By PETER DURU, MAKUDI
Education has remained the pillar of social, economic, technological, scientific and industrial advancement of nations that accord it priority and adequate funding in the scheme of things. But in Nigeria, the education sector is usually treated with disdain, lack of proper financial appropriation which in turn translated into dilapidated infrastructure, ill-motivated personnel, poor incentives, unconducive environment both for teaching and learning.
No wonder that the public universities can be closed down for nearly six months of the academic year, because of the strike by lecturers which was finally resolved by the special intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan and provision of initial sum of N200 billion for revitalisation of infrastructure in the university system in a total package of N1.3 trillion within the next three years.
For the polytechnics, they have remained shut ever since as the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) went on strike over poor infrastructure and personnel neglect. Federal Government has ignored the polytechnics leaving them to their fate. Basic education – primary and secondary schools are in bad shape, crying for salvation. Over 10 million children are out of school in Nigeria. There are no classrooms for many school children, a lot of them receiving lessons under the trees, while overcrowding is now common place. Teachers are poorly paid and looking forward to their reward in heaven as they seemed to have lost hope on earth.
The education sector at all levels is in terrible situation caused by monumental neglect, absolutely poor funding, mismanagement, stealing and diversion of education funds by state officials and their collaborators. The sector is heading towards total collapse if nothing is done to salvage it.
In continuation of our Cover Story on the stinking education sector, we are running the second part on infrastructure decay and the need to tackle the decline and restore the past glory of Nigerian education.
Since the advent of the present administration in Benue state, schools around the state have continued to remain a top priority of the Governor Gabriel Suswam led administration.
So much funds have continually been expended on the construction, furnishing and the upgrading of infrastructures in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the state.
This accounts for the sweeping changes that have so far taken place in the education sector in the state in the last six years.
The deliberate policies and conscious efforts of the state government to enhance and improve teaching and learning in the state stems from the administration’s drive to bequest lasting lagacies in that sector.
Moreover, this conscious efforts could also be tied to the government’s working document, as encapsulated in the “Our Benue Our Future” development plan of the administration.
Suffice it to state here that the administration in Benue state is resolute in its determination to take the state education sector from the doldrums to an enviable position as obtainable in some states of the Federation.
This also accounts for the huge funds being expended in the payment of Primary school teachers which gulps over N2billion monthly.
In fact Benue remains one of the few states in the country where teachers enjoy steady upward payment of allowances and salary increments regardless of the recently introduced minimum wage for workers in the country.
Only recently, the Special Adviser to the Benue State Governor on local government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Solomon Wombo told newsmen that that state is one of the few states in the country that was able to implement the 27.5% salary increment for teachers regardless of the payment of the new minimum wage.
According to him, “ while most states are still battling with that demand by teachers, we wasted no time in ensuring that our teachers enjoyed the benefit of their labour without delay.
”Though it is not in doubt that huge resources are expended in the payment of the remuneration of teachers, we have continued to ensure that teachers at all levels in the state are not denied whatever is due to them.”
While acknowledging that meeting the demands of teachers was an uphill task across the country, Wombo posited that the sector would do better if the federal government took over the payment of salaries and the running of Primary Schools in the country.
”But despite these nagging challenges, Benue state has continued to forge ahead with the drive to improve the sector”, Wombo stressed.
It is also important to note that the state government has consciously undertaken the task of revitalizing the sector, especially with the ongoing construction of facilities at the Benue state University, BSU.
Today, the institution can boast of a state of the art law faculty which has been completed and awaiting commissioning; same is the story of a 350 capacity female hostel being constructed personally by Governor Gabriel Suswam.
The hostel which is fitted with modern boarding facilities remains the best and biggest single facility donated to the institution by a single individual since the inception of the university.
That aside, the administration also ensured that teaching and learning facilities at the Benue state University Teaching Hospital, that was abandoned midway by the erstwhile administration was completed to facilitate teaching and learning by medical students and lecturers of the institution alike.
The state government has also ensured that Secondary Schools in the state are enjoying deserved attention especially with the complementary efforts by individuals and missions that are investing heavily in the establishment of both primary and secondary schools in the state.
Be that as it may, it is also pertinent to point out here that more has to be done in the upgrading of infrastructure at the primary school level. Though one must acknowledge as rightly pointed out by Mr. Wombo that running Primary schools is an uphill task; many primary schools in the state are adorned with dilapidated infrastructure and unconventional learning facilities.
A ready example is the Local Government Education Authority, LGEA, Primary school, Ahume, in Gwer West Local Government Area among others that are spread in the hinterlands of the state.
At these schools, pupils are are made to learn under makeshift tatty structures, under trees and sandy floors which is far from being conducive for teaching nor learning.
Commenting on the situation at the LGEA Primary school Ahume, a local who claimed to be a parent at the school, Tarfa Yongo told Saturday Vanguard that the management of the school had repeatedly promised that authorities had planned to erect more befitting structures in the school.”But we are yet to see the promise come to reality, and since we are left with no other option our children are still attending the school,” he said.
Reacting, a top ranking staff of the Benue State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, who craved anonymity, told Saturday Vanguard that the Board presently supervises over 2,350 primary schools with the meagre resources that accrue to the state.
”You will agree with me that there is no way the board can meet all the demands of these schools given the financial challenge we have to grapple with at that level. And I must add that Benue state deserves special attention from the federal government in view of the pupil enrollments we record every year which remains one of the highest in the entire northern states.
”But the truth is that we are doing our best in the present circumstance, moreover, in the area of manpower we are also not lacking,” he stressed.
Saturday Vanguard also gathered that primary school teachers have been on strike in the last five weeks owing to disagreements with the state government over the non payment of the new minimum wage to the aggrieved teachers.
But in his reaction to the minimum wage dispute, the Special Adviser to the Benue State Governor on local government and Chieftancy Affairs, Mr. Solomon Wombo, whose office supervises the disbursement of funds to the SUBEB for payment of salaries, maintained that the state government was not owing the striking teachers.
According to him, “the strike is just unfortunate, because no teacher in Benue state today earns less than N18,000 as wage and we have consistently maintained timely payment of the salaries since the inception of this administration unlike what obtained in the past, that is why I see no justifiable reason for the strike.”
Also reacting to the decision of the teachers to down tools, Governor Gabriel Suswam urged the people of the state to prevail on the striking teachers to return to classes.
According to the Governor, “my administration has always placed the welfare of teachers at all levels in Benue state on the front burner and we have gone the extra mile to ensure that they receive all their legitimate earnings in due time and therefore have no reasons whatsoever to embark on this strike.” Suswam said.
Meanwhile, despite the plea by the Governor, the striking teachers have remained adamant, perhaps this particular dispute remains one of the daunting challenges the state government may have to address, and quickly too, given that it could actually rubbished the modest achievements the present administration has recorded in the education sector in the last six years.