Bose Tetede was worn out by the time she arrived home that evening. A hectic four-hour trek to and fro her home in Imule, a small agrarian community with over 3000 residents in Ipokia Local Government Area of Ogun State, and Itaope, a border town in neighbouring Republic of Benin, had taken its toll on her. The sound of her heavy breathing summarises the agonising experience.
Tetede had left home at about 7:00am last Monday in search of help for her sick twins – Taiwo, a boy and Kehinde, a girl. The toddlers had been struck by malaria and so needed urgent attention to get back to their old, playful selves. With one child strapped to her back and another carried over her shoulder, the young mother pounded the bumpy, dusty countryside roads for more than two hours before finally arriving in the Beninese town where her children were attended to promptly and given drugs at the cost of N4000. But enduring another two-hour trek back to Imule under the torrid sun with the weight of the ailing twins resting on her frail frame was more than Tetede could bear. On the evening our correspondent came across her, she could barely move her body.
“I feel like a trailer just ran over me,” she managed to utter before using her left hand to gently wipe off a stream of sweat that had gathered on her face. “I set out for Itaope in Benin around 7:00am with my children after we could not get proper attention at Iropo. I trekked for more than two hours carrying the children before arriving Itaope. After they were treated, I managed to rest for one hour before bringing them back home through another two-hour walk under the sun. The pain I feel all over my body is indescribable but I had to do this to save the lives of my children,” she said before sinking her entire body weight into a wooden bench.
Like Tetede, many residents of Imule, Madoga, Ilagbe, Kajoola, Osooro and several nearby settlements all under Ipokia Local Government Area, a community bordering Benin Republic and with a population of 150, 000 people according to the 2006 census, have learnt to endure such energy-sapping walks to save their lives and that of their loved ones in periods of emergencies. Since the health centre in Iropo, which serves over five towns with a combined population of over 10, 000 people, crumbled, residents have been forced to look for viable alternatives elsewhere – the search of which has come at a heavy price at times.
“Several of our women on the verge of delivery have died while being rushed to hospital in Benin Republic and Ifonyintedo,” Adeyemi Tetede, a local chief and head of Imule community, told
Saturday PUNCH. “In fact these days, many of the women are now delivered of their babies at home through the help of traditional birth attendants. If you try to take any of them to Iropo where we have the only functional hospital around this entire axis, you will hardly get the needed attention because of the number of people who visit and the shortage of staff and facilities there. It is a very big problem we are facing here,” he said.
Established over 30 years ago, the Ipokia Local Government Health Clinic, Iropo, today betrays any semblance of a life-saving medical facility. Manned by only two members of staff – a young nurse and a middle-aged doctor, the hospital apart from lacking basic items required to deliver quality healthcare to the hundreds of low-income-earning residents who throng it every month for solution, does not have enough drugs to treat minor cases like malaria and typhoid – the two most prevalent ailments in the area. To make matters worse, the hospital boasts of only one bed to treat a population size of over 10, 000 people – young and old – who rely on it for their medical needs. The facility does not have a toilet and bathroom, forcing patients who visit to defecate in polythene bags and bathe in the open, under a tree behind the hospital. Newly nursing mothers who wish to be cleaned by the hospital staff must have a relation to go in search of water as the facility does not have a functional tap.
The only well providing water for the hospital has since run dry and has been converted to a dump where feaces of patients who defecate in polythene bags are littered. On occasions where there are so many newly delivered mothers around, each is allowed to rest on the hospital’s only bed for a few minutes before giving way to another woman and her baby. At times, when the entire place is ‘jam-packed’, the women are sent back home to take care of themselves almost immediately after they had been delivered of their babies. For patients who visit this hospital and the two staff on ground to attend to their needs, it is a helpless situation – one whose elastic can stretch no further.
“Attending to the hundreds of patients who visit this place from over five communities and several settlements in this local government has been very stressful,” the nurse at the hospital, Hannah Oke, confessed. “Sometimes when there are so many cases for us to handle especially women on the verge of delivery, we advise them to go to other hospitals outside the locality. In fact, as a result of this situation, many women now give birth at home.
“Apart from shortage of staff and lack of basic infrastructure like toilet, bathroom and water, electricity is also another major problem we face here. If a woman is to be delivered of a baby in the night, we rely only on torch to attend to her as the hospital does not have a generator of its own.
“We are pleading with government to quickly intervene in our situation so that we can provide the people of this area with good health care and save many lives in the process,” she said.
The unavailability of electricity supply has made communication with the outside world for many of the communities in this region very difficult. Mobile phones are gathered once in two days to be charged at N100 each in Ifonyintedo, about 15 kilometers away. Even at that, mobile communications network in the area is erratic and largely unstable. In extreme cases, residents rely on visitors to bring them news of happenings in the locality and country.
“It is quite tough charging our phone batteries in this environment as there is no electricity supply. So most times we gather our phones and give to one of us who go to charge them for us at Ifonyintedo. Sometimes the person can get there and not find space to charge because everywhere had been occupied, he or she returns the phones to the owners like that, cutting us off from communicating for several days. Even when our phones are fully charged, receiving network signal to make a call could be almost impossible. That is how bad our situation is here,” said Abike Odeyemi, a mother of three.
Chilling as it sounds, the terrible state of the Ipokia Local Government Health Clinic in Iropo, Ogun State, and the non availability of electricity supply and its attendant effects, is only a fraction of the horror residents of the locality are made to contend with on daily basis. For example, primary schools in each of the over five towns and dozens of smaller settlements across the area, do not have more than two teachers to tutor pupils of around 200 to 400 in some of the places visited by our correspondent recently. In Ilagbe, only two teachers oversee the education of the 400 boys and girls who attend the community’s primary school. The town, after series of attempts to have government post more hands to help shapen their children’s’ future, hired a third teacher who they pay N10, 000 every month. According to Gabriel Onipede, a respected traditional chief, the move, though to boost the education of their wards, is an added burden on their lean pockets.
“Our community primary school is in a terrible state. We have only two teachers teaching about 400 pupils. How can any child learn something meaningful under such atmosphere? So, as a community we had to organise one extra teacher whom we pay N10, 000 every month to support the education of our children.
“However, contributing the money to pay the teacher every month has not been easy considering the fact that many households are just managing to get by especially now that the bad state of our roads is greatly affecting the price of our farm produce. The bad state of the roads in the town is not making the transportation of our harvest to the market possible, so those who manage to come and buy from us do so at a very lower price. It is a very big problem for us,” he said.
While all of these towns have at least one primary school where their children are being taught, albeit by fewer teachers than required, majority of the villages under Ipokia Local Government Area do not have a secondary school, forcing students from all these communities to trek several kilometers everyday to attend the only one at Ifonyintedo. As a result of the distance, many pupils have dropped out of the secondary school – contributing to the high illiteracy of the area – while those still willing to finish the ‘race’, have been forced to rent apartments in Ifonyintedo, going home to meet their families only at weekends.
“Our children trek over 15 kilometers every day just to attend secondary school at Ifonyintedo,” Ezekiel Bawola, an old farmer in Iropo told Saturday PUNCH. “As a result of this problem, some parents were forced to rent apartments for their children there so they could live and attend the school during the week and return home on Fridays for weekend. Some children whose parents cannot afford to rent an apartment and who cannot also cope with the daily trekking, have dropped out and taken to farming. We fear for the future of our children like this but as a community, there isn’t much we can do to change this except government or members of the public intervene in our situation,” he said.
As a result of the heavy responsibilities it shoulders, the local government’s only secondary school, Imotu Community Commercial Academy, Ifonyintedo, now bears signs of weariness. The ceiling in most of the classrooms in the school have either been completely destroyed or at the verge of totally caving in. Doors, windows, desks and even blackboards – all were in terrible states when our correspondent visited the institution earlier in the week. It is under such unpalatable environment that Ipokia’s army of young boys and girls are taught and groomed for a future that looks threatened even before it had taken off.
“The poor quality of life in the locality and bad state of the only secondary school we have here tells you a lot about the high poverty rate across the region,” David Abraham, a pastor and missionary of the Baptist Mission in Nigeria, told Saturday PUNCH. “If you move all around the local government area and go to some of these interior communities, you’ll be shocked at what will confront you. The people are sleeping and waking up in abject poverty.
“If not for the occasional medical outreach programmes that we used to organise in some of these communities where we conduct checks and offer free treatment to people, the death rate could have been higher than what it is today across the area. But even with our effort, the demand for quality medical care and improved living condition is still very high. Something urgent should be done to save lives and protect the future of children in this area,” he said.
In the last few months, missionaries of the Nigerian Baptist Convention have given free medical services to residents of these communities. Also, students of Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State, a Baptist institution, have helped organise free education for both adults and children across most parts of Ipokia. But even with such priceless interventions, the demand in healthcare and education remains extremely high.
Local Government officials at Ipokia told Saturday PUNCH that they were aware of the situation in these communities and were making efforts at addressing the plight of the people. An official, who asked not to be named, said that necessary interventions to improve the lives of the residents would soon be made by the administration.
“We are aware of the situation in some of the places you have mentioned and I can assure you that intervention projects would soon commence in those places to ease the sufferings of the people. We are a responsible government committed to serving the interest of our people. Things shall soon improve there,” the official said.
According to a sociologist, Grace Warikoru, the neglect of rural communities by governments across the country has contributed significantly to a host of problems including illiteracy, high infant and maternal mortality, poverty and crime.
The university lecturer says except concrete efforts are made to address the plight of rural communities, the attendant effects like crime and disorderliness can spill to urban areas in the not too distant future.
“If you look at majority of the crimes committed in big urban cities like Lagos, you’ll realise the culprits are mostly these guys who came from the rural areas not too long ago in an attempt to escape the biting poverty in those places.
“The truth is that any government that fails to develop the rural communities does so at its own detriment because by the time the repercussions would come, it would spill to the cities themselves.
“The insurgency we see in parts of the country today is as a result of the neglect of the rural communities by government. The moment poverty and deprivation in the basic areas of life like clean water, food, quality health care and education get hold of a people; the consequences could prove too costly for not just that locality but the society at large.
“So my advice is for government to begin to pay more attention to the needs of rural communities. The people are not asking for too much; just an improvement in the quality of life,” she said.
A psychologist, Buchi Anyamele, explains that trekking several hours to and fro an institution of learning could have negative consequences for the health, mind frame and assimilation ability of a person.
According to him, secondary school pupils who endure long walks in places like Ipokia may not be psychologically stable to understand and put into good use all they are taught in the classroom.
“Engaging in such stressful daily treks is not good for the health and mental stability of anybody. If there are students who trek three hours to school every day and the number of hours while going back home, I pity them because I fear they might not be learning anything tangible after all.
“The human brain especially for young boys and girls needs to be properly relaxed for assimilation to occur. There is no way you can pass through such stress and still learn properly or even understand what you are taught by the teacher. Such situation is not only dangerous for the health but also for the psychology of the individuals as it could lead to a loss of confidence and self esteem,” he said.
While shortage of schools and teachers coupled with the bad state of roads across most parts of the local government appear to have aggravated the people’s worries in this Ogun community, it is the lack of a functional and well equipped hospital in the region that has proven the biggest albatross. Towns like Madoga and Kajola used to have fairly operational health centers until lack of proper funding led to their complete closure recently. The Ipokia Local Government Health Clinic, Iropo, which for a while had turned out an able cover, is now also approaching the final stages of its hibernation. With only one bed left standing inside its dusty and dilapidated ward and its drugs shelf waning thin by the day, it might not be too long before its fragile doors are completely shut from the dozens who turn to it every day for solution.
A medical doctor, Jide Arogundade, told
Saturday PUNCH that the area could witness a rise in deaths resulting from communicable diseases like typhoid, cholera, malaria and rheumatism if access to quality health care does not improve in the very near future.
According to him, having two members of staff oversee the medical needs of a population of over 10, 000 people is not only dangerous but grossly inappropriate. To imagine that only one bed is also available to that number is alarming, he said. But bizarre as it is, this is the sad reality in the larger part of Ipokia Local Government Area, a remote region tucked in the extremes of Ogun State.