By Dayo Johnson, Akure
When the free school shuttle scheme for pupils and students in public primary and secondary schools kicked off three years ago in Ondo State, many people expressed reservations about the sustainability of the programme. Some people lauded the programme while pessimists argued it was politically motivated to garner votes from parents of school children for the second term ambition of Governor Olusegun Mimiko.
The critics were quick to write off the scheme believing that, with time, government will buckle under the financial weight. But, today, the success of the scheme has proved the pessimists wrong because, from the initial 30 buses it started with, it has increased to 90. However, many parents applauded the gesture being the first in the history of the“state just as enrollment in public schools hit the roof.
The Permanent Secretary in the state Education Ministry, Steve Awosika, confirmed the increment in students enrollment since the introduction of the scheme. Awosika explained that in the first year of the shuttle scheme, 2012, the enrollment increased from 211,000 to 223,000 in 2013 and, in 2014, 241,000 while it recorded 250,000 in 2015. Drums were rolled out to mark the third anniversary of the programme which also coinceded with the anniversary of the annuled June 12,1993 presidential election. It was found that the free shuttle for uniformed students and pupils to and from school has ensured punctuality.
The beneficiaries catch the buses to school in groups. On the day of the anniversary, the beneficiaries, across the state, dropped their bags and books to participate in the celebration held at Adegbemile House, Ondo State Cultural Centre, Akure. The buses lined the road from the Cultural Centre to the First Bank area of the state capital. Mimiko, his wife, Olukemi, Information Commissioner, Kayode Akinmade, and others members of the State Executive Council joined the students to ride in the buses round the state capital. The governor stood by the door to invite the students who lined up to enter the buses.
Akure stood still as the buses snaked through the major streets with students waving flags and singing choruses to appreciate God and the governor. Speaking before the bus ride round the“state capital, the governor revealed that the idea of providing free shuttle buses for students across the state was from his wife, Olukemi. Mimiko said that what the administration is being commended for within and outside the state was ” actually the idea of my darling wife, Olukemi Mimiko”. He said the free buses are operating in 14 of the 18 local government areas of Ondo State with an assurance that the four other council areas would enjoy the facility before the end of this year. For the people in the riverine areas, Mimiko assured that free boat shuttle service would be provided for them.
He said that, as planned by his administration to sustain and institutionalize the programme, a bill has been forwarded to the state House of assembly for legal backing. ” Our administration is determined and encouraged to sustain the free shuttle scheme. We are also“determined to sustain it’s funding despite the lean resources available,”he vowed. The governor went on: “We shall never allow the efforts of heroes of democracy, whether dead or alive, to be in vain.
We shall continue to give governance content to June 12, we shall continue to honour these patriots not just in rhetoric but by seeking to actualize the noble values of good governance and democracy which many of them died for.”He added that his administration will consolidate on its programmes targeted at improving the livelihood of the people of the state. The guest lecturer, Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, lauded the governor for the shuttle programme. According to him, the scheme focuses more on the ‘farewell to poverty content of June 12’. Also, a former governor of the old Western State, Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo, who was present at the anniversary, said the beneficiaries of the scheme would forever be grateful to Mimiko. Adebayo said the programme is remarkable because the beneficiaries cut across parents of the poor and the rich. The state Commissioner for Transport, Nicholas Tofowomo, said the scheme has been programmed to outlive the present administration.
Sunday Vanguard spoke with some of the shuttle scheme beneficiaries who lauded the Mimiko government. A student of Fiwasaye Girls Secondary School, Miss Adenike Adedeji, said since the free shuttle started, she had not missed boarding it daily. According to her, the scheme has taken off the burden of transport fares from her parents who are civil servants.
Another student from Oyemekun Grammar School, Emeka Ifejika, said the fear of missing the free bus has helped him to wake up early everyday. Ifejika said that the free shuttle has encouraged his two brothers to enroll in public school.
The Head of the Guidance and Counselling Unit of Fiwasaiye Girls Grammar School, C.R. Eniola, said the shuttle has made teaching easier for teachers, adding that it avails them the opportunity of making students attend the first period in class. Eniola said the scheme is laudable and a way of making the stakeholders in the state’s education sector enjoy the dividends of democracy.