IF anyone really wants to know how Akwa Ibom has fared as a state in the last three years, the state of education is a good index, particularly performance in the West Africa School Certificate Examination (WASCE) in the past three years. From 14th position in 2015, the state dropped to 17th in 2018. That is to say, education suffered a sharp deterioration since 2015 when the current administration came into power.
Presently, poor funding, poor learning environment, poor teacher-student ratio, and lack of motivation for teachers characterize education in the state. What do you expect when budgetary allocation for education has been consistently below the UNESCO recommended minimum of 26 per cent? At 1.6 per cent in 2018, the same percentage pegged for 2019, the truth is glaring: Akwa Ibom State is grossly underfunding the future of the coming generation. And there is no gainsaying that without government changing hand come next election, the education sector will continue on the downward spiral.
This is why the agenda of Nsima Ekere, APC governorship candidate, is warmly welcome with optimism and excitement.
Complete overhaul of the educational sector
Salvaging the educational sector requires nothing short of a complete overhaul and Ekere hit the right chord with his plan which calls for a declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector. If elected as Governor of Akwa Ibom State in the coming election, according to his agenda, the first six months of his administration will witness a summit of stakeholders and experts who will discuss, review and chart a new working plan for education in the state.
His plans, majorly a special intervention fund of N30 billion for the upgrade of libraries, laboratories, sport facilities and construction of new school blocks; dramatic increase of education funding from the current 1.6 percent of the state budget to a target 25 per cent by 2023 and revision of curriculum to reflect 21st century realities et cetra–strongly reflect his passion to bring quality to education in the state.
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He is reinforcing his plan with motivational package from N25, 000 bursary for tertiary institution students every session to an annual award for the overall best-performing secondary school in the State in WASCE/NECO exams to award for the best-performing secondary school in the sciences in the state in WASCE/NECO, that will raise education to a whole new level in which all stakeholders are aware that a solid foundation is being laid for future greatness.
Again, Ekere has demonstrated that he is not afraid to modernize. And where action is required, he is not one to waste time on rhetoric. That much is the message from his plan to computerize teaching and learning process and to tweak the curriculum to suit the modern skills and competencies required for future world leaders. He is bringing home the latest trend in education around the world.
His commitment, foresight and innovativeness with regard to educational policy and programmes can be attributed to his upbringing, being raised by teacher parents. In this, the state can take comfort: that Nsima Ekere, himself an embodiment of quality education, will do his best possible to restore the glory of Akwa Ibom education. He can be counted upon to deliver on his promise.
It has to be said that the state’s shambolic health situation is a challenge awaiting Nsima Ekere’s takeover of the government house in Uyo come May 29, 2019. The decadence is summed up by a single fact: Infant mortality rate in the state is one of the highest in the Country at 69 deaths per thousand.
Low government spending on the health sector largely caused the problem of healthcare in Akwa Ibom. Just a few years back, Akwa Ibom was being touted as a potential medical tourism destination. Today, the hospitals are understaffed, plagued by insufficient facilities and incapacitated by a low supply of drugs and supplies.
In accordance with his “Health with Hope” policy, Ekere plans to commit a substantial part of the state’s resources to the development of state-of-the-art tertiary health care facilities. The plan he unveils, calls on the people to envision an Nsima Ekere-led administration where the teaching hospital provides world-class treatment, where everyone has access to affordable and quality health care, where the state is replete with primary and secondary health care facilities.
The calculation is simple: powered with funds, more job opportunities will be created in the health sector; with more jobs opportunities, the health sector will be able to generate more revenue; with more revenue, the sector will attract skilled doctors and manpower to the state.
A holistic health programme, as he proposes, encompasses health insurance that will ensure that all citizens can avail the best quality healthcare. Here is where his Better Healthcare Initiative (BHI) fits in. From the look of it, the initiative aims to make the state’s existing 424 primary health care provider more effective. There is also a rural arm of BHI, titled Better Rural Health + Care Initiative (BrHI), conceived to handle preventive health care service on malaria, diabetes and blood pressure control, immunization and vaccination, ante and post-natal care. Also, a new ambulance scheme (BHI+ Ambulance) to handle medical emergencies is part of the health programme.
In the blueprints is the proposed establishment of Ibom Medical City “as a flagship project using existing facilities at the Ibom Specialist Hospital to provide tertiary medical services to our people and to serve as a regional centre of medical excellence.”
Overall, there is no better way of turning a state into a destination for medical tourism.
In the area of social protection, the “Ekere manifesto” seeks to revamp the status quo where aged and retired citizens are perpetually owed their gratuities and pension, and the citizenry is overwhelmed with uncertainty for their future.
A good, working social protection traditionally ameliorate the impacts of insecurity, poor health, and other factors of economic and social vulnerability. It is along this philosophy that Ekere’s strategy is forged. He is offering among other interventions, a social assistance programme that is a cocktail of benefits, including cash transfers, child welfare, and disability benefits, (especially to the poor), a social insurance (that is a contributory scheme that helps cover against risks and vulnerabilities) and a labour market programme that help people secure employment in both the short and long-term that will tide the people over and protect them against the hardship of life.
This “working document” as the manifesto appears to be, is designed to impact on every member of the society, women and children included. This is reflected by the plan to domesticate the National Gender Policy wherein 35% target of women and youth participate in governance through affirmative action.
They will ensure that women are given political support and all entitlements needed for substantial participation in political and economic processes. Those familiar with the positive development that comes with equal rights and empowerment, now can vouch safe that in a government headed by Ekere, women are going to play crucial roles as agents of change.
A slew of other initiatives, tackling of maternal and child mortality rates, curbing child trafficking, abuse and molestation with Child’s Right Act and operationalising Federal Government’s free nutritional meals for children in all public primary schools indicate that issues of women and children are central to the APC government rearing to make its way into the Government House in Uyo come 2019.
With the Third Pillar of his agenda Education, Health and Social Security, Ekere gives hope to the populace. The agenda is an assurance the “coming ONE” is concern about the situation of the people and the future of the state. Great men never lived in vain; they always populate the biography of their age and time. Indeed our Akwa Ibom State deserves the best!