GOV AKPABIO'S FREE EDUCATION: A POLITICAL GIMMICK!
The Godswill Akpabio administration in Akwa Ibom State promises to give pupils access to free and compulsory education from the primary school level to the first three years in secondary school. Beneficiaries can only enjoy the privilege if they are in public schools. And though many residents of the various communities that make up the state may enjoy the facility, residents of Uda in Mbo Local Government Area have said the scheme is only for some sections of the state if at all it ever exist.
Their grouse seems genuine: Uda, being the largest ethnic group with 31 villages, boasts of a population of about 280,000. However, there is no public school in the area. Consequently, their wards and children cannot take advantage of the government scheme.
And to keep the community schools going, the principals have been trying all the tricks in the books, including the reduction of school fees. As a result, the affected communities struggle to keep the schools afloat, with the attendant hardship on the stakeholders.
The principal of the Community Secondary School, Unyenge, Mr. Etim Ekpe, who decried the situation, said he did not understand the parameters the state government used for the location of public schools.
He said, “If the state government is actually sincere about the idea of free and compulsory education, it would have been paying public examination fees of all categories of pupils in public and private schools, especially in those areas where there are no government secondary schools.
“Since it is this administration’s policy to provide free and compulsory education for all residents of the state, it is expedient for the government to accommodate all the indigenes in the scheme of free and compulsory education. We do not even have subvention from the government, which would have made our pupils to have a sense of belonging.”
Also, in Ibaka, another community in Mbo LG, the Principal of the Community Secondary School, Mr. Victor Mkpeti, lamented the neglect of Uda by the state government.
He said the Community Secondary School had received little from the government in form of a four-classroom block, which was allegedly constructed through inter-ministerial direct labour project. According to him, the community deserved more.
He said, “We also received some desks from the government, but we have also made passionate appeal to the government to take over the school in Ibaka. Necessary inspections have been done and concluded, but we are yet to hear from the government.
“In terms of financial assistance, we have not received anything from the government. The parents and guardians of pupils in Uda communities are the ones paying for their children and wards’ examinations’ fees; the government does not pay exam fees for children in Uda communities.”
He added that many people from Uda communities did not know that there was free and compulsory education in the state.
Mkpeti said Ibaka Community Secondary School lost over 1,000 pupils to Enwang Comprehensive Secondary School because of the free education being enjoyed by pupils who attend the latter school.
This being the case, he said, “Our community might as well forget any hope of development; because without education, a community cannot thrive.”
He said if the government could take over the schools in Uda communities, there would be more patronage, more pupils, more teachers, more facilities and overall improved standard of education.
He noted that the financial hardship usually experienced by parents and guardians would reduce, as pupils
who were compelled to relocate to other communities where they rented accommodation, or spent money on transport fares to schools in Enyang, would now stay in their localities.
Mkpeti said the school’s authorities in Ibaka had tried as much as it could to keep the school fee at affordable level so that parents and guardians could afford it for their children.
“We are not public school; we are community secondary school operating like public school. We charge N3,000 per pupil per term as school fee. We need to keep the tuition at minimum so that many parents and guardians can afford them. If we increase the school fee, we may not see anybody here to teach.
“The policy has affected our own welfare because any amount we realise, we channel some to paying staff salaries, while the other is for the maintenance of the school. We seriously need government presence. These pupils are also a part of this state. You can’t empower some and leave the other. Government policy must be balanced,” he said.
The Vice-Principal, Community Secondary School, Unyenge, Mr. John Atte, revealed that both the completed and uncompleted classroom blocks in the school were built by the Universal Energy Resources Limited.
He said the greatest problem between the community and the company was the lack of Memorandum of Understanding. He noted that since the company had shied away from entering into the MOU with the community, it became difficult for both the community and the company to work as a unit to achieve meaningful development.
A teacher, also in the Community Secondary School, Unyenge, Mr. Lincoln Emmanson, said if the government had resolved not to take up any of the secondary schools in Uda, it should at least pay for the WAEC and NECO fees of students in those schools.
He said, “These people belong to Akwa Ibom State. Where will they go to enjoy their rights and privileges other than their own state? It is unbecoming of any government policy to favour only certain sections of the state and leave out others.”
Emmanson said when he visited other communities in Ibibio, Anang and other places; he noticed that places that were not up to a quarter of the size of Uda had between two and three public secondary schools.
An SS II student in the Community Secondary School, Ibaka, Master Okon Johnson, said the state government treated them as if they were not citizens of the state. He said whenever it was election time, the various aspirants would come to Uda communities; but once they got what they wanted, they left.
“This is the most deprived community in the entire state. We do not have roads, we do not have public secondary schools; even the primary schools we have in Uda communities, were built by missionaries. The only government presence is during election.”
Also in Afi Uda, the story is not different, as pupils are said to have deserted the community in search of free and compulsory education in other parts of the state.
For two weeks, our correspondent made attempts to speak with the Commissioner for Education, Dr. Nseabasi Akpan, but he was said to be unavailable. During a visit to his office in the Ministry of Education in Uyo, it was his Personal Assistant, one Mr. Peter (who refused to give his last name) that attended to our correspondent.
Peter said the commissioner would call our correspondent whenever he was able to. A fortnight after the encounter with Peter, the commissioner was yet to call; while several calls to his purported telephone line (as provided by Peter) indicated that it had been switched off.
In his response, the chairman of Mbo LGA, Mr. Okpo Ekere, said there was no reason to establish public secondary schools in Uda communities. He said pupils were free to attend schools in areas where there were public secondary schools.
He said, “Siting a school and attending the school is a matter of choice. I didn’t attend school close to my location. I sat down and took a decision as a young man and communicated that decision to my father that I would like to attend a school away from my home. I entered the school in my Common Entrance Examination form and wrote the exam. I went as far as northern Cross River State to go to school; whereas my parents were residing here in Oron.
“So, you will still have a lot of Uda sons and daughters who will prefer to go to school in Eket, Uda, or in Uyo. As this awareness is on the increase, the attendant effect will be that the host community may have a secondary school that people will not be willing to attend and so there will be no need for government or the private sector to invest within that environment.”
Written by Dave Emma.