FEATURE ARTICLE

Lawrence O. ObibuakuTuesday, September 6, 2005
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obibuaku@yahoo.com


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QUALITATIVE EDUCATION:
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT TAKE-OVER OF SCHOOLS


he fall in standard of education in Nigeria has been the subject of frequent press comments for some time. The latest inputs is from Rev. Fr. Greg Ohagwu who published an article titled, "Enemies of Education in Nigeria". In a recent article in, an Imo State based publication, The Leader of June 26 2005; Rev. Fr. Ohagwu identified a number of factors, which he claimed were responsible for the fall in educational standard.


According to him,

"the number one enemy of good education is the state take-over of education at the end of Nigeria-Biafra war."
Fr. Ohagwu is not alone in this line of thought. It has therefore become necessary for someone to present a point of view closer to the truth to prevent the course of history from being completely distorted. Commentators should strive to ascertain the truth before dishing out incorrect information.

A further distortion is that state school take-over was a dictation from above. Nothing can be farther from the truth. State school take over in the former East Central State was a homegrown idea fully debated by the State Cabinet and based on the facts available to the cabinet. Scrutiny of that Cabinet will reveal that a significant proportion of its members were people highly committed to fighting for the cause of the people. One of them was the commander of Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighters; another was an Officer of Biafra Land Army, and some served in the Biafra war effort in other capacities.

The point here is that these were not the people to be driven by fear, selfish considerations or any other ulterior motives. Their action should be seen for what it was, a patriotic move designed to help education in the state catch up with the rate of development in other states. Although the focus of this analysis is regional in approach, its implication is countrywide because the fall in educational standards touches other parts of the country.

Below are some of the considerations that led to the school taker -over. At the end of the civil war, all the schools in then East Central State, as in other was-affected areas, except those in former Orlu Division and South Western part of present Anambara State, were completely destroyed. Few of these schools still had their walls standing but the roofs doors, windows and all equipment were gone.

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When considering the reconstruction of the schools, Mr. Asika's Administration had also to worry about their future management and survival. The vast majority of the schools were the so-called mission schools, which were in fact community schools because they were built and supported by the communities in which they were located, although managed by missionaries. Handing the schools back to original owners therefore meant returning them to a totally impoverished people, the richest of whom had only twenty pounds in their banks accounts. If school take-over by the state did not occur when it did, education would have been retarded in East Central State for a very long time.

That state school take-over was not essentially a bad idea was supported by the fact that students from East Central State compared favorably with their counter-parts from non-war affected areas in major exams one year after the war. Additionally, the best thing that ever happened to teaching profession in Nigeria occurred in East Central State following the take-over.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the issue of school take-over, within the context of the then East Central State where the effect of the war was most dramatic and where state school take-over started in Nigeria. State school take-over began in 1970 with Mr. Ukpabi Asika's Administration. That government was mandated to carry out the three Rs, namely, reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation--- the issue of whether it succeeded or failed is one, which commentators will continue to debate sometimes from premises of complete ignorance or from the fact that human memory in short.

For the benefit of people not conversant with the facts, I will attempt to set the record straight. For the first time in the history of Nigerian education or at least in the East, teachers in former private schools were recognized - their conditions of service were harmonized with those of the civil service and their career ladder was firmly established and clarified. All these were done to enhance the status of teachers and to enable them to contribute their best and raise the quality of education.

That teachers of today have failed to measure up and the students have performed poorly should not be blamed on state school take-over. The action of Mr. Asika's Administration and that of others that followed his example happened some 35 years ago and we are still dwelling on their effects instead of striving and looking for a way forward. Fr. Ohagwu should tell us one thing that is working right in Nigeria today.

Our public works sector is in a terrible state as evidenced by the Onitsha - Owerri road, the Aba - Calabar road etc. all critical factors to economic life within the eastern states. Is this deplorable and life consuming condition, due to school take-over? Did our health services deteriorate because of school take over? Has our rate of unemployment not increased more than ten fold since the second republic and is that due to school take-over?

The answers to these questions will lead to a search for the real reasons for the fall in educational standards and in other government services. Government polices and programs and the way they are implemented provide the basis for either progress or retrogression. Some people rate Mr. Asika's administration a success because it was people-oriented. This is attested to by the speed with which people in East Central State recovered from the crushing effect of the war.

Mr. Asika's government policies and programs combined with the resilience of the people gave rise to rapid post war recovery. That governments' highly successful poultry program transformed the state from protein deficient state to one that exported poultry and poultry products to other states in the Federation within a single year. Did the poultry program and the thriving business activities emanating from it die because of government take-over of schools?

Let us face the fact: government take-over of education is not in itself a bad idea. After all, the public school system is the predominant system in advanced economies such as those of Britain and the United States. Their economies are progressive because government policies and budgetary provisions are supportive of educational and research institutions. If Fr. Ohagwu is seriously researching for the cause of the downward trend in Nigeria educational standards, he should look at among other things, funding for education.

The United National recommends that a minimum of 26 percent of a country's annual budget be set aside for education sector. Compared with this figure, Nigeria provided only percent 14.3 % in her 2002 budget. According to Duruji (Leader, 15, 2005), "statistics show that South of the Sahara and North of the Limpopo, Nigeria is the only country that gives the least budgetary allocation to education and also the second in the whole world that gives least allocation to education". In the face of this anomaly are we still searching for the cause of fall in our educational standards?

To make matters worse, the little provided in the budget starts suffering gradual leakage before the budget is approved. This fact was revealed by Professor Fabian Osuji, the former Education Minister, when he recounted the events that led to his giving out a bribe of N55 million to members of Senate. Education committee. According to him, the members demanded the money and insisted on being given a commensurate amount of "welfare package". Various sums of money were demanded by the Distinguished Senators and Honorable Members as "Welfare package" indeed beginning from N100 million" He continued, "At the meeting, the Directors recalled the experiences of the Ministry during the 2004 (budget) year with respect to the salaries of staff and vowed never to allow a repeat of it. I was particularly blamed for failing to do what in their experiences other Ministers and Ministries did to get their budget passed by the relevant committees of the National Assembly".

All the people who are wondering why Nigeria has dwindling standard of education or why nothing seems to work in the country should endeavor to analyze the insight provided by Professor Osuji. The leakages from the budgets of the Ministry of Education in the form of such phenomena as the "welfare package" demanded by Honorable members have serious repercussions on the performance of the Ministry.

In the first place, it sends wrong signals to Ministry Officials about how government money should be handled. As a consequence of such leakages, the Ministry has insufficient money to pay staff salaries and to pay for laboratory equipment and consumables. Late payment or non-payment of teachers' salaries leads to frustration among teachers. A frustrated teacher is as good as blunt instrument therefore; it is time to look for causes of the fall in our standard of education in the right places instead of blaming it all on intervening variables such as state school take-over.

Lawrence O. Obibuaku is a retired Professor of Agriculture at the University of Nigeria and a Former Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in the East Central State Government.