By Ogu Bundu Nwadike, M.A
Since his gubernatorial explorations and exploits, since sometime in 2013 till date, the Imo State governor, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, CON KSC has never minced words about his promise to provide *qualitative education* for Imo children, students and youths.
He has never indicated any intention to withdraw the free education policy of government. Rather, he has insisted that with education, quality is better than quantity. Hence, he places greater emphasis on qualitative education than the so-called “free education at all levels” provided by the immediated past ex-governor, Rochas Okorocha.
It’s, therefore, preposterous that the ex-governor is characteristically nursing fear of traces of his bad leadership and bad governance from being permanently obliterated by the current governor in obedience to the will of the greater majority of Imo people.
That must account for why he as usual has ants in his pants and is raising the imaginary phobia and whipping up the angst of a section of Imo people against the governor over Rochas’ rumour that Gov. Ihedioha wants to remove free education progamme in the State.
There’s no truth in that. And I say that on the authority of two facts. First, there is a free education policy as recommended by the National Policy on Education in line with the 6-3-3-4 New Policy on Education. That policy decision has for decades been being enforced by the Federal Ministry of Education.
The policy stipulates that there shall be free education in Nigerian public schools at 6-3 levels of education. That simply means that from Primary One to Primary Six through Junior Secondary School One (JSS1) to JSS3 there is a compulsory free education.
It took a combination of all departments of education delivery to arrive at that policy decison. Philosophy of Education, Educational Foundation, Psychology of Education, Economics of Education, Statistics of Education, Educational Management and Administration, and ultimately Curriculum Development; all made vital contribution.
The policy to limit the free education to JSS3 wasn’t because Government at all levels could not afford free education. Rather, it was made because of various considerations, which are not necessary to elaborate on in a short essay as this. But suffice to say that it was for the overall benefit of all stakeholders in the education sector viz government, parents and guardians and the wider society.
Fortunately, the current Commissioner for Education in Imo State, Noble Lady, Prof. Mrs. Viola Onwuliri, was until recently the Honourable Minister of State in the Federal Ministry of Education.
She posesses so much knowledge, understanding and experience of the workings of general education in her capacity as an educationist and academic par excellence.
It may be pertinent to note that it took the prompt intervention of Prof. Mrs. Viola Onwuliri to open the understanding of Imo people that the 305 twin storey classroom buildings were built by the Federal Ministry of Education and not by Ex-governor Rochas Okorocha.
That was in the days and weeks to the 2015 general elections, when the then so-called governor aimed to take undue advantage of the ignorance of Ndimo and claim that he built the classroom buildings.
The second fact that supports the notion that Rochas is jittery of being exposed, shamed and disgraced by Imo people is emanating from the official interactive meeting between the Honourable Commissioner for Education in Imo State and the Imo public secondary school principals that operate under the aegis of “All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Public Schools (ANCOPPS), Imo State Chapter.
Instructively, the principals solemnly but ebulliently announced in unison with reason that there was no free education in Imo State in the period Ex-governor Rochas Okorocha was governor, 2011-2019! The Imo ANCOPPS, led by their Chairman, Mr. Manume Baanah, told the Honourable Commissioner that there was no free education whatsoever and however in Imo State under Rochas.
Mr. Manume Baanah said and I quote:
“Free education in the State only existed on paper and not a reality. The government couldn’t have claimed to have provided free education when it didn’t adequately fund the programme. During that period, the government failed to release money for Principals to run their schools.
“Any free education programme which failed to provide free books, uniforms, feeding, healthcare, payment of West African Senior School Certificate of Education (WASSCE) examination registration fees and other basic amenities for students, is not free education indeed.
“Free education implies that everything about education should be free, and not just merely the absence of tuition fees. The kind of free education operated by Okorocha’s government, caused more harm than good to the system.”
Truth is not stammered! Facts are sacred! Imo ANCOPPS have spoken the truth without stammering. The presented sacred facts with fear or favour. There’s a further confirmation of the truth and efficacy of witnessing by Imo principals. All through the rogue regime of the ex-governor, Imo principals never hid their dismay at the way the ex-governor ran Imo schools like an unimportant arid farm.
As the principals succinctly declared, Rochas played politics with the education of their children by only telling parents to stop paying the token they paid as tuition fees, then he diverted billions of naira in the guise of funding free education.
The result is that while most primary school graduates cannot spell “primary school”, their seniors in the secondary and tertiary cannot spell “secondary”, “university” or “polytechnic” correctly with sweating! It was as bad as that with the so-called free education provided by the ex-governor!
That’s why, according to the principals, the direct managers of Imo secondary schools, political free education cannot qualify to be true free education. QED!
Gov. Ihedioha has recently reiterated his resolute resolution to rebuild and restore the education sector in the State. That was when he turned soils for the construction of a school building at Government Technical College, Okporo, Orlu. He is billed to perform similar ground breaking assignment at three other Government Technical Colleges in Ahiazu Mbaise, Isiala Mbano and Owerri Municipal Council.
The essence is to drive and leverage the governor’s great vision for the technological development of the State through the development of technical education. The world has since gone digital, exploring and exploiting the hidden wealth of the world through the instrumentality of science and technology.
Already some high technology skills acquisition trainings and empowerment programmes are on going with over 5000 Imo from the 305 wards and 27 LGAs standing as direct beneficiaries of the programme. Of course, that’s being provided free by Gov. Ihedioha without any political connotata or denotata.
It’s only a Shylock of a leader that can afford to play politics with the best legacy he could give to the next generation! Gov. Ihedioha believes in the philosophy of human capital and capacity development. It begins from the cradle to the grave in organized, systematic and systemic ways and manners.
Of course, the new administration will sustain free education but with the restoration of the lost ingredient of quality. That’s why the emphasis is shifting to qualitative education away from the noxious, deceptive, politicized free education that lacked quality and that reduced value of human capital and capacity development, instead of being valued added.
The governor has since announced plans to establish an Education Trust Fund which will effectively enable the renewed provision of qualitative free education by his government as is obtainable in most States of the federation.
There will be a deliberate programme for the regular proper and adequate training and retraining of teachers at all levels. What’s the usefulness of a free education with untrained, incompetent, inefficient ineffective and inexperienced teaching force? Many teachers in the system are actually cheaters! They need training and retraining, which Gov. Ihedioha has repeatedly promised.
Only recently the State Ministry of Education under the able leadership of Prof. Mrs. Viola Onwuliri organized training and retraining coaching clinic for teachers of Igbo Language. Plans are reportedly in the pipe line for training and retraining of teachers of arts and science subjects etc. That’s in the best spirit of qualitative education!
In summary, therefore, however, there will be free education as statutorily recommended by the government. There’s no gainsaying that. Then, most importantly, there will be qualitative education. There’s no doutbt about that. That’s the promise of Gov. Emeka Ihedioha. And as a great, charismatic leader whose word is his bond, he will do it. In fact, he has already started doing it! To God be the glory! Imo must be rebuilt!