By Atayi Babs
Earlier in the year 2008, the Education Committee of Project IGALA had taken the pains to go round 19 communities in Igala land whose sons and daughters had indicated interest to support the Committee’s plan to award scholarships to orphans and less privileged children in Igala land.
Initially, it sounded quite bogus and ambitious a plan as many thought that the committee was biting more than it could actually chew, putting into consideration, the online nature of the organisation, Project IGALA and the herculean task of mobilising people and resources to implement a scheme of such gargantuan proportions.
With an uncommon apostolic zest and sheer determination to succeed where others have apparently failed in the past, the Education Committee, under the cerebral leadership of its INDEFATIGABLE Chairman, Hon. David Inifu Abutu, justified the confidence earlier reposed on it with particular regards to project conceptualisation and implementation. With logistics concluded and all approvals gotten from the necessary quarters, the stage seemed set for an adventurous yuletide holidays.
I landed Abuja to the cool embrace of the Saharan harmattan and after a few days with friends and family in the capital city, I set sail to Igala land en route Lokoja-Ganaja-Ajaokuta. Wao, What a road it was! The road blew no saxophone of it notoriety at all. The Governor, I am reliably informed, traverses this road almost every fortnight, comfortably ensconced in a coterie of bullet-proof sport utility vehicles (SUVs), waving in sanctimonious triumph to an unhappy people whose houses and feudal patrimony have been ‘pancaked’ by the red-sand dust emitting from the state owned Iga-Anaja road.
My informant went down memory lane to regale me with stories of how the road was first constructed by Ex-Gov Audu under his first coming in 1992 and how by his second coming in 1999, the road had drifted into a terrible state of dysfunctionality. Audu had cause to fix the road once more by awarding the contract for the rehabilitation of the road to one of his bosom allies, ASTA Nig Ltd (popularly referred to as Julius Berger of Kogi state then).
Shortly after Gov Ibro took over the reins of power in 2003, the same road became a living nightmare to its users as every brief usage of the road automatically mandates a visit to the mechanic shop. Gov Ibro quickly had to fix this road once again under the supervision of his then Photographer-turned-Commissioner for Works, Alh. Abdullahi Passport.
Many heaved a sigh of relief (albeit momentarily) and saw it as a masterstroke for the 2007 elections. And now we are here again barely two years after 2007 and the road has returned to its usual state of user unfriendliness. An enquiry about what happened to the over N7.5 billion appropriated for road construction in the 2007 budget by the Ibro Government which I personally monitored over the radio at home in December 2006 saw my informant pointing to an uncompleted, sand-filled and still ongoing Idah-Okpachala-Ajegwu road which aspires to link Idah with Itobe within a record 35 minutes.
My informant believes that it is either the Lokoja-Iganaja road is irredeemably jinxed or some saboteurs are behind the woes of this all-important road. Methinks otherwise.
Arrived Igala land finally on 26th December 2008 and joined other members of the Project IGALA team, thus signalling the commencement of an 8-day adventure in selfless service.
For this petit and sleepy community that is safely tucked between Ejule and Ochadamu, the idea of a non-governmental organisation coming to its assistance, after decades of serious governmental abdication of its educational responsibilities to the area, sounded rather unusual but wonderful.
The only functional primary school in the community happen to be the LGEA Primary School Okele. A visit to this school,
which boasts of five red-earth mud blocks of classrooms, revealed two of these mud blocks in varying stages of disrepair, awaiting total collapse by the next fall. One of the standing blocks adjoins the office of the Headmaster, which was under lock, and key, yet termites were busy chewing away the wooden door and the only window of the decrepit room that shields the number 1 officer of the school from the elements. The extent of intellectual buoyancy and scholastic dexterity that can be invoked in such a milieu is best imagined.
One after the other, the very appreciative beneficiaries, twenty in number, streamed out to receive their tokens. The Igago and the leaders of the community just couldn’t believe what was unfolding in their eyes until the Education Committee Chairman briefed them about how one of their sons (who remains up to this day, anonymous to them) who love them so much directed Project IGALA to their doorsteps. The brief event was rounded up with a very funny performance by Agana Okele (masquerade) who brought a message for us from the ancestors – that the ancestors are broke! When asked if the global economic meltdown was also affecting the ancestors, it simply switched into an esoteric chant, which reminded me of those asthmatic baboons in rain forests.
The evening disbursement, which was supposed to be at Ejule, was shifted to the following day by our hosts who needed more time to finalise their arrangements. The postponement afforded the team, an opportunity to honour an invitation by Col. Usman (rtd) at his Anyigba country home. At the brief visit which later turned into a steaming question and answering session with questions flying in from all directions, in no direction, from the legion of well-wishers and hangers-on who thronged the Colonel’s home for some yuletide handouts.
Their questions, counsels and commendations all centred on ensuring that Project IGALA does not shoot itself in the leg in its quest to offer a solid but unique platform for trumpeting and translating the dream of Igala renaissance into manifest realities in all the villages. Of particular interest to the army of malleable youths there was the possibility of obtaining university/polytechnic admissions through the instrumentality of Project IGALA‘s extensive contacts.
According to them, gaining admission into Nigeria’s over 70 universities, even with their good grades, has continued to remain an uphill task for them and their peasant parents basically because university admission still remains a privilege, and not a right in Nigeria, notwithstanding the establishment of the Kogi State University. The Moderator was able to calm frayed nerves with a promise to look into ways of maximising the organisations’ contacts within the nation’s university system for the benefit of our deserving brothers and sisters who are currently hamstrung by the Nigerian system, which rewards nepotism over and above merit.
The highly enlightening, albeit impromptu Q&A session came to a convivial end with the amiable retired Colonel, Security Consultant and Executive Director of Igala Historical Foundation (who acted as the compère for the event) picking a statement of interest form to join Project IGALA while remarking jocularly that Project IGALA’s pseudonym, Igala Advancement Foundation made the CAC to turn down his foundation’s initial application for registration.
The next day saw us strolling into the warm embrace of the Ogohi Ejule, HRH Akwu Obaje who spared no cost in hosting us and ensuring a smooth disbursement exercise. As early as 9am, parents, chiefs and 50 beneficiaries from about 5 different schools in and around Ejule had gathered anxiously at PRAMCO Royal Suites, venue of the disbursement.
Among dignitaries present was Dr. Rosemary Abdullahi, former Sole Administrator of Olamoboro LGC and currently a Director with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Abuja who lauded the Project IGALA initiative and promptly filled and submitted the statement of interest form to join Project IGALA as well as signed up for the Project IGALA Sponsor-A-Class Scheme by pledging to pay the school fees and provide books and other educational materials to pupils/students of any school adopted by Project IGALA. She added that if all other pan-igala bodies had toed the path of empowering the future through education as Project IGALA has elected to do, the el dorado would have since arrived on the shores of Igala land.
The Ogohi Ejule, HRH Obaje expressed profound thanks and appreciation to Project IGALA for coming at a time so auspicious in the life of Ejule, a period when thuggery and bad politics have conspired to rob Ejule of a brighter, rewarding future by rendering many families despondent and bereft of their breadwinners. Education, he said, has become a luxury for such families in Ejule whose number keep rising like Nigeria’s inflationary trend. He further stated that he has six of such orphans under his care at the moment whose educational responsibilities he has vowed to bear and that he was careful not to add their names to the list of beneficiaries for Project IGALA not because he considers himself wealthy but for transparency sake and the need to ensure that the Project IGALA scheme affects the downtrodden of the downtrodden.
Particularly touching is the story of one of the beneficiaries who revealed that he lost his dad to untimely death and his mom later followed suit shortly after, leaving him with no option than to stay with his peasant uncle who had three of his own children in the same school with him. After a particular term that he performed brilliantly more than his Uncle’s children, the Uncle made him to understand that he will henceforth pay his school fees of N1, 500 per annum by going to the farm very early in the morning to gather firewood, hawk same around Ejule and pay his way through school with the little gains emanating therefrom.
This, he confessed, he did last term and couldn’t raise the N500 for the last term in 2008 which meant that his returning to school in 2009 was a confirmed impossibility until Project IGALA came along with this lifeline! Before you wonder how much N1, 500 is, ask why our Government cannot make primary and post-primary education free in our state in an age where states in western Nigeria have not only been enjoying such since 2nd republic but have gone further to feeding the pupils in state owned schools twice weekly as a way of engendering continued interest in education. Even our nearby central state of Nasarawa under the leadership of Abdullahi Ademu began the free meal scheme of primary school pupils in the state since 2005!
Another pathetic Ejule story came from Mr. Paul Ali Idachaba (JP) who openly appealed to Project IGALA to assist BECKY IDACHABA MEMORIAL NURSERY & PRIMARY SCHOOL/ORPHANAGE, an institution he single-handedly established in 1993 for the purpose of training the orphans, disabled and less privileged children. According to him, the school, which is Government approved, graduated its 10th set on the 27th July 2008 and has fully moved to its permanent site with a newly established JSS1 Class.
He further added the school is the only institution that caters for children with disabilities in the entire old Idah division and that several attempts to curry Government assistance have been futile. The Proprietor believes that Project IGALA can assist the school through the sponsorship of a class, provision of materials for special education, donation of writing materials, scholarships for the disabled orphans, uniforms, e.t.c. In response, Project IGALA promised to look into his request within the shortest possible.
Ejule disbursements came to an end with prayers and heart-felt expression of appreciation from the beneficiaries and their parents while the Ogohi and two Community Leaders were decorated with Project IGALA tags, which they promised to wear proudly, and continually until all their sons and daughters join Project IGALA.
To be continued