By Ikechukwu Mpama
In 2019, Kogi State Government passed into law a bill “To establish The Disability Office, Guarantee and Protect the Rights of Persons Living with Disability, And Other Matters Connected Therewith.”
Section 35 of the Disability Law is dedicated to the “Right to Education” of people with disabilities in the state.
In 2020, the state government created a new budget line for “Inclusive Education (Learners with Special Needs) with the budget code 050000010146 and allocated 100 Million Naira, this was later reviewed to 50 Million Naira.
Again, 50 Million Naira was allocated for Inclusive Education in 2021. However, from 2019 to 2021 no releases were made to back the implementation of Inclusive Education (Learners with Special Needs) in the state.
A quick check on https://kogistate.gov.ng/ revealed that the actual column of how much was disbursed along each budget line showed that nothing was disbursed in 2020 and 2021.
Several visits to the state Ministry of Education to get official information on why there were no releases or disbursements failed.
A Freedom of Information request was sent to the Hon. Commissioner, Kogi State Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. To this date, no response was received, except for the acknowledged copy of the letter of request.
Background checks at the Kogi State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the State Ministry of Education revealed that there are about 6,997 pupils with special needs enrolled in Early Childhood Care and Development Education, pre-primary and primary schools in Kogi State, comprising 3,487 males and 3,510 females.
In Junior Secondary school, the enrolment figure is 2,718, made up of 1,064 males and 1,654 females.
These are not mere numbers, but thousands of disabled children spread across the state who consistently are being put at a learning disadvantage the longer schools in Kogi State remain non-inclusive.
Kogi State has five Special Needs Schools spread across the three senatorial districts.
School of the Deaf, Adavi – Kogi Central District
A visit to the School of the Deaf Zango in Adavi/Lokoja Local Government Area revealed that the school which was established in 2014 as a brain-child of Elder Mathew Omolayo Anifowose who himself is a person with hearing impairment lacked basic amenities and infrastructure such as braille, stylus, ramps, sufficient learning tables and chairs, and even magnifying glasses.
This school has 98 persons with special needs; 48 of them are pupils (21 boys, 27 girls) while 50 are students (19 boys and 31 girls).
Investigation findings showed that the school, which is a boarding school, is being run solely on the contributions of the founder’s family and the goodwill of some public-spirited individuals.
However, this assistance does not always come in and is usually grossly insufficient to adequately meet the growing needs of the school which includes the feeding of the students and the enrollment of the students in external exams among others.
Currently, about 19 of the students have been enrolled in West African Examination Council (WAEC) partly from a loan facilitated by the Principal.
The members of staff are currently not on the government payroll.
According to the management of the school, their advocacy efforts paid off as the Commissioner for Education Mr. Wemi Jones has facilitated a process that will have 2 of the 14 staff integrated into the government payroll.
In an interaction, the principal narrated that: “Several efforts to get funding support including several trips to Abuja to get the school enrolled for the National Home Grown School Feeding Program failed.
“You can see, the school has no ramp for physically challenged persons.
“The school is suffering as a result of lack of funds from the government and is barely getting by.
“As a result of the paucity of funds, we have even had to turn back 17 students this term as we lacked the capacity to take them in, more so, the school is likely to discontinue the senior secondary school soon if things do not change.
According to the coordinator, “Even when a part of the wall of the school fence gave way, I made several efforts to get the government to intervene, I was promised a thousand blocks, however, the promise was never kept, and in the process, burglars came in through that part of the fence and made away with several of the school properties.”
School of the Deaf, Mopa-Muro – Kogi West Senatorial District
Elder Mathew Omolayo Anifowose founded the school in 1999, but it was later taken over by the Mopa-Muro Local Government Council. By 2015, it had about 70 special students with a staff strength of 16.
A background check revealed that the 2016 staff screening embarked upon by the administration of Governor Yahaya Bello affected the school significantly as 15 of the 16 teachers were affected by the screening and therefore lost their job.
The finding from the screening exercise that affected the staff was certificate related, for others, it was for collecting/withdrawing of salaries from outside the State, and a few had issues with different dates in their declaration of age.
This took a serious toll on the school as the principal and founder could not immediately afford to employ more teachers to join the remaining teacher and so some students had to leave.
The coordinator of the school, Mr. Shola Anifowose recounted “The school initially had 70 students and 16 special students before the screening which affected all but one of the teachers. The remaining teacher eventually had to leave as the workload was too much for only one person to do.
“Now we only have 20 students in the school with 4 teachers.
“We had plans to move some of the students to the Lokoja branch so they don’t completely miss out on their education, however, the funds required to make that happen have delayed that till now as most of the students who dropped out are still out of school because the people we cater to are quite indigent and likewise, the alternatives where they can get the kind of education we offer are very few in the State.”
The investigation also revealed that in 2019, funding for the feeding of the students stopped and since then, the cost of feeding the students also falls on the founder of the school. He sponsors the feeding from his personal purse and any fund he is able to source from good-spirited individuals in the state.
Just like the school in Lokoja, the facility has morphed from just a school of the deaf to a school for persons with special needs, however, the facility has not been upgraded to reflect that as there is no ramp, or braille machine available in the school.
Our Lady of Schools Anyingba – Kogi East Senatorial District
Our Lady of School is a regular public school, one of the largest in the Dekina Local Government Area. It also houses the office of the Kogi East Zonal School Monitor, Mr. Matthew Omiachi.
A discreet investigation of the school revealed that it has no facilities for inclusive education. There is no sign language interpreter, no ramp for accessibility, no special education teacher on the ground, and no training had been conducted for the teachers on Inclusive Education.
Model Science Secondary School, Lokoja – Kogi West Senatorial District
This school is a model school rebuilt recently by Governor Yahaya Bello and commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 2023.
The school is well built, a 2-storey building. It has a state of the art sporting facilities such as a football field with synthetic fiber, the offices and reception have air-conditions, there are closed circuit TV cameras all over the school, and it has whiteboards. However, there are no facilities or resources to make the school inclusive.
The school has no ramp, no braille or stylus, no magnifying glass for persons with albinism, and no lift to access the first and second floors for physically challenged students.
Vice Principal 2 of the school, Mr. Yahaya Abdul disclosed that they had some students with albinism, but they are made to sit in the front roll so they could easily see the board.
Amina Audu is physically challenged. She is a Senior Secondary 1 (SS1) Student of the Model Science Secondary School, Lokoja.
She narrates her ordeal in accessing the school every day.
“It is not easy for me to go to school every day because of my condition. A bike usually takes me to school, and it is usually tough for me to get to my class from the gate. I usually have to depend on my classmates to help move me around.
“Even when it is time for practical, my classmates will also have to carry me to the lab and back”
“If my school had a ramp where people with wheelchairs can use to access the school, and also toilet facilities that people with disability can easily access and use, and if the classes, laboratories and other facilities were designed such students in my condition can easily access them either using a wheelchair, in my case, that would go a long way for me and people like me.
“It will make us feel comfortable and be a part of the system and not just as though we are some kind of different kind of students.
“Honestly, sometimes I feel discouraged to go to school because I feel as though I am being a burden to my classmates.”
This reporter also gathered that no teacher in the school has received training on special education nor is any equipped with sign language interpretation.
Crowther Memorial College, Lokoja – Kogi West Senatorial District
Here, the reporter observed that there are no facilities for inclusive education or any form of training in the school to make it inclusive.
The Vice Principal Mrs. Obaje disclosed that they do not have students with disability in the school except for one with albinism.
“The student with albinism uses treated glasses and therefore has no difficulty seeing what is written on the board.
“I know for a fact that people with disability, with the right motivation, can grow to become very important persons in society who contribute immensely to the development of the society.
“I have a physically challenged brother who today has not been limited by that disability as he is well educated and doing well for himself and the society.”
Experts Share Perspectives on Inclusive Education
Honorable Arome Daniel Ibrahim, a physically challenged person is the Chairman of the Kogi State Disability Board.
He revealed that in spite of the existence of Special Needs schools in the State, the goal is for inclusive education and not merely special education.
“Inclusive Education, in this case, implies that the students and pupils with a disability are not segregated in special schools as that would further engender discrimination and aggravate in the students a sense of isolation from the rest of the society.
“For education in the state to become inclusive, efforts must be made to ensure that the regular conventional schools are upgraded to meet the criterion of accessibility; this includes the provision of ramps (with handrails), accessible restrooms, etcetera.
“The provision of assistive technology such as braille machines and stylus, magnifying glass and sunscreens for persons with albinism, and other software and applications such as TalkBack for visually impaired students,” he narrated.
Children with disabilities or special needs who attend any of the listed schools above face large ‘disability gaps’ in learning due to systemic inequalities and poor governance.
Inclusive education is a fundamental right for all children, regardless of their abilities or disabilities as enshrined in Section 35 of the Kogi State Disability Law.
Mr. Jeremiah Joseph is an experienced facilitator of inclusive education.
According to him, mainstreaming special education will enable the curbing of discrimination in society as it will bridge the gap between society and people with special needs.
He said this will give students with disability a sense of belonging, “competing with regular students in a conventional school setting, they will come out of their shells and this will help them to do away with the issues of low self-esteem.”
He also highlighted that inclusive education will raise the awareness of society at large to the issues, communication tools, and challenges of persons with disabilities.
Mr. Jeremiah also noted that inclusive education has worked in other places and can also work in the state.
He called on the government to invest in human and capital resources to ensure that education becomes inclusive in Kogi State.
Experts say children with disabilities/special needs who have the same rights to quality inclusive education participate more actively in learning and societal development.
This publication is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.