For 17-year-old Maria, her dream of a fruitful life had begun to crystalise She had only recently completed her secondary education and had been offered admission to study Mass Communication in a school in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Although she did not meet up with the marks required to secure her admission into a university, the offer of a scholarship and a two-year diploma course after which she would be offered direct admission into the second year at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State (OOU), was too sweet for her and her parents to ignor.
With both hands, the young girl grabbed the offer, which eventually cost her parents the sum of N125,000, made up of the acceptance fee (N20,000), the tuition fee (N70, 000) and accommodation fee (N35, 000). The offer, coming from an educational consulting firm which claimed to be an affiliate of OOU, promised to pay half of the beneficiary’s tuition fee and other expenses.
Maria said: “I was in SS3 and writing the school certificate examination when some people came to my school in Sango Otta. They said that any of us who could not make it to the university through JAMB (Joint Admission and Matriculation Board) could gain admission through them.
“They said we would be offered a scholarship that would pay half of our tuition and some other expenses. And since I didn’t make my JME (Joint Matriculation Examination), I accepted the offer and came here.”
It has been two years since Maria accepted the offer. As a matter of fact, she is now in her final year of a two-year course to attain an ordinary certificate in Mass Communication and subsequently progress to start a degree programme at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, but her future is in jeopardy if recent revelations about the activities of the educational consulting firm behind the programme is anything to go by. The young student may have been scammed by a vicious syndicate.
The story is the same for Peju, Maria’s roommate in a ramshackle building that serves as hostel for them and many other students. Peju came from Ijebu-ode after learning about the school from her friend, who assured her that she would proceed to the university once she completed a two-year OND programme at the centre.
For Maria, Peju and about 300 other students, however, their dream of a better future may have crumbled like a pack of cards. The students, whose courses range from Mass Communication to Civil and Computer Engineering, resume for classes at about 3 pm every day, after the pupils of the secondary school have closed. Their lecturers are said to be drawn from the state-owned OOU.
Any building in the vicinity, including uncompleted ones, is used as hostel. Investigation conducted by our correspondents revealed that most of the young students were unaware of the fate that has befallen them while the few others who might have got hint of the situation could not muster the courage to return home, having told everyone that they are in school.
Until recently, the so called diploma students received lectures inside the classrooms of Ogun State-owned Lantoro High School, Abeokuta, which the organisers of the programme labelled as ‘OOU Study Centre’.
The bubble burst on the activities of the illegal study centre recently when a concerned mother whose son was offered the suspicious scholarship decided to visit the school to verify the genuineness of the offer.
The parent, who pleaded not to be named for fears over her safety, said: “A community leader near my house told me about the offer of a scholarship scheme. He said a chairman of a Community Development Association (CDA) gave him the offer. Of course, I was happy and decided to accept the offer. I was given two slots for my son and his friend. For the two boys, I paid a total sum of N74, 000, which they said included the acceptance and accommodation fees.”
“The envelope that contained the letter bore the logo of Olabisi Onabanjo University, but that did not really convince me enough. I decided to go to Abeokuta to see things for myself.
“On getting to the study centre, the crowd of students really shocked me and prompted me to investigate further. That was when I began to see that something was wrong.”
Worried about the future of her son, she together with the father of another victim, Oni Olaniyi Johnson, took up the matter in conjunction with two non-governmental organisations, Esther Child and Compassionate Women Initiative.
The parents, supported by the two non-governmental organisations, took the matter to the office of Ogun State governor, from where they were directed to the office of the Ogun State Commissioner for Education.
“When we got to the office of the commissioner for education, she rose immediately and assembled a team to accompany us to Lantoro High School study centre. The commissioner herself led the team and when we got there, she was surprised that such a thing could be going on in the state. The lecturers were arrested and taken to the police station, with a promise that such a thing will never happen again,” the parent said.
Aggrieved parent petitions Ambode
But Olaniyi Johnson did not stop at that. He wrote a petition to the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, intimating him of the alleged fraud. The reason behind the letter to the governor, Johnson said, was because of the alleged involvement of a CDA chairman in the alleged scam. But while the first parent would not name the CDA chairman, Olanyi Johnson gave the name as Engr. Shola Dahunsi, the CDA Chairman of Oshodi, Lagos.
The letter, dated 15th February, 2016 and tagged: ‘Governor Akinwunmi Ambode please help liberate over 300 students from fake Olabisi Onabanjo University Lantoro study centre and investigate Oshodi CDA Chairman, Engr. Shola Dahunsi, who deceived parents…’, narrated how he and other parents were deceived into believing that the promise of a scholarship was real.
The letter also detailed the various sums of money paid by each student: ‘Students paid N70, 000, N40, 000 as fee; N17, 000 for accommodation; N20,000 for acceptance fee, while the sum of N5, 000 was paid for an envelope bearing the name and logo of OOU.’
Johnson added: “I decided to write the governor of Lagos State because of the involvement of a CDA chairman. Moreover, most of the victims of the scam are from Lagos State. They get these innocent children from Badagry, Mushin, Oshodi, Apapa and several other places in Lagos.
“We stormed the Lantoro High School study centre with the commissioner for education. She confiscated many admission forms from the school’s security man. The four lecturers who were picked up at the place confessed that they started teaching there about eight years ago.
“While we were with the commissioner, she called the Vice Chancellor of OOU in our presence and he confirmed that the centre and its course are illegal and not recognised by the university.”
Speaking with our correspondent, Johnson accused Engr. Dahunsi of working in league with the syndicate.
He said: “I trusted him (Dahunsi) because he is the chairman of a CDA, while I am secretary of another CDA. He called me and my daughter and two of her friends. We paid N60,000 to him in his living room, being payment for the acceptance letters for the three children. He also charged N17,000 for the accommodation of each student. So, how can he now claim not to know anything about it?”
In a telephone conversation with our correspondents, Engr Dahunsi, who was alleged to have lured innocent victims with the bogus promise of a scholarship, denied any involvement in the scam.
He said he too was a victim and that he only acted as a community leader.
He said: “Believe me, I don’t know anything about this alleged scam. I am also a victim. Only three slots came from me, but I did it with a very clean heart and not to defraud anybody.
“I challenge anybody who can prove that I am involved to come out with their evidence. I know that I would be vindicated at the end of it all.”
Illegal school gets new abode
When our correspondents visited Lantoro High School midweek, it was discovered that the organizers of the study centre had left the school. But further investigations revealed that they had simply taken their business to a private school in the vicinity of Lantoro community.
A source in the community told our correspondents that after the visit by the commissioner for education and the subsequent arrest of some lecturers, they moved away from the public school upon their release by the police and took their business elsewhere.
“They stopped holding lectures in the school since the commissioner came here and arrested them. But if you look round, you’ll see that most of their students are still around. They have taken them to another school here.”
The centre’s new haven is a nursery school about 1000 metres away from Lantoro High School. To access the school, a three-storey building, you would need to pass through a dirty road, which at first seemed a cul-de-sac.
At the school, an elderly woman, who attended to our correspondents, said: “You want to see the lecturers? They have not come. You may need to come back around 4 pm. That is when they hold their lectures. They moved here about four weeks ago.”
At a nearby ramshackle hostel, a young girl, who said she is studying Mass Communication, lay on a bench outside, taking refuge from the scorching sun. She and her friend said they came to the school about two years ago after they failed to gain admission into any higher institution.
“We came here because they promised us scholarship. They came to Ijebu-ode where I live to canvass for students. That was how I came here. I am now in my second year, and I have been promised that I will proceed to second year at OOU after graduating from here,” she said with a tinge of concern on her face.
Asked if she had seen anybody who graduated from the school and later proceed to the Olabisi Onabanjo University, she said no, and quickly added: “Sir, let me confess to you, I am beginning to doubt their programme. Those who have left here have not secured admission. They said they were waiting for some papers to come. That is the reason why I am already making plans to leave here.”
When our correspondents visited the office of Ogun State Commissioner for Education, she was not available. But a director at the office, who said he could not speak on the matter, expressed surprise when he was told that the organisers had moved to another school in the vicinity. He said the state government would not tolerate such illegality in its educational system. The Press Officer of the ministry, Mr Kayode Oduyebo, also promised to get back to our correspondents on any further developments.
OOU disowns centre
Also speaking with our correspondents, the authorities of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, denied having any link with any group of persons or institution running an academic programme or lessons at the Lantoro High School, Abeokuta, on its behalf.
OOU said it does not have an affiliation with anybody or organisation, and urged the public to always check its website or inquire directly from the institution on issues of admission or programmes being offered.
Speaking through its Head, Public Relations unit, Mr Niyi Oduwole, the institution said it does not know anything about what is going on at Lantoro High School, warning the public to beware of scammers looking for unsuspecting persons to defraud.
Oduwole said the university has since reported the matter to the security agency and the need to clamp down on such suspected criminals who are out to con innocent people.
According to him, “admission procedure for OOU is normally through the University Matriculation Joint Examinations (UTME) conducted by JAMB and the post – University Matriculation Examination of the university.”
Meanwhile, the coordinator of Esther Child, Mrs Esther Ogwu, and her counterpart at Compassionate Women Initiative, Mary Olasupo, have promised to ensure that justice is done in the matter.
Ogwu said: “My concern is the future of these children. As we speak, many of them have realised that they have been duped, but they cannot go back home because of shame. Before you know it, some of them will start selling their bodies. These people should not be allowed to go scot-free. We are on the matter and we want the government to take the necessary action.”
For Olasupo, any activity that can derail the future of the children should be condemned by all. As a mother herself, she said she wants other parents to be aware of the activities of the organizers of the centre, who she said have continued to go round as if nothing was wrong.
“You can imagine that such a thing can happen under our nose. These people have no regard for the laws of the land and they have continued to go round with their business, even after they were arrested by the state commissioner for education.
“On the day we went there, they came out to threaten us. One of them told us that we want to deny them of their daily bread and that they would fight back. He said ‘this is Nigeria, and we can get anything done’.
“Let the governments of Ogun and Lagos states work together to end this impunity, which I believe is aimed at destroying the future of the nation’s future generation.”
Source: The Nation
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