PATH TO NIGERIAN GREATNESS: On the campaign trail Innovations and progress in former Western Nigeria

Continued from last week

THERE was widespread resistance to the schemes, partly spontaneous and mainly instigated by the Opposition. But the Action Group Government had no iota of doubt in its mind that the schemes would fructify and mature in due time to the delight and gratitude of the vast majority of our people.

In concluding my speech on the motion for education and Health Levy in the Western House of Assembly on 23 January, 1953. I said something which now appears prophetic but which in actual fact exemplifies the clear vision and profound faith of the Action Group Government about the eventual and abiding success of the two epoch-making schemes:

Finally Mr. President, we of the Action Group will

press forward, and I make this solemn promise

with a due sense of responsibility and resolution,

we of the Action Group will press forward in the

execution of the laudable projects which this

House has unanimously approved and accepted,

believing as we do, being Christians and good

Mohammedans on this side, believing as we do

that God Almighty, who sees our hearts and knows

we are doing all these things to better the lot of our

people, is on our side, and confident also that our

beloved and trusting masses, when they begin to


enjoy the delectable fruits of the education and

health levy which they are now being called upon

to pay, will now and in future years remember us

with gratitude and adoration as their faithful and

devoted servants, and as their only true friends

and benefactors.

But incredulity and hostility towards the free education scheme were not confined to the Opposition and a good number of our people. All the senior Government officials—both black and white—and all the Nigerian intellectuals outside the fold of the Action Group were solidly opposed to the scheme. The then Director of Education in the Western Region declared that he did not believe that the Region was ripe for extension of primary education, let alone for free universal primary education. He thought it was a futile venture to embark on the latter. The Financial Secretary for his part, thought that the whole business amounted to no more than an academic exercise; as, according to him, we needed to impose at least £5 not 10 shilling per capita to implement the free education scheme alone.

Because of the official attitude to the scheme. Chief S. O. Awokoya, now Professor of Education at the University of Ife, had to prepare his white Paper on the scheme, based on the Action Group Policy Paper previously prepared by Chief M. A. Ajasin, now Governor of Ondo State, and adopted at the Inaugural Conference of the Party at Owo. Later, I had to prepare the Exco Memoranda on the implementation of the scheme as it related to the Education and Health Levy, and the construction of low-cost classrooms.

Now, the offsprings of the old Western Region – Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Bendel States – are at it again. But this time on a much grander scale than we dared to essay in 1955. For, today in these five dynamic States, education is free not only at primary level, but also at secondary and tertiary levels as well. As we all know, by free education at these levels is meant non-payment of fees by whatever name called, together with free supply of textbooks to pupils and students.

Those who protested vehemently, some six months ago, that the introduction of this laudable scheme from October 1,1979, could not be accomplished because of non-existent difficulties which they imagined in their heads can now see how very wrong they were, and how muddled their thought processes had been. For the scheme is now more than three months old; and, in about five months from now, it will have completed one full academic session.

Here then in the five UPN-controlled States, a new historic pace has been set; a new revolutionary impulse has been generated; and, by God’s Grace, this new dialectical progression will not only endure its predecessor, but will also pervade the entire Federation of Nigeria.

It is not given to many a thinker or theoretician to see his ideas or theories practicalized in his lifetime; nor to more than a few pioneers to witness the fructification and ripening of their endeavours, and take part in the glorious harvest.

Today, it was exactly twenty-five years ago when I had the honour to launch the Free Universal Primary Education Scheme for the Western Region of Nigeria here in Ibadan on 17 January, 1955. Tomorrow will be the beginning of another natal cycle for the Scheme. The youngest of the founding pupils of the Scheme are now thirty-one years of age. It stands to reason, therefore, to say, that many of them now occupy important positions in all the spheres of useful activities throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Indeed a good number of our legislators in the five UPN-controlled States are products of that Scheme which was launched twenty-five years ago. As ‘a matter of fact, the planners of these silver jubilee celebrations are products of the Scheme, and are mostly self-employed professionals and businessmen.

Today, my joy knows no bounds, as one of the planners and executants of the old’ Scheme, and as one of the planners of the Innouations and Progress in Former Western Nigeria and new Scheme which is now unfolding before us with unparalleled speed.

I seize this opportunity to congratulate, with all my heart, three classes of people: first, those products of the old Scheme who are alive today to witness these silver jubilee celebrations; second, our five governors – Chief M.A. Ajasin, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, Professor Ambrose Alli, and Alhaji L. K. Jakande – for the excellent manner and adorable despatch with which they have set about the execution of the UPN’s four cardinal programmes, with special reference to free education at all levels; and third, the lucky children of the five UPN-controlled States who are now benefiting and who, from generation to generation in the years to come, will benefit from the new programme.

To be continued