How a Foundation-driven Response Keeps Indigent Students in School

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A cross section of AOOF beneficiaries. Photo source: AOOF/Jimoh Abdullahi/The SolutionsPaper
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Edited by: Chinonso Kenneth

ILORA, OYO:  The year is 2012 and Babatunde Mercy, 16, a secondary school student had to leave his hometown, Ilora and the comfort of his parent’s home, to go live with his aunt. 

Mercy’s secondary school; Aatan Baptist comprehensive high school is located in Koso, a neighbouring town to Ilora. Since his father, a farmer by occupation, could no longer afford his daily transport fare of N100.00 ($0.235), he had to go stay with his aunt in Koso.

When my father had a financial challenge, he thought it would be appropriate for me to stay with my aunt who lives near our school“, Mercy, now 26, recounts his secondary school days in a dismal tone.

Because he did not want to add to the strain on his aunt, who is also not financially well off, Mercy could not spend more than a week before returning to Ilora to help his father out on his farmland. 

When Mercy eventually gained admission into the Federal University of Technology Akure, (FUTA) Ondo state in 2015, his parents’ financial fortunes were not faring any better, hence, the negative instability in his studies. 

A 2019 report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that 40.1 percent of Nigerians are poor and an average of four out of 10 individuals in Nigeria have real per capita expenditures below N137,430 ($326.9) each year. The World Bank also projects the figures of poor Nigerians to rise to 95 million in 2022.

Media reports indicate that 60 percent of students in government-owned schools in Africa do not have books and other writing materials while 70 percent of students in government schools in Nigeria, have one book for more than five subjects.

Extant data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimates that 20.2 million children and youths are out of school in Nigeria. Additional data shows that 18 percent of Nigerian students in higher institutions of learning are out of school on account of financial-related issues.

Over the years, Ilora, like the other neighbouring towns that make up Afijio local government area in Oyo State has recorded a low number of students in tertiary institutions due to the financial deficiency of most parents in the community. 

Narration changes

Elisha’s mother, a hairdresser, was already struggling to cater to a family of six after losing her husband in 2002 and could not afford Elisha’s textbooks which was negatively affecting Elisha’s academic performance. 

The story changed after Folurunso Elisha, a secondary school student at Ilora Baptist Grammar school, applied for and won several textbooks from the Abel Ogundokun Odeleye Foundation (AOOF) in 2014.

After Elisha got the textbooks which included Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, English Language and Agricultural Science, his academic performance improved and paved the way for him to win the prizes four more times.

My mother who had been anxious before on how to buy me the list of books recommended for us got excited when I was first picked for the prize” Elisha told The SolutionsPaper.

I had an edge over my classmates who do not have textbooks. They come to me anytime we are given a diagram to draw. Besides that, those textbooks help me to prepare ahead of the class and also help me in my final SSCE examination (WAEC) to come out in flying colours,” he said.

Elisha won more textbooks from the foundation in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he left for university just before the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on strike this year, he passed on the books to his siblings.

I will forever be grateful to AOOF for making my secondary school interesting,” Elisha told The SolutionsPaper.

Mercy shares the same fortune with Elisha. In 2017 when he got to 200 level in the university, he applied for and received a three years scholarship grant from AOOF.

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Mercy at AOOF award gala receiving the scholarship certificate. Photo source: AOOF/Jimoh Abdullahi/ The SolutionsPaper

In 2017, Mercy received N25,000 ($57.04) from AOOF to augment his university expenses. In 2018, the grant was increased to N30,000 ($68.45) and maintained in 2019. He noted that the AOOF scholarship grant saw him through the university and forms part of the reasons he was able to graduate with a first-class degree.

“It was impactful and challenging and it was really helpful” Mercy told The SolutionsPaper.

The Process

AOOF is a non-profit organisation giving educational aid and scholarships to brilliant indigent students in Afijio local government area. AOOF was founded in honour of the late Abel Ogundokun Odeleye, who left word for his children before he died to establish an education-focused foundation.

The foundation started in 2003 after the demise of Chief Abel Ogundokun Odeleye and instead of having a big party, we chose to spend money awarding scholarship to the indigents in Afijio local government Oyo State, Nigeria” AOOF’s board of trustees Chairman, Toyin Odeleye said.

She revealed that the foundation’s scholarship has aided over 600 indigent students since 2003. Annually, between 40-50 students are able to access the scholarship grants.

AOOF awards annual scholarship grants between the range of N10,000 ($22.82) to N50,000 ($114.08) to be used by beneficiaries to cover educational expenses for the year.

The scholarship grant is only open to residents of Afijio who have lived in the area for at least five years. To be further eligible for the scholarship, applicants must be enrolled in public school (primary, secondary or tertiary), have excellent results and be involved in the community.

Applicants will also have to write an essay on their career goals, leadership roles they have played, or community development efforts.

Finally, applicants will have to submit a recommendation letter from either a religious cleric, traditional ruler, or a civil servant with a minimum of ten years in service.  Students in tertiary institutions also have to submit letters from their Head of department.

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Mercy and other tertiary schools beneficiaries in Afijio local government area. Photo source: AOOF/Jimoh Abdullahi/The SolutionsPaper

Successful applicants are then called for what is known as an Award Gala. The event brings together all beneficiaries, organisers, and other invited dignitaries, to receive their prizes.

The foundation gets most of its funding from friends and supporters in Nigeria and the diaspora. Some past beneficiaries of the foundation also give back to support the foundation when they can.

 The Drawback in the Process

Although Joel Akinrinola, 22, has never applied, he knows of a person with disability (PWD) in Ilora who tried to apply but was told that the forms had finished. 

This foundation is to help the less-privileged in the community, but with what I’m seeing, it looks like they are depriving the real people who are supposed to get the scholarship, an opportunity to do so,” Akinrinola said

Mercy also recalls the moment in his university days when he met all the criteria for the scholarship, using his 100 level results, but was not selected. 

Finance is a major challenge for the foundation as the resources available cannot cater to all applicants. Odeleye noted that the foundation’s scholarship board selects applicants based on the available resources which may hamper some applicants from being selected even if they are qualified.

Odeleye stressed that AOOF manages other community projects and interventions outside the annual scholarship which also takes a toll on the foundation’s resources.

The Chief Executive Officer of Akord Educational Consultancy Services, Adebayo Sodeeq told The SolutionsPaper that if the AOOF model is adopted across the 774 local government areas in Nigeria, it will greatly assist indigents with their educational pursuit and help get more out of school children back into the classroom.  

Sodeeq further noted that increasing the grant amount given to beneficiaries by the foundation is something worthwhile and good in light of the current economic realities facing the country. 

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Abdullahi Jimoh is a solution journalism trainee and Nigerian freelance journalist. He has covered Mental health, Educational and Business reports through the Sojo lens.

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