School owners in Rivers report community leaders to Gov Wike over excessive demands
* School owners say despite recession, Covid-19, touts send endless list of demands
By Codratus Godson
Gov Nyesom Wike has a task on his hands to save schools located in communities near the state capital of Port Harcourt. This may be because the schools may be under siege by groups making financial and other demands from them.
The famed friendly environment emerging in Rivers State due to ban on multiple taxes and ban on community harassment in recent years seem to have been shattered as community leaders and chiefs are said to raise teams to invade business premises in the outskirts of the state capital.
Investigations reveal that for years, the law against invasion of business premises and ban on obstruction of construction sites had created calm in Rivers State and led to a surge in business locations outside Port Harcourt, especially Igbo-Etche in Etche local council area, Oyigbo, Eleme, Emuohua, etc.
Cries of business owners seem to return as school owners in Igbo-Etche seem to be at war with chiefs and youths.
The investors have pointed accused some community leaders and youth bodies while some have called on the Rivers State government to intervene before it gets out of hand. The prevalence of Covid-10 with its attendant economic recession seems not to concern the community leaders, the investors said.
They have accused the community leader over issues of extortion, harassment, and threats. Some business owners have thus lamented the difficulty and constraint of doing business in Rivers State as a result of the overbearing actions of community leaders.
This comes on the backdrop of complaints by several other host communities across the State who are quick to complain about the negligence they suffer from the organisations operating in their areas. They claim they are justified to ask for what they call working agreements.
The business owners however wonder why they must pay a range of taxes and levies to community leaders after hey have bought the property and paid appropriate taxes to the state government.
One of the school owners who spoke with newsmen in an interview in Port Harcourt, Peggy Adukeh, founder of CITA International School at Umuchoko at Chokota, Igbo-Etche, bemoaned what she labeled the extortion of her investment in the community allegedly spearheaded by a local leader and chief she named as Elijah Okere, a charge the chief denied. .
Adukeh said Okere has deployed several means of extortion and deliberately undermining the Corporate Social Responsibility of the School (CSR) to the community.
She said the chief also makes high demands from the school to employ his nominees into senior management positions of the school as well as offer compulsory scholarships to a number of children from the community.
The CITA International School founder also said the chief resorted to other forms of pressure and media blackmail in spite of her CSR’s and the effort of the school management to attract development to the community.
The CEO lamented: “The paramount ruler of the community asked for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), he asked that the positions of a principal, chief security officer, and accountant to be brought from the community which of course is not possible.
“If we had found somebody who was qualified maybe we would have considered the person but for security reasons, those are very sensitive positions and we had to make him understand that we paid for the property and we are not obliged to go back to pay homage to him.
“We were not owing him any anything, the plans were approved by the government, so there was no need for us to go and ask his permission for moving in, and ever since then he demanded such homage to be paid to him, just for the sake of peace, every end of the year we would send some gift items to him and other community people especially widows,” she said.
The paramount ruler however denied the allegations saying that the community was not harassing the school. He told newsmen that since Adukeh runs a serious business in Umuchoko, she must enter into an MOU with the community and must be answerable to the principle of the authority in the community.
“All the accusations against me are baseless lies; I have never sent anyone to disturb her. The only thing I did was to try to advise her to employ some persons from the community she is operating from because she didn’t employ anyone from the community.”
Another female proprietress operating in Igbo-Etche complained that community youths and chiefs have invaded her school severally with a list of uncountable items. :If you give them, they come up with another”.
A prominent CEO in the area whose school produced world beaters in the recent Cambridge examinations suspected the upcoming LGA elections in the state as probable cause of the upsurge on demands from business owners in nearby local council areas, and appealed to the state government to kindly save the schools by halting the invading teams.