Farmer-herder clashes force Agatu kids out of schools
The alleged clashes between farmers and herdsmen in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State have taken a toll on primary and secondary school education as most children in the affected communities no longer go to school.
A group of students were seen cutting overgrown grasses within the compound of the RCM Primary School, Aila. In front of the administrative block, the headmaster and some teachers sat on broken wooden benches discussing their plight.
The RCM Primary School appears to be one of the schools left standing in Agatu in the aftermath of the crisis between farmers and herders. This, according to the headmaster, Yakubu Damian Dennis, was because it was initially used as a camp for military personnel drafted to maintain peace in Agatu.
Although the school was said to have also come under attack in the wake of the crisis, it was not set ablaze. However, it was not completely spared as the headmaster said “the attackers broke some doors, vandalized furniture and carted away some books.”
The military personnel later relocated from the school to another location, making it possible for school activities to resume but things seem no longer the same there anymore.
Dennis said the school lost 10 weeks before resumption for the third term and the students’ population has reduced as some parents have relocated their wards to other schools presumed safer for fear of further attacks.
“Our school calendar has been disrupted by the crisis and we cannot meet the required academic performances. As you can see some of our pupils don’t even have uniforms anymore,” he said.
Shehu Daudu, the community leader of Aila, called on the relevant authorities to renovate the RCM Primary School and other schools in the communities affected by the violence to enable their children return to school.
A visit to the affected areas shows that primary and secondary school buildings that were either destroyed or set ablaze during the crisis are still standing in ruins thereby bringing school activities to a halt.
Consequently, some of the schools have been deserted and overgrown by thick grasses making them habitats for reptiles and rodents. It was gathered that some pupils of the affected schools whose parents could not afford to relocate to schools in neighbouring local government areas have either taken to farming or hawking around the streets.
At the RCM Primary School Akwu-Agatu, only the school’s signboard is left standing. The school was said to have been attacked by invading herdsmen in the wake of the crisis, who allegedly set its building aflame. A visit by our reporter shows there were no activities going on in the school as the administrative building and blocks of classrooms have been destroyed.
At the Agbaduma Community Secondary School and the Government Junior Secondary School all located in Okokolo, it was a sorry sight as both schools have been overtaken by weed. The buildings have also been reduced to rubble. The signboard at the Government Junior Secondary School could hardly be seen as it is almost buried in green grasses that have overtaken the school compound.
Etonu Peter, chairman of Okokolo Elites Forum, decried the state of primary and secondary schools in the area as a consequence of the farmers/herders crisis. “There is no more schooling in our communities because the schools have been burnt down. Our children are now scattered all over as some parents have been compelled to relocate their wards to schools elsewhere,” Peter said while calling on government to quickly rehabilitate the schools and other affected public utilities such as clinics to alleviate the suffering of the people.
A youth at Adagbo, Danjuma D. Danjuma, said, “Now that we have returned to our homes after taking refuge at the IDP camps in neighbouring local government areas, we are still living in fear even as our younger ones are no longer going to school. Government should come to our aid by rehabilitating the destroyed schools so that our younger ones can stop roaming the streets and return to schools.”
Some children in the affected communities who have taken to hawking along the streets say they were tired of staying at home and would love to return to school.
The village head of Adagbo, Ogboche James, also decried the impact of the farmers/herders conflicts on child education in the area and implored the relevant authorities to do the needful.
Governor Samuel Ortom described the situation in Agatu and other places across the state affected by the farmers/herders crisis as a huge challenge.
“Our children no longer go to school in these areas. Primary schools, hospitals, churches, houses, farms and economic trees have been destroyed. You have gone there and seen things for yourself and you can appreciate the magnitude of the destruction that has taken place.
“So we’re calling on the federal government and other good spirited individuals or groups or NGOs to come in and support the state. We are really down. The state government does not have the money to fund the rehabilitation of these people and if help does not come from the federal government and other good spirited individuals, it is going to be very difficult for our people to settle down,” Ortom said.
Burnt classroom in Government Day Junior Secondary School, Okokolo