Recurrent ethno-religious conflicts in the capital of Nigeria's Plateau State have been detrimental to its institutes of learning. The incessant violence wrought by Boko Haram has compelled masses of students to withdraw from schools - for fear of their lives. The low turnout rates mean schools cannot generate enough revenue, sending many teachers to seek alternative employment or suffer economic hardship. Our local correspondent reports from the hollow halls of a secondary school in northern Jos.
The classrooms are empty. The grass is overgrown. In fact, the premises of the University of Jos Demonstration Secondary School are completely deserted. This is hardly how the day school was a few years ago. Then it was full of life. Students could be found attentively receiving lectures from their teachers or frolicking at break time.
"I used to enjoy being a student of this school but, unfortunately, recently some of the teachers have left," says Ruth Meemo, who is in her senior class four. "We don't have enough teachers, so most times we're idle. Students come to school anytime and leave anytime they feel like."
Asked whether she will continue at the school, Meemo says: "I would have loved to stay with the hope that things will soon get better, but my parents have already applied for another school in Makurdi, [where] I'll resume next term."
University of Jos Demonstration Secondary School was established by the university's governing council in October 1983. Before the armed conflict between the predominantly Christian indigenous population and the mostly Muslim Hausa-Fulani settler population that erupted in September 2001, it had over a thousand students. With the recurrence of ethno-religious violence, the population of the school dwindled over the years as people moved to areas deemed safer. Today, there are only about 100 students.
"I had to withdraw my two children and enrol them in another school nearer home," says Miriam Daboer. "Every time there is an unrest, my husband and I will be so disturbed about how our children will get home. [A] few months ago when there was fighting in town, my husband had to risk his life by driving all the way to the school to get the kids. He would have been killed on the way if not for some soldiers who saved him from a mob."
She is what finally convinced Daboer to move her children to a school in the Christian-dominated Eto Baba area of Jos North.
The school, which was meant to be financially self-sustaining, may close soon due to lack of funds. That decision could be taken within a few months at the next university council meeting.
Threat of unemployment
Although parents should be able to find alternative schools in which to enrol their children, many young teachers will be rendered jobless.
Teacher Hannah Bindul is married with two kids. Her husband's meagre salary as a civil servant cannot cover their family needs. The 29 year old has since applied for employment with the state's ministry of education and two other private organizations, but has yet to receive any affirmative responses.
"We have not been paid salaries for a year," says Bindu. She has worked at the secondary school for five years, though soon hopes to find a new workplace. "I'll leave once I find another job. I love teaching here, but I can't continue like this because I have responsibilities to take care of."
Her colleague Peter Kishak is similarly concerned. "I have been doing odd jobs just to survive because I've not been paid for a long time," says the 25-year old teacher. "The crisis and the attendant insecurity have caused many parents to withdraw their children so the school can't generate the needed revenue to pay its staff. However, I'm going to stay, but if nothing positive happens by the end of this year, I'll leave."
Kishak adds: "It is going to be very sad if the school closes because getting a new job at this time in this country is very difficult."