By Paul Olayemi
•I never removed rooftop – Hon Diden, DESOPADEC chairman
•Affected pupils study under tree, cry out to Gov Okowa
•Sapele LG boss intervenes; Sapele-Okpe community mute
PUPILS of St. Malachy Government Primary School, Sapele, Delta State, resumed after the last holiday, only to discover that some faceless persons invaded their school, dismounted the rooftop and made away with some furniture, leaving their books to the mercy of rain.
While people pointed finger at a powerful politician and Chairman, Delta State Oil Minerals-Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, Hon. Michael Diden, aka Ejele, the politician denied the allegation when contacted by NDV.
Since September 13, affected pupils sit dejectedly outside the classrooms, hoping that superior powers would intercede and restore order in the school.
Some of the helpless pupils who spoke to NDV, cried out to the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, to come to their rescue.
Thirteen-year-old Ese Imene said when they resumed, September 13, they found that the roof of their school was gone and some of the school’s furniture carted away too.
“Our books were destroyed because they were left in the rain,” the teary-eyed pupil added.
A teacher, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed: “Somebody reached out to us on the phone on the 5th of September that some men were removing the roof of the school and when we came and confronted them, they told us the Chairman of Delta State Oil Minerals-Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, sent them.”
Many inhabitants of Sapele are, however, flabbergasted over why the roof of a public school should be removed by anybody, no matter how powerful, under the facade of land ownership. They feel the state government should not look the other way on the matter.
I didn’t remove roof, bought land from Ogodo family —Diden
Contacted, DESOPADEC chair, Hon. Michael Diden, aka Ejele, who debunked the allegation, said: “How can I do that? I bought that land from the Ogodo family and I can authoritatively tell you that I did not remove the roof.”
Narrating how he bought the land from Ogodo family, he said: “When they approached me that they wanted to sell the land, I went to find out, I approached the Catholic Church, which openly told me that that place was leased to them and that the lease has expired.
They said though they are willing to buy, they do not have that kind of money to buy the whole place, so they pleaded with me to divide the land so that I will buy the other side, while they buy one part.”
The DESOPADEC chairman disclosed that other members of the family came back demanding more money from him over the same piece of land.
“They even stormed the school after I paid the cash for the land, destroying the fence, removing the goal post and other things. Ask them what I did, I approached that faction of the family and I paid them some cash again, including me mending the fence and other things that got damaged in the school compound. Why did they not see that?”
Diden maintained that other persons bought land in the area and the campaign against him was a deliberate attempt to tarnish his image.
It’s our land, not govt – Ogodo family
A prominent member of the Ogodo family, Chief Cyril Agodo, said those who kept raising voice on the land the school was built on were only whipping up sentiment into a piece of land that belong to somebody else, asking: “When did the land become a government property?
“The Catholic Church acquired the land through lease from our fathers for a period of 99 years which expired some years ago. At the expiration of the lease, Ogodo children approached the court to revert ownership of the vast land housing the school and after series of negotiations between the family and the school authority, a consensus was reached between both parties and the land was reverted to them.”
He, however, directed to Rev. Father Martins Okoro and Father Raphael Ogigbah at St Malachy Catholic Church to “ask them to provide you, NDV, a copy of the judgment on the land.”
Sapele LGA chair wades in Chairman of Sapele Local Government Area, Hon. Eugene Inoaghan, Local Education Authority LEA, Secretary and Chief Inspector of Education, CIE, Sapele, have not made public comments on the development.
Available records at the Sapele Local Education Authority show that the school was founded in 2010 after public outcry and demands from parents living in that vicinity. The LEA responded by establishing the school to serve the children resident in the area because of the long distance to other government primary schools.
A source close to Inoaghan, however, said the council boss has waded into the issue. “He is pleading with the people involved so that the children can at least have a place to learn. He spoke to Ejele and he has equally gone to see the Ogodo family on this issue, I am sure solution will come soon and it will all be fine,” the source added.
Sapele-Okpe community taciturn
Chairman, Sapele-Okpe Community, Dr. Patrick Akamuvba, declined to speak on the issue when contacted by NDV at a ceremony in Sapele. He simply retorted that he was happy about the development.
Pupils now learn under tree
NDV found that the pupils, aged between six and 14 years, who have resolved not to leave the premises, now study under trees and run for cover whenever it rains.
Parents appeal to govt
Parents who protested in the school recently, said they were directed to take their wards to other primary schools.
“We are appealing that the government should help us. The nearest public school here is along Okpe Road, which is miles away, it costs about N150 to get there and another N150 to return home. We do not have such kind of money,” one of the parents, Salivo Love, said.
“Let them provide a public school for us here, we have so many private schools around Ugbeyiyi and this one is the only public school; if this school is closed, we do not know what to do. Government should address our plight”, she pleaded.
Ejele may back down
A privileged source told NDV that Hon. Diden was open to discussions to find lasting solution to the plight of the pupils and teachers, adding: “Chairman (Hon Diden) is moved by the current situation, you know he runs a free school, he actually bought that land to accommodate his school, but I am sure he is willing to sacrifice since children are involved.”