‘Bayelsa has spent N70 billion on eduction so far’

Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa.

Prior to his assumption of office, education in Bayelsa was in limbo, leading to the declaration of a state of emergency by Governor Seriake Dickson, as soon as he was sworn in. The commissioner for education, Hon. Jonathan Obuebite, speaks more on the educational revolution going on in Bayelsa State, in an interview with Julius Osahon, in Yenagoa. Excerpts:

You have been for long a committed member of the restoration government of Governor Seriake Dickson. How will you describe the state of education in Bayelsa before the present administration of Dickson?

What the Dickson administration met on ground in Bayelsa State with regard to the education sector was nothing to write home about. I have been privileged to be in the government and also Chairman of Education Committee in the House of Assembly. So, I have deep knowledge of what was there and the various efforts made by successive governments but what was lacking basically was that there was no spirited efforts to look at the foundation of educations.

Former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, our leader of blessed memory looked at the area of providing university education for our people and the Niger Delta University was established but we all forgot that it was not just having a tertiary institution. You have to look at the foundation where you grow them to the point of going into tertiary institutions. We had schools that we complained about (as the chairman of Assembly Committee on Education).

Then we had schools that did not even have classrooms. There were not enough classrooms for the number of students in the school. In many schools, students were sharing classrooms, there were schools that were sited within one school environment and many other schools that shared the same compound. Some schools did not desks or chair for students to sit and write on. It was that bad! That led to a lot of issues in many places such as teenage pregnancies because some pupils had to drop out of school.

Most of our children succeeded in writing WAEC, and after that, that was the end. No one thought about going further and those who did not have complete papers in their WAEC were in quandary and could not move forward.

So, education in Bayelsa was something that needed intervention. I am not condemning every other government that had been. However, I want to say that the little they did was not good enough for us to go or come to where we are today.

So, what has the current government done differently?

When Governor Dickson took over, having been a part of the government as a Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, he declared emergency in the education sector on the day of his inauguration as governor of the state in 2012.

Following the declaration of the state of emergency, what is the state of the sector now?

Well, the declaration opened the opportunities for a spirited investment and commitment in the sector. I think that is where the Governor got it right. He started with building and renovation of primary schools in the state. More than 400 schools were renovated. They didn’t stop at that. I said ‘they’ because, then, I wasn’t in government or a member of the executive council. I was in the legislature. They started building headmasters’ quarters, first in the state.

In every school, you have headmasters’ quarters. The reason was to have headmasters to be there. Before then, if people were posted to our rural communities, they did not want to go. So, that was done and also teachers’ quarters were built.

In the secondary school sub-sector, Dickson renovated and built most, if not all the secondary schools that we have in this state. He built principal’s quarters and vice principals’ quarters. He also provided accommodation for some teachers as well as building laboratories in almost all the secondary schools and ICT laboratory. That’s why if you go now, some of them are not even being used.

We have decided to go back to them and see how we will use them and at least get every benefit of it. Then the governor employed 300 science and ICT teachers in this state in order to have the right teachers to use the equipment that have been provided.

From there, we moved forward to where we are now, where we are funding NDU and of course, you are aware that within this period, College of Education was in Okpoma, and for about three years, it had a student population of not more than 30 or 50 students. College of education with a staff population of more than 100.

Did that inform the relocation of the school?

Yes, Bayelsa people and even members of the state Assembly debated on the issue before moving it from one 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 more student population so that we can achieve the purpose of establishing the school.

The situation was so bad then that we were paying the lecturers without using them. And the school today as I speak is functioning very well. Students have been graduating out of the school.

Could you vividly tell us what has changed now?

A lot of things have changed. Today, we have a state where yesterday we referred to as educationally backward to a state where in NECO and WAEC, we have students that have made the state to emerge third and fifth and Bayelsa child emerged as the 2nd best graduating in the year 2017, a feat we never saw before. And consecutively from 2013 to 2017, we have been within 5th, 6th like that in NECO and WAEC. Before now, the state used to take 28th and 29th in those examinations in the country.

How do you describe schools in Bayelsa today?

Today in Bayelsa State, we have the biggest, largest, and most populated public school, all boarding secondary school in this state. Just recently, the National President of Nigeria Union of Teachers was in the state with his national executives. He’s from Lagos State. He said and I quote, ‘I have been a teacher all through my life and I have not seen a school as Ijaw National Academy in Kaiama.’ Addressing the students of INA, he said, ‘This school can be referred to as a university because of the facilities. Even when they started the University of Lagos, you could count the number of buildings that they had.’

What is the education target in the state?

We know that if we must develop our land, the only key to that development is through education. But are we there now? I will say no, we are not there yet but we are 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 emergency in education are all over the place and pupils, students and parents are benefitting immensely from that.

Numerically, how many schools has this government built so far and how much has been pumped into it?

Government is a continuum. Most of the schools you see here today are schools that were part of old local government when we were part of the old Rivers State before Bayelsa was created. But the schools are no more the same. Some of them were maybe two or three buildings that you can see in the entire area but today, you have many buildings. As I speak with you today, we have 25 modern constituency schools that were built by this government from the scratch and we have them in all the 24 constituencies.

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 Azuama and so many other schools.

Our population isn’t 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 a primary school here in Bayelsa.

That is why when we say we have spent about N70billion in education, it is not a fallacy. They are all on ground for people to see. It’s not rocket science, you can see and feel them. And that’s what we have done. What I am saying is not in terms of what we have used in welfare, we are talking about infrastructure. And the model schools we are talking about today, we are building 13 model schools in this state. In every local government, you have one boarding model school. In Kaiama alone, we have three of them. We have the Ijaw National Academy, Sports Academy and Kaiama Grammar School and February, that school boarding will start. Everything has been built.

What is really the problem with the primary schoolteachers and how fast is the government going to resolve that? Will the government take over of payment of salaries? And will that solve the problem permanently?

These are human factors. Can you solve all human issues and say they are permanent? No. So many things are involved. The leadership that you have too matters. Like the current industrial action that we have, there was no reason for it.

Yes, they are being owed. The Federal Government too is owing. There was a recession and there’s still recession in this country. And for 2016, you all are aware that there was a time people were afraid that this country would collapse.

Because it was difficult for even the FAAC meting to hold. Our naira suffered great depreciation we all know it; pump price of fuel was increased thinking it would help shore it up but that didn’t work. Today, we are still crying because they want to increase it (fuel price) again.

This country is still in recession and within that period, a state that had a wage bill of N4 billion and the allocation that was coming to the state then after all the deductions, in some months, we received N1.5billion. So, you end up using maybe three months allocations to pay one month’s salary.

Is the government considering conducting competency tests for teachers in the state as done in some states?

No, there won’t be competency test for our teachers. I have said it before; we don’t have any issue like that. What we have in that regard is that we have sent to the Bayelsa State House of Assembly for a bill to establish a board called ‘Teacher Retraining, Registration and Certification Board.’

We have a problem. The problem we have is that for many years, the teachers have not been given training and education is something that you update yourself. There is need for retraining and what that board is to do is to ensure that every year, all our teachers are retrained. When you train somebody, it is good to give the person a certificate showing that he participated in the programme.

Then registration, so that at every point in time, whenever you are trained, you register as a teacher that has been trained. We know those who have not been trained and we are not going to do it for public schools alone, it will also affect the private schoold. You know that when a state is rated, it affects both public and private schools.

It’s not just public schools because even private schools write WAEC, so the training will be for all teachers in the education sector – both public and private.

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