.
‘’When we now talk about the population, there is no more class control. The heat is also terrible. For you to mix up JS1 and 2 together is not normal. Because that is when you would see the concern of ‘Seniority’ come in. And that brings a lot of fights and reports.”
He added that the teachers are not comfortable because they are seated among the students rather than in their staff offices.
“Ordinarily, in the secondary school setting, teachers are not to sit with students. But this time around, for us to accommodate the flood-displaced people, we just have to adjust to our discomfort.”
Ms Omoyemi, who was transferred to the school in February 2021, said her former school had to shut down because of the displacement of flooding victims a few years ago.
The principal complained about the poor hygiene exhibited by the displaced persons both in her former school and her present school, noting the impact of damages on the school.
While Ms Omoyemi acknowledged that the state government intervened in her cries by repairing some of the damage done by the displaced persons in her previous school at Adadumo UBE primary school inside Anebo Quarters, she appealed to the state government to replicate such gesture in her new school.
“When we wrote a letter to the school last year, the state government ensured that they fumigate and pay all the Nepa bills that ran to about N200,000.
“So now I appeal to the government to also help us by fumigating and replacing the furniture and windows broken by the displaced people. Also our toilets it’s blocked. Something must be done about them always using the school. A new place can be given to them.”
But Mr Adoga, the SEMA official, told our reporter that they always ensure they speak and advise the displaced people about maintaining good hygiene.
Schools closed to accommodate IDPs
Ibrahim Usman, a 68-year-old farmer from the Akpaku community, told PREMIUM TIMES he moved to Urakpa Primary School in Koton-Karfe town.
He is one of the hundreds of local rice and cassava farmers who were relocated to take refuge in the school as a result of the flood.
”Since 2012, we have been visiting this IDP camp. We arrived here in 2012, 2018, 2020, and 2022. Whenever there is a flood, my entire family and I come to this particular primary school,” he told our reporter.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that at Urakpa Primary School, academic activities had been suspended because the school’s facilities had been occupied by the victims of the flooding.
While there were no officials at the school to speak with, Mr Usman, who serves as the Camp head, said that he and the other displaced persons have been at the camp for over two months.
According to Ministry of Education data from 2021, Kogi state now has the fewest number of out-of-school children among the 19 Northern states of Nigeria, with a total of 169,316.
Although Sunday Apar, the state emergency operations chief for the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), acknowledged in an interview that several schools were closed as a result of the flooding, he added that some of the schools are far away from the students who may have been displaced.
Sunday Faleke, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Deputy Governor of Kogi State, sympathised with the schools that have been affected as a result of the relocation of IDP Camps.
He said: “The state government is already on track to relate to the issue of IDPs in our school, and also, we know the effect of gathering more people in a mini-environment. And this is an issue of Post-flood activities that the state government is already preparing and making arrangements to address.
“The governor had already said the government would begin to build houses in the upland area instead of those communities using the schools. All these would come as post-flood activities, and we know that all these places would then be used as IDP Camps.
“And all the materials and furniture that have been damaged would also be taken care of by the government. We sympathise with the school, as they have not been able to use their classes. But that is the effect of the disaster we are facing. And the government would look into it and their complaints.”
Learning defeated, experts say
Some experts have said that putting IDPs in the same environment where learning should be taking place defeats the entire learning system.
Akin Benjamin, a Lagos-based education consultant, said students could pick up uncalled behaviour and social vices from the displaced people who cohabit within a learning facility.
He said: “If you have to relocate people as a result of flooding to school, as IDPs, and you have to start merging pupils, that is not a very good idea. It is either you have a separate place for them. If such a situation happens, that means learning has not been taking place.
”How would teachers and schools manage crowd control in the school environment?”
Mr Benjamin, therefore, called on the government to be proactive and plan properly to prevent and settle displaced people.
“Government should plan well. Having displaced people in schools is not really a good idea. Disaster happens everywhere, but what countries have put in place, especially in the time of peace, counts,” he said.
Mr Faleke said the state government has been able to do its pre-disaster programme, which is to sensitise the people, convene stakeholders meeting, and alert the people.
“And we have been able to do that, especially on those who live on the river banks,” he said.
Abdulkareem Shuiabu, the youth leader of Koton-Karfe, said there are plans to move the villagers from the riverine communities to the upland area so they can live there during the rain when the flood comes and return to their communities during the dry seasons.
According to him, this strategy will stop the locals from relocating to schools and converting them to IDP camps.
He said: ‘’We are happy that we have a royal father that’s a thinker who decided to inaugurate a committee that will focus on Recovery, Relief and Resettlement; in which I am a member and the president of Koton-Karfe LGA Union. We are responsible for preparing ahead for future eventualities like this.
‘’In the long-term plan, we are looking for a resettlement area these villagers can migrate to in case there are floods. The reason is that we cannot say they should entirely leave their area because majorly we are fishermen and farmers here, and so, during dry seasons, they can go back to their homes and anytime there is a flood, they can relocate to such areas instead of the schools.”
***This reporting was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Open Climate Reporting Initiative.
This report was first published in Premium Times.