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Education reform: Akpabio following Awo’s footsteps
Akpan Inyang-Bassey hails from Ekom-Iman in Etinan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. Like most other boys of his age, he was ferried off to Lagos at a tender age. His reasons for relocating to Lagos include being a first-class house-help, an outstanding gate-keeper or an achieved house-boy. Make no mistake; Akpan’s story is a true reflection of the stories of thousands of Akwa Ibom State indigenes in the past, people who in their prime have become house boys and girls and had no hopes of education for better and improved lives.
For years, the state topped the chart in the production of house-helps, as youths of the state are taken to the big cities of Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Abuja and others in their thousands because their parents could either not send them to schools or they had simply given up hope about education in its entirety. At least, these were the developments from the long years of military rule till around 2007 when a new dawn emerged for the education sector in the state.
Piqued by his experiences while working in Lagos, whereby whenever he went to visit his friends, an Okon or Akpan would be at the gate as gateman while an Ekaette or Imaobong would be in the house to serve water and food, Governor Godswill Akpabio never hid his intention for the youths of the state. He even made a vow that if he ever became the governor of the state, youths of the state would no longer be known as servants and house-helps, but would rise to become managers, directors and CEOs of multinational companies.
In his campaign message, he had spoken of his vision for an Akwa Ibom with a functional and quality education that will serve as catalyst for development, poverty alleviation and a foundation for the transformation of the state to an industrial one, where its key establishments in the state would be manned by its citizens because of the education they must have received over the years. When in 2007 he eventually emerged as governor, there was no doubt that the educational sector in the state was about to witness a surgical operation, one that would forever change the stories of millions of Akwa Ibom youths for good.
By 2008, the journey to reform the education sector had started, beginning with the introduction of free and compulsory education from primary to senior secondary level. Akpabio’s free education programme is not just free for the sake of being free, it is highly monitored by an agency put in place to ensure total compliance. Apart from being tuition free, the students are provided with free text and exercise books as well as uniforms. Just as the late Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose idea of development and emancipation was predicated on solid education, Akpabio sought a state with greater values for the youths and to achieve that end, he followed the master—Awolowo. He would later say at the Tribune Man of the Year Award in 2010 that he was following Chief Awolowo’s example in declaring free and compulsory education.
Apart from the compulsory free education programme introduced by the governor, he also instituted a scheme that could be described as first of its kind in the country with the payment of subventions to students in order to ensure that education is completely free. Each primary school pupil has a subvention of N100 per term while N300 per term goes to each secondary school student. In effect, the school enrolment in the 1,110 primary schools and 230 secondary schools in the state have tripled to a staggering 156, 761 and it is the highest in the South-South geo-political zone as the state continued to enforce a zero tolerance for child illiteracy. The 2010 National Literacy Survey also showed that the state, under the Akpabio-led administration, has a literacy rate in any language of about 79 percent. The state’s free education policy, surprisingly, is for the benefit of every Nigerian child resident in Akwa Ibom State. Apart from the free education policy, the Child Rights Act is in full force in the state, a system that ensures that children must be in school and failure of any child to take hold of that opportunity would be blamed on the parents. Since the declaration of this laudable policy, hardly if at all,would you find a child of school going age on the streets during school hours, in fact, it is a taboo.
The governor has continued to give hope to thousands of parents and youths of the state annually with the payment of Senior Secondary School Certificates Examination (SSSCE) fees, such that people whose education had been free until SS3 would not cite lack of funds for not taking the final examination. More so, several intervention efforts had been made and are still being made to improve the tertiary institutions, ranging from the construction of libraries and laboratories to payment of bursaries to law and medical students.
The state has also established its own university to cater for the envisaged large turn out of school certificate holders who would want to further their education up to the tertiary level as a result of the free and compulsory education of the Akpabio-led administration.
More than before, education has assumed an important dimension in the state, as the government paid greater attention to educational infrastructure. As part of his promises, model structures are springing up in schools across the 31 local governments in the state, as educational facilities are made more accessible to students of the state. The governor has built and renovated hundreds of classrooms, laboratories and libraries just to ensure that no Akwa Ibom child ever find education inaccessible and expensive as to return to servitude.
The infrastructural facilities revolution in the state was consummated by the efforts in the education sector, with the construction of a masterpiece digital library in Uyo, which was recently commissioned by no other person than the president of the country, dr Goodluck Jonathan. The e-library, said to be the first of its kind in West Africa, is a stronghold of knowledge where a tap on the computers allows access to more than 300,000 books on various subjects and fields.
As a result of the reform in the education sector, not only has the governor been able to turn back the hands of time in the lives of many youths, he has also apparently re-written the history of the state from a producer of house-helps to a producer of tomorrow leaders. At different fora,Governor Akpabio had always jokingly, but very seriously stated that “AkwaIbom State has permanently handed over that industry of servitude to other parts of the country. If you come to my state for a house-help, I can assure you that you will not find any because they have returned home to be educated because of the free and compulsory education of my administration.”
It is worthy of note that Governor Akpabio’s efforts on education have been noticed at various times, both in Nigeria and abroad, with the commendation given him by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, for his efforts in human development and education being of note.
Professor Soyinka, who had lashed out at the rate of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta during the South-South Economic Summit, praised Governor Akpabio for what he has been doing in the education sector and promised to visit the state in order to see things for himself.
In five years, Governor Akpabio has gone about making his vision for a better Akwa Ibom State a reality and in doing so, he has placed education in an important spot; demonstrating the true spirit of Awoism. While he is not one of the self-professed progressives, his actions and efforts, which have returned the state to the acme of excellence in education, sure indicate that the governor is one; and he is no newspaper progressive but one that seeks the progress of the state through the progress of the youths, for they say that knowledge is power.
Udom, a public affairs analyst, sent this piece from Abuja.Share