By Jesutega Onokpasa
IT was with much excitement that I received the news that the Delta State University, Anwai Campus, the College of Education, Agbor and the Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro are to be upgraded to full fledged universities by the Delta State Government. They would then become the Delta State University of Science and Agriculture, Anwai; the Delta State University of Education, Agbor and the Delta State University of Science and Technology, Ozoro.
While the news was similarly received with commendation by a host of interest groups across the state, it is already being met with some disapproval while generating blowback from certain quarters. In fact, the particular news medium that broke the news to me had promptly presented it as yet another instance of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa seeking to favour his locality and senatorial district. Allusion was also made to the status of funding of tertiary education in the state with the insinuation that upgrading the institutions is financially untenable.
Truth is Delta State, like the rest of Nigeria is characterised by a serious deficit from the point of view of educational institutions and thus there is actually a desperate need for expansion in this sector. While indeed there is much room for improvement in the funding of the tertiary institutions in the state, they are not by any means less well funded than similar institutions in other states and are in fact better funded than most!
In any case, upgrade and consolidation of tertiary education in the state cannot be detained by the excuse of paucity of funds or no expansion of educational opportunities would ever be recorded. We can expand while seeking better and more creative solutions to funding challenges. As for favouring the governor’s locale, as has been insinuated, I would urge that such tendencies be subjected to more rigorous philosophical evaluation on the part of the purveyors of these accusations.
It would appear that only if governors or similar officials were to completely ignore their home base in the execution of their mandates would they escape this recurring vilification. The irony is that such a governor would actually be breaking the law and betraying his mandate since even his very village is a bona fide part of the state and, therefore, deserving of attention as any other part of his statewide constituency.
To follow this logic to its inevitable conclusion, no place that had ever produced a chief executive for a nation or state would ever be developed. Far from recording any recompense for producing someone whose leadership the rest of the nation or state was inclined to subscribe to, such towns and villages would be entirely left in the lurch in a truly macabre scenario in which producing a president or governor became a curse rather than a blessing!
Bringing infrastructural development to wherever a governor or president hails from is part of developing the state or nation and any such instance of development is more properly viewed in this light since it is ultimately retained within the confines of the entire jurisdiction. Justly and equitably speaking, it cannot be the fact that a governor developed his area, per se, that is a problem; it is where he developed his locality to the exclusion of the rest of his statewide constituency that he should be taken to task.
In any case, previous chief executives in the state have sited similar institutions in their hometowns and villages including the polytechnics at Otefe and Abigborodo, localities of the immediate two past governors.
The Federal Polytechnic proposed for the state was sited by the National Assembly at Orogun, the home base of the deputy Senate president. All of these places are in Delta State not elsewhere and I very much doubt that those who keep complaining about favouritism would really be inclined to sideline their own communities if they were the ones in similar positions.
As for statewide equity in the distribution of tertiary institutions, the insinuation that Governor Okowa, vide the proposed upgrade, seeks to unduly favour Delta North is unfounded. The state’s current university is mainly domiciled in Abraka in Delta Central senatorial district with three campuses within the town.
The state’s premier federal university, the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, FUPRE, is in Effurun also in Delta Central where the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI is also domiciled. The state’s other federal university is at Okerenkoko in Delta South which is the same senatorial district hosting one of the institutions to be upgraded, the polytechnic in Ozoro.
With the upgrades, Delta Central will have two universities, one federal and one state, Delta South will similarly have two, one federal and one state and Delta North will equally have two, although both state, and therefore arguably not as high profile as what obtains in the other two senatorial districts.
If equity is what sectionalism is capable of producing, then maybe we should be looking for another word entirely for it or better still, addressing ourselves to more cogent issues.
Citizens are always entitled to criticise their government and are in fact well served to do so as a veritable tool for keeping government in check. Where in certain quarters, such criticism begins to seem rather opportunistic with a penchant for picking on any and all of an administration’s acts for vilification, criticism itself, both as a device for keeping government on its toes and as a time hallowed norm of democratic culture, is only thereby devalued.
Whatever might be anyone’s grouse with the Okowa administration and, however, justifiable such differences may or may not be, the upgrade of these institutions to university status cannot legitimately be one of them.
Far from taking any step remotely deserving of condemnation, the governor deserves much commendation for taking such bold steps in boosting the educational profile of the state while improving, expanding and consolidating educational opportunities for our ever expanding youth population across the state. On this one, all hands should be on deck.
Onokpasa, a lawyer, wrote from Warri