HOW FREE IS EDUCATION IN AKWA IBOM?
by Dominic Umoren
The best legacy any leader can give to its citizens, it is said, is education. That time-tested truism seems to be the guiding principle of Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, who has not only declared free education for his people but makes it mandatory! Free education is very expensive, many have argued, but Akpabio says “it’s the best way to spend our funds; investing in our future”.
Such a statesmanly consideration has also led him into the belief that if governments focus on proper education of the youths, the issue of poverty and militancy would be a thing of the past, soon. So, he says: “Let us commit ourselves to building our future and bequeathing to our children the greatest legacy a future can give to a son –education”.
His argument has been that illiteracy compounds poverty; while education does not only enlightens but also empowers. So, to ensure that the children of poor are not deprived the benefits of good governance, Akpabio has abolished all fees –including ‘hidden’ ones. As he put it, in his usually jovial manner, there shall no longer be “fees for going to school late; fees for not buckling your shoes; fees for flying your shirt…”
Yet, the question many still ask is: How free is education in Akwa Ibom State? Some argue that some unscrupulous teachers still hide behind their fingers to extort money in different guises from unsuspecting students. Gladly, even Governor Akpabio is aware of the allegations and has set up a task force to monitor the schools and report government. Moreover, it was gathered, some inspectors, in guises, are now parading the schools in search of a teacher who may eventually be used to set example for others – if found guilty of the charge.
It should be noted that the free education, though not even part of Akpabio’s campaign promises, has become one of the focal points of his developmental policies. Today, parents can sleep easy; relieved of all worries about school fees, books and all! The children too, can smile smartly to school; gone are the depressing threat of being driven away for inability to pay fees!
To further the free and compulsory education policy, Governor Akpabio, personally flagged-off the distribution of free books to schools. The materials worth about N188m included recommended text books in all the core subjects for primary and secondary schools students; science and introductory technology equipments for science laboratories and technology workshops; books for libraries etc.
After announcing subvention to schools (N300 per student, per term – in secondary schools; N100 per pupil, per term- in primary schools) the governor threatened to deal with errant teachers, principals and heads of schools. Two weeks ago, he reportedly released the sum of N172m as second term subvention to schools in the state. Last year, a similar sum was also released to ensure effective take off of the scheme. The money is meant to assist head teachers and principals to provide some logistics such as the purchase of diesel, chalks, etc., amongst other materials, in schools, according to the governor. But again, he was quick to warn everyone against doing anything to scuttle the free education scheme.
“Let me seize this opportunity to warn all principals and schools teachers that we will view any attempt to subvert our good intentions by the introduction of charges or fees under any guise very seriously… we will not hesitate not only to sanction but to also prosecute such persons for their misconduct,” he said.
Akpabio’s commitment to educational improvement is quite commendable, considering the place of education in global positioning. Like he often cites, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free education policy in the Western Region is what has positioned the Yoruba at the peak of administrations and academia, today.
“Ten years from today”, says Akpabio, “ those children you are seeing will be directors in all Nigerian companies. You need to know that this is how the Western Nigeria started. There is no industry today that you do not have a Yorubaman as a director. We were lagging behind because we did not have the basic foundation. And one of foundations for economic growth is education. This administration will continue to do its best to promote education in the state. We are prepared to spend any amount of money to prepare our children for the future”, he said.
His Education Commissioner, Dr Nseabasi Akpabio corroborates, concluding that Governor Akpabio is God-sent to liberate Akwa Ibom from the shackles of poverty and illiteracy. Recently, according to Akpan, Akpabio, apart from the subvention; released over N187.7million for payment of NECO/SSCE registration examination fees for Akwa Ibom candidates in public schools. Additionally, compulsory boarding in 62 secondary schools has begun. It involves two pilot schools from each of the 31 Local Government Area in the state. To make the environment conducive, the government has revamped the schools, provides adequate security as well as school buses. Proper feeding arrangements are reportedly to be in place for the best of educational experience!
The schools fashioned after world-class post primary schools in the London, are reportedly equipped with functional computer and science laboratories, updated libraries, constant power supply, portable water, well equipped sick bays, modern hostels and dormitories, staff quarters, recreational facilities etc. Qualified academic and non academic staff, including medical personnel, have been employed to man the schools.
No wonder Akpabio won the award of “The Best Governor promoter of Education Development in the South – South” from the Ministry of Education, late last year! With the prompt provision of facilities such as stable power supply, portable water, computers, standard science laboratories, staff quarters, decent hostels well stocked libraries and up-to-date recreational facilities in schools, among many other revolution aimed at repositioning the education sector in the state, the commissioner maintained that the governor deserved the award.
It is clear, from Akpabio’s experiment, that the masses, yearn for the right leaders. They yearn for positive change. They are ever ready to take their destinies in their hands – provided they are provided the right opportunities. Indeed, it is safe to say that if they have the choice, the poor would never subject their children to child labour.
Take for instance, the case in Akwa Ibom State. It is instructive that immediately after the free education policy of the Akpabio administration was announced, enrolments in schools tripled.
And the governor still wants them to take further advantage of the policy. He told a story of a 36 year-old palm-wine taper who has now abandoned his trade to enroll in Junior Secondary 3.
At every point, Akpabio is appreciative to the teachers because, as he puts it, without them, nobody would have direction. True, even today’s leaders and every professional derives his knowledge from the tutelage of a teacher. Hence, the governor often thanks them for their cooperation, which he said, has helped in making the free and compulsory education policy a reality in the state. He also acknowledged their contribution in abolishing Parent Teacher Association Fees and other related “hidden” charges.
Recently, while presenting some science equipment to some schools, Governor Akpabio told the students the days of their seeing chemicals and reagents for the first time in examination halls were over. He wants every Akwa Ibom citizen to make the best use of the facilities to justify government’s commitment to ensuring that they are well-positioned for tomorrow’s challenges, educationally.
“To the children, it is said to whom much is given, much is expected. This is a golden opportunity that the government is giving to you…We are presenting these equipment worth millions of naira to ensure that our students do not only come across chemicals and reagents only on examination days”, the governor said.
The current global economic meltdown not withstanding, Chief Akpabio keeps reiterating his commitment to fulfill all his campaign promises. To him, God would see Akwa Ibom – the only state named after Him – through!
However, youths he cautioned, need to shun social ills and criminal tendencies such as kidnapping, stealing, robbery, etc, submitting that God would exposed all kidnappers in the state before the end of this year.
On the welfare of teachers in the secondary and primary schools in the state, he promised to ensure that teachers are properly rewarded and to engage in training and re-training of teachers for effective service delivery. According the education-loving Governor: “Teachers should know that this administration celebrates teaching and is in partnership with them to create a proud environment for learning activities.”
Mr Umoren, an educationist and public affairs analyst, sent this piece from Uyo