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Inter-State crisis: Teachers, pupils abandon Akwa Ibom schools

Eight months after the people of Nkari community in Ini Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State and their neighbours in Usaka Ukwu, Ikwuano Local Council of Abia State signed a Memorandum of Understanding to embrace peace, normal activities are yet to return.

DAILY POST reports that the MoU was signed to put an end to the protracted boundary war which had claimed many lives and led to the looting of agricultural produce on both sides.

Nkari with a population of 9,900 according to 2006 census was enmeshed in boundary and farmland ownership dispute with the people of Ariam Usaka in Abia State back in late 1940s and the clash was renewed in 2020.

In the year 2021 alone, about 18 persons from both States lost their lives to the crisis before a peace accord by the Joint Peace Agreement Drafting Committee was signed in January 26, 2022, in the presence of the Head of the Army Camp, Lt N.G. Kebbe, the two Local Government Chairmen of Ikwuano and Ini, Chief Steve Mpamugo and Hon. Israel Idaisin, respectively, as well as other relevant stakeholders.

The agreement, among others, specified that both parties must embrace the part of peace, re-cultivate the old cultural practices of unhindered visits, free movement and avoidance of provocation and the use of arms in whatever circumstances over the disputed areas.

However, it is one thing to survive a war and another to survive the peace. Relationships can never be the same as they were before the eruption of war.

Nkari, one of the communities in Ini Local Government, the food basket of the State is known for industry and hard-work but suffers a total disconnect from basic amenities that can make life comfortable such as good road, healthcare centre, school, portable water and electricity which are seen in other parts of the State.

Though they have lamented non-government presence, the crisis at the time had worsened the existing bad situation of the people and made them resign to their fate.

Since the renewal of the crisis in 2020, schools in the community had remained shut, with no sign of reopening as teachers posted to the schools have refused to resume duties despite the peace accord signed early this year between the warring parties.

A visit to the only secondary school in Nkari, Community Secondary School, Nkari and the only Primary school, Methodist School Mbente all in Ini Local Government Area left less to be desired as the schools were not only in desolation but many building blocks were in the state of decrepit.

A greater portion of the community secondary school had been overgrown with grasses. But the field facing the administrative block that also housed the classrooms was cut by Nkari youths, maybe in preparation for the September school resumption which never came into fruition after all.

Same thing was applicable to Methodist School, Mbente, which is a primary school but the only difference is that it was not totally desolate as the school with a population of over 200 pupils from primary one to six is managed by the headteacher, with no assistant or teachers.

It was also gathered that some volunteers from the community used a classroom block in the school to teach pupils whose parents were willing to let them go to school.

Giving an insight about the boundary crisis and its attendant effect on education in the community, the village head, Ifa and clan head Nkari community, Obong Martins Udo said his people had suffered unimaginably owing to the protracted crisis which according to him had crippled all sectors in the community, especially education.

Obong Udo explained that after the return of peace, teachers posted to the only secondary and primary schools in the community refused to come back despite the assurances given to them by the villagers.

He added that the community went ahead to clear the school premises in preparation for the resumption in September, unfortunately, no teacher showed up and a series of complaints sent to the State Education management board on the situation were not attended to.

The monarch expressed worry over the future of the youths in the community as a result of the three-year-academic blackout occasioned by the communal crisis, noting that resumption of school activities was not in sight following the teachers’ unwillingness to return and government’s lack of political will to compel them to do so.

The paramount ruler said Nkari is sitting on a time bomb as some of their sons within the period had been tempted to join bad gangs, while their daughters got pregnant and some had given birth.

According to him, “we have suffered to no avail, especially last year in May, when we had a crisis with our Igbo brothers. The expanse of land you saw on your way here has been encroached. They caused problems and so many lives were lost. Thank God for how He brought about a settlement and we signed an undertaking last year, at least to calm down the situation.

“We were expected to go back to school to resume our academic activity. But, For the sake of their lives, the teachers refused to come to school. With our contact, the Ministry promised to send teachers at the start of this school year (in September), but with that fear of killings, the teachers refused to return to school.

“We have written several letters and forwarded several photos of the school to the government to transfer teachers here, but there hasn’t been any response.

“In September, a team of inspectors from Abuja came, saying they came on a surprise visit. They made promises that academic activities would resume before the end of this school year, but the first term of this academic session is almost over and nothing has happened in the Secondary School. We have gone to complete the clearing of the school compound.

“Our children are suffering. Our children now go to school outside, they go to Odoro Ikono in Mbiabong Ikot Udofia and other areas which are very far. Because of lack of parental care and monitoring, they, especially the female ones, are getting pregnant and the male ones joining bad gangs.

“The future of our children would be marred because if the school is not in operation, the children would turn to unruly, violent. But if they are in secondary school and progress to tertiary level, they would be trained. Our girl children would not be vulnerable to pregnancy.

“During the crisis, valuable equipment within the school compound was destroyed. If school was in session and there were day and night security guards, it wouldn’t have been like that. So, we are in tears. These three years without teaching in the secondary school is a thing of surprise.”

Not only the setback in the educational system in Nkari, the road network is nothing to write home about.

The topography is never good either and the only good thing about the roads in Nkari is that they are used for campaigns. Successive governments, including the present one had visited the community during campaigns, made promises of constructing the roads but abscond afterwards only to come back in the next campaign season.

Lamenting on the poor road network in Nkari, Obong Udo told our correspondent, “Even the road network is bad. If the road was good, motorcycles would ply this road. But there is no good road in the village, and it is a very big problem. We heard that the government planned to construct this road, Mbiabong/Nkari/Mbente/Ohafia road.

“However, the dry season has started and nothing has been done. The other axis, from the market area to my village, Ifa, the access road to Okwa along Ikot Ekpene, Umuahia Road, which was in the budget in 2018, nothing has been done, the two and a half pillars out of 13 pillars for that brick work has been done. We are suffering. The other road, with a bridge connecting us with Abia State, was destroyed by the Biafrans, it has not been rehabilitated.

“We are just in a recluse because all the communities in this clan are bounded by Igbo neighbours from Abia State.

“We are really suffering in this part of Akwa Ibom, nothing meaningful from the government. Our only health centre since it was renovated, no equipment, nothing.”

Also speaking, Hon Okon Joseph Akpan, Caretaker of Gateway to Nkari said: “We have been involved in crisis with our Ikwuano neighbours in Abia State and because of that, on May 20, 2020, they planned an annexation to this community but God said no, and it has been a big battle.

“We saw hell, and we were strangulated, with a lot of psychological and emotional problems that we passed through. We need the government to help us revive our education and health, both in manpower and facilities.”

On his part, Mr Utin Okon, Supervisor, Political and Chieftaincy, Ini LGA disclosed that some teachers posted to the school sought transfer, while some bluntly stayed away.

His words, “The excuse was that there was a crisis but the crisis has long ceased. The crisis ceased over a year ago. We have signed an agreement with the Commander, Military Base in Ibawa that there would be no more problems, the youths have stopped making trouble, no more fighting. That is why you see them coming to clear this place so that academic activities would begin.

“We and Abia State signed an inter-State accord. We have said nobody should enter the land in dispute until the National Boundary Commission comes and demarcates the land.

“Actually, I don’t want anybody to claim that I own this place, I want that place to be used either for Federal Government school, hospital or anything viable for the government. So nobody can come and say this is my own.

“I have worked with the LG Chairman for 7 years for the development of this community. I want the government’s presence in this community. Unfortunately, we have never for once, had a representative from this community in government.”

Asked what they want from the government, Okon said, “what we want now is for the government to send teachers to our school so that our children can resume studies.”

However, in a chat with a board member, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Sir John Udoh, he attributed the refusal of the teachers posted to Nkari to assume duties to fear of being killed.

He disclosed that the board would set up a Disciplinary Committee to bring to book teachers who were transferred to schools but refused to resume in their new places of assignment.

Udoh further disclosed that the SUBEB management was considering posting teachers who are natives of the Nkari clan to schools within the communities.

An educationist and guidance and counsellor in one of the private schools in the State, Mrs Vitoria Osiri, who described the situation as unfortunate, expressed fear that lack of education in the community would create more danger than the war itself and called on the government to have the will to ensure that teachers posted to the schools remain and their safety guaranteed.

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