-Decry Obiano govt’s evasive, deaf ears to their demand, plights
-Insist govt must return their schools
By Francis Ekpone
Forty eight years after promoters of private schools lost their model primary and secondary schools through a controversial edict promulgated by Chief Ukpabi Asika led administration of the defunct Eastern Nigeria, the Anambra state government has refused to reverse the injustice, despite handing over missionary schools to religious establishments six and half years ago. Curiously, efforts by surviving children of the affected school owners to recover their property from government have so far yielded minimal results as top officials allegedly turned deaf ears to their appeals, demands and protests. The lingering battle for return of the confiscated schools to their owners have taken a new fillip as the combatants vow to fight the unjust treatment meted out to their fathers.
When on November 20, 2011, then state Governor, Mr Peter Obi, accompanied by the former Anglican Archbishop of the Province of the Niger and Bishop of Aguata Diocese, the Most Rev. Christian Efobi, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, the Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, announced the decision to return schools confiscated by the Asika government in 1970 to their owners at a press conference in Awka, no one anticipated that it would be a selective exercise. Obi left no one in doubt that he was prepared to atone for the unjust usurpation of proprietary rights over private schools by the government since 1970s.
According to him, the collapse of education in the state is directly connected with the takeover of schools owned by the missionaries, churches and private educationists shortly after the war. “That singular exercise signaled the disappearance of morality and building of character from our school system. This can no longer be allowed,’’ he said, pledging that the government would also spend about N6 billion on the maintenance of the schools.
Expectedly, the two archbishops thanked Governor Obi for his decision to return over 1,040 schools to churches, with Archbishop Okeke declaring: “You have written your name in gold and you have wiped the tears of our people. You have rectified anomalies of the civil war and the fault of our past leaders. With this action, the church has forgiven them for forcefully taking over our schools.”
For inexplicable reasons, the Obi administration refused to return schools built by private individuals to their owners while it pandered to the whims of the churches which wield enormous political influence in the politics of the state. While the churches celebrated the return of their schools with relish, children of the private school owners have continued to moan and bemoan government’s refusal to return their property. (See List of the private schools and their original owners)
Orient Daily checks revealed that almost all the former proprietors and renowned educationists who invested their hard earned monies as well as worked hard to establish and nurture those schools before the outbreak of the civil war, not only lost their investments to that unjust Edict but eventually died in the cause of fighting for the return of their schools. The pioneer private school owners’ enormous contributions to academic excellence have neither been celebrated nor officially recognized till date while their families are left without any form of compensation.
The aggrieved children and heirs of the confiscated private schools, now operating under the aegis of the Indigenous Proprietors of Schools had continued to protest Anambra state government’s refusal to return the schools to them. Besides its prevarication in returning the hijacked schools, the embattled school owners have equally accused the government of allowing the infrastructures and academic standard in those schools to decay. They equally claimed that agents of government have sold off some parcels of land and other property to individuals who converted them to residential houses.
Igwe Godwin Chinweuba Mbakwe, one of the children of the proprietors of the seized schools described the treatment meted out to their father and them as ‘man inhumanity to man’. Mbakwe, who is the traditional ruler of Abacha community in Idemmili North Local Government Area of Anambra state, in a recent petition letter to Governor Wil lie Obiano on behalf of other affected members urged the government to take proactive measures to address their grievances ‘for the restoration of justice and fair play in our beloved land’.
The letter dated February 7, 2018 and received at the Governor’s office on March 9, 2018 read in parts: “Our case is becoming protracted for no just cause and we hereby solicit for an audience with our listening Governor (Willie Obiano) via productive dialogue, in other to ensure the smooth resolution of the subject matter bothering on man’s inhumanity to man in the interest of justice…”
This is not the first time the group had written to governor Obiano and his predecessors seeking for executive intervention in their struggle to have their property returned to them. The group had written series of letters to past Governors of the state, seeking for compensation or immediate return of the schools to their original owners but all proved abortive as none of them, including Obiano has given them listening ear.
Orient Daily obtained a copy of a letter written by the group under the umbrella of Indigenous African proprietors of Private schools in the state to former governor Peter Obi and Governor Willie Obiano. In the letter, the group expressed disillusionment over government’s bias in handing over schools to the owners.
In one of the letters dated 29th June 2015 to Governor Willie Obiano, they regretted that government has not considered their appeals over the years for the return of the schools or at least grant them audience to deliberate on the issues raised in the previous letters.
To make the matter worse, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Anambra state, E.D Chukwuma ESQ, in reply to one of the letters dated January18, 2012 blatantly told the indigenous proprietors that there is no law in the state that provides for the return of the schools to them until there is a law to that effect.
He further explained that “named secondary and primary schools belonging to only voluntary agencies (specifically the Anglican and Catholic missions) were returned to them in 2009 and 20011. He also noted that the public education (return of schools)(Special provisions) law of 2001 and the public education (Return of schools) (special provisions) (Amendement) law of 2011 respectively provided for the return of schools to missions.
In another five paged letter the group wrote to Governor Obiano by the group, it had declared its readiness for a dialogue and negotiation with the government anytime they were called upon; stressing that government’s prolonged silence on the matter was not good.
The letter, a copy of which Orient Daily obtained was jointly signed by Prof. B.A Oli (Patron), Dr. Augustine Ikenga Metuh (Chairman), Barr. Belonwu (Secretary). In the letter, the group expressed regret that mission schools, seized alongside theirs through the same edict of 1970 have since been returned to the religious establishment by the government of Anambra state and the whooping some of N6billion released to them while the private school proprietors are yet to get a dime or have their schools back.
“Our efforts did not meet with success. We believed that the beneficiaries of the schools take-over, that is, the current manager of schools, on behalf of the government have been frustrating our efforts. There are instances scheduled meetings with the governors were frustrated and proprietors waiting to see the governor went home in humiliation.
“The illegal seizure of our schools and properties in 1970, without compensation, was seen then as temporary measure but has been turned into a permanent policy even when the promoted problems it was meant to address were non existent or have since been solved. We cry out against this unjust and inhumane policy. Our parents all died seeking restitution from government for grave injustice done to them.
“The erstwhile governor of Anam bra State, Mr. Peter Obi in February 2012, inaugurated a committee on the resolution of disputes over the ownership of schools. We presented our case and submitted pictures of the awful dilapidation of our schools infrastructure to the committee and till date, nothing has been heard of the committee since 2012” .
The group also suggested installment payment of the compensation over a period of time rather than paying in bulk to avoid constituting financial burden to the state or return of the schools to the original owners with MoU on joint management of the schools with the state government.
“This entails return of schools; the structure and management to original private proprietors under very close supervision. Schools are to operate as grant aided schools like previously done under the eastern Nigeria regional government. There is need to repair the damaged image of African schools proprietors and accord them heroic status as Pioneers African promoters of education in the country after missionaries” the statement suggested.
Tales of victims:
Orient Daily located some of the victims of the seized schools who shared their personal stories. Reverend Canon Henry Nduka, son of Chief B.C Nduka told this paper the sad story of how his father died fighting this cause of injustice.
“My father invested all he laboured for in building Okija Grammer school. And the school is sitting on 180 plots of land. My father acquired this land for the name and was even paying them before government took this school and we are suffering the thing today. I as a person have no place to build my house. In 1974, Ukpabi Asika asked us to leave the school premises. Principals from my own father’s school cut down the mangoes from the school that my father brought people from Germany to plant. Over 600 mangoes trees and today we don’t even have any.
“We had about 17 buildings in the school then but I don’t think they have up to 8 buildings there now. And my father died in 1987 because of this issue. He had stroke and died. I am not even talking of paying compensation or not, they should pay for the years they used the schools. This matter is going this way because we are all enlightened, if it were to be some kinds of people, they will go to war, they will be violent and turn to Boko Haram.
“People think we are not doing much but I have personally taken a letter to Peter Obi, Obiano and his wife, Ebelechukwu who incidentally is a product of one of the schools we are talking about. Today private schools are everywhere and I still wonder what we have done or our parents did wrong that our schools won’t be given back to us. I am saying this from a very painful heart.
“So, we are appealing to government to consider the heirs of the schools proprietors. Let them come to a round table with us we are open for dialogue. Let government come and negotiate with us and formally return the schools to us.
Reverend Obinna Awgu, son of Chief M. C Awgu, the owner of Basden Memorial Grammar school Isulo and the New Bethel schools, Onitsha, also informed this paper that his father’s Basden school is sitting on over 400 plots of land, with international standard classrooms and boarding facilities that accommodated about 500 students before the outbreak of the civil war, with bakery Melina plantation of over 1000 trees, plus reserved estate and quarters for the proprietor, his family and staff as well as a big power generator that provided uninterrupted power supply to the school community.
According to him, all the facilities that his father invested his earnings in at Basden, had gone in the wake of government take-over of the school. “My father hired managers from America, India and Germany to manage the schools then and in Basden alone, we had over 300 mangoe trees and about 500 economic trees like Melina but they have all been sold. The structures in the schools are dilapidated and are abandoned by the government. Everything has gone.
On the controversy trailing the New Bethel School at Onitsha, he said: “The New Bethel Primary School at Old market Road, Onitsha was seized by government and the land sold. The school was criminally transferred to Court Road and donated to the Anglican Church”, he said, stressing that “the take over and selective return of the schools to the mission was wicked, satanic and worse than Boko Haram activities. That is why we are demanding for compensation for damages done to us from 1970 till date over this hostile take-over of our schools. We demand the return of our schools and investments.
According to him, since there is freedom of ownership of property and investments in Nigeria, there is no justification for the continued retention of the schools by the state government. “there are private owned universities, airlines, estates, radio or television stations and even private refineries in Nigeria, why is Anambra state government still holding on to our father’s property? 90 percent of schools in Anambra state today are owned by private individuals, with most of them operating on rented buildings while our fathers bought their own land and invested their earnings on infrastructure development of the schools. What justifications does the state government have for continuing to prevent us from taking over our schools”, Mr. Awgu lamented.
He further disclosed that the 30 children that his father had from three wives he married had been unable to build a comfortable family house because of government takeover of their late father’s property. “Our own problem is that our father married three wives and we are up to 30 in that family and there is no land to build houses because the land he built the schools are about 400 plots of land. So let government give us our property. We are running out of patience.
Mr Mojekwu law, a retired Principal and heir of Chief C.C Muojekwu, the proprietor of Eastern Academy Onitsha, accused former Governor Peter Obi of bias in renovation of the schools as none of the schools built by his father was in any way visited by Obi during his tenure.
“In that school when I was the principal there, government was too selective in dealing with some schools. Obi visited other schools but he never visited Okongwu Grammar school. The only good structures in the school were erected by the Old Boys. So, it is an unfortunate situation for some of us that were there before and after the war”. Igwe Mbakwe added a clincher: “I feel sorry for some of our people; we know that after seizing the schools, many new schools are being built and registered; why then did government decide to hold on to the ones built by our fathers? We are products of the organized private sector in the eastern region, people that invested in education when they saw that the future of Nigeria was predicated on giving quality education to the next generation of the easterners (Ndigbo). And in other to rubbish their plans, the schools were hijacked from them without compensation. There was something they called ‘Interim Award’ then, which could not be interpreted. In effect, it was an issue they embarked upon without a policy framework.
“No past governor can come up today with the policy instrument on the basis of which they have continued to hold on to the affected schools. The agonizing thing is that while they (government officials) decided to seize the investments of our fathers, they own theirs and they are still thriving.
Chairman of the group, Chief Augustine Ikenga Metuh urged well meaning citizens of the state to join them in putting pressure to the state government to reverse the unjust treatment meted out to their fathers and families.
“We are appealing to our people to help us beg government. Let them know that this is grave injustice and anti education policy to stifle the initiative to promote education in any country. We are only calling on them to call us for a round table discussion.
He insists that the schools would be transformed and their past glories restored once government return them to their owners. According to him, the school system was producing better students before the war but since government took over the schools, everything nosedived. “We have been producing hoodlums and teachers teach when they like and teachers have the temerity of exploiting students to pay for handouts, it wasn’t so in our time”, he stressed.
Reverend Awgu regretted that those schools which used to have boarding and other facilities that made them enviable citadel of primary and post primary schools have become day schools and bereft of facilities because of decades of neglect under government care.
Orient Daily reporter visited the Anambra State Ministry of Education many times to get official explanation for the delay or refusal to return the schools to their owners but officials were evasive and refused to respond to the questions posed to them. One of the officials told this reporter that the issue of unreturned private schools was a highly classified matter that only authorized persons can comment on them. The Commissioner for Basic Education, Prof Kate Azuka Omenugha did not answer telephone calls put across to her and when this reporter sent text messages to her mobile phone to respond to the issue, she replied “I am out of the country”.
However, a staff of the ministry told Orient Daily in confidence that the government had received several petition letters from the indigenous schools proprietors and that a committee was set in the past to look into the matter. Accord ing to him, the issue would have been resolved since, safe for its complex nature of reversing the law (military edict) which authorized the confiscation of the schools after the war. “Mission schools were returned by a special law but none yet for the individual owners and some of their schools have been converted to personal use, how will government solve that problem?” he queried.
The unnamed official however, denied allegations that government allowed the schools to rot away. “If you go to Basden Memorial special education centre, Isulo, you will see modern structure put up by governor Willi Obiano. He renovated the staff quarters, the classroom blocks and the library. Visit all the schools and see things yourself. I see that issue as digression from what they are demanding for”, he said.
“Our governor, Willie Obiano is a listening governor, if they are consistent with their demand, he will do something, if not for any other thing, he will call them for dialogue” he adds.
However, Reverend Awgu acknowledged that the state government started some palliative works on the affected schools about six years ago when they stepped up their campaign for return of the schools as well as highlighting the deplorable conditions of the facilities. “It was about six years ago that the government started some 419 repairs on the schools. They put some red zinc on some of the buildings, repainted them and invited some bishops to commission them after we sent them photographs of the dilapidated structures and poor conditions of the schools”, he said while describing the conversion of the Basden to the school of Deaf and Dumb by the state government as ‘an act of political demonism”.
Orient Daily learnt that in November 2011, the Obi administration set up an eight man committee to work out a solution for the private school issue. The committee headed by Justice G.U. Ononiba (retired) was given one month to submit its reports but failed to meet the target. The Public Relations officer of the ministry, Mr. Nnaemeka Egwuonwu, disclosed in early 2013 that “the state government was working hard to tackle the problem of returning of schools. Stressing that the exercise is a gradual process, Egwuonwu added that “the government is taking its time to ensure that the schools are not returned to those that cannot run them better”.
Enquiries by Orient Daily at the Anambra state House of Assembly to ascertain the reason for inability of the state parliament to pass a new legislation that can provide legal backing to the return of the schools to their original owners revealed a new twist. Although, some officials of the ministry claim they were handicapped by the yet to be repealed military Edict used by the Eastern government to seize the schools in 1970, some lawmakers disclosed that the law passed by the state assembly in 2012 that provided for the return of schools to the missionaries also validated that of the private proprietors.
The lawmaker representing Aguata 2 constituency at the state Assembly, Hon. Ikem Uzoezie told our reporter on telephone that the handover of the schools to their owners were no longer held by lack of law reversing the Ukpabi Asika led government edict.
“We passed a law that established the handover of schools to the owners. So, there is an existing law to that effect that established the schools handover to mission schools and to the private proprietor that their names and schools were in that list” he said.
Our Visit to schools
When Orient Daily visited some of the schools in the course of its investigation, it was observed that government had renovated some classroom blocks and other facilities while many were still in a state of disrepair and others overgrown by weeds. For instance, at Basden Memorial Special Education Centre, Isulo, it was discovered that some of the dilapidated structures in the school have been renovated. Some of the classrooms, staff quarters and students library were all wearing a new look. Apart from the structures renovated by government, many structures built by Chief Awgu in the early 1960s have due to lack of maintenance with many hitherto classroom blocks now overgrown by bushes. At Holy Cross Umuawulu, about 8 buildings including staff quarters and few classrooms were renovated while other structures were uninhabitable.