Bayelsa State is one of the states in Nigeria that are worst hit by the raging floods that devastated many parts of the country.
The sad development has led to the destruction of buildings, farmland and other means of livelihood of the riverine and estuarine settlements in the state, leaving in its trail sorrow, despair and tears.
It was estimated that about 70 per cent of the communities in the oil-rich state with a land mass of 4,159 square miles was submerged by the flood. The severity of the disaster was so massive that some of the communities have been cut off from others by the rising flood level, which got to window and lintel levels of many affected buildings.
No local government area in the state has been spared.
From Otuoke, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s country home, to Toru Orua, Governor Seriake Dickson’s community in Sagbama, as well as many other communities in the state, the flood has done a lot of damage.
Also, many schools in the state were affected by the flooding, a development that prompted the state government to close down all schools, including tertiary institutions until further notice.
But the closure of schools in the state has brought about its own problems with pupils lamenting the time being wasted and private school owners counting their losses.
However, it is not all gloom as those running private lesson centres have been laughing all the way to the bank.
Students take to fishing, farming, trading to while away time
For instance, a teacher with a private school in Yenagoa, who gave his name only as Amara, said the closure of schools had given her and her colleagues a cause for concern.
She said that though her school was not affected by the flooding, she, her colleagues and pupils in the school were also affected by the government’s directive.
Amara noted that some of the pupils in her school, in a bid to check boredom, had resorted to farming and fishing.
She said, “You can’t blame them. What do you expect them to do? Those of them who do not want to be idling away their time have decided to do some other things. I have it on good authority that some pupils have taken to farming while others have been fishing.
“It is only the lazy ones among them that are playing football and engaging in other things to while away their time.
“Yet, others have decided to attend lessons organised by private teachers in some select places. Now that the flood is receding in some affected schools, I will advise the relevant authorities to reopen the schools for the sake of the pupils.”
She regretted that the longer the schools remained shut, the more their woes were compounded, stressing private school teachers would not get their salaries during such periods.
Noting that some private schools had secretly opened for business due to the development, Amara said that in such a situation, pupils were made to wear mufti to disguise.
“Yes, though the schools have been shut down, some private schools are opened. What happens is that the school lessons close by 12pm instead of 3pm.
“In such a situation, in order to cajole the authorities, the pupils do not wear school uniforms. Instead, they wear mufti. As I speak, most private schools are still in session without the knowledge of the government or its officials because of the way they have been conducting themselves.
“Though personally, I have been staying at home since the closure about six academic weeks ago. If the situation persists, I will be left with no choice but to look for home tutorial or join private centres that have been organising coaching classes for pupils,” she said.
Also, a teacher in another private school, Ebi Wright, said the closure of schools by the government had dealt a devastating blow to both teachers and pupils alike.
According to him, teachers fear that their salaries might not be paid for the period that schools were shut down.
He said that his fear was informed by past experiences whereby the authorities of private schools failed to pay their teachers their full emoluments for no fault of their own.
He said, “I am happy the floodwater is receding. It should do so quickly so that we can return to school. That way, we won’t lose so much money. As the closure lingers, it is not doing us any good. The government should reopen the schools so that we can go back.
“I will also urge the government to always be proactive to avoid this kind of situation in future. I believe that if the drains are cleared into the natural canals which abound in the state, the situation we are currently confronting will be a thing of the past. There should also be sanction for people who block the drainage channels in the state. The defaulters are part of the problems we are experiencing at the moment.”
Another teacher in Mount Olivette Christ International School, Azikoro Road, Ekeki, in Yenagoa metropolis, said that since the government closed all schools in the state, they had not been going to school.
The teacher, who craved anonymity because of fear of persecution, said that their school had been closed since October 2, 2018, after the Independence Day celebration.
He said, “The teachers and the pupils are already tired of staying at home. We are eager to resume school as the flood has receded in our school. The only thing we are experiencing in the school is that it is still marshy. It is my view that if the sun continues to shine, the place will get dry. So, as it is now, we are more than ready to resume.”
On what he has been doing since the incident, he said that he had been managing to eke out a living by organising private lessons with his colleagues.
On what some pupils had been doing with their time since the schools were shut down by the state government, he said that some pupils who could not afford private lessons had resorted to perfecting their fishing skills with their parents, while others had been accompanying their parents to farms, among other activities.
He stated, “I don’t like to be idle. When schools were closed down because of the flood that ravaged most parts of the state, I stayed at home for some time. But when it became obvious that the situation might be prolonged, I joined my friends to organise private lessons, at least to deal with boredom and make some money.
“It is usually the practice in many private schools not to pay teachers during holidays and situations like we have at the moment. So, I decided to engage in some productive activities to keep afloat.”
Also, a secondary school teacher in public school, who gave his name simply as Oyinemi, said it had been frustrating staying at home idle, adding that since almost everywhere was flooded, fishing had become the norm for many people, including pupils.
“Those in the local areas have indeed taken to fishing to make quick money. The flood was so massive that one can fish anywhere. You do not have to go to the river since the flood has created artificial river in most localities.
“What do you expect the pupils to do since the schools are not open? So, it is all about fishing. I know of some pupils who described the flood as a blessing in disguise. They said that since the flood hit the state, they have caught a good number of fish and made a substantial amount of money from that.”
A 400-level student of Medicine and Surgery at the Niger Delta University, Amassoma, Hilda Esesi, whose school was heavily flooded, said she had been helping her mother in her restaurant in Yenagoa to sell food and drinks, instead of whiling away her time at home.
She, however, said she had not been enjoying the situation. For her, it is time to return to school, especially as her school has been lagging behind other schools as regards the academic calendar.
Hilda said, “This flooding is pushing us further backward because it is also extending our academic calendar.
“According to the academic calendar, we are supposed to be rounding off this level by December but due to the situation, many students have yet to commence their second semester lectures.
“No doubt, the situation will further prolong our stay in school. The final year students ought to be planning to proceed on the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps programme but due to the situation, everything will be prolonged and delayed.”
The closure is sickening – Parents
Some of the parents who bared their minds on the closure of the schools described the situation as sickening.
They agreed that the government took the action in the overall interest of the people of the state; however, they described having their children and wards at home when they are supposed to be in school as painful.
Stressing that the situation was taking its toll on their children’s future plans and aspirations, they noted that as an example, some female students had been living wayward lives, while their male counterparts had been indulging in social vices.
A parent, Patience Gbon, said that her undergraduate daughter was supposed to be rounding off her fourth year in school but because of the flooding, she had been at home doing nothing.
“No parent can be happy with the development. It is sad and sickening. I am not happy that my daughter is at home. We sent her to school to pursue her education and not to be at home.
“I think the situation will make the government to be more proactive in the future. To avoid a repeat of this kind of situation, the government is advised to take the clearing of drains more seriously,” she said.
Another parent, Mr. John Carpenter, said the situation had given him “a serious headache”, adding that he was desperate to see his children return to school.
We’re not in a hurry to reopen shut schools – Dickson
As parents and pupils clamour for the reopening of the closed schools, Governor Dickson had said that the government was not in a hurry to reopen the schools.
According to him, when the flood submerged about 70 per cent of the state, including some schools, the government felt that shutting down schools was the best alternative in the circumstance to ensure the safety and well-being of pupils.
He said there was an ongoing assessment led by the Commissioner for Education and his team, noting that they were assessing and reporting daily to him on the situation.
“We have also received the reports of the snakebites and anti-venoms; we have had cases of snakes, reptile and other wild animals having no place to stay and therefore perambulating. The floods have created all kinds of scenarios with danger all around. The medical team is handling all the cases and taking care of all the reports and deficiencies,” he had said.
The governor also noted that many citizens of the state were not adhering to development control regulations, saying that the situation had led to the blocking of drainage channels in the state.
He said he was so worried about the development that he had to supervise the demolition of some houses that were being built indiscriminately.
Source: Punch Newspaper