Our number one priority after security is investment in education, and human capacity development. That is why we have spent over N70 billion building schools —Gov. Seriake Dickson
By Dennis Alemu
IT can rightly be articulated that Bayelsa State has been witnessing nothing short of an educational revolution in the last six years. The genesis of this generational transformation in this critical sector can, as a matter of fact, be historically located in the first inaugural address of Governor Seriake Dickson to the good people of Bayelsa State, precisely on February 14, 2012, wherein he declared the immediate commencement of free and compulsory education for all Bayelsans at the primary and post-primary levels. Governor Dickson’s famous inaugural address read in part:
“In the course of our campaign, we promised massive investment in education, critical infrastructure, agriculture, health, as well as peace and security. The development of human capital is our most compelling and urgent need. That is why we promised you free and compulsory education for all our children in primary and secondary schools with emphasis on computer literacy, science and technology. I hereby announce with effect from today the take-off of free and compulsory education at primary and secondary school levels across Bayelsa State. The rebuilding of our educational infrastructure commences forthwith. Our curriculum will emphasize the study of Ijaw language, history and culture.”
At the time that declaration was made, no one ever thought it would presage the dumfounding transformation that has since taken place in the education sector of the state. The good news is that six years down the line, the Dickson administration has not only fulfilled its campaign promises to Bayelsans pertaining to education but it has exceeded its targets to birth a trans-generational uplift of the youth through the operational education paradigm which it had pioneered.
We are happy to report that the unparalleled investments made by the Dickson administration in education have taken Bayelsa State to a new rung in the hierarchy of education among the 36 states in Nigeria. The state had never at any time witnessed the kind of huge sectoral allocations to education in her yearly budgets as being seen under the present administration. In fact, Governor Dickson can be described as the Obafemi Awolowo of Bayelsa State on account of his uncommon passion and practical commitment to educational advancement of Bayelsa and her people.
Dickson believed that the only tool the Ijaw man badly needed with which to equip and hone himself to gain national competitiveness and relevance, earn intellectual recognition, be self-reliant, occupy his rightful place among ethnic nationalities, and to survive politically and economically in the contemporary, polyglot Nigerian society was education.
Using the instrument of education as a solid pillar of the Restoration Agenda, Dickson has truly lived his lofty dream of a better Bayelsa. As one did point out earlier, the state is now reckoned among the best-performing states in the country as statistics of results from public examinations recently conducted by WAEC, NECO, NABTEB and JAMB elaborately indicated. For instance, from a dismal and uncomplimentary position back in 2012, Bayelsa State has steadily risen to an enviable fifth among the 36 states in the 2017 WAEC examination – a testimonial of the educational strides achieved so far by the Dickson administration in Bayelsa State.
Similarly, the state took third position in the 2017 NECO examination coming only behind Edo State and Ekiti State in that perking order. These developments are the direct result of the over N50 billion the administration has invested in the sector alone, leading to the de-classifying of Bayelsa as educationally disadvantaged state in the federation. It is against this backdrop that an x-ray of the far-reaching educational investments the Dickson administration has made can be explored, even as the State celebrates six eventful years of educational transformation.
To begin with, given the enormity of the task involved in revamping the reticulate education system they met on the ground, Dickson and his team declared a state of emergency in the sector. Implementing the free and compulsory education in the state, the Dickson administration procured and distributed free school textbooks, uniforms and sandals for pupils and students in the public schools across the state, reminiscent of the educational legacy credited to Awolowo in the defunct Western Region during the First Republic. It is also noteworthy that right from inception, the administration has routinely underwritten the WAEC and NECO registration fees of indigenous students of the state.
Judging the decrepit and deplorable state of the public schools as an affront to the realisation of the goals of the Restoration Agenda in the school system, the Dickson administration carried out the renovation of over 400 school buildings in all the 105 political wards in the state. It also awarded fresh contracts for the building of residential quarters of head-teachers in nearly the same number. This is in addition to model secondary schools built in each of the 24 state constituencies with ICT and computer halls, well equipped science laboratories, libraries, multi-purpose halls, state-of-the art toilet facilities, standby sound-proof generators and boarding facilities. A good number of them are being run as boarding schools with free feeding and accommodation, and zero-tuition fees.
With a good sense of judgment, the Dickson administration brought back the Bayelsa State College of Arts and Science (BYCAS) which had been scrapped by the previous administration in the state on a flimsy excuse. The administration also restored the moribund College of Education into a thriving academic institution of repute. In fact, the middle-level manpower institution, the Isaac Jasper Boro College of Education (IJBCOE), following its relocation to Sagbama has opened up opportunities for many young Bayelsans, many of whom had completed their studies there successfully.
Special education projects: The Ijaw National Academy is among the flagship educational institutions established and founded by the Dickson administration in Bayelsa State. Commissioned by former Military Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon in 2017, the Ijaw National Academy at present accommodates about one thousand students all on full state-funded scholarship, including free feeding, accommodation and textbooks. The institution boasts of hostels, halls, laboratories, staff quarters and other facilities that are possibly among the best in any tertiary institution in the country.
The University of Africa: The University of Africa, Toru-Orua, is a brainchild of the Dickson administration. It was conceived to meet the special educational needs of the state. Designed to have world-class facilities that will make it compete favourably with varsities in any part of the continent and beyond, the institution is currently running programmes at its temporary take-off campus at Bulou-Orua, even as serious construction work is afoot at its permanent site in Toru-Orua.
Other training institutions established by the administration include the Bayelsa State Driving School, the International Institute of Tourism, Catering and Hotel Management, the State Polytechnic, Aleibiri; the Bayelsa State School of Music, and the Sports Academy at Asoama. Remarkably too, the administration initially set aside a whopping N1billion for post-graduate scholarships to indigenous students. Many of the beneficiaries had successfully completed their programmes in flying colours thereby justifying the investment made in sending them to study in some of the best universities abroad.
Bayelsa State has been re-classified as an educationally advantaged state today! That is the beauty of the wind of the educational renaissance blowing across the Glory of All Lands. However, it is the massive investments made by the Dickson administration that have birthed this. As Nelson Mandela once asserted, “Education is the greatest weapon which you can use to change the world.” Beyond all reasonable doubt, Governor Dickson has lived the inspirational dream of Nelson Mandela through the educational renaissance he has pioneered in the state. With the issue of sustainability already taken care of by the education tax in place, Dickson has cleared the path for the smooth march of Bayelsa State to the Promised Land!
By Dennis Alemu is a public affairs analyst