Dr Nureni Adeniran, the chairman of the State Unversal Basic Education Board in Oyo State and former Commissioner for Education, speaks on the efforts of Governor Makinde in the education and the implications for the sector. Excerpts:
YOU were appointed chairman of the Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) a few months ago. What did you meet on ground and what are the specific things you have done so far to ensure that a solid foundation is laid for Governor Seyi Makinde’s vision to transform the education in the next four years?
You will agree with me that 100 days is too short a time to start appraising the efficacy of whatever programmes or policies government implements. However, it is also imperative that such a period can be used to lay a solid and vibrant foundation for developmental programmes for the state.
In SUBEB, it is about three months that I resumed as the chairman. When we got here, we discovered that most of the school constructions that were going on had been put on hold. That is to say the contractors ran away from the site. We should not also forget the fact that the State Universal Basic Education, what we call basic education comprises the six years in primary school and the first three years in secondary school. In similar manner, the operations of SUBEB/UBEC interventions cover the aspect i.e that of primary school and junior secondary school. When we talk of the projects going on, we are talking of school constructions and facilities in primary schools as well as junior secondary schools. Immediately we came on board, the first thing we did was to ensure that we started going round some of these projects that were under constructions and we discovered that a lot of them had been stopped. Some were not going on. So, we put a clarion call to all the contractors to go back to sites and we started going round again. But we discovered that some of the contractors actually heeded our call and went back to site and started working.
You will also agree with me that our public primary and secondary schools are in bad shape as far as Oyo State is concerned. And it is our major objective to ensure we have a serene learning environment for our pupils. This is because to achieve quality education, infrastructure and facilities, learning materials, instructional materials and other things that are related with teaching and learning must be put in place. Rather than students sitting on the floor, staying under the tree to receive lectures, they are provided with classrooms. So we went out, but while going round, we discovered some lapses which we immediately called the attention of the contractors to, and we ensured that some of the projects were completed for commissioning during the 100 days in office by Governor Seyi Makinde.
If we had not done it that way, we may not be having those schools that were completed. This is a serious achievement for this administration, because this government does not witch-hunt anybody. This government is not interested in who gets what and does not take into cognisance primordial considerations or sentiments. What we do, instead, is to ensure that what is supposed to be done in the state is done. We were not interested in how they got the contracts, who got them and the social or political affiliation. We are not witch-hunting anyone. As a matter of fact, some of these contractors were encouraged to go on with their works and, by the grace of God, some of them have finished. They have completed the projects.
Does that mean the new government did not embark on review of contracts awarded by the previous government as new governments are wont to do?
Don’t forget that the UBEC/SUBEB projects are quite different from the normal state government-owned contracts or projects, because UBEC gives uniform guidelines to all SUBEB projects all over the country. Also, they don’t just release money but have what they call action plan, which must have been approved by UBEC and followed to the letter. To ensure compliance, UBEC does what they call project monitoring and financial monitoring. So they want to know and see that the projects they gave you the approval to do are the ones you are doing. They also want to know that the money that they gave you is being spent on those particular projects. They want to know the extent of the projects done and whether the money paid is commensurate with the job that was done and this is happening all over the country. So, Oyo State is not an exemption. It is not just easy for somebody to come and order that work should be stopped.
However, that does not mean that when we see a recalcitrant contractor that has deviated from the principle and contractual agreement, such contractor’s project cannot be reviewed or terminated. But we did not use any political consideration to determine any of such. We treated everybody like indigenes and residents of Oyo State which we all believe we are. Everybody has equal opportunities to do whatever for the progress and development of the state. But if on the long run, we discover that some contractors are not forthcoming, that does not mean we cannot go ahead and terminate the project.
Aside from projects and schools, we have also tried to improve the standard and quality assurance aspect. When we go to schools, we monitor the teaching and learning going on. There are some schools that we went to and didn’t meet teachers in the classes. We had to call their principals and had meeting with them. We warned them that the situation has changed and there is a new dawn in the state. We told them the era of teachers not doing their work and not coming to schools has gone. They told us they were sorry and they will now be up and doing.
Also, we discovered that one of the missing links that has been responsible for the low standard of education in the state is monitoring, supervision and inspection. In those days when we were in school, when we hear that an inspector is coming around, teachers ran helter-shelter to ensure that they comported themselves but such inspection is no longer there. But now, we have realised that some of these teachers are now on their toes, because they know that we can come after them anytime. In addition to that, we are also packaging how to re-introduce voluntary inspection programme. I could remember that as a Commissioner for Education, we had that system in place and it worked. But since the immediate past administration took over in 2011, such things were no longer there and we realised that we need to reintroduce that to monitor these schools, teachers and students. When those inspectors are monitoring, we at the board level here will also monitor them. By this, they will know someone is checking after them and make sure they do the needful to improve the quality of education in the state.
There have been reports about school enrolment increasing following some of the policies of the present administration. But these policies, such as the cancellation of N3,000 education levy, were criticised as not well-thought-out. What is your take on this?
Let me say that it is correct that enrolment is now on the increase. On the cancellation of the N3,000 education and other fees, the governor, during his electioneering, promised the people that as soon as he was sworn in, education will be free. And that was why on May 29 when we came on board, he declared education both at the primary and secondary levels free. Not only that, he also went ahead to also make sure that students are not paying for forms and exams. To us here, all these are achievements that we know have affected greatly primary and post-primary education upon which we are superintending. So, we believe they are achievements for this new government.
There are a lot of students whose parents cannot afford school fees but they are now back to schools. Also, those whose parents cannot provide exercise books and textbooks to their children are happy today and their children are back to schools because government has taken up some of those responsibilities. With that, we believe these are not only achievements but they are indications that the governor is living up to his words. That’s not politics; Engr. Makinde does not play politics but always ensure that he implements whatever he says and that’s exactly what we are seeing today.
With some of the policies that you said are being criticised in place, Oyo State has begun to witness a turn-around in the educational sector both in the primary and secondary schools. So, in SUBEB, I can say that we are making good progress in that line.
Frankly speaking, I will add that Governor Makinde, to prove that he can be trusted to keep his words, initiated a review of the 2019 budget and through that process, he kept his promise to spend minimum of 10 per cent on education from the budgetary allocation. Don’t forget that what the previous administration did was to earmark between four to five per cent of the budgetary allocation to education, which was grossly inadequate. And we also know that the UNESCO stated that the minimum budgetary allocation that must go into education must be 26 per cent. Governor Makinde is of the opinion that if we cannot achieve the 26 per cent over night, we can improve on what we met on the ground. Oyo State government under Governor Makinde has reviewed the budgetary allocation to education to 10 per cent though he was sworn into office mid-2019 and he has promised to keep targeting the 26 per cent, which is the UNESCO standard.
Let me also inform you that to demonstrate his commitment to improving the education sector, the governor has made available some money for the payment of counterpart funds for the 2018 projects from UBEC and as we speak, the counterpart fund has been paid. The money has been released to SUBEB and the work of the 2018 SUBEB/UBEC project will commence very soon.
Oyo State is reputed to be have a high rate of out-of-school children in the South-West, what is your Board doing to address this situation?
On the issue of the out-of-school children, Oyo State is fortunate to be the only state in the South-West that is participating in a project targeted at returning out-of-school children to schools. It’s a World Bank Assisted Project facilitated through the UBEC and, as we speak, $3million has been released to the state and an additional $3million dollars would soon be released. It is intended to return the out-of-school children back to school. It is not only about bringing them back to school but ensuring that they pay attention to their education in school. If this is done, it will increase the volume. And when we talk about the out-of-school-children, we are talking about the hawkers, Almajiri, street children and those who are of school age and are supposed to be in school but are on the streets because of one reason or the other. This intervention will go a long way to prepare a better future for the country in terms of security, because the out-of-school children are the ones that will constitute a menace later in life and disturb the peace of the people because they have nothing doing. In the words of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the children of the poor that the rich and the elite refuse to take care of would later in life disturb the lives of the children they are training. This is already happening. We have the Boko Haram, touts, Almajiris and others here and there. All these people have constitute themselves as nuisance and they are becoming totally in control of everybody. This new project is intended to nip that in the bud. So, we need to take these children out of the street, bring them back to school and ensure that they get quality learning in terms of literacy, numeracy and writing. They will be able to write, speak and calculate. By so doing, they become useful to themselves because we will take them through functional education. Functional education makes one to have impact in life, makes one to be more useful to oneself, the society and the generality of the people within one’s environment.
So under that situation, we believe that Oyo State government is also making concerted effort to ensure that the street children are back to school.
As a former Commissioner for Education and with what the governor has done in the last 100 days, especially in the education sector where you are a critical stakeholder, do you think the foundation laid is solid enough for the future?
Let me reassure you without any iota of doubt, that with the way new government started and even in every other sector too, in the next one year or two, you would have seen a serious and positive transformation in the education sector. This is because quality will return as we are going to take standard and quality assurance very seriously. Some of the very bad classrooms are the ones we are going to work on. That’s one thing that this administration has taken into consideration. We discovered that some of the projects on building of model schools and all that were located in the places where they were not even needed. Whereas, in the areas where they are needed they haven’t been given. We will correct that. That’s one of the things we are doing differently to ensure that location or siting of schools will be based on the needs of each school. So, there are some schools that are terribly bad and are not being considered. Some people, probably because they were in government or close to the corridor of power, took model schools to their areas even when they didn’t need them. I was at the C&S primary School at New Eruwa, when we got there, I observed that we have about 120 pupils in that school and they have three classrooms. If they need more classrooms it should not be more than three in addition to the existing three there. But when we got there, they gave them a complete model school with twelve classrooms. What are they going to use that for? Whereas, there are some schools that are in need of such projects. So, we are going to do that a lot. You will see from Governor Makinde’s administration that we will transform all those schools that people think nothing good will come out of them again. Those that are in a highly dilapidated condition are the ones we will target. I am sure that when we do that, people will know that this government has actually come to deliver the good. This monitoring and inspection of the ticking alarming situation in our schools will be on the front burner of our programmes and policies to ensure that teachers do their work.
Meanwhile, the governor has also said he is going to ensure training and retraining of teachers locally and internationally. So, if that time comes, it means that they will be exposed to special courses that will make them perform better in the duties. So, it’s a very solid foundation which I believe will bring about a progressive future for our education in the state.
You have mentioned some laudable programmes the government would do. How are you going to get funding for all these projects, considering the purse of the government?
Let me be honest with you, if the entire state budget is emptied to face education, I can tell you that it will still be inadequate. Therefore, every stakeholder is important. First and foremost, the government is doing his own bit, having increased the budget from 5 percent to 10 per cent. UBEC intervention projects will continue to come and the state government will continue to match it up with counterpart funding to carry out building of schools and other facilities. And we also have Education Trust Fund (ETF) in the state. They will also intervene both in the primary and secondary education. So, they will support us and we are thinking that the scope of the ETF can be enlarged in such a manner that it will have more money that will be available to intervene in different aspects and level of education – primary, secondary and tertiary.
Equally, the old students and philanthropists are welcome. That was why the governor said we are not scrapping the School Governing Board (SGB); that we will rather want to strengthen it. The only thing that we are against, which is antithetical to the policy of this government, is collection of school fees or any form of fees at all from our pupils. The governor has said education is free and free shall it continue to be. Even if the parents want to contribute, they can liaise with the government but nobody must make any contribution that will dovetail into asking students to bring money or sending some students out for not paying money. Oyo State government under Governor Makinde will not take that act from anybody. But we welcome contributions from people, international donors, agencies and some big companies as their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR). They can intervene. If all hands are on deck, I am sure our education sector will witness a very positive transformation.