It i s no longer news that the late Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, officially launched free primary education policy in 1955, five years before Nigeria secured independence from her British colonial imperialists on October 1, 1960.
But what many may not know is that an individual had started the free primary education 10 years before the regional government under Awolowo launched its own policy. A wealthy Ibadan businessman, Chief Salami Ayinde Agbaje, who died on October 30, 1953, as Balogun of Ibadan, actually established the primary school in 1945.
The school founded 75 years ago is known as Agbaje Memorial Primary School, Ayeye, Ibadan. It is situated in the densely populated slum in the present day Ibadan North West Local Government, Oyo State. It shares vicinity with Orita-Merin, Beere, Mapo, Agbeni, Gege and Mokola. The school was later taken over by government.
A recent visit to the school, however, revealed that the facility is in a very sorry state. Apart from other things, the school lacks adequate furniture for pupils and staff, and cannot be accessed by vehicle. Visitors would have to park in front of a church and trek to the school premises.
Hoodlums take over facility
Lack of perimeter fencing of the school exposed the facility to invasion by hoodlums. Some of them have turned some classrooms to smoking joints. When this reporter walked into the premises, it was into their hands with some of them smoking and watching his movement.
The reporter explained to them his mission to assess the facilities in the school in order to draw government attention for possible intervention: “So, you are a journalist. We thought you would not greet us and you would just go into the school. We know ourselves and we have never seen your face in this place.
“We would have taken you as a thief and we would have dealt with you. We are not wicked, but we can obtain you if we want. You are free to look around and take pictures. But do not try to be smart by snapping us. Our eyes are on you till you are done.”
When the reporter was done, they also accosted him, asking for money. One of them told him to write a beautiful report on the school: “You see in this school, pupils sit on the floor for lessons. You have seen for yourself. No chairs and no tables. No desks and no benches.
“Pupils bring ‘apoti’ (sitting boxes) to school to receive lessons. Help us tell the government to do something about this school. This is where we send our children because as you are seeing us. We have no stable incomes and we cannot afford to send our children to private schools.”
There are six structures in the school. Two of the structures have not been put to use at all. They have become homes for rodents and reptiles, though they are being built with blocks.
The third structure by the right hand side on entering the school premises has four classrooms with wooden doors that were locked. The structure was retained probably to preserve the place where the first set of classrooms was built.
But the remaining three blocks of classrooms, however, were built as a result of benevolence.
The first, a storey block of 12 classrooms, was commissioned on Thursday, July 5, 1990, by the then Military Governor of old Oyo State, the late Col. Sasaenia Adedeji Oresanya (retd).
The second to the last is a block of four classrooms, built by Olufemi Idowu Josiah, who represented Ibadan North West constituency in the state House of Assembly between 2003 and 2007. The structure was commissioned by former governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, on February 14, 2006.
The last structure was built in 2009 by the Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board (OyoSUBEB) under the 2009 Federal Government of Nigeria-Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC)/OyoSUBEB Project (First Quarter) intervention programme in the primary education sub-sector.
But there is a stream that flows behind the school, which separates two communities, Ayeye and Oke-Odo Gege. River Gege behind the school has been turned to a waste dump by the communities around the place. Due to the sudden break in rainfall at the time the reporter went to the school, the water in the river was very little.
But the impact of the river could be seen glaringly on the foundation of the storey block of 12 classrooms commissioned in 1990 and the structure built in 2009 by OyoSUBEB. The impact of the river affected some portions of the foundation of the two blocks and timely intervention would save the two structures from collapsing. Since 2009, no structure has been constructed in the school.
‘Why Agbaje made education free’
This reporter also met some teachers in the school. They refused to talk, directing the reporter to the Ministry of Education. But the chairman of the governing board of the school, Mr Adedamola Apanpa, a retired school principal and historian, received the reporter with open arms. His mother was a direct daughter of the late Agbaje.
He said: “The founder of this school, the Late Balogun Salami Agbaje, established this school in 1945 as a free education primary school. It first started for his children and it was extended to the children of the neighbourhood.
“But without government providing security in form of perimeter fencing, people that have passed through this school may be skeptical about providing one thing or the other because the school needs to be renovated. And furniture items need to be provided for the pupils and the staff.
“We are appealing to government – the SUBEB, Ministry of Education, and the local government, to assist in putting up a perimeter fencing that will protect the structure in the school, not only the pupils, the staff too. We have the issue of inadequate furniture. The little items of furniture in the school are not good for the pupils and the staff.”
Apanpa stated that many products of the schools have distinguished themselves on the local and international scenes: “One of them is Mr Bisi Adegbuyi, a former Postmaster-General of NIPOST. He passed out of this school. Another product of this school is a professor of physics. Another one is a professor of medicine.
“Chief Salami Agbaje started this school for his children, not for public use. But when friends and people in the neighbourhood appealed to him to help in training their children too, he opened the school up to them. This place was not as crowded then as we have it today.
“The family is planning, at least to open up the school to the main road. We are trying to develop the family compound, and at least give access to the school to the main road. We are looking at that possibility.
“I expect to see in this school include renovation of buildings, perimeter fencing, and provision of furniture for staff and pupils. We want to appeal to the old students and lovers of education, community leaders, to assist in providing infrastructural facilities for the school.”
He said once the perimeter fencing of the school is done, miscreants would not have access to the facility again: “The stream behind the school is a line of demarcation. We call it Oke-Odo Gege and the people there own their land and their property. But once the perimeter fencing is done, there won’t be criminals, having access to the school.”
Old pupils, parents, others lament
The Education Report met with some parents, a pupil and old pupils of the school. The old pupils reminisced on their days, what it has become of the school and appealed to the government to give attention to the facility.
Pa Sullaiman Iyiola of Olodo’s Compound, Agbaje Road, Ayeye, Ibadan said: “My children just finished from the school. This school is not being giving attention from the government. No chairs and tables for pupils. Our children would have to sit on the floor.
“Based on this lack of attention, hooligans have taken over the school and sleeping there. We who live in this area could not arrest them. The school has also become a place where some people use as toilet. If you go the school, you will see faeces in many of the classrooms.
“We appeal to government to attend to the school. There is no single security man in the school. The hoodlums are doing whatever they want in the school. Apart from sleeping there, they would take women to the school for sexual romps and they also raping women.
“When my twins were in the school, on many occasions, they would not be happy to go to school because there were no chairs. I had to encourage them. In the morning, I would take two chairs to the school for them and after closing hours, I would go back to pick the chairs. I was not alone doing that because many parents were also taking chairs to the school in the morning and would return them in the evening so that the children would not sit on the floor.
“The decadence did not just start yesterday. It has been on for a long time because of lack of attention by successive governments. Also, we have observed one trend that teachers posted to this school have not been spending long time before being transferred. Possibly, the teachers have been seeking transfer, having seen the problem on ground. If you go to the staff room, the teachers too do not have enough furniture to work with.’’
Taiwo Iyiola, who just completed his primary education in the school said: “Every morning when we got to school, we would wash faeces in our classrooms before doing any other thing. The stench from the stream behind the school was another problem that we faced.
“Also, we used to sit on the floor in our classrooms because there were no chairs. But my father would bring chairs to school for me. Parents of my classmates too would bring chairs and sitting boxes (apoti) to school so that we would not sit on the floor. Government should help us.”
However, the pupils were not in school on three occasions this reporter went to the school. They were said to be on holidays as a result of COVID-19. Pupils in terminal classes preparing for Common Entrance Examination into secondary schools were also said to have been on a brief break. This reporter then went into Ayeye community in search of parents who have children in the school.
Mrs Fatimoh Iyiola has two grandchildren in the school: “I attended the school and now I am above 50 years. I have two of my grandchildren in the school. One is Akeem Azeez and the other is Monsurat.
“When I was in the school, it was not like this. But things have changed negatively for the school in terms of infrastructure. There are no chairs for our children to sit in the school. The ceiling and roof of the school are no longer things to write home about. If rain falls water would come into the class through the spoilt roof into the classes.’’
For another two old pupils of the school, Lukman Alatede, and Kazeem Oladejo, who were in the school from 1975 to 1976 and 1979 to 1985 respectively, the school needs guards and perimeter fencing for security and government should renovate it.
A teacher, who does not want his identity revealed said: “It seems the administration of Governor Seyi Makinde is ready to do something significant to renovate the school. I can say this because only in this year, officials of Ministry of Education, House of Assembly, Chairman of Ibadan North West Local Government (IBNWLG), Head of School Services in IBNWLG, and National Primary Education Commission (NPEC), Abuja, paid separate assessment visits to the school.
“The school was contacted last year by government that we would be given N4million to fix some things in the school. But we were told that we could not access the money unless we paid N400,000 counterpart funding. The school, through the assistance of old pupils and other stakeholders raised the money and gave to government. But the government through SUBEB only provided paltry sum that could not even do anything.”
Former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ibadan branch, Akeem Agbaje, is one of the grandchildren of the founder of the school.
He said the grandchildren of Agbaje have a global forum and the family has a plan to intervene and renovate the school. He believed no government would resist such move. He said former Speaker of House of Assembly, Asimiyu Alarape, is a product of the school.
Oyo SUBEB reacts
Chairman, OyoSUBEB, Dr Nureni Adeniran, in a telephone chat said he paid assessment visit to the school and was aware of the deplorable state of the facility: “Government is making arrangements to fix the school by renovating it, providing furniture for pupils and staff, and complementing it with perimeter fencing.
“Government will deploy security agencies, including the Nigeria Police, Department of State Security (DSS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) together with other security apparatus of the state to nip the menace in the bud.”
He said OyoSUBEB has fixed some schools in similar condition, adding that it would be the turn of the school as soon as possible for intervention. He explained that the school was not captured in the on-going intervention of SUBEB and the National Primary Education Commission (NPEC):
Who was Salami Agbaje?
But who was Chief Salami Agbaje? Apanpa responded: “He built his house, Alaafia mansion in 1923. He brought the engineers who built the mansion from abroad. He influenced the Ibadan City Council to build Mapo Hall in 1929. He completed his own house in 1923. The same engineers who built his house, built Mapo Hall in 1929, built Adebisi House at Idi-Ikan, built Foko and Oba Abass Aleshinloye palaces.
“He was the only person who represented the Oyo Province in the whole of the legislative council in Lagos during the time of Bourdillon Constitution up to the time of Richard Constitution. He rose to the position of Balogun of Ibadan.
He was the Chief Judge of the Customary Court in Oyo Province. He combined legislative and judicial powers. He made his breakthrough financially when he supplied all the planks that the government then used to construct railway line from Iju Agege in Lagos to Jebba. As at 1929 when Mapo Hall was built, he was said to have had £250,000 in his account.”
Pastor Adewale Agbaje of Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) within the Agbaje compound, Ayeye, is a son of Chief Salami Agbaje’s second son. He also described his grandfather as “a lover of education and he ensured that all his children were educated. He also provided free education in the school for children of his friends and his staff.
“He constructed Balogun Ibikunle Road and Sango to Akufo Road in those days purposely to open up the places. There is a place called Agbaje in Ijokodo area, my grandfather used to have his farm there.”