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Success Adegor: When Free Education Is Not Free

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe writes that any post Success Adegor viral video intervention by the government that doesn’t address the issue of quality free basic education for every Nigerian child would be mere cosmetic and totally missing the point

An excited Success Adegor showing off her ACE school bag which members of the Open Fees team presented to her when they visited her and her parents in Sapele last Weekend / Photo credit: Openfees.org
An excited Success Adegor showing off her ACE school bag which members of the Open Fees team presented to her when they visited her and her parents in Sapele last Weekend / Photo credit: Openfees.org

Since the video of seven-year-old Success Adegor went viral, Nigerian celebrities have been falling over themselves to show her and the world how much we care.

One of the last images of her I saw on social media showed her holding a wad of naira notes surrounded by people.

I also learnt that a Niger Delta comedian, Jollof, has gone ahead to pay her school fees in a private school for third term, without even consulting her parents.

Her local government chairman, being your typical politician is not to be outdone. He has also paid his homage to our latest poverty porn princess and even promised scholarship up to university level, without any paper work and also vowed to repair the disgraceful structure they had all called a school before now.

I’ve also been told that the wad of notes shown in Success’ hands was his donation.

While governments at different levels continue making noise about free education, the pupils and their parents keep getting slammed with all kinds of levies that will leave them longing for tuition fees. Bus fees for children who trek to schools daily, building levy for pupils who sit under caved in roofs to learn, and even online fees in schools with no kind of Internet connection

It should all be a good thing. After all, the girl’s life is changing faster than her and any of her kith and kin could ever have imagined. It should be an amazing thing.

But is it, really? Why then does my mind keep wandering back to another amazing story that broke into our lives just three years ago?

I’m sure many of us remember Olajumoke the bread seller-turned model cum motivational speaker, and then jobless.

Yes, I’m talking about that Olajumoke, who almost became the Nigerian real-life Cinderella after she was said to have photo-bombed TY Bello’s photo shoot for Thisday Style three years ago.

Apparently, her own Cinderella story is written by a fellow Nigerian, and therefore, doesn’t look like it will end in praise.

From all indications, this fairy tale princess is about to turn into a pumpkin right before our eyes, and it’s not even midnight yet.

The mass hysteria that followed her widely publicised ‘Grass to Grace' story has evaporated and our girl seems to have been on her own for a while now.

The Nigerian government needs to pay more than its usual lip service to quality and affordable education for every Nigerian. Basic education should be the right of every Nigerian child, irrespective of the contents of the parents’ bank account

With no known skills for a sustainable income, life might likely become hard, if not even harder because, unlike her pre-fame era, she may not even have her bread hawking business to depend on.

Now, you understand my apprehension about the fate and future of seven-year-old girl Success.

I’m concerned because I know that while paying her fees is a noble initiative, she needs hand-holding even more, especially with the level of exposure her few seconds-long rant has attracted to her entire family.

How do we ensure that she won’t become a mere photo-up opportunity to be exploited and dropped once the world looks the other way?

How do we ensure that her parents and perhaps, some others don’t suddenly see her as a cash cow to be milked every dawn till she can lactate no more?

Who will monitor all these promises and ensure they do not fade away like words spoken on a Nigerian campaign trail?

Then we also need to address a fundamental concern Success has succeeded in throwing up in that video.
We all have now seen that free education in Nigeria means everything but that.

How do we ensure that she won’t become a mere photo-up opportunity to be exploited and dropped once the world looks the other way?
How do we ensure that her parents and perhaps, some others don’t suddenly see her as a cash cow to be milked every dawn till she can lactate no more?
Who will monitor all these promises and ensure they do not fade away like words spoken on a Nigerian campaign trail?

How would you justify a N12, 000 per term fees for pupil you claim is enjoying free education? But you see this grand deceit has been going on for a long time now.

It was Open Fees Educational Aid Foundation - a Nigerian non-governmental organisation that makes schools fees intervention for indigent pupils in the FCT - that has opened my eyes to the peculiar nature of Nigeria’s free public education.

While governments at different levels continue making noise about free education, the pupils and their parents keep getting slammed with all kinds of levies that will leave them longing for tuition fees.

Bus fees for children who trek to schools daily, building levy for pupils who sit under caved in roofs to learn, and even online fees in schools with no kind of Internet connection.

Now, whether those supervising these schools in the government know about those levies or is just a racket among schools and their managements is another matter.

For instance, OpenFees discovered that every SS3 pupil would need N53, 800 to be to offset all sorts of fees, including WAEC and NECO. That’s about N4, 900 monthly for parents, some of whom can barely boast of one meal daily.

As some of us had already predicted, the head teacher of Success’ school has been suspended for collecting illegal fees and the school is being renovated even as I write.

I’m almost certain too that other schools would be scrambling to clean up their acts before the hammer descends on them.

But then, it would all be our usual cosmetic props, which the first whiff of wind would blow away as soon as the memory of Success’ video fades from our memories.

The Nigerian government needs to pay more than its usual lip service to quality and affordable education for every Nigerian.

Basic education should be the right of every Nigerian child, irrespective of the contents of the parents’ bank account.

Apparently we needed a seven-year-old to bring this message home.

Written by Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe is the Editor of The Interview Abuja, has worked as a journalist in Punch Nigeria Nigeria Limited and also LEADERSHIP Newspapers where she rose to become the Editorial Director.

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