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Ajimobi And The Dea(r)th Of Free Education

 

I have always taken to heart the words of the great Awolowo, when he said “In order to attain the goals of economic freedom and prosperity, Nigeria must do certain things as a matter of urgency and priority. It must provide free education.” That is why education at basic and secondary school levels was pronounced free; we wanted to encourage more people to educate themselves and their children. – Abiola Ajimobi, August 17 2015.
In 1952, Only 35% of children of school age attended school in the Western Region. In July 1952, when Awolowo came up with his blueprint for free universal primary school education (U.P.E) which was well researched and articulated by Michael Ajasin and executed by his minister of education, Prof. S.O Awokoya, senior British officials and top civil servants were skeptical about how the funding for such a big project in the region would be sourced.
Awolowo was advised to shelve his utopian idea quietly after elections but Awo didn’t give up. The Economic indices and fiscal statistics to pay for the program were against him. The budget deficit (£8m) would have been staggering. There was no magic to balance the budget.
Awo found a solution, he cancelled housing subsidies to all civil servants (expat and local), He suggested the use of mud blocks (research into durability showed they could last for 50 years) in place of cement fabrications for the school buildings. This system reduced the Capital cost by 70%.
Awolowo and his cabinet did not predict the wide keenness of the parents and the potential number of students to enroll for the program. The department of statistics relied on the flawed 1953 census and estimated that a total of 175k students would register in the first year, they were wrong. In the opening week of the program in January 1955, nearly 400k students showed up for enrollment.
As time progressed they ran into several stumbling blocks to fund the recurrent expenditure on education and they found a solution each time, at the end of his second term in Office they had over 1 million primary school graduates for a limited number of secondary schools. They created modern three schools (middle schools of a three year duration) to close the gap.
There was an explosion in the number of secondary schools too. Statistics showed that the number of secondary school pupils rose from 6000 to 880,000 in 1959 when he was rounding up his tenure. That number was greater than those in the Northern and Eastern regions combined.
This Program came at a cost to him and his party politically, he increased taxes and also initiated a legislation to compel women to pay taxes for the first time in History. Tax was imposed on entertainment, lottery, salt, and petrol. A capitation tax levy of over 10 shillings was imposed on all males for the fiscal year 54’ (20X from 6 pence previously)
We have continued with this system in the southwest and in my state (Oyo State) ever since then and the discovery of oil made this easier. Our Governors rely on Federal allocations from crude rents to fund the program and it has really increased the literacy levels in this state.
Another governor who made attempts at copying both Awolowo and Ige’s quality educational systems was former governor of the state, Senator Rashidi Ladoja who instituted the policy of 30pupils per class and also built a number of new schools. That singular act still makes him stand tall and he commands the respect of teachers and parents in the state.
The announcement, last month by Governor Ajimobi of the Cancellation of Free Education in Oyo State is a new low in a very bad tenure. Ajimobi announced that the Government will no longer sponsor secondary school final exams and he also re-introduced school fees in the primary and secondary schools.
Education has really suffered under the current governor as he just cannot see the importance, he completely decimated the 30 students a class structure he met, and brought back the dark history of over crowded classes. The schools hitherto separated were regrouped and at least 80pupils were receiving lessons in one class. He doubted the sustainability because educational funding isn’t his number one priority. Before the fall in oil prices that led to lower federal allocations, Ajimobi stopped the schools’ running cost scheme otherwise called grant to schools in 2011.
Before Governor Ajimobi, School principals used to receive stipends from the state government under the school running cost scheme to fund the day to day running of the schools and he decided to stop this scheme leaving school principals to run the schools via unconventional means.
These decisions had detrimental consequences on the standard of education in the state, with the state coming a distant 34th, failing to meet the national average, which was 31.29 per cent in the 2014 WAEC results. To put in perspective, we had even worse results than some war torn states in the North East.
It is really shameful that Governor Ajimobi who promised free and qualitative education before elections, decided to make the worst policy somersault in the history of the South West. Governor Ajimobi did the ‘Awo wave’ throughout his campaign, promising free education to everybody in the state. Two months after his victory, there’s a change of promise.
‘King Rehobam has ascended the throne and he is increasing the yoke’. Perhaps, Governor Ajimobi has forgotten that he, himself is a beneficiary of Chief Awolowo ‘s free education program, Ajimobi Started his education in St. Patricks Primary school Oke Padi, and completed his primary school education in Ibadan City Council primary school In Aperin. They were both free schools, His Secondary Education was in Lagelu grammar school and the Government took care of his fees, how did a man that rose from St. Patricks in Oke padi to being the C.E.O of National Oil (a subsidiary of shell) forget his roots. Did Governor Ajimobi forget his Ibadan Dream? Why is he denying our children the same?
Article 6 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights had stated quite categorically that “Everyone has a right to education. Education shall be free in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory,” and the International Commissions of Jurists declared in Athens in 1995 that the “right to education must be guaranteed without discrimination. Governor Ajimobi that should be tackling the primary school enrollment lag in the state is denying the children a fundamental human right with this policy.
In 2004, President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education bill into law. And Section 2(1) states that ; Every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and Universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. The Federal Government also decided to take on a part of the funding by donating a block grant of not less than 2% of its consolidated revenue to the scheme. This act makes Free Primary Education a Fundamental human right in Nigeria. Not only is Governor Ajimobi’s Decision Wicked, it is illegal and unconstitutional and that is why I have decided to follow this article up with a Petition to the Attorney General of the state.
More baffling, is the fact that Oyo state has refused to access the money that the Federal Government allocated to it to sponsor free education, provide infrastructures and build schools. The money is currently lying idle at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Just recently, the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission, Dr. Dikko Suleiman, was literally begging Ajimobi and other defaulting state governors to come and access the billions of naira belonging to their states.
As stated earlier, the Federal government provides an intervention fund to implement the Universal Basic Education Programme, and to access this fund, states are expected to provide a similar grant of the amount they intend to draw to boost infrastructure in their schools. In simpler terms, if a state is willing to access 2bn from the fund, it must be required to provide a counterpart fund of 2bn. The state must also provide an action plan, that is, the projects it will spend the money on and the benefits to be derived from the projects. But because of unaccountability and negligence, some states have refused to access this free fund and Oyo state is one of them.
UBEC released a report on access and utilisation of Special Education Fund and Oyo state was one of the non-perfoming states. We have only accessed 22% of the fund in the past 4 years i.e we have only accessed 1.1bn out of ₦4.8bn in 4 years. How can Governor Ajimobi justify his decision to re-introduce tuition fees when billions to sponsor basic education delivery is deliberately left un-utilised. Why should any governor decide to impose untold hardship on the masses when he can simply provide the counterpart funds to access the UBEC funds. Why do we have to pay for his apathy towards public education.
Is it because UBEC demands accountability and transparency from any state that intends to access the fund? Is this because UBEC inspects several projects in different states to ascertain it’s conformity with the action plan. Are we paying tuition fees because our Governor does not want to be accountable? Why can’t we use some of the bail out fund to access the UBEC Fund? Will Governor Ajimobi allow any money to rot in CBN if not for the conditions attached? These are serious questions that our Governor needs to answer. The masses cannot pay for this apathy.
That Governor Ajimobi decided to blame low Federal allocations for this wicked act shows that we have a Governor that relies on Allocations from above mainly to run his state, while Awolowo found solutions to this problem, Governor Ajimobi found excuses to deny children a basic human right. Ajimobi should note that Free Education does not necessarily mean that nobody will pay for it but “free access to education, whether their parents can afford it or not “. That is why it is a responsibility of of the government to find new means to fund this scheme. Ajimobi is denying the free access to education and it is the panacea to build a literate society.
It is also telling that all through his tenure, Governor Ajimobi has reduced Government spending on education. He allocated just 8% to education in his first Budget in 2012 tagged “the budget of Restoration” . 8% on education simply isn’t good enough for a society that desires to build a strong literate society with ethical, moral and civic values needed for laying a solid foundation for life-long living. We don’t want children of school age to be begging in traffic, we want more children to rise from Oke Padi to Agodi Government house.

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Ayobami, Concerned Oyo Youth. @dondekojo

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