By Steve Oruruo
“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people” – Chinese Proverb
The legendary South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, social commentator and prolific writer, Nelson Mandela once averred that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Just like MALCOLM X opined that “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it”. The above submissions are unequivocal depictions of the pivotal place of education in the advancement of human civilization, life sustenance, and societal development. Beyond enabling upward socio-economic mobility towards nation building, education is the antidote to the debilitating effects of poverty and the fiercest driver of harmony and cooperation within and among nations. The above view was succinctly captured in candour by the great Thomas Jefferson “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people……They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty”. The incessant imbroglios, catastrophes and disenchantment which have defined Nigeria’s political cum leadership sphere over the last few decades are not disconnected from the nation’s pathetic educational ideologies which have bred defective systems, epileptic institutions and insipid workforce.
Consumed by greed, parochial inclinations, ethnic sentimentality and lust for power, some of Nigerian leaders appear to be on a mission to nourish illiteracy in order to perpetuate servitude and political apathy amongst the citizenry. An uneducated population share a common defeatist mentality, deserted of the fire and grit necessary to trigger revolutionary reforms, upturn exploitative systems and kick ignoble leaders to the curb. Apparently, Nigeria exudes the unmistakable trappings of a failing nation, significantly attributable to massive illiteracy propagated by a successive and wobbly leadership which views the people as pawns on a chessboard to be manipulated, rather than resources to be cherished and harnessed. Events emanating from all quarters of this country show that Nigerians are clearly tired of living in denial or watching, arms akimbo as their fundamental and cardinal institutions crumble. Interestingly, God is also watching with keen attention to land his hammer of justice. Every Nigerian is on trial as to which side of history he or she wishes to belong. No wonder, Chinua Achebe once opined that “one of the truest test of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised”.
The new Chinese nation, one whose sneeze sends the world into jitters, emerged on the backbone of education. During the reign of Deng Xiaoping, who is considered the “Architect of Modern China”, education was integrated as the foundation for the ‘Four Modernizations’ – modern agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. The core message of Deng’s Outline of Education Reform and Development in China was ‘a strong nation lies in its education and a strong education lies in its teachers’. Deng Xiaoping created a nation whose obsession with education permeated its fabrics and manifested in countless innovative strategies and action plans. By 2018, the adult (ages 15 and above) literacy rate in China had risen to 97%, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, a figure which dwarfs Nigeria’s corresponding 62%. Yet, while the entire country is gripped with the fear of another looming strike action in the education industry, a few leaders are tenaciously glued with spirited attempts at rediscovering the post Independence enthusiasm in the sector.
Governor Ugwuanyi’s feats in Enugu’s education sector since 2015 replicate the Mandelian philosophy and mirror the Chinese experience, streamlined for the Nigerian context. Ever poised to maximally deliver dividends of democracy to Ndi Enugu, the former top-tier lawmaker has operated a regime-defining triangle; connecting education, leadership and the economy with several linkages of synergism. The triangle functions on the principle that education fuels economic prosperity through the training of the labour force and enabling systems for innovative research. On the other hand, education is the foremost facilitator of credible leadership recruitment. Not only does it endow a society with a limitless pool of reliable ballot-paper options, it fabricates an informed electorate that is sufficiently equipped with discernible impetus to see through the intrigues of the often-staged political circus and make sound election decisions.
Infrastructural rebirth is at the epicenter of the resurgence masterminded by Governor Ugwuanyi in Enugu’s education sector. In the light of this, his regime has completed several infrastructural projects spanning all local government areas and levels of education in the state. The Ugwuanyi administration constructed, renovated and equipped 1001 classroom blocks and other school facilities under the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB) led by Chief Ikeje Asogwa, an eccentric administrator with a deluge of leadership experience and unconventional achievements. It is unprecedented that in the 2020 fiscal year, ENSUBEB has paid counterpart funds for two different projects phases.
In addition to this, secondary schools across the six education zones of the Post Primary Schools Management Board (PPSMB) have benefited from construction and reconstruction of hundreds of classroom blocks, offices and hostels, and provision of key social infrastructure like boreholes. These were executed under the watch of the dynamic Chairman of the Board Barr. Nestor Ezema; a very unassuming, visionary and consummate technocrat. Furthermore, in line with the global trend of educational digitization operationalized via the infusion and integration of technology into teaching and learning, the Barr. Ezema-led PPSMB procured and supplied ICT tools and accessories to 215 public secondary schools, offices and zones in Enugu state to underline the unyielding resolve of the administration to rewrite the waning credentials of the sector.
At the tertiary level, Governor Ugwuanyi devised strategies that initiated and snowballed into extensive infrastructural development and upgrade of facilities in the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu. This was the primer for the consequent transitioning of IMT to a degree-awarding institution and recovery of hitherto-lost accreditation for several courses. Various infrastructural transformations are also evident in other state-owned institutions including the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), the Enugu State College of Education Technical (ESCET) and the Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo in Ezeagu LGA. The Ugwuanyi administration is currently constructing state-of-the-art administrative buildings of the first degree-awarding institution in Education in the South East zone, the Enugu State University of Education in Ihe, Awgu LGA. It is a generational legacy project whose impact will be felt across sectors of human endeavour and constitute the content of our proud history for posterity.
Governor Ugwuanyi has matched the proliferation of structures in numerous schools within Enugu state with the supply of indispensable accessories, instruments and equipment, creating a palatable narrative of reform in perfect totality. His administration procured and distributed 51,985 sets of teachers’ and pupils’ classroom tables, desks, chairs, books, instructional materials and sporting equipment, etc. to 1, 226 primary schools, 296 secondary and 38 technical, science and vocational schools in the 17 Local Government Areas of the State. Science equipment and computers have been supplied to over 200 secondary schools in the state to complement the reconstruction of Science laboratories; a key element of the administration’s comprehensive STEM-promotion strategy.
As schools in Enugu state are geared to reopen in the aftermath of the flattening of the COVID-19 curve, solid strategies have been put in place to recoup lost time and ensure the safety of school children in their academic environments. Under ENSUBEB, Chief Ikeje Asogwa saw to the fumigation of all 1, 230 public primary schools in Enugu state; and procured and distributed one thousand buckets, bowls and sanitizers, in compliance with all relevant COVID-19 protocols. The Board has also invested massively in continuous sensitization, workshops, trainings and capacity building of teachers to fortify them for the vagaries of the new normal and narrow the yawning but unfortunate chasm between the public and private schools.
Contrary to the persisting realities in other climes, teachers are not unsung heroes in Governor Ugwuanyi’s regime; rather, they are the major protagonists in his epoch-making narrative, with whom he enjoys a cordial relationship and shares a common bond of solidarity. Over 5000 primary and secondary school teachers have been recruited and dispersed to all the education zones in the Ugwuanyi era. Also, existing 1000 volunteer teachers were converted to permanent staff while outstanding arrears of promotion were released.
As far as remuneration goes, teachers in Enugu state receive their salaries on or before the 24th day of every month and continue to enjoy the uncommon annual 13th month salary, a tradition which stemmed from the governor’s honorary verdict on the immortal profession. All these are without prejudice to subsidized housing schemes for civil servants/ teachers that graced the Governor’s first term .
Raging to see all indigenes of Enugu state access quality education, Governor Ugwuanyi has deployed the instrument of scholarships as bulldozers to dismantle boulders of financial obstacles besieging the less privileged. In the words of PERICLES “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others”. Through the Enugu State Scholarship Board, hundreds of Ndi Enugu have been awarded scholarships worth millions of naira; as such dimming hopes have been rekindled and cracks of broken dreams mended. This is in spite of the steadily declining allocations accruable to the state and lean internally generated resources, occasioned by the recession which heralded the Ugwuanyi regime and the notorious COVID-19 pandemic. The list of beneficiaries, cutting across all local governments and levels of education in the state, is endless. They include: 38 students of Imilike Inland primary School and Ozoduru Esther Uchenna in Ikolo Community School: 340 indigent students of Iwollo Polytechnic and 340 indigent students of IMT, Enugu;
Furthermore, Governor Ugwuanyi’s administration offered 300 indigent Enugu students spread across the country, scholarships covering 2nd year to final year. Also 22 indigent Enugu students were sent by the Governor to study medical courses in India. Not less than 246 Law School students received one hundred thousand naira bursary allowance to ease the financial pressure on them and their sponsors. One Miss Ali who came first in WAEC SSCE and another Miss Nneoma who was maltreated by her guardians, were awarded scholarships to university level. There are several other brilliant and first class scholars destined for Cambridge and other international universities courtesy of the Governor’s current efforts.
The industry, experience and character of Governor Ugwuanyi’s trusted adjutant, Barr. Levi Abonyi who is the Executive Secretary of the Scholarship Board, has cultivated innovative problem-solving approaches to modern educational challenges. This is exemplified by the launching of a robust application, Enugu Scholarship Access App, which is a one-stop shop for all scholarship opportunities in the world. The app will ensure that Enugu indigenes receive timely and relevant information regarding scholarship applications, and guides for accessing them. The state’s scholarship strategy is multifaceted – in addition to direct scholarships from the government, indigenes are primed to take advantage of the avalanche of other opportunities, nationally and globally. The number of persons captured may still be a far cry to the number of persons on the waiting list. But those already studying in different academic environments are being well connected into the realm of intellectual property and discipline. And GEORGE WASHINGTON succinctly embellished his take on Discipline when he reasoned that “Discipline is the soul of an Army: it makes small numbers formidable, procures success to the weak and esteem to all”
Governor Ugwuanyi’s reforms in the education sector of Enugu state, has already yielded a bumper harvest of both short-term and long-term dividends. It came as no surprise that Model Secondary School, Nsukka won the 2019 President’s Teachers and Schools Excellence Award. This was as conveyed by the Director, Education Support Department, on behalf of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu. The Nsukka-based school was ranked the best public secondary school in Nigeria, on several assessment indicators including infrastructure, E-library, quality teaching and learning. The state is on course to attaining the education targets of the Sustainable Development Goals under a gentle but highly proficient Commissioner, Prof Uche Eze, whose conduct on the saddle has been both magnificently professional and evidently professorial. The standard of education in Enugu’s urban, suburban and rural areas is on a progressive rise. With the governor’s continuing efforts, the potential of Enugu’s economy is endless and the leaders of tomorrow are guaranteed quality intensive training, critical for navigating the challenges of governance in the 21st century.
Steve Oruruo is the Special Adviser to the Governor on Information