The Assistant Manager, Kings Planet International School, Awka, Anambra State, Emmanuel Emeka, talks to IKENNA OBIANERI about the alleged forceful enforcement of payment levies by officials of the state signage and advertisement agency

There was a report that some government revenue officials invaded your school with armed men and point-of-sale machines to enforce revenue collection. How did it happen?

That is true. They came here (to the school) in their vehicles heavily armed. We didn’t even know there were armed men among them until they drove into the school compound. Initially, about five young men entered the school, while the rest were in their vehicles outside the compound. They started ransacking the whole place, going from classroom to classroom and shouting that the school owed the Anambra State Signage and Advertisement Agency the sum of N100,000 for four signboards. They insisted that we sent all the pupils out for the premises to be sealed off.

At what point did the armed men enter the compound?

They initially parked their vehicles outside. It was while the five men were going from classroom to classroom, ringing our bell in a ferocious manner and attracting a lot of attention that those who were outside drove in. It was at that point that we saw heavily armed men and women wearing T-shirts with the inscriptions, ‘Police,’ ‘special forces,’ and ‘civil defence’, alighting from the vehicles and joining the five men already on the ground.

When did this incident happen?

It happened on Friday, November 4, 2022, around 11am and it was during the lunch hour when the pupils were taking their lunch.

Can you describe the atmosphere when they entered the school compound?

It was a ferocious and frightening moment; the environment at that moment was like a war zone. With the way they invaded the school, you would think they were kidnappers who had come to abduct the kids or to carry out a mission. Actually, their appearance sent panic not only to the school compound, but also to the whole vicinity and the entire area. Members of the community, including parents around, thought kidnappers had invaded the school, because that was the signal they gave as they came into the school in a commando-like style. You would have appreciated what I am talking about if you had seen it in the video. Even as police officers or law enforcement agents that they claimed they were, it is only when they are going to a criminal den that they are allowed to act like that, not to a school compound where there are kids.

How did the pupils react to the incident?

The kids have yet to recover from the trauma. They are still traumatised by the incident.

Did the first set of men who entered the school wear security vests?

No, they didn’t. When they entered, they moved from classroom to classroom, ringing the bell and ordering us to come out, claiming that they were employees of the state signage agency and that they had come to carry out a court order that the school premises should be sealed off for failing to pay N100,000 for four signboards.

Was there any notice to that effect and how true do you think their claims are?

First, when they brought the notice, they said the school had four signboards and that we must pay N100,000 to them. But our director called the ANSAA office and told them that they did not verify their claims, that the school had only one signboard and not four and, therefore, it would only be justifiable for the school to pay for one signboard. But they insisted that there were four signboards, and we told them that we were the ones that placed the signboard and that we knew the number of signboards we placed outside the school. We also told them that they couldn’t increase the number without verification.

What was their response?

They said they would verify and get back to us. They did not verify their claims of four signboards in the first place; even the only signboard we had in front of the school gate had been removed due to erosion.

You said after the call, they said they would come to verify. Did they carry out any verification?

After some time, we did not hear from them and we called and the director of the agency still said he would get back to us. So, we were here on that day (November 4, 2022) and all of a sudden, they appeared and said they had come to enforce a court order that empowered them to lock up the school. From ‘we will get back to you, let’s verify the number of signboards’, what we saw were armed men invading the school premises.

Was there truly a court order?

They came with a court order. A court order they got without our knowledge. It was during the period that they said they would verify the number of signboards, and for that reason, the director of the agency told us to ignore the notice and that they would put the matter on hold till after the verification of the signboard(s). They said they were withdrawing it from the court while they made their enquiries, so we did not know when they went to court to get an order that they brought that day.

Did any top official of the signage agency accompany those who invaded the school?

We did not notice top-ranking officials among them; it was only the five men that did not bear guns who represented the agency. But a call was put across to the director of the agency and he told us he would speak with his men on the ground, but we did not see the impact of their actions. The director never spoke to them; they were at the school ruthlessly executing what they felt his orders were and bearing guns all around the kids, throwing their flasks containing food outside as the kids cried. Even some of the kids had food in their mouths because it was during lunch time that this thing was going on. They were brutally shoving the kids in the sun, all in a bid to forcefully lock the premises.

Did staff members or the authorities of the school resist any of their actions?

Not that we resisted; we couldn’t have resisted, seeing the kind of guns they were bearing. We were only begging them to allow the kids to finish their meals and that it was only proper for them to have come after school hours and not when the kids were still around. It was a school environment and not a criminal hideout, and there were all manners of children in the school, ranging from four-month-old babies to 12-year-olds, and we let them (invaders) realise the undue traumatic conditions they were subjecting the children to, which was uncalled for. We never resisted them even though they harassed and intimidated most of our staff members for attempting to record their actions. They also did not allow us to put on our generator so that the CCTV cameras would not capture them.

How did the parents of the pupils and residents in the neighbourhood react to the incident?

At first, it was a panic situation because the parents and residents of the neighbourhood had thought some people with ulterior motives had invaded the school to forcefully take their children, not until they saw ‘Police’ written on their vests. They came in a commando-like fashion seen in movie scenes. They even came in vehicles with tinted glasses, some people were still inside the vehicles; apart from the driver and the person seated in the front, the rest were not seen. Some parents who lived around summoned courage and rushed inside the school premises to pick up their children, while those who could not, because of the guns and intimidation, stayed by the gate and were watching.

Were their vehicles branded?

Yes, they branded them ‘ANSAA,’ an acronym for the Anambra State Signage and Advertisement Agency.

How did they molest your staff members?

They harassed our teachers as the invaders were ringing the bell, and you know ringing the bell vehemently draws attention. There was a female staff member, who stayed somewhere and was making a video recording of what was happening, but immediately they saw that she was capturing them, they pounced on her in a fiery manner. Our CCTV was not powered on because there was no light and our attempt to put on the generator to power the CCTV so that we could capture what was going on was aggressively resisted by their security team.

She was capturing everything on her phone but when they saw her, they collected her phone, ransacked every item and details on the phone and forced her to start deleting (the recording). They collected the phone and held it for over two hours and when they returned it, most of the items on it had been deleted. Even when they were leaving, they almost did not want to return the phone to her and when they eventually did, they stayed with her for over 30 minutes telling her to open different apps on the phone to ensure that no evidence was left. What kind of molestation is more than that?

What did say was the parameter used to determine what the school should pay for erecting the signboard?

They did not tell us anything about their charges; they just brought a notice and told us we owed the agency N100,000.

Can you quantify the damage the actions of the security and government agents on the school?

A school environment is a place for the advancement of children. The invaders’ actions did not only affect the children, but left a trauma on them. If they had known the import of their action on those children, they would have covered their faces in shame. Throwing and pushing the children up and down while they were eating and pointing guns at the children, wearing all black attires with ‘special forces’, ‘civil defence,’ and ‘police’ on their T-shirts, going from classroom to classroom, dragging and chasing the children in the name of revenue collection is an absurdity, which cannot happen in advanced countries. It only happens in movies. This is the reason the government or relevant agencies should scrutinise the kind of people they engage or recruit in their workforce. Their character does not reflect the promise that the governor made to the Anambra people and what he came into office with.

There is a protocol that guides every action. Must they come into the school to lock it during school hours? This is an action they could have carried out after school hours if they did not have an ulterior motive. The worst thing is that this thing happened while the pupils were having their lunch with food in their mouths. That’s wickedness, even if the school had defaulted. However, that was not the case because we called the agency officials and they said they would verify only for them to invade the school without prior notice and at gunpoint. If they were wise enough, they would have come after school hours.

Did you make the payment that day?

When the harassment became too much, the school said it could only make half of the payment, but they refused, saying that if we pay half of the money, we would have to pay a penalty of N50,000, which would increase the alleged levy to N150,000. They said if we chose to pay half, we would have to pay on both sides, meaning we would pay N50,000 out of the N100,000 and N25,000 from the N50,000 penalty.

How did you eventually make the payment?

They came with two PoS machines; they said one was for the government, while the other was private. We wanted to make a transfer but they rejected it, insisting that it must be cash or through an automatic teller machine card. The school director had to send money into my account, which we used to pay. We paid N50,000 from the N100,000 and N25,000 from the one they said was a penalty fee. They insisted on collecting cash. I was not with my ATM card. It was when we were walking towards a PoS operator in the area for me to make the transfer and collect the cash and settle them that one of the security agents, a policewoman, brought out a PoS machine, claiming she was also a PoS agent. So, I transferred the money into her account and she gave me the cash and removed her charges. So, I gave the cash to them afterward. They forced us to agree that we would pay the balance in two weeks, which we also did.

Has the issue been resolved now?

The school director is still handling it and I wouldn’t know the stage it is right now.

When did the school commence operation and how much were you paying to the agency before the incident?

The school commenced operation in 2017, although I was not there at that time. But according to our records, the school has been faithful in the payment of the signboard fee. What we were paying was not as high as what they brought (on November 4, 2022). Even at that, we did not say we were not going to pay, but they were rather the ones who did not verify their records well and while we were waiting for them to verify their records and get back to us, they stormed the school and started enforcing the payment. The state government said it was increasing its revenue due to dwindling allocations. We are not against that, but every one of its actions must come with a human face to encourage entrepreneurship.

How do you want this issue resolved?

I think they should tender an apology, especially to the kids. Their action was very wrong and unjustifiable. They were very unprofessional and not civil in carrying out whatever orders they felt they were implementing. Their action does not speak well of the record of Governor Chukwuma Soludo and does not in any way portray him in good light.

What has been the feedback from parents since the incident happened?

They were disappointed and they asked for the full detail of what happened and the whole detail was made known to them and they were asked to verify.

Has the state Ministry of Education reached out to the school?

No, it has not reached out or reacted to the incident and it is supposed to have done so because this was an abuse of the school.

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