RIVERS CAN AFFORD FREE EDUCATION, HEALTHCARE
It is true that when you educate a man or a child, you are investing into his personality, improving his self worth and relevance to society. Education truly is a vital aspect of the society, likewise health. In recent times, many have blamed the militancy and its culminating criminality in Nigeria's Niger Delta region on the lack of proper upbringing, no sound educational foundation and for some, the lack of money to fund their education.
Government, which owes it as duty to its people to provide the basic infrastructure and improved educational and health facilities has not lived up to expectation. These very vital sectors of any society are certainly in trouble in Nigeria.
But the situation is now changing in Rivers State. Prior to Governor Rotimi Amaechi's inauguration as the state's chief executive, primary and secondary schools were in a dire state of rot. Children were being taught in dilapidated school buildings and in some cases, they sit on the bare floor, as there were no desks. Children go through these schools and end up as half-baked literates, which in its own way have added to the increased delinquency in the society.
In the health sector, the state-owned hospitals lacked adequate medical equipment; people were dying because healthcare facilities were far away from them, particularly those in the coastal and rural areas and the poor had no access to healthcare because of the high cost. Maternal and child mortality was also high.
All these and more informed Governor Amaechi's October 1 declaration of free education and healthcare in all state educational and medical facilities. It was indeed a deserving and pleasant golden jubilee package to Rivers people.
'Today, we formally declare free education and free healthcare in Rivers state… The free education is for primary and secondary schools. We will sponsor scholarships in the university… The free education includes the uniforms you have seen, which will be given out free; please give us some time, we are sewing them. The free books should reach you before the end of November. Every primary and secondary school will get the free books. What you owe us is to study so that we can compete favourably with the rest of the world,' Amaechi said
'You deserve it, you have suffered enough. This is not aimed at scoring a cheap political point. I am not asking anybody to vote for PDP or vote for us now, I am saying that if we don't correct the abnormally in the education of our children and if we don't keep our people alive, this state will head nowhere. And for the interest of the state, I think it is proper that we offer ourselves for having worked hard and for having attained the age of fifty, free education and free healthcare', he added.
Governor Amaechi has successfully built new model primary schools across the state with high standards and quality. So far, 350 primary schools are being built and equipped with ICT facility, Internet connection, modern library, science laboratory, football field, basketball pitch, volleyball pitch and nursery playground, among others.
The same facilities are being incorporated into the 24 new secondary schools being built across the local government areas of the state as well, with the inclusion of compulsory boarding facilities.
These schools can no doubt be placed side by side with schools in developed countries like the United Kingdom.
Governor Amaechi has also employed new teachers and re-trained the old ones. Their welfare has already been taken over by the state government when it took the responsibility of primary and junior secondary schools from the local government councils.
Distribution of the free textbooks, exercise books and school uniforms launched by the governor on Independence Day would be carried out between October and November as stated by him. In the area of health, the governor came up with the idea of primary health centres in a bid to reach everybody in the state, from those living in the urban areas to those living in the rural villages and coastal areas.
160 primary healthcare centres are being built and sited strategically across all local government areas in the state.
However, the obvious question on the minds of many people now would be that of sustainability of this policy. How would this policy be funded and sustained?
In the case of Rivers State where Governor Amaechi is known for backing important projects and policies by law, a social services contributory levy law is now on ground to give backing to the free education and healthcare programme.
By this law, members of the Rivers public, indigenes or residents working or doing business in the state would contribute a tiny percentage of their income, which will serve as their contributory support to the state government which, on its part, will fund the bulk of the free education and healthcare programmes. According to the law, the funds accrued from the contributory levy will only be used as part funding in the education and health sectors of the state; that is the free education, its sustainability and that of the education and health facilities which Governor Amaechi has built, rebuilt and turned into standard institutions.
With the free education in the standard educational facilities developed by the Amaechi administration, children in Rivers State would have an edge over their peers in the academic sphere, particularly those children from poor homes who ordinarily may not have had the opportunity of such educational upbringing. Militancy, criminality and other vices would greatly decline as more youths and children will get access to quality education and turn out as better citizens.
On the other hand, the free healthcare would foster a decline in the mortality rate of Rivers people, particularly maternal and infant mortality as the 160 primary health centres built by the Amaechi administration are strategically sited to serve every part of the state. People living in the villages and coastal areas of the state would no longer cry about the distance they had to cover in search of medical care, especially in emergency cases.
The health centres have been distributed according to demographic needs. The local government areas and their new health centres include: Abua- 3 and more to be added; Ahoada East- 5; Ahoada West- 6; Akuku Toru- 4; Andoni- 4; Asari Toru- 4; Bonny- 1 Health Centre, 4 more to be added; Degema- 2 Health Centres, 1 completed- 2 more to be added; Eleme- 5 Health Centres, 3 completed; Emohua- 8, 5 completed; Etche- 4 health centres.
Others are: Gokana- 6 health centres, 3 completed; Ikwerre- 10, 4 completed; Khana- 10, 3 completed; Obio/Akpor- 13, 5 completed; Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni- 2 Health Centres, 1 completed and more to be added; Ogu/Bolo- 1 health centre and more to be added; Okirika- 5, 3 completed; Omuma- 2 health centres, 3 more to be awarded; Opobo/Nkoro- 5 health centres; Oyigbo- 5 health centres, 2 completed; Port Harcourt- 10, 4 completed; and Tai- 6 health centres.
For secondary health facilities, Amaechi assured that before the end of the year, the Prof. Kelsey Harrison hospital, also known as the New Niger Hospital at Emenike Street and the Dental and Maxillofacial Hospital at Garrison will be made functional. These are among the four big hospitals built by the Amaechi administration.
For education, the schools are also distributed demographically in all 23 Local government areas of the State. Besides the 350 primary schools being built, Governor Amaechi is optimistic that more would be added within the short time left in the tenure of his administration.
'Out of the 250 that are completed, over a hundred primary schools are ready for the school children to move in. Our target is to complete 350 before the end of the year and resume another 150. We also target that by the end of next year, we shall deliver on all the planned schools and allow all our children to move into the primary schools,' Amaechi said.
'We also target that by God's grace and by the end of next year, we would have completed the 24 new secondary schools that we are building. Anybody who will attend any of those secondary schools will go there free of charge,' he added. He also noted that healthcare is free in all state health facilities. 'It is free healthcare in all government-owned hospitals and health centres. I'm also conveying this message to the state Ministry of Health to advice all doctors in the health centres not to charge anybody, not even for registration cards.
It is the responsibility of the Rivers State Government to fund it and I think we have the capacity to do so, including the fact that there is a new law by which we will augment whatever the state government will bring forward to fund both health and education.'
Another mind-blowing part of the Rivers State Free Education and Health Care Programme is that all indigenes and residents of the state are beneficiaries. Governor Amaechi's Senior Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. David Iyofor, told us that 'nobody is exempted from the free education and healthcare programmes of the Amaechi administration'.
Just as nobody is excluded from paying the Social Services Contributory Levy.' Iyofor added that everyone living, working or doing business in Rivers State would enjoy these laudable programmes just as they are expected to contribute their bit to the Social Services Contributory Levy Fund.