The problem with Bayelsa SUBEB board members, by Liverpool, Executive Secretary
Dr Walton Liverpool is the Executive Secretary, Bayelsa State Universal Basic Education Board.
In this interview with Jimitota Onoyume, he speaks on why Governor Seriake Dickson ordered that the primary school attended by President Goodluck Jonathan in Otuoke, Bayelsa State be rebuilt. He dismisses the allegation by some members of his board that he operates as a sole administrator.
It is like there is in-fighting in the Bayelsa SUBEB. What is the problem really?
We came on board on August 6, 2012. And when the governor was sworn-in, he declared a state of emergency in the education sector. There have been massive infrastructural development in the school system in the state. The governor started by paying N1.8 billion as counterpart fund for 2011 and 2012. Equivalent amount was brought from the Federal Government amounting to N3.6 billion.
With that we started construction. We constructed 200 head masters quarters from SUBEB fund and another 200 from the Ministry of Education. This is across the state. It is two-bedroom flats for the headmasters and there is also provision for teachers in the apartment who may wish to reside there.
We have also renovated over 400 primary schools across the state. We have the mega school projects awarded by the previous administration in 2011 but none of them was executed. People got contract awards. Some started up to DPC level and ran away. Now we have completed 20 out of the 25 mega school projects.
We have three per local government. But Yenagoa being the state capital has seven of the schools slated for the area.
People call me all sorts of names that I am running the place like a sole administrator. I want to use this opportunity to say that all they are saying is not correct. Those saying that are doing so out of ignorance, including some of my board members. There is a difference between part-time board and a full time board.
Before now the board was full time with an Executive Chairman and a Secretary, but when this government came on board, to enhance efficiency, it decided to change the law to have an Executive secretary in the board while other members will be part time. And this has yielded fruitful result. The Executive Secretary is the Chief Accounting Officer of the board and is in charge of the day to day running of the place while the other board members are part-time members. They come when there is board meeting. The Executive Secretary of the board implements decisions taken at the board meetings.
Some of the members want to be like full time board members which is not provided for by the law. This is why I am accused of running the office like mine. They want a situation where if I want to query a teacher for not going to work I should take permission from them which is not so because I have the right to query a teacher and stop the salary of a teacher that abandon his or her duty post.
These are the things I do and they quarrel with it. The board has met so far for 14 times. The minutes are there. If we have emergency I can summon emergency meetings. I am not the Chairman that presides over the meetings. I only brief the meetings on our activities. For the fact that I run the office for a period of three or four months before we meet I must brief the meeting on what had been done which is mandatory. This briefing I do make some say I only come to brief.
What happened to the State School 1, Otuoke, the primary school attended by President Goodluck Jonathan?
The governor directed that the school be pulled down and a new one built. They are de-roofing now and work has started. The governor also directed that this time the school should be a storey building. About three weeks ago I supplied 200 chairs and tables to the school.
It is not true that pupils are sitting on bare floor to learn. The day I visited the school, there were extra seats packed in a room. In Otuoke we have a mega project where they have 23 toilets in a school.
There is toilet in the president’s school but it is bad. It is located behind the class rooms. With the instruction the governor gave now, anything needed in the school will be there. We have made arrangement to build teachers’ quarters in the school. The school was never abandoned.
Asbestos is used for the ceiling of the classrooms. Children play ball as you know, so they broke some of the schools roofing sheets. Most of the doors and windows of the school are also broken because they are made of wood. That the newspapers published the state of the school made the governor to say they should pull it down. By the time they finish renovation of the school, it will be one of the best in the country. That photograph you saw in that paper of the school was arranged. No child sits on the floor in Otuoke schools.
We have cases of teachers in rural areas not going to work. How do you deal with this situation?
Rural area schools cannot have the same number of teachers with urban schools. There are more students in urban schools. It is one teacher to 35 students in primary schools; we post teachers by ratio. There are some schools with just 80 pupils in some villages.
From the creation of Bayelsa till now, no recruitment has been made at the primary school level. It is just recently that the governor said he wanted to employ. The problem is only at the primary school level. There are migrant fishermen schools with only four pupils. For my sector, teachers in the rural areas are enough because we don’t have much population in the rural areas.
There are teachers in Yenagoa who will not go to work for six months. And when I hear, I stop their salaries. Some are in Lagos, Port Harcourt. Then when ever they don’t see bank alerts they appear. When they come I force them to go back to work before I order release of their salaries. I am performing my legitimate functions. Even the public service rule says that any civil servant who absconds from duty for three days without permission is tantamount to dismissal. But we don’t do that.
We only sanction yet some people say a chief executive officer does not have the power to sanction an erring staff. I was a pioneer member of the board when I was state Chairman of NUT and have also been Secretary of the board before I came in now as Executive Secretary. So nobody can tell me about SUPEB. Some of the members are bankers appointed into the board.
The problem my board members have is that they want to run the board with me as full time members. They wanted me to even assign offices to them which the law did not make provision for. It is only full time board members that have such offices.
I was in Abuja for meeting. While I was there,I got calls that Chairman had summoned a meeting. It is not her duty. She is supposed to direct me to summon a meeting. I had to ask if she was summoning the meeting as a personal meeting because a part time Chairman cannot summon a meeting and sign. Rather she directs me to do. I have had 14 different awards since I assumed office in appreciation of what we area doing.
When we came on board, Bayelsa was the least performing state in the whole country, it was 37th in ranking as at August 2012. But under me it has moved from that 37th position to 10th in the country. By the grace of God, we are looking at 1st to 3rd because we are doing more things. By the time we finish our projects, I don’t see any state that will beat us.