Imo State's Free Education; UBEC Fund And Our Chidren
There is little doubt that the Imo state governor Mr. Rochas Anayochukwu Okorocha long before he won the election in 2011 to become the governor of Imo state, had carved a niche for himself rightly or wrongly as a champion of education for all indigent children of Nigeria. The local media used to be awash with stories on some of his activities in the area of provision of free education to children born in the streets and especially children with special needs. In Abuja where I have resided for fifteen years now, the current governor of Imo state used to run a foundation that coordinates some of these reported free educational scholarship schemes for the needy.
As a cosmopolitan man born, bred and lived all his active life in cities beginning from Jos, in Plateau state whereby he attended the prestigious University of Jos for his masters degree under the tutelage of the current Executive Secretary of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, Professor Bem Amgwe, the current Imo state chief executive is credited with, wrongly or rightly, many scholarships he awarded reportedly to children of the poorest of the poor and one distinguishing factor is said to be the fact that his foundation does not discriminate who to give the scholarship awards on the basis of tribe, religion or political affiliations. This unique selling point is unusual given that as a politician, most Nigerians would expect that only those with high political gains to bring to the table would benefit from these largesse dolled out intermittently as scholarship awards.
Since assuming office as Imo state governor nearly four years now, the administration under his watch has emphasized the need for free education for all children up to the University levels for the indigenes of Imo state but there have always been doubts regarding the quality of this free educational packages dolled out to indigenes of the state and also most people who are skeptical are of the view that the poor state of educational facilities in most rural communities in Imo state means that no genuine qualitative educational activities would take place under the current dispensation.
I have had the opportunity of visiting nearly twelve local government area councils during the current regime and I can report that educational facilities of the highest standards are not available anywhere near these local government area councils with Onu-Imo local government coming first from the rear. Primary and post primary schools in Onu-Imo local government area council as well other council areas are in very serious derelict state since over thirty years and the current administration seems overwhelmed to right the monumental structural wrongs done to Imo state educational sector over the years by successive administrations.
On the few occasions I have met him [twice] since he became the governor of Imo state, the governor appeared to me as genuine and sincere in his determination to take educational privileges to the unreached poor children in rural communities but I am at a loss to locate the precise reason why his administration is now overwhelmed and almost unable to deliver quality education to the poor children in places that matters most.
Honestly, the government's introduction of free education has helped to see to the growth astronomically of enrolment of pupils into public schools but this positive attribute is not complimented by the advancement in the quality of educational facilities in the rural communities of Imo state especially places whereby development have eluded the rural residents for years such as Onu-imo local government area council.
Now I ask, why is it impossible for the Imo state government to raise a crop of technocrats and competent professionals within the civil service to scout for development partners that would invest in the educational development of Imo state given that the state ranks as the most educationally advantaged state even when the rural educational infrastructure is in a state of shambles? The Imo state government needs to leverage on the comparative advantage of the state in the area of education to train manpower made up of youth in rare areas of special educational fields in some of the best schools around the World with a memorandum of understanding and binding contract that these skilled indigenes will contribute their quota to the development of Imo state.
Another facet of the problem is the irony in the disclosure by the minister of state for education Mr. Nyesom Wike that most state governments lack the skill to access huge funds available within the Universal Basic Education for the funding of their primary and junior secondary free educational schemes.
Is Imo state among those lagging behind in attracting these funds? If not, why are the state of educational infrastructure in the rural communities of Imo state so backward and derelict especially in places like Ndianiche Uwakonye, Arondizuogu in Onu-Imo local government area council among others? Why are the rural schools so run down and dysfunctional even when state governments can not access UBEC fund to cushion the effect of collapse of these vital educational facilities?
The Federal Government recently lamented the inability of states to access the equity fund of N41.3bn under the Universal Basic Education programme.
Minister of State for Education, Ezenwo Nyeson Wike, stated this during the 9th Quarterly Meeting of Chairmen of State Universal Basic Education Boards, held in Minna, Niger state.
He said, “Over N41.3bn still cannot be accessed by states up till date. This is particularly worrisome when we realise that a lot of improvement can be done in our existing schools or the establishment of new ones across the country”.
“All states chairmen must draw the attention of their respective state governors to this development and impress it on them the need to take necessary actions in the interest of education in their states.”
As I stated in the beginning stage of this piece, the Imo state governor is such a man with the large heart to deliver free education but the crisis of confidence comes in when you discover that the facilities on ground don't match this desire and therefore what you have may end up becoming half baked primary educational activities for the poor rural children. He is not discouraged by this poor state of facilities even as his aides said the government would change the tide for the better. While Imo state rural poor await the arrival of good, functional and qualitative educational facilities and qualified skilled teachers, the governor took his campaign for free education to the national stage recently.
The Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha has made case for introduction of free education in all schools in Nigeria in order to guarantee the future of the nation.
Governor Okorocha brought this to bear during the flag off ceremony of distribution of free educational materials to Imo Schools as well as flag off of Cluster schools Model teachers Professional Training Programme at the State Universal Basic Education Board [SUBEB] headquarters, Owerri recently.
Owelle Okorocha who restated his commitment to providing free and qualitative education at all levels in the state, said there is no better way of guaranteeing a prosperious future than ensuring that every child is given the opportunity of acquring qualitative education.
He noted that his administration is ancoured on education and this, it has demonstrated by providing free education at all levels, building of 305 modern schools across the state, regular payment of teachers salaries and allowances among others. 'My dream for Imo is to be number one in education in Nigeria, where other states will come to copy as a model' he asserted.
The governor disclosed that government has introduced the Parents Teachers Child assessment Programme [PTCAP] to offer the needed relationship the teachers and parents to discuss the welfare of their wards.
He encouraged teachers to remain focused and dedicated to their duties but warned that government will not tolerate indolence as education police will continue to monitor students and teachers attendance to school. He further charged teachers to ensure that educational materials in their respective schools are secured.
Earlier, the Commissioner for Primary and Non-formal Education, Dr [Mrs.] Uche Ejiogu, noted that government has sustained the policy of non-payment of tuition fees and levies in the state public schools as well as training and retraining of teachers with the view to improving their capacity in both literacy and numeracy training for primary schools teachers in the state.
She added that the flag off of the distribution of instructional materials and teachers development training were yet measures put in place by the governor to enhance effective teaching and learning in public primary schools. She therefore enjoined teachers to justify government's huge investment in education by being dedicated.
In her address of welcome, the chairman, Imo State Universal Basic Education Board, Mrs. Gertrude Oduka said the event was to flag off the distribution of 798352 volumes of text books in varios subjects as instructional materials to Imo children in addition to 8588 tables and 34352 chairs for early child care development programme [ECCD].
The SUBEB chairman disclosed that the board has in place for the first phase learning, 42 cluster of 420 schools made up of 2100 participants comprising of 42 head teachers as centre managers, 42 local government education authority supervisors in addition to 42 Board staff.
As I put these thoughts into writing I have only recently returned to Abuja from Imo state and I can bet on anything precious that the state of rural educational infrastructure is poor and only the immediate declaration of a comprehensive state of educational emergency in the primary educational sub-sector can restore confidence in the ability of the state administration to deliver on its promise to make Imo state the Eldorado of free but quality education especially for our children who live in the rural communities.
Emmanuel Onwubiko; head; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and [email protected]; http://www.huriwa.org/.