BACKGROUND TO THIS DOCUMENTARY PHOTO REPORT:
In September, 2012, FRANCIS UMENDU ODUPUTE, an artist cum journalist with The NIGERIAN OBSERVER, a government-owned newspaper in Benin City, Edo State of Nigeria, began an investigation into an over-populated, poorly maintained and yearly-flooded primary school in a fast developing community he resides with his wife, three children and a ward. He had enrolled his ward in the densely populated public primary school - that was how he got to know more about the school’s problems and became bothered that for the 12th year running, children in this primary school had been suffering from flooding and poor sanitation, water-related diseases, over-crowding and psychological traumas, as the school and indeed their community, Evbuotubu/Iguedaiye, in Egor LGA of Edo State, was alleged to have been neglected and marginalized by successive governments of the State.
Mr. Odupute courageously published a serialized, pro-poor investigative story on the demographic, environmental and WASH situation in Evbuotubu Primary School and the community roads in The Nigerian Observer Newspapers, between 2014 and 2015. The journalist also embarked on few strategic media interfaces and dialogue with Evbuotubu community leaders and youths on the need to increase their cry to the State government.
Gradually, a once ‘docile’ community began to think and mobilize on why they must participate in their democracy beyond the polls. Consequently, on Wednesday, September 30, 2015, youths and residents of the community embarked on a peaceful protest to the Edo State House of Assembly in reaction to what they perceived as government’s insincerity and insensitivity to their community roads and school problems. The protesters petitioned the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly during the mass action.
As a result of the protest, after a House Committee investigation into the petition written to the Speaker of the House by the protesters, the Edo State House of Assembly on February 8, 2016, passed a resolution mandating the Edo State Government to immediately rehabilitate the Evbuotubu roads and by inference address the perennial flooding of the Evbuotubu Primary School. But since then nothing was done.
As the 2016 governorship election in Edo State began to draw nearer, and with few months to the end of the current Adams Oshiomhole-led government, Evbuotubu community were kicking as nothing has been said or done by the State Government on the Evbuotubu matter in compliance with the House Mandate. There were rumours that the people were planning “the mother of all protests” and were still threatening to boycott the 2016 gubernatorial election in the State billed for September 10, 2016.
Odupute followed up on his investigative reports with a photojournalism serial to graphically chronicle the ordeals of the people and reinforce public outcry on the abandoned and over populated primary school and community roads, hoping to trigger a last minute government response to the environmental and population emergency in Evbuotubu primary school and community roads. The journalist’s efforts, however, met a brick wall when his planned serial photo documentary report was killed after the first edition hit newsstands on Friday, June 3, 2016, on page 18 of The NIGERIAN OBSERVER Newspapers, under the heading: “FOTO FORCE: WASH Crisis@ Evbuotubu: Agonies of Neglected Primary School Children And Community”
Mr. Odupute was informed by some colleagues on the day of that publication that there were indications the Edo State government was embarrassed by the photo report and that management of The Nigerian Observer Newspapers was probably questioned on the “indicting” publication. Three days later, Mr. Odupute, author of the photojournalism report, received a redeployment letter from his Editor, apparently in compliance with an order from above
; consequently, the serial photo story was killed and the investigation halted. Odupute started seeking alternative media platforms to communicate and share the pains and agonies of these schoolchildren and their community, owing to man-made environmental degradation reinforced by unplanned population growth and urbanization.
Mid July, 2016, just a couple of months to the September 10, 2016 governorship election in Edo State, road rehabilitation works were suddenly noticed springing up in various parts of Benin City, including the suspended construction work on the Storm Water project of the State government in Evbuotubu. Some critics in Evbuotubu called it political road rehabilitation exercises, strategically carried out to win the people’s hearts and buy votes from the Evbuotubu electorate as usual. Some Evbuotubu people however welcomed the development and prayed the road rehabilitation work would continue after the elections plus extended to other critical parts of the highly-populated urbanizing community.
On August 2, 2016, Mr. Odupute was at the construction site along Igbinedion Road, behind Asoro Grammar School, in Evbuotubu, to see things for himself. He was told by some on-site staff of the contracting company, Hi-Tech Construction Company Limited, that the resumed Storm Water project in the area would address parts of the roads and erosion menace faced by the residents. What Odupute wasn’t told, however, was whether the project would continue, or would be on hold again for more years, after the 2016 governorship election in Edo State. Below is the killed documentary photo story:
The Evbuotubu Crisis: A Photojournalist’s Diary
(An Investigative Documentary Photo Report on Population/WASH-related Ordeals of Neglected Primary Schoolchildren and Their Community in Edo State, Nigeria) By: Francis U. Odupute
*The Hidden Cost of Urbanization/Rapid Population:
1. LOCKED IN:
Welcome to Evbuotubu, a fast urbanizing community with daily influx of new residents! Evbuotubu roads in Egor LGA, Edo State, Nigeria, are notoriously bad and environmentally degrading for obvious human factors. All roads leading to Evbuotubu Primary School, for example, are overwhelmed by flood and erosion all year round, especially from June. Over 12 years on, schoolchildren and other road users here must wade through the erosion water or search for alternative routes to their destinations.
2. WHY ARE YOU VOMITTING?
A female pupil sympathizes with her classmate who was caught vomiting, possibly due to cold, malaria or other water-borne disease at the flooded Evbuotubu Primary School. The lingering situation here negates children’s environmental rights and runs fowl of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 6 and 15 respectively.
3. GRADUALLY SUBMERGED:
Lectures in progress in wet and humid jam-packed classrooms, under the mercy of ruthless mosquitoes, snakes and water-borne diseases… This has been on for over 12 years now, with different administrations of Edo State government making promises that were never kept.
4. NO CONVENIENCE, AND NO WATER FACILITY:
Donated School latrine overtaken by flood water and weeds. To answer nature’s call, pupils engage in open defecation in nearby bushes and uncompleted buildings around the vicinity.
5. IT'S BREAK TIME:
Urination is allowed at every spot available, as the boy in the background shows. Every child brings their drinking water from home or has to buy one nearby. No source of water in the school.
6. POLLUTED AIR:
What is left of the over-populated school compound the children have to make do with for recreation, urination and eating of snacks, etc? At the far end, a man on cap is making brisk business selling ice cream to the pupils. The ground oozes out offensive smell of urine, yet every child whose biscuit or snack falls to the ground quickly picks it up and throws them into their mouth, just as the tall girl at the left side of this picture did.
7. WILD RECREATION:
Due to over population and the absence of adequate playgrounds in the unfenced school, most pupils hit the streets daily during break in search of recreational spaces to catch some fun, sometimes destroying private properties and items in the neighbourhood in the process as well as being exposed to various child abuses by some nefarious elements in the community. The ever increasing children population in the school attests to rapid birth rates in Evbuotubu community which aggravates the problems teachers and pupils face teaching and learning under an environmentally unsafe and WASH unfriendly school environment.
8. WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE, IF WE SHARE:
Meanwhile, at this journalist's residence – some 7 minutes' walk away from the flooded Evbuotubu Primary School environment - water cooperation goes on to reduce the challenges faced by some neighbours in accessing clean water. Government doesn’t provide water; so urbanization/rapid population growth in this fast developing community means more demands for scarce water, more sanitation challenges and more conflicts and fights over scarce land because too many people are in need of too few lands available for shelter and for business purposes.
9. DANGER TO CHILD HEALTH:
When the flood subsides, everywhere in Evbuotubu Primary school compound oozes out offensive and pungent odours detrimental to the environmental and psychological health of schoolchildren and teachers in this primary school. This is the front of the school premises- the only dry ground on the whole school, now also used as dump site and free-for-all urination. This dirty spot is where pupils buy and eat biscuits, ice cream, groundnuts and other snacks during break periods (see photo 6 above).
10. SNAKES ON THE PROWL:
This snake was killed after it was caught climbing a Primary 4 male pupil's leg while lecture was going on in one of the overcrowded classrooms in Evbuotubu Primary School. *NOTE: This photo was taken with phone by a teacher in the school (name withheld) and made available to this journalist. Used by permission.
Rear view of some classroom blocks in the school overtaken by weeds and flood water, from where the snake, insects and rodents enter the crowded classes to distract and discomfort schoolchildren and teachers. *Environment-Population-Development Nexus: the tragedy of leadership
12. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT:
A cross section of Evbuotubu community people in a meeting involving this journalist inside the community Town Hall, on June 13, 2014. Between 2013 and 2015, this journalist repeatedly interfaced with Evbuotubu/Iguedaeyi community leadership and members on the deteriorating health and learning condition of schoolchildren in over-populated Evbuotubu Primary School occasioned by erosion and bad roads, and the way forward. He educated the community leaders on the need to increase communal self-help efforts in the school as well as to keep crying out to the government through the mass media and other public platforms.
13. ‘SAVE OUR SOULS’ APPEAL:
The Evbuotubu/Iguedaeyi CDA chairman, Mr. Sunny Evbuomwan (left), flanked by his vice, Mr. Isaiah Eghobamien, and another executive member, on June 13, 2014, during one of the meetings/dialogues with this journalist. Mr. Eghobamien, on behalf of the chairman and the house, appealed to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Edo State Governor to, as a matter of emergency, keep the electioneering promises he made to their community during the 2012 gubernatorial election in Edo State.
14. POPULATION INCREASE, LAND GRABS AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:
This road leads straight to the primary school and carries much flood to the school premises. Population increase or rampant influx of people into Evbuotubu/Iguedaeyi community has resulted in indiscriminate land speculations, land grabs, land litigations and rapid erection of new buildings to meet residential and commercial needs, most times without proper environmental impact assessment, thereby causing more erosion problems and poorer sanitation in the area. The Evbuotubu/Iguedaeyi CDA leadership has often been accused by residents of weak leadership in land management of this biggest ward (Ward 1) in Egor local Government Area.
15. IN BAD SHAPE:
Igbinedion Road, the only surviving access road to and from Evbuotubu Community left unattended too. Productive economic and social activities are precluded in Evbuotubu as there are no more access roads for the large population of farmers and traders to bring in their foodstuff and goods for trade. There is, however, the usual epileptic electricity supply to the community, which frustrates many businesses here. But who cares?
16. CAVING IN:
Gradually, Igbinedion road is giving way – just like some other roads leading in and out of Evbuotubu community. Through communal efforts, some of the roads have been sand-filled and graded severally by the community people, but erosions always render these efforts useless. Flood waters from other axis of Benin City find their routes through Evbuotubu, destroying all access roads, including flooding of the Primary school.
17. NO BUSINESS:
This is the popular Evbuotubu market (with the town Hall at the far right). Erosion has crippled effective business transactions by tax payers in this area for many years.
18. DRY SEASON:
Evbuotubu Primary School compound in February, 2015, as pupils on break savour the brief dry and relatively clean environment free from the usual erosion and pungent flood water.
19. BEFORE THE FLOOD COMES:
Evbuotubu Primary School pupils playing long jump on February 19, 2015, during break. In the next couple of months all the areas will be covered with erosion/flood water, tall grasses, etc. And the kids must take to the streets in search of fun and recreation, unchecked, unrestrained.
20. ROAD CLOSED:
The access road into Evbuotubu/Iguedaeyi community barricaded at the entrance to the Town Hall on Wednesday, September 30, 2015. Vehicular movements and commercial activities were suspended for not less than 10 hours that day…
*SHOWDOWN TIME: Evbuotubu Kicks at last…
21. PUSHED TO THE WALL:
Evbuotubu youths mobilize on September 30, 2015, for a mass action to air their grievances against the Edo State Government.
22. “…we no go gree o…. we no go gree… EMPTY PROMISES, we no go gree….”:
Evbuotubu/Iguedaeyi youths chanted on their way to the city Centre on September 30, 2015 in Benin City, on a peaceful demonstration. Men and officers of the Nigeria Police force followed closely behind them, apparently to forestall any breakdown of law and order in the process of the demonstration. The demonstrators displayed various placards and banners, some of which read, “Evbuotubu roads- a menace to our business and development”; “Fix Evbuotubu roads today or no votes”; “We have been marginalized for too long”; “ We feel abandoned, rejected and neglected”; “Protest for the reconstruction of Evbuotubu/Owina road”; “No roads, no votes”; “Evbuotubu roads have brought us hardship”; etc.
On arrival at the King Square, the protesters march towards the House of Assembly at King Square, Benin City, creating a heavy traffic jam and paralyzing economic activities in the area.
On getting to the State House of Assembly, the protesting crowds tried to force their way into the House of Assembly complex after their demands to see the Speaker, Hon. Victor Edoror, were turned down by security officers. But heavily armed police men and other security operatives at the House of Assembly skillfully put the raging youths at bay as the protesters continued to press their way into the Assembly main gate, chanting solidarity songs and insisting that the Speaker must hear their petition.
25. “CALM DOWN PLEASE!”
Prince Austine Ogbeiwi, the youth secretary of Evbuotubu/Iguedaeyi community, begs his people as policemen and other security operatives force the protesters away from entering the House of Assembly complex.
Some youths among the protesters were helping the police to control the crowd.
A woman yells at the top of her voice: “…we won’t vote in the next election, if government doesn’t answer us! ...”
“All we are saying …give us good roads!!!” the protesters sing in front of the Edo State House of Assembly.
29. HOW THEY FEEL:
…abandoned, rejected, neglected.
30. BACK OFF:
Police and other security agents battling to push back the protesting youths away from the House of Assembly entrance.
31. UNITED IN ANGER:
“… It seems like we are not a part of Edo State, and definitely we all, we are one. You see, those farmers in the villages around cannot bring food to town because of bad road. The road is our major problem we are facing. Just a look to the Primary School now, no pupil in the primary school again. The flood and erosion have taken over the school. We want the Government to come to our aid. We beg Oshiomhole to come and do this road for us. He should consider the large number of people suffering in Evbuotubu…” Mr. Austine Enoghayin, one of the protesters said.
Mr. Ikponmwosa Ugiagbe, who introduced himself as the leader of “Movement for Better Tomorrow”, one of the protesting groups, said “… we will continue to protest until government listens to us. We had to meet all the adjoining communities in order to mobilize for this mass action you are seeing today…we don’t have roads, no adjoining roads- that is why we are protesting to the State Government and the House of Assembly. We want government to fix our roads properly, especially the Owina-Evbuotubu road.”
A journalist notes some points amid random voices and comments from the protesters.
“What is the problem?” a female journalist from a local television station asked the crowd. The women and others chorused the answer, “We need road, we need light, and we need school; we need road and light…” “In which place?” another journalist chipped in. “Evbuotubu” the crowd chorused. “In Evbuotubu, no road, no light, no school, no hospital, no maternity…our children are suffering” they continued.
“What pains us most is that when he was campaigning, he stood on a stage at the Town Hall and asked if we wanted the drainage [referring to the ongoing “STORM WATER PROJECT”] to be an abandoned project. We said “no” and he promised to complete it if he wins. He went to our Primary School, carried some of our children on his body and said it’s not good for children to be in that school. He promised to solve the school problem if he wins. We all came out during election and voted for Oshiomhole. Now, no result; no road, no school, no light, nothing… We beg Oshiomhole to keep his promises. Out of three things, at least he should do one before leaving office soon - the school or the roads or light. He should pity our helpless children whose mothers have no money for private schools”, Mrs. Agbozee, one of the protesters, narrated.
35. POINT BLANK:
“…enough is enough,” the protesters say.
“Whatever sin our community has committed, forgive us…End this menace, we beg you, Comrade Governor” one of the protesters pleaded.
“We want to see Mr. Speaker…we must see the Speaker…” the protesting youths insisted in front of the entrance gate to the State House of Assembly.
“Please, please, please…We must maintain peace here”, the police insisted.
39. ROAD CLOSED:
Meanwhile, some of the protesters shut down the Ring road at the King Square, the nerve center of the State capital for over three hours. Vehicular movements and commercial activities were on hold for several hours.
40. CIVIL DISOBEDIIENCE:
Some of the protesting youths turned the King Square into a “FOOTBALL FIELD” of sorts in defiance of police order, several hours before they all trooped to the Government House in G.R.A, where they demanded in vain to see the State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, face to face.
41. EBUOTUBU ROAD:
News broadcast on the Edo State House of Assembly mandate for a reconstruction by the Edo State Government, was televised on Monday night, February 8, 2016, and published in the newspapers the following day. However, 6 months on, no help has come yet from the State Government. The decade-long sufferings continue unabated, especially for the over populated Evbuotubu Primary School children.
42. Killed Story:
The published investigative documentary photo report on Evbuotubu, after the photojournalism series debuted on page 18, of The NIGERIAN OBSERVER Newspapers of June 3, 2016. The photo story was killed because it was rumoured that Edo State Government was embarrassed by the publication; and the following week, the author, Francis Odupute, received a letter of redeployment from the Editor of the newspapers, apparently on orders from above. *Construct the Roads and… “Count the Votes”:
43. ELECTION BONUSES?
As the gubernatorial election draws nearer and near in Edo State, many roads and streets are being reconstructed, rehabilitated and graded. Between mid-July and August 2, 2016, Evbuotubu residents noticed some rehabilitation work along Igbinedion Road. The people began to ask questions. “Why now?” Some rejoiced that the Edo State Government has finally remembered Evbuotubu, but others argued that it was an election strategy…for September 10, 2016.
Evbuotubu/Iguedaiye community is the Ward - the largest ward in Egor Local Government. Albeit so much human population in this ward is a key factor to the environmental degradation in the area, this demographic statistics is very critical to the number of votes accruable from here during elections.
44. PALLIATIVE MEASURE:
The gully dividing Igbinedion Road, Evbuotubu is now finally being filled up with gravel on August 2, 2016. (See/Compare with photos 15 and 16 above)
Two boys watch curiously as the construction work progresses near Asoro Grammar School compound, in Evbuotubu.
An expatriate supervises the excavation and construction work on site…just behind Asoro Grammar School, Evbuotubu.
47. STORM WATER PROJECT:
Staff of Hi-Tech Construction Company Limited, upon request, told this journalist they were back on site in continuation of the Storm Water project of the Edo State Government. The storm water project which traverses Evbuotubu and its environs, has been on hold for some two years now. The Government has assured Edo citizens that when completed, the storm water project would ultimately take care of the Evbuotubu/Iguedaiye population, their flooding and erosion crisis as well as other affected communities in Benin City.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
* FRANCIS UMENDU ODUPUTE is the chairman, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Journalists Network Nigeria, Edo State chapter, the coordinator of Graphic Reporters Global Media Network cum Cartoon Africa International Biennial: (www.cartoonafricabienniel.org), and the president of Beautiful Feet International (BFI) ministry: http://www.mediabfi.blogspot.com