By Favour Nnabugwu
Minister of State for Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, in this interview, declares that after one year in office, President Goodluck Jonathan has started the process of transforming Nigeria from different sectors of national life especially the education sector where he says the president has made significant impact. Excerpts:
What areas of the education sector do you think President Jonathan has performed?
Naturally, I will speak on the Education sector where I am very conversant of development initiatives of the President. In the last one year, the President has made giant strides in the education sector. This has been appreciated by all stakeholders in the sector. The President has directly touched the basic and tertiary education sectors in very fundamental ways. The very first and most profound achievement in the education sector is the initiation of the four-year strategic plan to completely re-position the nation’s education sector.
As you know, this is a total step aimed at ensuring that the nation gets a qualitative educational system. Under this four-year strategic plan, the Jonathan administration is working towards six critical components. However, in order to ensure a faster revival of the sector, the government is working strategically in the areas of access/quality and standards/quality assurance.
In the last one year, the administration has created access to quality education, both at the basic and tertiary levels. Schools have been built for the almajiris, the girl-child, nine new federal universities and approval given for the setting up of private universities. A few days ago, Vice-President Namadi Sambo on behalf of the President, flagged off the distribution of books to primary school pupils and junior secondary students.
In the area of ensuring standards and quality assurance, the administration has directly worked on the improvement of the capacity of our teachers in the basic education sector. Over 500,000 teachers have received training from Federal Government-initiated programmes in collaboration with state governments.
Talking about the books, what measures are in place to ensure that they get to Nigerian children?
We have worked out different strategies to get the books directly to the children. The Federal Ministry of Education and the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, have established committees that will work with officials of the State Universal Basic Education Boards to take the books to children. We have different levels of supervision mechanisms to check those intent on diverting the books.
We are also working with the law enforcement agents to track the books and the distribution channels. We have branded inscriptions on all the pages of the books to deter those who in the past tore off the first page that had the branded inscription, only for them to sell the books. In this case, once you have the book, we can easily track you down if you are selling them. The books are to be given free of charge to all Nigerian children in public schools and we will deliver the books to them.
What about our federal unity colleges, any positive steps to improve them?
When I took over, I noticed some challenges that hampered the development of these schools that serve as the models for other schools in the states and other proprietors of schools. From the very beginning, we indicated that we would rehabilitate these schools and return them to their days of glory. As of today, we have actualized our promise in this area. We adopted a phased rehabilitation of federal government colleges in all the geo-political zones.
Beginning this year, we have selected schools in the zones for complete rehabilitation. In the selected schools, we will fix the libraries, laboratories, classrooms, hostels and assembly halls. Between now and 2015, we hope to tackle the infrastructural deficits in all the 104 schools. For the schools not selected for the phased rehabilitation for this year, we have worked out a framework with UBEC to make direct interventions in the junior secondary section which falls under the present UBEC mandate.
These schools will not remain the same again. Beyond all these, we are in the process of amending the UBEC Act to give the commission a new mandate. When the bill goes through the National Assembly, UBEC will directly have interventionist powers in the federal unity colleges. Other than infrastructure in the federal unity colleges, the President has approved the regularization of the appointment of 1,305 part-time teachers in the federal unity colleges.
This is in addition to the employments of another 2000 teachers in Mathematics, English Language and relevant science subjects. Remember, we made these gaps that existed for years before the President took over. Gradually and strategically, the President is resolving these challenges for the development of the education. In the tertiary education sector, all the existing federal universities have received direct grants for infrastructural development purposes.
Why do you think the President has given education priority attention?
The reason is simple. Tied to any development in the country is education. As we develop infrastructure, health and other critical sectors, we must develop the education sector. This is because any development not premised on a sound educational system cannot be sustained. If you build infrastructure, you must have qualified engineers groomed from the education system to sustain these infrastructure. The grooming of these engineers starts from the basic education level through the tertiary level.
The same applies to the health and other sectors. As an educationist, the President knows that this is a legacy that will drive the economy, the social and political life of the nation. Our education system is on the path of growth, thanks to the President’s foresight and political will. The commitment he has shown to changing our educational landscape has attracted the National Assembly, both the Senate and the House of Representatives to collaborate with us in the Education Ministry to drive home the Transformation Agenda in this sector.
Now that you have mentioned the Transformation Agenda, do you think it is working?
I know it is working and the ordinary Nigerian knows it is working. I am a practical person and as a Minister, I do not just sit in the office to expect report. I have been on the field to monitor the progress of work in all the numerous projects that we have embarked upon. Anywhere I went, I received kind words for the President on the transformation that he has brought to bear on the nation.
People are indeed grateful. On more than three occasions, highly respected traditional rulers in different parts of the country told me that they were pleased that the President is a man of his words. They explained that he said he was going to intervene in the almajiri issue and he has practically done so. Several past administrations made the same promise and nothing was done. The same goes for the girl-child schools and the pledge to completely turn around the education sector.
The Presidentâ€™s Transformation Agenda has been quite practical in its approach and Nigerians are involved. The overall results will be seen at the end of the day. However, the beauty of it all is that the process of transformation is on and the people are seeing the efforts on the ground.
What advice do you have for Nigerians going forward?
We must continue to work with the President to deliver on his campaign promises as he has already started doing. All the results will not manifest in one year. However, the administration of President Jonathan has succeeded quite early in the day to lay the foundation for the total transformation of the nation.
There is no sector of our national life that is not being transformed as of today. Everywhere, the President and his lieutenants have set in motion programmes and projects to transform Nigeria and Nigerians can only look forward for the best.