(By Mercy Ozuobi)

It is often said that the beauty of democracy is its feature of the freedom of speech or opinion, but such opinion should be embedded with fact and figures, not hypocrisy, arm criticism and cynicism. It should also have a limit to misinformation, because Nigerians are better informed now than ever before. Again, political leaders who presided over the state resource for years and failed in ramifications, apart from personal enrichment, should learn how to keep quiet because they lack the morality to throw stone at glass houses.

ON Friday, August 8, 2014 was an article published on back page, YouthSpeak column titled, ‘Public primary education on the verge of extinction,’ written by one Mr. Onyebuchi Ogbaegbe.

  Without any iota of doubt, the biased article was obviously written to cast aspersion and denigrate the performance of the present government in the state in the area of education especially at the primary level which is not a fact.      According to the writer, the school, Amaoba Central School Oboro in Ikwuano was established in 1949 by the Methodist Church with the aim of bringing education to the community. The writer blamed the council area and present government in the state for deplorable state of the school without stating how. 1949 was many decades even before the country attained Independence in 1960.

   One clear fact is that the school is a missionary school, but the writer did not state when the government took it over from missionaries and when they returned it to them. From the article, it is a fact that the school has been in dilapidated state since Independence and the successive Administrations in the state since its creation in 1991 have not deemed it fit to reconstruct it. The writer failed to tell the world the status of the school at present whether the present Administration has handed it over to the original missionary owners. Why? It is because of his sinister motive which is to portray the present Administration in the state as a failure ahead of 2015 polls. No one should be surprised because such hatchet work can be expected to smear the government in preparation against next year’s elections. It is often said that the beauty of democracy is its feature of the freedom of speech or opinion, but such opinion should be embedded with fact and figures, not hypocrisy, arm criticism and cynicism. It should also have a limit to misinformation, because Nigerians are better informed now than ever before. Again, political leaders who presided over the state resource for years and failed in ramifications, apart from personal enrichment, should learn how to keep quiet because they lack the morality to throw stone at glass houses.

  Having worked as a teacher in the state for the almost a decade now, I have enough information and knowledge on the state of education sector in the state then and now.  When the present Administration came into office in 2007, the education sector in the state was in a shambles. Apart from low motivation of teachers due to stunted promotion, owing of salary arrears and lack of good teaching environment, the worrisome state of public schools across the state is nothing to write home about. There was divide and rule approach in the state civil service orchestrated by the immediate past Administration. The situation was very pathetic, appalling and daunting.

   But despite all these challenges, the present Administration on assumption of office took the bull by the horns in addressing the age-long rots which had bedeviled the sector. The Governor, Chief Theodore Orji, himself a product and beneficiary of public schools, leaves no one in doubt of his government’s commitment to see that education is improved in the state.

  The government increased the monthly subvention of all the tertiary institutions in the state. The State Scholarship Board that had been moribund was reactivated. With the reactivation of the Board, the regular bursary disbursements to indigent Abia students were resurrected and beneficiaries have continued to enjoy it till date. The Board also reactivated the Overseas Scholarship Scheme through which it has granted bursaries to more than 40 students of Abia State origin studying in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Asia. Students of Abia origin currently in Nigeria Law schools across the country were recently paid bursary by the state government.

  Not resting on his oars, the governor instituted a private scholarship scheme known as Ochendo Scholarship Scheme which took off with 25 undergraduates in various disciplines within the country as beneficiaries. The project which was strictly private had once the respected Catholic Bishop of Umuahia, the Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, as its Board Chairman. One of the beneficiaries of the scheme, Mr. Solomon Odochi Chibuzo of the department of Animal and Environmental Biology, Abia State University, Uturu, emerged the overall best graduating student of the university in 2013 with CGPA 4.8. He was rewarded with automatic employment by the university authority. That is how the poor boy through Ochendo Scholarship Scheme became empowered.

  The government has also increased the fleet of buses in its Free-School-Bus Scheme for pupils in secondary and primary schools, apart from repackaging it to ensure effective and efficient service delivery. Teachers’ salaries and allowances are being paid regularly and as at when due. The same goes with their promotions and the resultant entitlements that which hitherto had been stunted. That is why it has been difficult for teachers in the state to go on strike since 2007. Rather they have faced their work, doing it happily and wholeheartedly.

  Since 2007, the government has embarked on massive rehabilitation and construction of standard classroom blocks, offices, and other facilities in schools across the state. At present many of the rehabilitation and construction works have been completed. They include construction of classroom blocks at Nde Ebe Primary School Abam, Arochukwu, of many administrative blocks at a school in Okeikpe Ukwa-west, Administrative blocks and borehole at Ogbor Central School old Umuahia. At Isikwuato High School, three classroom blocks and a toilet were constructed. The same facilities were constructed in Community School Umuobala, also in Isikwuato council area. Not left out were Leru secondary/ primary schools Leru in Umunneochi council area where several classrooms were built. Across the state, the list of completed work is endless, massive and unprecedented in history of public schools in the state.

  With the completion of these works, the state government returned most of them to their original owners to manage, while it continues to pay salaries of their teachers till date. The government through the Ministry of Education ensured strict supervision and monitoring of the activities of private schools in the state which has led in consequence to the closure of some of them. Their proprietors were found wanting.

  The excellent performance of Abia State in the 2013 West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in which the state emerged the overall second best in the country after Anambra State is a testimony and, indeed, a confirmation of the present government’s massive investment in education sector in last seven years. Much more and greater feat is expected in the states’ WASSCE performance in years ahead by which time the gains of the government’s interventions would have been fully consolidated.

  State-owned tertiary institutions were not left out by the government in the ongoing education revolution. Recently, the state governor, Chief Theodore Orji approved the increment of the monthly subvention to Abia Polytechnic Aba from N25 million to N90 million.

  Towards the end of last year, the government released N5.4 billion to the management of the state university, ABSU, to tackle infrastructure projects. The government also restored peace and harmony between the university and its host community, complete liquidation of the arrears of six month salaries of staff, which gulped a whopping N960,000,000.00. The government has in addition redeemed her promise to implement the 2009 FGN/University Staff union’s package in the university from January 2011 which cost the Administration an additional N528,000,000.00.

   Before now, the university’s surgery and medicine programme was facing the threat of de-accreditation by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. The government has rescued the university by providing all the requirements for the full accreditation of the programme. The governor approved and awarded contracts for two major projects for the school, namely Medical Complex and an Auditorium for Abia State University Teaching Hospital located in Aba. The projects have been completed and handed over to the management of the school

  The government interventions in the educational sector have already started bearing fruits as can be seen from the plethora of laurels and awards garnered by the state at various national and zonal competitions. Sometime ago, the state took the overall best position in the Universal Basic Education Commission Good Performance rating for the entire South-East Zone; the state also came second in the South-East Zone, and was rewarded with a plaque and cash prize of N70 million. The present government may not have tackled all the enormous challenges it inherited as a result of paucity of funds and other daunting financial obligations, its strides in the education sector has been tremendous. What is required is for the in-coming governments to sustain and improve on them.

• Ozuobi, a teacher, wrote from Umuahia, Abia State.

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