By Wale AKinola
In the 1950s and 1960s, the main agenda of the Ekiti people was education.
So high was education on the priority list ofÂ Ekiti, then in the WesternÂ Region, that virtually every household had a professor.
But, with time, the situation changed. The Ekiti people no longer paid attention to education.
So bad was the situation in the immediate past that the people now in their own state (Ekiti) were ranked very low in public examinations. Not quite long ago, the state was said to be among the last eight in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). The situation was frightening.
The state slogan, Fountain of Knowledge, was becoming an anathema.
But the man at the helm of affairs in the state, Governor Segun Oni, determined to reverse the situation, said the fortunes of education in the state were returning, thanks to the pragmatic policies of his administration.
Oni linked the downturn in education in the state to the peoples poor economic status.
â€œBefore, an average Nigerian believed that to every household in Ekiti, there was always a professor or professors. But this trend has gone downÂ because of the poor economic status of our people and that is why we are packaging a scholarship from primary school to the Ph.D level for our people to bring back the old glory,â€ the governor said at a parley of the stakeholders of Ekiti where he rendered the account of his stewardship. It was the third of such programme by Oni aptly tagged, â€œState of the State 3″ since 2007 when he first assumed office.
The presentation of the governor shows that education in the stateÂ has never been latelyÂ so free and so funded. Under the Oni administration, there is provision for the feeding of primary school pupils in addition to adequate supply of furniture to ensure that the pupils no longer sit on the floor to learn.
Whereas junior secondary school students are equally fed, they are entitled to free textbooks. For the students in the 22 senior secondary schools in the state, they get laptops and wireless internet access while those that are due for WASSE and NECO do so free in addition to free JAMB forms plus 16-week coaching for qualified students.
There is scholarship from secondary school to Ph.D level for the physically challenged (automatic), Law School (automatic), aviation and maritime schools, and one-year abroad for language proficiency (automatic). Secondary school students in Ekiti now compete favourably with their counterparts from other states in public examinations courtesy of the incentives provided by the Oni administration.
The state also has two universities. The University of Education, Ikire Ekiti and University of Science and Technology, Ifaki – established by the governor in addition to University of Ado Ekiti, UNAD. Renowned legal practitioner, Chief Afe Babalola, an indegene of Ekiti, who was among the stakeholders present at the occasion, lamented the dwindling fortunes of education across the country but found cheering news in the efforts of the governor to tackle the rot in the sector in the state. He told the story of the problemÂ in education in Nigeria from his vantage position of a former chairman, governing council of UNILAG. Afe Babalolaâ€™s words: â€œFor seven years, I saw the nakedness of poor education in Nigeria. I saw poor hostels, poor classrooms, poor facilities; I saw cultists at the highest level.
â€œI was determined that the situation must change and I did my best.â€ The lawyer then went on to explain why he established a university in Ekiti.
â€œBy investing in education, I am putting Ekiti on the world map. Thank Governor Oni for persuading me to bring my university to Ekiti.â€
According to him, the original plan was to build the university in Ibadan. â€œAt the dedication of the Heritage Law Library in Ibadan where I disclosed the intention of establishing the university, Governor Akala promised to assist. But, along the line, Governor Oni persuaded me to bring the project to Ekiti and also promised to help with infrastructure.
â€œWhereas the project is now on ground, the promise of assistance could not be fulfilled because it all got politicised.â€ Afe Babalola was said to have rejected the state governmentâ€™s offer of infrastructuralÂ assistance to the universityÂ after the opposition in Ekiti alleged that public funds were being diverted into private projects.
He told the audience that he was proud to be Ekiti going by the transformation that the Oni administration is giving the state. Another prominent Ekiti son, Chief Ayo Ogunlade, described Oni as the right leader for Ekiti.
According to the former minister of information, the governor epitomises hardwork, enterprise, principle, honesty, integrity and humility. Likening Oniâ€™s presentation at the occasion to Martin Luther Kingâ€™s speech, he asked council chairmen in Ekiti to also render periodic accounts of their stewardship to their people so that they can be carried along in governance. Senator Ayo Arise, who spoke on behalf of National Assembly members from the state at the parley, promised that the lawmakers would support Oni to move EkitiÂ forward.
The chairman of the state Council of Obas, Oba Gbenga Ajao, the Arinjale of Ise-Ekiti, pledged the support of the royal fathers to the state government while goodwill messages came from Ekiti youth council, NCWS, the NLC and Niger State government. Also in attendance, among others, wereÂ Mr Femi Pedro, Lagos State former governor who asked for political stability in Ekiti to sustain the governorâ€™s developmental efforts and Aloko of Iloko, Oba Oladele Olasore, who described Oni as an unusual and progressive politician.
It is not only in the education sector that the Ekiti governor has a story to tell. He has testimonies in other sectors such that a collleague said that any piece on the account of stewardship would have been aptly captured under the title, â€œEkiti: Todayâ€™s (Oni) Testimonies.â€ The unprecedented growth in the health sector is such that the number of primary health care centres grew from 236 in 2007 when the new government came on board to 283 in 2009, secondary health care, from 21 to 30; tertiary/ teaching hospital, 0 to 1; private health facilities, 118 to 160. The number of health personnel also increased sustantially.
The sum total of what has happened in the health sector during the three-year period is a considerable rise in Ekiti health development index. Road is another sector where Oni believes laudable achievement has been recorded withÂ 342 roads completed in three years, work in progress on 444 and 169 proposed to be done in 2010.
This segment of the governorâ€™s presentation is tagged, â€œOn the road to fulfilment; reaching out, touching all.â€ On potable water, the governor disclosed that his administration embarked on the mostÂ comprehensive â€œwater for all programmeâ€ ever!â€ The state government, according to him, has done about 300 housing units to meet Ekiti peopleâ€™s accommodation needs with some other projects in the pipeline while the administration is partnering with private developers to execute others. On agriculture, Oni disclosed that the state government had embarked on the millennium farmersÂ project targeting youths, fish farming and the ethanol/biofuel project, among others.
The governor stated that inspite of the economic and political challenges faced by the state in 2009, government retained its strong commitment to workers welfare and continued to pay gratuity and pension within three months of retirement. The statistics presented by Oni at the occasion showed that crime rate was going down, owing to the attention given to security and social security by his administration.
* Additional reports by Gbenga Ariyibi in Ado Ekiti.