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.
JUST IN: Student killed during protest at Plateau College of Education
The Management of the College of Education Gindiri, Mangu Local Government of Plateau state has close down academic activities in the School indefinitely, following students protest, which claimed the life of a student and properties worth millions of naira also destroyed.
Investigation revealed that the students had embarked on a protest demanding for the released of the identification card and also cancellation of a National Health Insurance Scheme NHIS Policy which they claimed to have paid to the school, but whenever the approach the school clinic the management still as them to pay another money.
New Telegraph gathered that during the protest, the students on rampage burnt down the school Clinic and also damage several cars belonging to staffs as well as destroyed doors and windows of the Administrative buildings of the institution before the arrival of the security.
Public Relationship officer of the School Mrs Elizabeth Aboreng who spoke New Telegraph on a Telephone call disclose that the students from NCE Two class had protested the released of their ID card by the school management and later took laws into their hands by burning down properties in the institution including the school clinic and Ambulance.
“The Management of the institution has close down the school indefinitely, Because the students of NCE two had issues of Identification Card which was not released to them, but the made the Acting Provost Mr Cornelius Ka-ankuka and he resolved that the ID Card was to be made available today, but surprisingly today the students went on rampage without waiting to collect the ID cards and burn down two ambulances belonging to the school, burn down the clinic and also destroy staffs cars” she said.
However, New Telegraph gathered that in the midst of the protests, one student was alleged to have been hit by a stray bullet and died on the spot.
When contacted, the Plateau State Police command, Public Relations officer, DSP Mathias Tyopev, confirmed the incident and said he is expecting details from the Divisional Police officer of Gindiri, Mangu LGC of the state.
2018 UTME: Candidates protest exam date, seek postponement
Human and vehicular movements along Bariga-Akoka road, Lagos, were, this afternoon, impeded when hundreds of candidates, who have registered to sit the 2018 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) staged a protest over what they described as the inconsiderate stance of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) by fixing the examination for March.
The candidates carried placards with various inscriptions such as; “Admissions are yet to close, why conducting another UTME now?”; “JAMB isn’t for revenue generation, stop milking our parents,” “2017 UTME held in May, why March in 2018?” “2018 admissions not transparent,” among others.
They said many of them who had hoped to be admitted by various institutions during the 2017/2018 academic calendar year just found out this week that they were not admitted and that less than one month cannot be enough to prepare for another examination.
But JAMB has justified the decision to hold the examination between March 9 and 17, noting that it was a decision jointly taken by other examination bodies to avoid clash of timetables and to ensure that all admissions are concluded by August every year for smooth academic system.
The examination body, however, advised the 245,000 candidates billed to take part in its Monday Mock test to visit the website to reprint their slips and prepare adequately for the examination.
Addressing the press during the protest, the National President of the Association of Tutorial School Operators (ATSO), Mr. Dotun Sodunke, who led the candidates to the streets, said if allowed to hold as scheduled Nigeria would experience another round of mass failure.
He said if JAMB was not only concerned about generating revenue for the government it would consider the candidates in fixing the date for the examination, saying it is obvious that there was no way the candidates would complete the UTME syllabus under one month.
Sodunke added that institutions like the University of Benin, Yaba College of Technology, among others, still released admission list on Wednesday, and that the students who had applied to such institutions but are yet to be admitted would not concentrate on preparation for another examination.
He said; “The new head of JAMB needs to be called to order. He should not be carried away by the euphoria of revenue generation. The future of this country depends on these children. JAMB is sure that if you conduct the exam early, many candidates would fail, and they would come back to register again next year. This is so because their children don’t school here.
“Admissions are yet to be concluded, yet you are fixing date for another one. Who does that? The introduction of the Central Admission Processing System (CAPS) is also a fraud. You would be admitted on JAMB portal and on CAPS page it would deny you admission. Everything is done in secrecy as we don’t even know which schools are organizing post-UTME and which ones are not. Every institution is doing what it wants. Things must not go on like this.”
However, the Head of the Press and Public Relations Unit of JAMB, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, explained that there was yet no basis for the postponement being sought by the candidates, saying the date had been fixed as early as December, 2017, and that it was made public.
Benjamin said; “We need to place the interest of this country above selfish interest. The candidates are not the ones staging protest but the tutorial centres operators, and parents must intervene to rein them in. They are doing this because they want to keep the candidates at their centres till May so that they can get more money from them. Things are not done that way.
“JAMB is not alone in this business. All stakeholders in Nigeria’s education sector have realised that our calendar must be organised and firm as we experience abroad, and it must start somewhere. Even if heaven will fall, the new government wants to ensure that academic calendar starts every August, and that is why all admissions will be concluded by August this year. So if these candidates are affected, we apologise to them, it is for their good and the good of the nation.”
Mixed reactions trail Lagos’ Yoruba preservation law
•NUC: Law against universities admission policy
•JAMB: NCE has exclusive right on admission
•ASUU, SSANU: Better to introducing language as general study
Stakeholders are divided over the Lagos’ Yoruba preservation law, set to deny candidates without a Credit Pass in Yoruba language, admission into the state’s higher institutions
With the new Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion Law promulgated by the Lagos State Government, the state may have stirred up the hornet’s nest, particularly among stakeholders in the education sector, if the reaction trailing the policy is anything to go by.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had last week promulgated the law, which seeks to make Credit Pass in Yoruba language at the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) level, one of the prerequisites for admission into any of the state’s higher institutions.
While some of the stakeholders see the law as a welcome development, but with suggested modifications, others condemned the decision in its entirety, insisting that no state government is empowered to add such conditions to admission requirements.
The agencies of government that are concerned with admission processes such as the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the National Universities Commission (NUC) have described the law as misplaced priorities and illegal.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), whose members are involved in admission processes on various campuses, have also raised some fundamental issues about the new law, suggesting how best the governor’s intention could be achieved without ‘localising’ the institutions.
On Thursday, last week, Governor Ambode, flanked by the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Mr. Olawale Oluwo, his Information and Strategy counterpart, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan and the Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Akinyemi Ashade, among others, formally assented the bill into law “to provide for the preservation and promotion of the use of Yoruba Language and for connected purposes.”
By this step, Lagos became the first state to enact such law, seeking to preserve and promote its indigenous language.
There were other six bills assented by the governor on the same occasion and they included: the Amended Land Use Charge bill, School of Nursing bill, Cooperative College bill, Cancer Research Institute bill, Amended Customary Court bill and the State Electric Power Reform Bill.
On its part, the Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion law provides that all the laws in the state “will be translated into Yoruba Language and all state-owned tertiary institutions are to incorporate the use of Yoruba Language in the General Studies (GNS) courses.”
It added: “The use of Yoruba language shall be an acceptable means of communication between individuals, establishment, corporate entities and government in the state, if so desired by the concerned. It shall not be an offence for a person to speak Yoruba language by the state government.”
As a stern warning to those who may be willing to contravene the new law, the provision of Section 2 of the law states that any institution found guilty of flouting it commits an offence and is liable on first violation to issuance of warning and on subsequent violation be closed down and also pay a fine of N500,000.
According to the state government, the socio-cultural value of the Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion Law 2018, “has also made it mandatory for all candidates seeking admission into our tertiary institutions to secure Credit Pass in Yoruba at SCCE. Yoruba will now become a major requirement to engage in normal business communication in Lagos State.”
Adding, the state’s Commissioner for Information was quoted to have said: “This is a clear and conscious commitment to the position which Lagos State prides Yoruba language as the cultural vehicle for us to be able to articulate our position and it also shows that Lagos has further recognised the importance of language as a vehicle for development.”
With the law, Bamigbetan said anyone seeking admission into the Lagos State University (LASU), Lagos State Polytechnic, Michael Otedola College of Primary Education, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Lagos State School of Nursing and Lagos State College of Health Technology, among others, must have Credit Pass in Yoruba language.
However, in its response to the development, NUC has described the law as illegal, saying admissions and regulations of universities’ programmes are exclusive of the National Council on Education (NCC), which comprises the Federal Government and state governments’ representatives.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with New Telegraph, NUC’s Director of Press and Public Relations, Mallam Ibrahim Yakassai, said NUC is not bothered on the matter, and that the ball is on the court of the candidates who may be denied admission based on the law. He said such candidates have the right to challenge such decisions in court.
Yakassai said: “Lagos State does not have such power as it concerns universities admission. All admissions to universities in this country must be through JAMB. I don’t know about other higher institutions, but as it concerns the universities, states do not have such powers.
“Education may be on concurrent list, but admission is central and exclusively for Federal Government. Universities admit but admission letters are issued by JAMB, and there are guidelines for admissions. That is why every year, the National Council on Education (NCE) meets, and this involves representatives of all the 36 states of the federation. That is where such policy decisions are made.”
Yakassai further explained that there is a window of opportunities for the universities to introduce such languages as general studies course on various campuses, and that they may compel their students to pass such course upon admission, but not as a condition for admission.
Similarly, to JAMB, such law is strange, and that rather than promoting the language, it would only end up reducing it to a local subject among its speakers.
An official of the examination body, who craved anonymity, said JAMB, would await the state or the Lagos State University (LASU) to write it before it takes any decision.
The source said: “JAMB will be waiting for communication from the state before taking any decision. But what is clear is that only National Council on Education has the exclusive mandate to determine admission requirements.”
The President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said such initiative aimed at protecting indigenous language is supported by the National Policy on Education and the constitutional provision that places education on concurrent list.
Ogunyemi, however, cautioned that it would be better if the language is introduced as a general study course in the institutions and not as requisite for admission.
He said: “It is not new for a people or country to seek to protect their languages. Some programmes in higher institutions in Finland, China, Germany and even France are taught in their languages and not English. Before you can be awarded their certificates, you would have been made to go through the languages.
“So, Yoruba Language can be brought in through that means. It is a welcome development because our languages are fast losing their pride of place.”
Also speaking, the National Public Relations Officer of SSANU, Mr. Abdulsobur Abdulsalaam, hailed the development, but also toed the line of ASUU President.
Abdulsalaam, who is on the admission team of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said by introducing the subject as a general studies course, it would help in promoting the language, even among its non-speakers.
“We cannot close the doors completely against those who had never studied the language by introducing it as a requirement for admission. Rather, if it is introduced as a general studies course, as it is done abroad, then non-speakers of the language would be made to experience it, and by that, it would further expose it to outside world,” he advised.
Meanwhile, efforts to seek further clarifications on the law from the Special Adviser on Education to Governor Ambode, Mr. Obafela Bank-Olemoh did not yield result, as he neither picked his call nor replied text message sent to his phone.
However, the state’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. Bamigbetan promised to give detailed information about the law and respond to the questions on the legality of the position on Monday.
The short text message sent to New Telegraph by Bamigbetan reads in part: “Please expect a robust response on Monday morning. I need to quote sections of the law.”
On his part, former Rector of the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Mr. Olawumi Gasper, an engineer, said the policy would ridicule the “universality of the university system.”
“With this bill it means a Brazilian, Briton or German, who intends to study at undergraduate level at the Lagos State University (LASU) and to further research on his ancestry has been deprived such opportunity going by the new policy for admission,” he added.
According to him, universities have common global standards and shared values, which the bill has already defeated.
On the effect of the policy on the system, Gasper said “wherein lies the autonomy of the university,” even as he further queried whether the policy received the concurrence of the university Senate, or not.
Also, a Professor of History and International Relations at Osun State University (UNIOSUN), Osogbo, Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, described the bill as a welcome development and a right step in the right direction.
He, however, commended Lagos State Government for what he described as “a Yeoman Job,” saying the state deserves great commendation for its foresight in promoting Yoruba language.
“The Yoruba Language Bill is a right decision taken by the Lagos State Government at this crucial period when the language is almost going into extinction,” Oyeweso said, stressing that Yoruba language deserves its right place and recognition like other foreign languages in our school system.
The don, who noted that the passage of the bill epitomizes the revival of Yoruba language, recalled the important role scholars such as the late Prof. Akinwunmi Ishola and Adebayo Faleti had played in the growth and development of the language. He lamented that scholars of Yoruba Language are fast diminishing.
He, therefore, called on other states of Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and Ogun to emulate Lagos State, even as Oyeweso said: “We don’t need America, Germany and Britain to develop our language for us.”
He praised the state lawmakers for doing “a wonderful work,” and sought the enforcement of the bill, saying any school that failed to comply with the policy should be sanctioned or have its operating licence withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the Proprietor of Rholak Group of Schools, Meiran, Lagos, Dr. Olakunle Ologun, said since education is on the concurrent list, Lagos State has the right to formulate its education policies.
Ologun, who hinted that he wondered why such policy should be condemned, lamented that already Yoruba language is going into extinction and a bold step needed to be taken to restore it.
“There is the urgent need to propagate the studying of Yoruba Language in our school and so Lagos has done the right thing. The policy statement should be enforced in order to make it work,” he added.
While insisting that the state has done nothing wrong with the policy, Ologun, however, hinted that in the South-East, Igbo language is being used as medium of instruction in most of its schools.
“Any candidate could go to federal institutions or in their states. It is a right policy and Lagos has every right to legislate on its education. The action does not preclude other states from doing similar thing to move their language and culture forward,” he argued.
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