By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Chinonso Alozie,
Owerri—Citing rising costs and the principle of reciprocity, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State yesterday announced his plans to lock out non-indigenes from its free education programme in public schools.
The decision according to the state government was hinged upon the huge success it claimed led to the ballooning of student enrolment from 200,000 when it commenced in 2011 to the present 800,000.
The government also claimed that the programme had cost it more than N40 billion.
A statement by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, said the governor had pledged to deal with any traditional ruler who compromised the verification exercise to determine indigenes of the state who came.
The administration’s decision follows the recent exchange of words between Governor Okorocha and Governor Willie Obiano over the former’s claim that three incumbent Southeast governors had confided in him that they were set to defect to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The statement revealing the decision read thus:
“The Imo State Government has decided to drop non-indigenes especially in its university and other state-owned tertiary institutions from its free education programme and the reason being that, for the more than five years the free education programme has been on, non-indigenes have been benefitting from the lofty gesture without indigenes of the state enjoying similar programmes in other states.
“And against the backdrop of this development, the state government is at the moment undertaking the verification of students in Imo State University and other state-owned tertiary institutions in the state and the verification exercise is aimed at making sure that bonafide indigenes of the state are identified to enable them continue to enjoy the free education programme that has become, not only a success story but somewhat a revolution.
“The verification exercise is being coordinated by the Secretary to the Government of Imo State, Sir George Eche. And the government has entrusted Sir Eche with such onerous responsibility to make the whole venture transparent and hitch-free.
Meanwhile, Governor Okorocha yesterday rated churches in the state as the highest beneficiaries of his free education programme.
Okorocha made this known through his Commissioner for Information, Tourism and Public Utilities, Mr. Obinna Nshirim, while fielding questions on the state-owned radio station, Imo Broadcasting Corporation, IBC, in Owerri.
Nshirim, who was not happy that the enemies of the Okorocha’s administration had used rumour to puncture the free education policy of the government, also challenged citizens of the state to form a pressure group for the sustenance of the free education, by the time Okorocha left office.
While defending his statement on how churches in the state became the highest beneficiaries of the free education.
The commissioner said: “I said this the other day that the churches are the greatest beneficiaries of the free education.
He went further to say: “ I am a rural man. I stay in my village and I go to church in my village and 90 percent of those who populate the churches are poor. These poor peasant men and women in the villages, pay their tithes and do their harvest.” “To also ensure that the verification venture is thorough, forms are being issued to the Students which the traditional rulers of their various autonomous Communities and State Development Coordinators (SDC) of their respective wards would sign.
“In the past five years, the government has spent over N40 billion naira in prosecuting the free Education programme which the opposition never believed was possible. But the huge success the programme has recorded has also made doubting Thomases to swallow their words. “Generally, the School enrolment in the State has snowballed to over 800,000 (Eight Hundred Thousand) from the 280,000 (Two Hundred and Eight Thousand) it was in 2011.
“To say the least, the outcome of the free education policy of the State Government has been wonderful. For instance, the Registrar/CEO of JAMB, Professor Ishaq Oloyede recently disclosed that for six consecutive years now, Imo State has continued to lead in JAMB applications and admissions with Delta State maintaining the second position. And the registrar concluded that the Free Education Programme in the State was the reason behind the feat.