By Esin Suji
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. — Madiba Nelson Mandela
A FEW days ago, August 9, millions of Nigerians got the cheering news that one of nation’s high schools – Regina Pacis [Queen of Peace] Secondary School, Onitsha – had won the prestigious Technovation Gold Award for 2018. Hosted in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, USA, and the global Mobile Apps. Competition featured students from across the world. Very telling is that Nigeria’s Acting President, the cerebral Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN has since joyously congratulated our victorious five young girls who represented the school and the country. Indeed, they had developed a mobile application, ‘FD Detector’, which can be used to identify fake pharmaceutical products.
Beyond the commendations for this remarkable feat from a country traumatised by deprivations and mediocrity, it is pertinent to situate that refreshing development within the context of where it all started and to accord credit to those it is due.
During his tenure as Governor Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi gave Education a pride of place as the foundation on which societies are built and quality of life defined. As part of efforts to stabilise basic education in the State, he took the momentous decision to return the management of erstwhile mission schools to their initial proprietors, which a cross-section of stakeholders sharply criticised then – mostly out of ignorance of the implementation strategy. Essentially, the mission-managers were re-empowered to do what they know best: Imparting Knowledge, Enthroning Moral Ethos, Instilling Discipline, Breeding Responsible Citizens and Fostering the Fear of God in Tomorrow’s Leaders, which are the hallmarks of sound education. The transition went into operating grants to the missions subject to approval of their work plans. There was also the novel arrangement that Government will continue to cater for staff salaries/emoluments, while the missions will be in charge of general administration and management.
Apart from investments in capital projects for the schools, the Obi administration donated buses, laboratory equipment, transformers and power generators, dispensary consumables, sports gear, computers and other ICT tools. With admirable dynamism and foresight, the administration procured and distributed personal computers to post-primary schools in the State, along with professional ICT teachers, power generators and Internet connectivity. Included in the package was the setting-up of Microsoft Academies in designated secondary schools — the first State in Nigeria to embark on such a project. With the provision of decently-equipped laboratories in public post-primary schools of Anambra State, many students from those institutions began to excel in national and international science competitions – as was witnessed in the most recent feat of the Regina Pacis girls.
Tertiary education was also part of Peter Obi’s new deal for education – receiving boosts in structures, facilities, faculty, welfare, course accreditations and improved funding.
Invariably, Peter Obi’s new deal for education started yielding dividends even during his tenure as Governor. Consecutively, in the last three years of his administration, Anambra State leaped from its previous 26th position among the 36 States of the Federation to 1st place in results of the NECO and WAEC examinations! In 2012, an Anambra student emerged the Best Overall Candidate in both the NECO and SSCE examinations. Shortly after, Loretto Special Science School, Adazi-Nnukwu won the award of the Best Improved Secondary School in Nigeria. Furthermore, the State was adjudged the best in improved school infrastructure in the country.
The wide acclaim of the educational revolution in Anambra State will also bear telling: A World Bank study supervised by Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University, UK recommended the Anambra Model for the rest of Africa and other developing countries. On his part, renowned cleric, educationist, Rhodes Scholar and public affairs analyst, Catholic Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah urged Nigerian Governments at all tiers to emulate what he termed the “Peter Obi Education Model”. He noted that the sector was at its lowest ebb in Anambra State prior to Peter Obi’s far-sighted decision to return schools to the Church, backed with adequate funding, with the effect that the State is now doing well educationally.
Even after vacating Government House, this man of vision and mission has been quietly undertaking a crusade to empower educational institutions to enable their staff and pupils/students adequately express their talents and potentials,and ultimately excel in their chosen fields and add value to their society. At every opportunity, Peter Obi raises funds from his friends, associates and positive-spirited corporate bodies to support one educational project or the other – in some cases beyond his home State. Very revealing is the July 2018 burial ceremony of his late eldest sister – Lady Bibian Adani – where he requested those who desired to support the event to monetise their contributions, which he would use to build a Health Centre and rehabilitating a school in her honour in the community she was married. Also, as he marked his 57th birthday recntly, he requested those who intended to give him birthday gifts to monetise such presents, which he would donate to deserving schools and for other activities that would contribute positively to society. And, he did just that; including a N1 million donation to Holy Rosary College, Onitsha for continued infrastructure support.
The global award by those young girls from Regina Pacis School reveals that value-adding is a function of vision, clear focus, commitment and solid foundation. It also highlights the imperative of strengthening institutions and structures for sustainability.
Education is easily the strongest launching pad we can provide for our children and youths, to enable them hold their own in an increasingly dynamic world, where real progress is knowledge-based. The deliverables of any educational system depend largely on focused leadership, proper planning, effective management and adequate funding. As Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi did not let education slide into the doldrums and anarchy; but elevated it to a pride of place in the developmental scheme of things. It was not the cost as much as the benefits that mattered – and should matter. As the great philosopher, Aristotle reminded us, the difference between the educated and the uneducated is as the distinction between the living and the dead.