Shocker! Ibadan communities where children boycott school to avoid soldiers’ bullets
After several visits to the affected areas, The Punch, among other things, gives a reverting account of how education has been disrupted, fueling fears that it might add to the state’s out-of-school children and Nigeria’s ballooning index.
All his life, nine-year-old Timilehin Malomo, has lived with foreboding fears of being hit by freshly fired bullets from firearms during shooting exercises carried out by the Nigerian Army.
His apprehension and that of his parents made him constantly miss school to stay alive.
For them, life is too precious to be sacrificed for education, and this need for survival has impacted negatively on his academic performance.
She also wasted no time to blame his not-too-encouraging academic performance on absenteeism from school since they moved to Ajobo community.
“We moved to this area three years ago. Before then, Timilehin was doing well in his former school. Here, I can’t allow him to attend school every day so that he won’t be hit by a bullet. The shooting scares me. Will I say it is because of school that I lost my son?” she asked.
Abike said she had lost count of how many times her son had missed classes, but was certain that it was more than half of school days in a term.
“In a week, I can keep him at home for three days. Some weeks, he won’t go at all. Most parents have withdrawn their children from school completely,” she added.
Timilehin’s predicament is a vivid representation of the plight of many children in several communities in the Akinyele Local Government Area of Oyo State, who are marooned at home and systematically denied the right to basic education due to the danger posed to their lives by a shooting range inside the Headquarters 2 Division of the Nigerian Army, also known as Odogbo Barracks.
A boost to out-of-school children
Second Division is in close proximity to several communities such as Ajobo Omilabu, Bolaa, Idi-Omo and Oluseyi, which have an estimated population of over 15,000 residents, among them children of school age.
Based on PUNCH Investigations’ findings, a handful of the children attend school regularly, while many stay at home.
This situation seemed to have given a subtle boost to the increasing number of out-of-school children within the state and in extension, Nigeria.
Out-of-school children index
The 2018 National Personnel Audit Report on public and private basic education schools in Nigeria, released by the Universal Basic Education Commission, showed that Oyo State has 418,900 out-of-school children, which represents 20 per cent of the total population of children eligible for school in the state.
According to the United Nations Children Fund, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children can be found in Nigeria.
This is even as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, in its latest global data, noted that presently, Nigeria has about 20 million out-of-school children.
UNESCO revealed that there are 244 million children and youth between the ages of six and 18 worldwide, who are still out of school, adding that India, Nigeria and Pakistan have the highest figures globally. The figure in Nigeria was noted to be between 10.5 and 13.5 million.
Siting of barracks
According to the Nigerian Army’s website, the Headquarters 2 Division, otherwise known as Odogbo Barracks was established during the Nigerian Civil war.
The Nigerian Army explained that it was charged with securing its Area of Responsibility, covering the South Western flank of the country and also ensuring that the borders located in its AOR are secured.
It stated that the division is a mechanised infantry with affiliated combat support and combat service support units, hence, soldiers in barracks usually conduct shooting range exercises to develop accuracy in shooting.
According to Wikipedia, shooting range, firing range, gun range or shooting ground is a specialised facility, venue or field designed specifically for firearm usage qualifications, training, practice or competitions.
However, based on graphic narratives, the shooting exercises, which are allegedly carried out without notice, have become detrimental to the wellbeing of residents in surrounding communities.
When our correspondent first visited Ajobo community on Tuesday, September 22, a handful of adults were seen on the streets and they moved about with trepidation.
Our correspondent learnt that children are compelled to stay indoors as a precautionary step to shield them from a volley of stray bullets that can rain on the community without warning.
The destruction of residents’ property by stray bullets from the shooting range has, in the past, been reported.
A community leader in the community, Jimoh Adewuyi alleged that the sustained shootings had destroyed several properties.
He said, “Churches and mosques in this area are not spared. There are houses whose roofs have been perforated by bullets. Who will pay for the replacement of the roofs?”
Investigators, during fact-finding mission, visited over 30 homes alleged to have been riddled with bullets in Ajobo and Oluseyi communities. Bullet holes were seen on walls, gates, roofs and bodies of vehicles.
Missing school for safety
Beyond the destructive effects, PUNCH Investigations discovered that like Timilehin, the shooting exercises also disrupt the education of many children.
Bimbo, a policewoman and mother of three, revealed that she usually locks the windows and doors to prevent flying bullets from hitting her children.
She admitted that the measures cannot withstand the force of a fast-moving bullet, but that it remained the only option adoptable.
An apprehensive Bimbo took our correspondent round her house, showing him glass windows shattered by bullets a week before the visit.
The cop, who revealed that she is a single mother, said she hoped for a better life at the time she moved with her three children from the one-room apartment they lived in Alakia, Ibadan, into her house in Ajobo.
Bimbo said she is now left to question the decision she took two years ago, and is contemplating putting the house up for sale.
“Daily, I feel unsafe with my children. Is it fair that after all the troubles I went through to build this house, I should be thinking of selling it just to stay alive?” she asked.
Bimbo stated that her children have not gone to school in a while, and confessed to constantly battling with despair associated with the thoughts of raising children that lack basic education.
“I want the best education for them, but they are being deprived of that,” she said with a sad demeanour.
“What hurts most is that no one can go out when the shooting exercise starts. I will have to rent a smaller apartment in a safer place, where I can be confident that my children will go to school and come back alive.”
Adjacent to Bimbo’s house lives Rahmon Sekinat and her family.
The mother of three told PUNCH Investigations that on several occasions, they had to temporarily put up with friends for safety.
During such relocations, she noted that her children are forced to miss school, no matter the duration of time they are away.
She said, “We hide in the kitchen when they start shooting. When we think it is safe, we would pick the things we need and leave the house until we get information that they have stopped. My first son failed his exam in 2020 and he blamed it on his constant absence from school.
“He told me that his classmates were taught some of the things he failed when he was absent from school. My children can’t play outside for long. When the shooting starts, everyone would be looking for safe spots to hide.
“Imagine if it hits a child when an elderly person is not at home. That is why we take them with us when we are going out. We are begging them to please take the shooting range to somewhere else.”
Another resident, Lai Bakare, said he usually stops his children from going to school, even if the shooting exercise lasts for one month.
He noted that on days that he cannot keep them away from school, especially when they are taking examinations, his wife would have to wake up by 3am to get them ready, so that they can leave before the shooting starts.
“Our pupils skip classes during shootings”
Beracha Schools in Ajobo is one of the many schools suffering the adverse effects of the shooting range.
The proprietress, Tosin Akintade, said the fear of being hit by bullets has made several parents to withdraw their wards.
She said, “As a school within a community where shooting takes place, most times, parents are afraid of releasing their children to us because they feel anything can happen. Even though the school is quite a distance from the shooting range, the effect is strongly felt here.’’
She lamented that several prospective parents were discouraged from registering their children, noting that it was having a negative impact on the school’s image.
“You know how information spreads. This is one of the best schools around but we are faced with a situation where parents are told not to bring their children to avoid being maimed,” Akintade said.
PUNCH investigations gathered from the educationist that the children most affected are those residing around Omilabu area.
On how the disruption in class affects the children academically, Akintade said, “You don’t expect a child that misses class to be stabilised academically like those that come regularly.”
She, however, said the school management usually organises make-up classes for its pupils, to make up for the academic shortfall.
School pupil hit by bullet
The fears nursed by parents in the communities are not unfounded.
It was gathered that in 2017, a four-year-old pupil of Oluwayemisi Nursery and Primary School, was allegedly hit by a bullet from the Odogbo barracks.
A report published by an online media house (not The PUNCH), on July 13, 2017, stated that the boy, identified as Abdullateef Adeyemi, was hit during school hours.
The then Chairman of Ajobo/Omilabu Landlords Association, Kazeem Ijeru, who confirmed the incident, claimed the bullet came from the Army shooting range.
Ijeru said the boy was taken to a military hospital where he was treated. The child was said to have survived the incident, but his parents left the community shortly after the incident.
However, the Nigerian Army denied that the bullet that hit the child was from them.
School barricaded with metal sheets
When our correspondent visited the aforementioned school, where the incident took place, he noticed that a wide steel fence of about three feet tall was mounted on the concrete fence circling the premises.
Some residents revealed that it was put up by the school to avoid a repetition of the incident that allegedly took place in 2017.
The school bursar, Are Adebambo, told PUNCH that though she had not joined the school when the incident occurred, she was told about it.
Asked if it was the reason for mounting the iron barricade, she claimed not to be aware. Meanwhile, the school proprietor was not around during the visit.
Recent alleged victims
While the 2017 incident still remained fresh in the memories of residents, they were jolted by yet another that allegedly affected two persons.
The incident, which took place on Friday, September 16, allegedly involved a 10-year-old boy and man, identified respectively as Daniel and Baba Ajeri.
Image 5: Daniel, presently lives with the scar of a hot lead that hit and got lodged in his arm. (Ajobo community)
It was gathered that Daniel was allegedly hit on his right arm and Baba Ajeri on his back.
Our correspondent learnt that they were both rushed to the Army hospital located inside the barracks for treatment.
At four, Nicholas Desmond, can identify the sound of a gun and recognise a bullet when he sees one.
His mother, Adedayo, said that Desmond and his two-year-old brother, Michael, are traumatised by the constant shooting exercises.
She noted that Michael intuitively learnt self-defence and would run to take cover at the slightest sound that resembled a gunshot.
“Any time the shooting starts, he would quickly lie down in a corner of the house. The two boys are so traumatised that even when a carpenter comes to carry out repairs and he hears him hitting a harmer on any surface, he would quickly lie on the floor,” Adedayo said.
She noted that her sons could recognise a bullet and would pick up anyone they find within the compound or inside the house.
“I have about seven bullets picked by them. They can recognise the shiny little metal, even in the dark. It’s dangerous out here. I can’t even let them out of my sight for a second” she said.
Gunshots, firearms, inimical to children’s health
A mental health expert, Bankole Olumide, said exposing children to gunshots or firearms could lead to a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He explained that PTSD is the anxiety or trauma a person experiences when they witness a terrifying event.
Olumide said, “The behavioural response of children in that instance to gunshots can differ. In some, it may lead to sleep disturbance or insomnia. While in others, it may lead to nightmares, panic attacks, lack of concentration or interest in activities, and a feeling of hopelessness in some cases.
“Hopelessness, fear and anxiety can all result from indiscriminate exposure to gun violence, and this can affect children’s educational attainment. In the long term, the fear and anxiety could eventually culminate into panic attacks.
He stated that panic attacks from gunshot could create a sense of danger in children, adding “this, in turn, can affect their career choices and make many to settle for less interesting professions.
“In rare situations, fear and anxiety can trigger mild schizophrenia, but the chances of this will be greater if the child comes from a family with a history of psychotic disorder.
“Also, it can cause relational challenges for children. This is because early exposure to violence could predispose them to aggressive behaviour later in life. This could lead to fear and social withdrawal, both of which can affect the tendency to either attain or sustain meaningful relationships in future.”
“Shooting worsened my heart condition”
Aside from children, it was discovered that the elderlies are faced with debilitating health challenges.
A resident of Ajobo, Victoria Alimi, suffers high blood pressure, a condition also referred to as hypertension, which she said worsened due to the shooting range.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, patients with hypertension risk suffering from a fatal heart attack, stroke or brain problems.
The American returnee said since she moved to Nigeria, her health has deteriorated.
She said, “I can’t sleep because of the shootings. Last week, bullets entered my bedroom through one of the windows. One of my grandchildren just shouted my name and I had to shield and rush them outside,” Victoria said with a horrified expression.
“When the shooting starts, I would have to often hold on to something to prevent me from falling. It feels like I am being hit with an object on my head and that the ground is vibrating underneath my feet.”
Saved by grace
Investigators met with a resident, Kate Nnaji, who claimed to have had a close shave with death, and based on her narrative, she was “miraculously saved by grace.’’
The septuagenarian recounted that in the afternoon of Monday, August 22, she was taking a nap in her bedroom, when she was roused by the sound of sporadic gunshots.
The elderly woman noted that before she could get up, a bullet pierced her roof and fell beside her. Kate said that it was the second time she had escaped being hit by a bullet.
“The two incidents happened a week apart,” she claimed, adding, “At my age and as a retiree, I don’t have rest of mind. When they start to shoot, my heart will be racing.’’
A visibly flustered Kate said her husband could not repair the damages done to their roof due to financial constraint.
She said, “To eat has become difficult. How much do we get as a contributory pension? We don’t have money to repair the house since it was damaged. When it rains, the places where the bullet pierced leak.’’
Kate’s claims were corroborated by her husband, Emmanuel, who said they struggled to build the house in their old age.
“It’s unfortunate that our sweat is being destroyed. It’s so sad. It’s not just us, it is affecting almost everybody,” Emmanuel said.
With what seemed to be no end in sight to the issue, some residents said they have completely given up on fixing the damages allegedly done to their property.
One of them is Iya Ibeji, who said her husband had spent so much on fixing their roof and patching holes.
“The last repair carried out by my husband was damaged in less than a month. Look at our window and the door leading to our children’s bedroom,” she said with a sweeping glance around. “If you check the roof, you will see bullet holes everywhere. For how long are we going to live this way?”
Army arrests protesters
Chairman, Ajobo Community Development Association, Ajao Sikiru, said they have run out of options, through which they could have their discomfort addressed.
He alleged that the Nigerian Army in May 2019 arrested residents who took to the streets to register their displeasure.
“In 2019, when a woman by the roadside was hit by a bullet, we organised ourselves and protested. Rather than address our concerns, we were arrested by the Army,” Sikiru alleged.
Another resident, who identified himself only as Sulaimon, claimed to be among those arrested during the protest.
He said, “We were going to the gate of the barracks when soldiers rounded us up and pushed us into their van. About 15 of us were arrested, while others escaped.
“They said we were blocking the road and collecting money from people, even though we held placards that clearly showed what we were asking for. We were made to cut the grass inside the barracks. Even an old man was given a cutlass to cut grasses.”
Sikiru revealed that the late Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, secured their release.
“The land in this community doesn’t belong to the soldiers. Every landlord got a survey and building plan from the government secretariat. Daily, we live in fear. You will hardly find a house without a destroyed roof. Whenever it rains, our homes get flooded. Sometimes, when people are working on a building site, bullets stop them from working.
“These bullets have hurt people in the past. Whenever they (the Army) get wind of it, they will make sure the victims are brought to the barracks and treated. In fact, they will go to the extent of threatening them to leave the community, so that they won’t be used as evidence against them.
“Sometimes, they will come to collect the bullets from us, but nothing will be done after that. Please tell them to go somewhere else. This area is too populated for what they are doing,” Sikiru said with finality.
“Gov’t don’t value our lives”
Angered by what he described as continued threat to their lives and lack of empathy from relevant authorities, Kazeem Moshood, another resident, accused the state government of not placing value on their lives.
He said, “I have lived in developed countries for over 20 years, and saw how much premium they place on the lives of citizens and non-citizens.
“This has been happening in this community since 2008, and the state government can’t deny being unaware. During the administration of Alao Akala, we were told that the Army got to the area before us, but the land they took has been fenced. Our place is far away from the barracks, but the bullets still get to us. Yes, the Army has its boundaries, but we are far away from them. We are not criminals that live bullets should be fired at.
2018 court case lingers
Our correspondent learnt that though residents have taken legal steps against the Nigerian Army, the case has continued to suffer several adjournments in court.
Some court documents showed that three residents, Kassim Ijeru, Olatunde Anibire and Ashaye Adefowope, filed a suit on behalf of Ajobo, Omilabu, Idi Omo, Anilelerin, Keda, and Olusi communities against the Nigerian Army Council, Ministry of Defence and the Nigerian Army on May 30, 2018, before a High Court sitting in Ibadan.
In the suit, they demanded a court judgement to stop the Nigerian Army or its officials from conducting range classifications that will enable bullets fired to escape into the listed communities. N50m was demanded as compensation for damages and loss of property.
However, the case has not made significant progress since then.
An elder in the community, while speaking to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, claimed that the defendants listed in the suit were deliberately sabotaging the case.
His allegation was corroborated by Sikiru, who noted that the counsel for the defendants deliberately missed hearings of the case, adding that it led to adjournments.
He said, “Because they wanted the case to die a natural death, they intentionally failed to appear in court. If the Army counsel appeared, that of defence will not, and this has led to several adjournments, with the last being October 2022.”
Army’s land encroached on, says spokesperson
The spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Onyeama Nwachukwu, said though he had not received any report of bullet incidents, he was aware that lands belonging to the Nigerian Army were being encroached on.
He said, “I have not received any briefing on that development, but I am aware that two years ago, there was a similar report like this and I know that there have been lots of encroachments on Army lands across the country. Those who engage in such encroachment don’t put into consideration the kind of job that we do.”
Nwachuku insisted that the Army had been in the location before houses were built in the affected communities.
He said, “We were there before them, so it is as a result of encroachment. However, I have not received any verified report on bullets or live rounds hitting civilian houses. When there is a barracks somewhere, you will see people building towards it. Land grabbers will begin to grab and sell to unsuspecting buyers.
“It is something that we must find a solution to, because Army barracks have been there before they started building their houses, and they did not consider the danger in building around a shooting range.
“It is sad that it happened to two people, which is why we really need to sensitise the public, because when land grabbers come to them, they don’t know the security risk involved before building around a shooting range.
“You won’t expect soldiers not to practise their shooting. We do it in those locations and all over the nation. We need to look around it and see what could be done by both parties to ensure that it is stopped because lives are involved and that is dangerous,” he said.
Shooting range guidelines
A guideline regulating shooting range exercises in Nigeria could not be found.
However, in Canada, the guideline stipulates that an operator of a shooting range must ensure that firearms do not endanger the safety of persons in surrounding areas.
It stated in part, “The operator of an approved shooting range shall ensure that the discharge of firearms on the shooting range does not endanger the safety of persons at the shooting range or in the portion of the surrounding area described in paragraph 3(2).”
Meanwhile, Commodore Abimbola Ayuba (retd), advised military formations to embrace digital shooting ranges to avert such incidents.
“There is a new policy that says shooting ranges should be digitised, but the implementation would take a while because of the distances and other distractions from other ongoing operations by the Nigerian Army,” he said.
State government silent
When the Chief Press Secretary to the Oyo State Governor, Taiwo Adisa, was contacted to know what steps have been taken to address the complaint of residents in the affected communities and on the issue of encroachment of Army’s land, he requested a text message.
He had not, however, responded to calls and text messages sent to his mobile at the time this report was filed. Read more.