Jonathan Obuebite, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Education, in this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he speaks about the state of education in the riverine state and efforts of the Governor Dickson’s administration to use education to change the narrative of the state from its infamous past.
How was the state of education in Bayelsa State before Governor Seriake Dickson assumption of office?
What the Governor Dickson administration met on ground in the state with regard to the education sector was nothing to write home about. I have been privileged to be part of the government and also as a former Chairman of Education Committee in the House of Assembly.
So, I have deep knowledge of the situation and the various efforts made by successive governments. But, what was lacking basically was that there was no spirited effort to take a cursory look at the foundation of education.
The former governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, of blessed memory, looked at the area of providing university education for our teeming youths and people with the establishment of the Niger Delta University, but we all forgot that it was not just having a tertiary institution. We have to look at the foundation where we grow the people to the point of going into tertiary institutions. As the Chairman of House Committee on Education, we complained about the state of our schools, in which we had schools without classrooms.
Again, that there were no enough classrooms for the number of students in the schools. In many schools, students were congested in classrooms and there were schools that were sited within one school environment and many other schools that shared the same compound. Of course, it was that bad that some schools had no desks or chair for students to sit and write, and there were issues of teenage pregnancies and school drop-out children. So, education in Bayelsa was something that needed intervention.
So, what has the current government done differently?
Well, when Governor Dickson took over and having been a part of the government as a Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state, he declared a state of emergency in the education sector on the very day of his inauguration as governor of the state in 2012.
With the declaration of the state of emergency, what has been the state of the sector presently?
The declaration of state of emergency opened the windows of opportunities for a spirited investment and commitment in the sector. I think that is where the governor got it right. He started with the building and renovation of primary schools in the state. More than 400 schools were renovated.
His administration didn’t stop at that. The government also built quarters for headmasters; the very first in the state. In every school, you have headmasters’ quarters. The intention was to have headmasters to be physically there. Before then, if teachers were posted to schools in rural communities, they simply didn’t want to go.
So, that was done and teachers’ quarters were also built. In the secondary school sub-sector, the governor renovated, if not all the secondary schools and built new ones across the state. He built quarters for principals and vice principals, as well as provided accommodation for some teachers. Besides, science laboratories were built in almost all the secondary schools and ICT laboratory. Sadly, if you go to some of the schools some of the facilities are not even being used.
But, we have decided to go back to them and see how we will use them and at least get every benefit from such investment in education in the state. Importantly, the governor employed 300 science and ICT teachers for the state schools in order to have the right teachers to use the equipment that have been provided.
From there, we moved forward to where we are presently and by funding NDU properly. And of course, you are aware that within this period, the College of Education in Okpoma, which for about three years had a student population of not more than 30 or 50 students, and a staff population of more than 100 has today been improved.
What we did was to relocate the college. The people of Bayelsa and even the state House of Assembly debated on the issue before moving it from that senatorial district to another. But, the explanation the governor gave was very clear: Let us take this school to a place that is motorable; to a place where it will attract high student population so that we can achieve the purpose of establishing the college. The situation was so bad then that we were paying the lecturers without doing anything. And, today the school as I speak is functioning very well. We have been graduating students from of the college.
Given the above, could you vividly tell us what has changed so far in the sector?
Well, many things have changed. Today, we have a state where yesterday we referred to as educationally backward to a state where in NECO and WAEC, the state have emerged third and fifth, and children of the state have emerged as the second best graduating students in 2017, a feat we never witnessed before. And indeed consecutively from 2013 to 2017, the state has been within fifth, sixth position in NECO and WAEC. Before now, the state used to take the 28th and 29th position in those examinations in the country.
Of course, in Bayelsa State today, we have the biggest, largest, and most populated public schools, and all our secondary schools are boarding system. Just recently, the National President of Nigeria Union of Teachers was in the state with his executive officers, when he visited the Ijaw National Academy in Kaiama, and referred to the school as a university due to the available facilities.
What is the education target of the state government?
We realise that if we must develop our land, the only key to that development is through qualitative education. But, we are not there yet, we are still working towards being there. And that is why we are doing all these things. So today, I can tell you that the dividends of that pronouncement and declaration of state emergency in education sector are all over the place and in which the pupils, students and parents are already benefitting immensely from.
So far how many schools has this administration built or renovated, and muchhasbeeninvestedin the sector?
You will agree with me that government is a continuum. Most of the schools you see in the state today are schools that were built when the state was part of the old Rivers State. That is, before Bayelsa State was created.
Today, as we speak, we have 25 modern constituency schools that were built by this administration from the scratch and we have them across all the 24 constituencies in the state. Moving forward, today you hear about the Ijaw National Academy. From the foundation, there was nothing like INA; we didn’t change a name. It was built by this government. Today, you hear about the Sports Academy in Asoama and many other schools.
Our population is not in Yenagoa but in the rural areas cutting across all the local government areas. When you go to the primary schools outside Yenagoa, you will not believe that you are seeing such modern primary schools in those communities in the state.
That is why when we say we have sent about N70 billion in education, it is not a fallacy. The facts are all on ground for people to see. It is not rocket science, you can see and feel them. And that is what we have done. What I am saying is not in terms of what we have spent on welfare of workers, we are talking about infrastructure. And the model schools we are talking about, we are building 13 model schools across this state. In every local government areas, you have one boarding model school.
In Kaiama alone, we have three of such schools and we have the Ijaw National Academy, Sports Academy and Kaiama Grammar School. By February, the school will commence boarding system because every facility has been built and provided.
What really are the challenges with primary school teachers, especially payment of salary and how soon does government intend to resolve them? These problems are human factors and the question is that can we solve all human issues?
The answer is no. So, many things are involved. The leadership that you have too matters. For instance, there is no reason for the ongoing industrial action. Yes, the teachers are being owed. But, the Federal Government too is owing its teachers.
There was recession in this country. And for 2016, it was apparently difficult for Federation Account Allocation Committee meeting to hold. Our Naira suffered great depreciation and we all knew it; pump price of fuel was increased. This country is still in recession and within that period, the state had a wage bill of N4 billion and the allocation coming to state in some months after all the deductions was N1.5 billion.
What this means is that it end up using maybe three months’ allocations to pay one month salary. So, within that period, things were really tough for all states. That is why I have said at different fora that we appreciate the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other trade unions in the state, which saw reasons with the government and accepted 50 per cent half payment for the workers. Of course, rather than to allow the workers to stay for three months before getting a month salary, we negotiated and agreed that no matter what, let us stop everything and pay salary.
But from January to December 2017, we never owed the workers; we did not owe them for one day. However, we also started the procedure of paying the backlogs of salary arrears to our workers. But, for the local government workers, it was a different ball game.
The state government could no longer meet up with augmentation of salary of teachers in the LGAs. For four years, we were augmenting councils wage bills by 80 per cent for primary school teachers’ salary. But in 2016, we found it extremely difficult to pay even the state civil servants. For local government, they have a salary bill of N1.3 billion and the allocation was not coming; sometimes we got N300 million and in other months we got N400 million and we have a total wage bill of N1.3 billion.
If you add up N300 million for three months, it will give you N900 million. So, can N900 million solve the problem? That is why the LGAs suffered and the arrears of salary in some councils is about 10 months, while in some it is between eight and nine months.
In your assessment, would you say the private primary and secondary schools are measuring up to standard?
More than half of the private schools in the state are not measuring up to standard. As a government, we have gone round the private schools, investigated them and compiled the list of all unqualified private schools in the state. In no distant time, about 250 private primary and secondary schools in the state will be closed down for not measuring up to standards.
The affected private schools would be made public to enable the people of Bayelsa to take precautionary measures. Most of those schools would be denied accreditation or approval to conduct the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examinations and other national examinations in the state.
Bello grants scholarship to Best Graduating student from Law School
Ms. Fatima Bombom Sani, the best graduating student at the 2015 Call to Bar examination of the Nigerian Law School, has been granted academic scholarship to the tune of $93,000 by the Executive Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
This was made known at the award ceremony at Government House Kogi State over the weekend when the governor received Ms. Fatima Sani, her relatives, alongside Bar. Natasha Akpoti. In his speech, the governor lamented a situation where academic excellence has not been given the requisite reward in Nigeria.
“The case of Fatima Sani reminds me of how academic excellence has not been adequately rewarded in Nigeria. Imagine someone that bagged nine separate awards including “Best Student of the Year and Council of Education Star Award, and nothing was done for her since 2015.”
The governor also thanked Barr. Natasha Hadiza Akpoti for taking up the case of Fatima Sani by starting an awareness campaign about her academic feat. “I thank Barr. Natasha Akpoti for this if not we won’t all be gathered here.
It was Bar. Natasha Akpoti, who sought the intervention of the Kogi State Governor who was not only surprised but disappointed that Fatima was left unsupported while no information was brought to his office concerning her case.
“I heard about your exceptional performance at the Nigerian Law School in 2015 and assumed you were recognized and sponsored by the administration of the day. It’s unacceptable that such brilliance is not celebrated and promoted. Nevertheless, now that your genuine self is before me, I shall grant you a personal scholarship to celebrate your exceptionality and help your career-defining goals.”
Governor Yahaya Bello stated that after some inquiries and validation of Fatima’s credentials, he in his capacity declared a full scholarship for Fatima to study Masters in Finance Law at the Colombian Law School, in the United States of America.
Gov. Bello thanked Natasha Akpoti for her humanitarian efforts in bringing Fatima’s issue while urging Fatima to uphold her academic excellence and make Nigeria proud and return home to serve her fatherland.
Barr. Natasha Akpoti in her remark thanked the Governor for his benevolence and penchant for promoting academic excellence. “We must celebrate heroes like Fatima in other to motivate young people especially girls towards exceptional educational performances.” She equally advised Fatima to go for her studies and come back to contribute her quota to the development of Kogi state and Nigeria while being a source of inspiration to others.
It would be recalled that Barr. Natasha Akpoti had on the 27th of April 2018 via her Facebook page, advocated for sponsorship to help Fatima further her academic dreams having emerged as the best graduating student at the 2015 Bar exam where she bagged nine separate awards including “Best Student of the Year and Council of Education Star Award.
AAUA: Mass withdrawal of students looms over fee hike
- Visitation panel report: Stakeholders chide govt over delay
- We’ve handed over report to councils – Commissioner
Some indigent students of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA) are said to be prepared to withdraw from the institution as they are yet to make headway in their efforts to raise their new school fees
These are challenging times for indigent students of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA) and their parents, as many of them are allegedly set to withdraw from the institution due to the astronomical hike in fees.
Following the hike in fees, which was jerked up from between N30,000 to N35,000, to between N80,000 to N150,000 by the management, some students have allegedly shunned the ongoing registration, which is billed to end on Saturday, May 26.
For instance, Richard Olaosebikan, a 300-Level undergraduate of the Department of Political Science, said he was yet to pay the new school fees, as he still struggling to meet up.
He said: “Paying new fees has been difficult for me because things are very hard. I have struggled to make part-payment and I hope I could meet up to pay the rest before the close of portal on Saturday. I am speaking to some people who could help me and I pray they respond before then. I am presently in school to see what I can do and I hope that I will meet up.”
Also, Olaosebikan’s friend, Success Ibitoye, a 400-Level student of the Faculty of Agriculture, New Telegraph gathered, might be forced to drop out of the university if he receives no assistance before Saturday.
According to his friend, Ibitoye is yet to pay a kobo from his school fees which is about N150,000 and to worsen his situation, he does not have any hope of doing so any moment from now simply because of his parents’ background and the harsh economy downturn in the country.
Expressing his predicament, a parent has revealed that contrary to the acclaimed N150,000 fees for the Faculty of Law students, he said he eventually paid N200,000 when departmental fees, and other sundry levies were added.
According to the parent, out of 35 fresh Law students admitted by the university, who are currently undergoing their registration, as at Friday, May 18, only about 15 students were yet to pay their fees, suggesting that they might lose their admission.
But, the spokesman for the university, Mr. Sola Imoru, who said he was not aware of such development, however, noted that the university had since inaugurated the Students’ Support Service to address the challenges of such students that are genuine.
Such students with genuine complaints are expected to visit the Students’ Support Service purposely established by the management for such complaints,” Imoru said, insisting that those alleged to have withdrawn did so out of sheer ignorance.
According to him, the university last week organized an orientation session for the fresh students, where the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Igbekele Ajibefun, addressed them on this issue, among others.
Again, the Chairman of the university’s Council, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, who also claimed ignorance of the withdrawal of students, hinted that if such case would arise at all, it would be very low. He said the management would look into it with a view to assisting such students.
Also commenting, the Chairman of the institution’s chapter of the Senior Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Mr. Tope Famuti said there was yet to be any information to that effect, saying though the fees were increased based on faculty or department, it was not enough for students to withdraw.
According to him, the students were paying about N35,000 before it was increased to between N80,000 and N150,000, but they have the opportunity to pay more than once.
“To the best of my knowledge I don’t have such information as a stakeholder and I am a worker here,” he stressed.
However, his Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) counterpart, Dr. Sola Fayose said it was too hasty to draw such conclusion that some students of the university were withdrawing for their inability to pay the new fees regime.
“For now, we can’t say precisely as the students are still undergoing their registration. Such withdrawal could only be firmly established after their registration and during examination, when we will be able to discover whether some students are no longer in the class.
“Until after registration and examination we cannot determine whether some students have withdrawn or not,” Fayose said.
Meanwhile, major stakeholders in Ondo State education sector have condemned the state government-led by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu for its perceived delay in releasing the reports of the Visitation Panel constituted for higher institutions in the state.
They expressed worry that the reports might have been swept under the carpet by the governor, almost four months after the Panel submitted it to the government
Governor Akeredolu, who is the Visitor to the institutions, had on November 21, 2017, inaugurated the Visitation Panel to all the four state-owned tertiary institutions, including the Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH), Okitipupa; the University of Medical Sciences (UNIMED), Ondo; Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo (RUGIPO); and the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA).
The visitation panel to the Ondo State University of Science and Technology was chaired by Prof. Olumide Tewe, while the University of Medical Sciences panel was chaired Prof. Ayo Arowojolu and Rufus Giwa Polytechnic by Prof. Sunday Adewale; and Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, was chaired by Dr. Goke Adegoroye.
Meanwhile, several memoranda in form of reports, petitions and appeals were received from the public, student unions, members of the various university communities, as well as other stakeholders and workers’ unions including ASUU, SSANU, NASU, and the National Association of Academic Technicians (NAAT).
The panel, among other terms of reference was to recommend measures and actions to reposition the institutions for optimal performance, examine the financial management of all the tertiary institutions and determine their compliance with appropriate regulations; examine the financial management of the university including subventions, grants, loans and internally generated revenue and determine their compliance with appropriate regulations; examine adequacy of staff and staff development programmes of the university.
The panel, which reports the governor said would reposition the institutions, was also to examine industrial relations among management, staff and students and recommend ways to achieving lasting peace and harmony; examine the state landed properties and other assets of the university; and recommend measures and actions to reposition the university for optimal performance.
It’s believed that issues ranging from repositioning of the various institutions, miss-governance, financial challenges, over-bloated employment, among others, will be considered by the panels.
Other expected recommendations are issues concerning cooperative societies’ deductions, school fees and student welfare; staff issues such as wrongful termination of appointments, withheld promotions, victimization, and administrative issues.
Other critical areas the panel was expected to cover include subventions to the university and their spending, award of contracts, inflation of contracts, financial recklessness, incompetency and moral ineptitude in the system.
With the submission of the report since Friday, January 26, this year, the stakeholders expressed regret over the delay in the release.
But, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Yemi Olowolabi, who exonerated the government from the delay in implementing the panel’s report, however, told New Telegraph that the governor, after presentation of the report to the State Executive Council, had immediately transmitted same to the Governing Council of the respective institutions on their inauguration.
“There is autonomy of the institutions and what the government did was to transmit the report to the council of the respective higher institutions on their inauguration for implementation. So, it will be wrong to blame the state government for the delay in implementing the report,” the Commissioner said.
But, contrary to the state government’s claim that the report had been handed over to the Governing Councils of the different institutions, Dr. Abayomi, in a phone call, denied ever receiving such report from the state government.
He, however said the document may have been handed over to the Vice-Chancellor, who he noted is yet brief him.
“I am not aware of such report. I still spoke with the Vice-Chancellor today (Sunday) and I don’t know if he had received such. But, it has not come to my notice. I will see him (Vice-Chancellor) on Thursday this week, maybe he is holding the report till then,” Abayomi said.
Also, the university’s spokesman denied any knowledge of such document, whether or not such had been handed over to the Council or the management.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of ASUU, Dr. Fayose, described the governor’s delay in making the panel’s report public as a disservice to the collective development of the institutions.
“Since the report was submitted in January 26, this year, we have been awaiting the White Paper, that will usher in its implementation but this has not been done,” he said, the government has not done things properly.
“If the inauguration of the panel and presentation of the report were made public, the state government should also make public the handing over as claimed by the same government to the councils so that we will know those to hold accountable. But, as it is now we find it is difficult to believe the government.”
Also, the Chairman of SSANU, Famuti, who echoed the position of ASUU, wondered while government had not released the report or made it public.
He said; “There is no gain-saying that public funds have been expended on the various panels which comprise of men and women of integrity, who not only sacrificed their time and energy, but also their experience from various fields to put the report that would give a better direction to our tertiary institutions in the state under the carpet.”
FCT students shine at Korea, FG art competition
No fewer than 30 primary schools across the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja participated in the ninth Drawing competition, jointly organised by the Federal Government and South Korea.
The competition was instituted in 2010 to mark the diplomatic ties between South Korea and Nigerian governments.
This year’s edition of the competition, which had as theme: “Peace and Conflict Resolution,” showcased a total collection of 150 artworks from students in the FCT.
According to the Director, Korea Cultural Centre Nigeria (KCCN), Mr. Han Sungrae, the essence of the competition was to help children to benefit from the positive effects that arts, especially drawing, could have on children at the formative age, and also to further strengthen the existing relationship and mutual understanding between Nigeria and Korea.
“We recognise how important peace is and that is why we have encouraged these young ones to bear out their minds on what they envision peace to be. In doing so, they have expressed their imaginations, creativity, inventiveness, innovation and cultural awareness,” he said.
The Chairman of FCT Universal Basic Education Board, Dr. Kabir Matazu, noted that the various competitions organised by the KCCN for students and teachers in the FCT in the last nine years, was a proof that exposing children to acquisition of skills was the right step to take.
Matazu, who was represented by a Director in the Board, Dr. Hassan Suleiman, assured the organisers of the Board’s continued support to enhance the competition in every possible way.
“It is a wonderful development because the pupils were able to pick in practical terms the theme of this competition, “Peace” by bringing out different artworks portraying peace.
“There are series of conflicts across the world; even in this country there is no day that would pass without conflict in one part or the other.
They are trying to preach that we need to imbibe peace instead of engaging in conflicts. If at their level the children are preaching to the people to embrace peace, I think it is a welcome development,” he said.
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