By Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
According to the legendary Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” While to the famous Walter Cronkite; “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” To Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, governing Rivers State seems like a divine mission where tomorrow does not exist. In tune with the statements credited to the above sages, Amaechi seems to be in a hurry to accomplish so many things within a short period but I will not like to bore the readers with the many projects the Governor has embarked upon as doing so will entail writing a book but I will briefly highlight the revolution witnessed by Rivers State within the five years into the tenure of this young visionary man in the area of education amongst others.
For avoidance of doubt, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotim Amaechi came into power as the Executive Governor of Rivers State on 25th October, 2007 through the instrumentality of the Supreme Court Judgement in their historic and landmark ruling that PDP illegally installed Celestine Omehia as the party’s flag-bearer during the 2007 general elections instead of the rightful candidate of the party, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi.25th October, 2012 therefore marked the 5th anniversary of this historical judgement and it is in celebration of the feats of this young man in Rivers State within this period that this treatise is attempted.
The fact remains that pinning down the achievements of the Governor to one main project is like looking for a pin in a haystack the reason being that his strides cut across all sectors. In the area of education, the Amaechi-led Government on assumption of office declared state of emergency on the education sector and completely took over the payment of salaries of primary school and junior school teachers hitherto the statuary function of the Local Government to ensure that education takes its rightful place in his administration. This intervention costs the state government N800 million monthly to pay the salaries of the primary school teachers.
The government is targeting building 700 model primary schools with 500 completed each with 20 classrooms costing N3.1Billion each and equipped with ICT facility, modern library, science laboratory, football field, basketball pitch, volleyball pitch and Nursery playground. These model Primary schools are built to the standard of the United Nations and obtainable in developed parts of the world.
It is also building 24 model secondary schools across the 23 local government councils in the state; well structured and fully equipped with modern day educational, recreation and boarding facilities with standard housing for teachers, these secondary schools have grossly been referred to by observers as Universities. The Governor knew what his mission is, “We knew that the problem of the state was basically education, the state of our quality of education was abysmal and we knew that the quality can only improve if we take over primary education”, the governor emphasized, as he expressed concern over what local government councils were doing with the money meant for that”.
Supporting the above assertion by the Governor that education is the problem of the State; Dr. Sampson Parker the Hon. Commissioner of Health stated when I contacted him on this that the two major areas this administration is concentrating on are health and education; “to me, I always say this, the highest achievement of this government is nothing but re-establishment of the educational system. It is not about health, it is not about anything but education. To me, if we have achieved education, we have achieved health care. My challenges in the health sector are because of the illiterate population because they hardly understand what you are saying. But, if we achieve education in the way the governor is going about it, pushing it, establishing it, making enabling laws to protect it for sustainability, I think the people that will come after us will benefit from it”.
The government is currently running free primary education with free books and uniform, provisions of library and internet facilities for the primary schools. The government has acquired 150 hectres of land to relocate the premier University of Technology in Nigeria; the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), to a bigger and better permanent site. The new site is expected to have facilities that will accommodate no fewer than 50,000 students. The Rivers State Government has been adjudged the best performing state in the Education sector within the South-South zone. In recognition of this the Federal Ministry of Education has rewarded the state with the sum of N70 million for its performance. Due Process procedure has been complied with in respect to the furnishing of the model primary schools as well as completed Health Centres, noting that they would be furnished soon.
Apart from the areas mentioned above, the Governor stated that the Rivers State Government under his watch apart from retraining its Teachers has employed more Teachers to teach in the new model schools. The process of employing extra 13,000 Teachers from the 20,000 shortlisted for interview out of the over 45,000 teachers that applied will soon be concluded. The State he said has offered scholarships to over 2,000 students in Nigerian Higher Institutions and has spent about N5bn for her students in foreign Intuitions. The State is building a world Class University which when completed will turn out well equipped graduates that will hold their own in any field and compete with the best in the world.
In Rivers State University of Science and Technology the Rivers State Government is building a hostel that will accommodate about 6, 000 students and accommodation for all the Lecturers of the university. The university according to him will be fully ICT compliant. He stated plans to buy a computer for every student in the secondary schools to ensure that the state is ICT compliant. It’s important to point out here that the Rivers State Government is among the few States in Nigeria that offer free education and free health delivery to its people but stands apart as the only State offering free education, free sandals, free books and free uniform in Nigeria. About 500 new primaries schools have been built in 350 communities across the State, a feat that no other state in Africa is yet to accomplish.
According to the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, his administration would sanitise the state’s education sector to ensure production of quality graduates. He also reaffirmed his administration’s readiness to fully support all state-owned academic institutions to provide quality education. Amaechi made the disclosure at the 24th Convocation Ceremony of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RUST), Port Harcourt recently.
He said his administration would continue to strive to provide a conducive atmosphere that will enhance academic excellence; “Let me reiterate the commitment of the Rivers State Government to provide a conducive teaching and learning environment in the face of competing needs, but in return, government would expect the highest teaching standards and vigorous research that are the hallmarks of great institutions. We reassure you of our determination to sanitise our educational sector and make our institutions of learning world class and envy of all,” he said.
The Governor after commending Prof B.B. Fakae, promised to ensure the Senate Building of the University; “We must commend the university and commitment of the management, faculty and students of this university, especially the resolute and visionary leadership of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. B. B. Fakae who not only broke the jinx of non accreditation of courses in the university but was also able to clear the backlog of students that needed to graduate,”.
To further strengthen and ensure qualitative education in the State, the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, has signed into law five new bills brought for his assent by the state House of Assembly that includes the Rivers State Universal Basic Education Amendment Bill 2012, the Rivers State Senior Secondary Schools’ Board Bill 2012. The Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi was upbeat while signing into law these bills including that on social services levy passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly recently.
Amaechi had every reason to be happy. He had campaigned for weeks, on the need to have the new law in place. For the governor, the new law sponsored by the executive arm is a vital step towards sustainable development in the health and education sectors of the state.
Essentially, the new law introduces a social service levy to be paid by all employed and self employed indigenes and residents of Rivers State. The funds accruable from this levy will be used for such purposes as: funding the state’s free education programme in primary and secondary schools; providing and improving on the medical facilities in government health centres and supporting other essential social services approved by the State Executive Council, amongst others.
On the imperative of the new social service levy, Amaechi cited his experience as a child to portray the importance of the new law. “We are a family of nearly ten and I happen to be the only one who had a university education and my father struggled to put me through university. We lived in a public compound of about 16 rooms with just one toilet and one bathroom. Most of my very good mates didn’t go to university because their parents could not afford it. Some barely struggled to pass through secondary education.
Have we asked ourselves how many children are dropping out of schools? Have we found out why there is an increase in crime in the state? Have we found out why most of those who claim to be militants do not have more than primary three certificates? Have we tried to find out why a lot of people are unemployed? A lot of us go to university but are not employable because of the quality of education.” This tally with the vision of Jean Piaget, a Swiss cognitive Psychologist on education, “The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done”.
Apart from the above, the Rivers State government says some designated schools with enough space, will be upgraded and made to admit students on compulsory boarding basis to complement the new 24 model secondary schools, as an interim arrangement, pending the construction of more new schools in the State. The plan is aimed at improving the capacity of the State to cope with the new challenge of compulsory barding in the state schools.
The Rivers State Government through its scholarship Board reconstituted by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency RSSDA created by law by the Amaechi administration each gives out yearly overseas and local scholarships to Rivers indigenes to study vital courses. The Scholarships include Doctorate, Post Graduate, Undergraduate, Diploma and Secondary education.
The wife of the Governor, Dame Judith Amaechi is not left behind in promoting and uplifting the standard of education in Rivers State. Through her pet project, ’Empowerment Support Initiative’ (ESI) has built about 20 permanent primary schools that offers free education. Nigeria’s first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan in recognition of these efforts of Dame Amaechi in assisting her husband in this regard lauded her for setting up the Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI), and through it, provides tuition free and quality kindergarten education in the State. According to Mrs. Jonathan, “I want to say that we will contribute and support this NGO because it is an NGO for everybody and we will make it achieve its vision for the children because if you train up a child in the way he/she should go, he/she will not depart from it. Besides according to Her Excellency Dame Judith Amaechi the first lady of Rivers State and wife of the Governor, “the ESI School is a transitional ground that prepares the children mentally and psychologically for the expectation and sustainability into model primary education even as we have built 20 permanent schools in several communities in the state; I urge all stakeholders to support the scheme. My education intervention programme was initiated to complement the State Government revolution in the education sector”.
Explaining why the Rivers State government is introducing the ICT in the model primary and secondary schools, the Amazon who heads the Education Ministry in the State, Dame Alice Lawrence-Nemi whose words are laws when it comes to issues of education in the State stated, “this is to enhance technological development of our students in the State, the world is a global village and the need to embrace technology at an early stage is essential in the
intellectual development of the students. I am proud that Rivers State is the first State in Nigeria to introduce the study of ICT at the primary school level. All the schools in
Rivers State today is equipped with ICT facilities with internet connection as the State is eager to make all her pupils and students to be technologically ahead of their counterparts in other parts of the country.
Very soon, candidates in Rivers State would be using ICT to write external examinations like the WAEC and NECO. Today, I am proud to state that technology has eased learning in our society as our students can do their assignments on the internet. Today, Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) is leading the way in technological drive in Nigerian universities and has shown Nigerians how easy ICT technology can be used to enhance learning and administration process in the academic environment. All these are to the credits of the great revolutionist of our time – Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi!
This woman who belongs to the mainstream of the administration of Governor Amaechi stands out as one of the shining stars of this administration and her feats has earned her a lot of accolades and awards including the famous Timenews 2012 leadership gold award amongst other outstanding awards both at the International and local level.. According to the publisher of Timenews magazine, Mr. Bernard Adeokhor, Dame Alice Lawrence-Nemi was chosen because of her ingenuity, hard-work and managerial excellence in providing quality education in Rivers State as her achievements have redefined the education sector which has placed the state on the world map with very strong entrepreneurial base and competent corporate leadership. Timenews 2012 leadership gold award is designed to reward and mirror to the world exceptional Nigerian professionals, top civil servants, innovative entrepreneurs, educationists and academics”.
Meanwhile, the Rivers State Ministry of Education has won the maiden edition of Babs Fafunwa Education Prize for Service Delivery. The award is in recognition of the massive deployment of infrastructure, effective management of human resources and productive educational policies and programmes that have made a huge difference in the overall development of the education sector in the state and in the lives of target beneficiaries.
Not contented with all these feats, the Rivers State Government would make free education policy compulsory for all children of school age by 2013. According to Amaechi, “parents would be required by law to send their children and wards to both the State government new model primary and secondary schools and other government primary and secondary schools that would be renovated and made to meet required standards. We are about to send to the State Assembly a bill that says it is a crime not to send your children to school… The reason is when you say education is free and compulsory, parents don’t take it seriously until you say they will go to jail if they don’t send their children and wards to school.”“We would not collect fees so it becomes criminal if you don’t send your children to school. From next year we would criminalise those who don’t take their children or wards to school because we will try everything possible to ensure that we provide infrastructure and facilities that will back our free education”,
“Let me tell you the things that will happen very soon. Those of you who are in government schools that are not up to standard we are trying to raise our government schools to the standard that we require… When we get to that standard, we will in the next few months set up the agency for quality assurance. If you don’t meet the standard, whether you are government school or private school you will be closed down.”
To demonstrate its seriousness for excellence, academic activities in one of the 24 model secondary schools being built across the state will soon commence as the state has also named one of the schools, located in Eleme as Ambassador Nne Furo Kurubo Model Secondary School, Eleme and handed over to an India-based education consortium, Educomp Solutions Ltd. The Chief Executive Officer (Africa) of the company, Mr. Shantaram Hegdekatte during a press briefing in Port Harcourt stated that the Rivers State Government gave it the mandate to run the school. “According to him, “Educomp is the largest education company in India, providing education solutions across the country and currently works with 29,000 schools; operates 70 schools of its own; and serves over 19.4 million learners and educators across the world. Educomp is built around the core belief that technology, be it ICT or pedagogical, can be effectively deployed as a teaching tool to make learning more engaging. The mandate to run the school was part of Governor Chibuike Amaechi’s vision of providing international quality education in the state and ensuring that quality education is not restricted to the privileged members of the society. The admission into the school would be based strictly on merit, irrespective of the candidates’ social background, adding that equal number of spaces would be allocated to the 23 local government areas. He said some spaces would be allocated to non-indigenes residing in the State, while two seats would be given to each state of the federation.
The United National International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has commended Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi on the strides recorded by his administration in the health and education sectors. Country Representative of UNICEF, Ibrahima Fall, who described as tremendous the progress made in the sectors said, “This is the most exciting news for every mother, for every child and for every family in Rivers State”
The Association of Parents of Private School Students (APPSS) has commended the Governor Chibuike Amaechi led administration for transforming the Rivers State Education Sector. Dr Ovy Chukwuma, the APPSS National President who made the commendation stated, that the Rivers State Government has recorded an unprecedented milestone in infrastructure development of its educational sector, nothing the laudable policies initiated by the State Government had aided for the academic excellence in Rivers State”
In appreciation to the great feats of Amaechi’s Administration, the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert stated recently that, “The impression that I always get when I come to Africa is that these countries have enormous potential and your country and your State (Rivers) have enormous potential and I think that you happen to have at this time in history also, a dynamic, energetic and capable leadership that can make the dreams of building up the State into a reality of life for the 5.1 million residents in Rivers State that want their lives to be of much higher and greater quality.” Mr, Ehud enthused.
In extolling this great revolutionist, the United States Consul General in Lagos, Mr. Jeffrey Hawkins while exchanging ideas with some Journalists stated, “I must commend Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State for embarking on numerous people-oriented projects and showing enthusiasm on Niger delta issues. “We are very appreciative of all that Amaechi has done. we are quite clear that addressing the issues of the Niger Delta, the challenges require focusing on things like education development, agriculture, health, all sorts of issues, and the governor was kind enough to show us, on the ground, some of the projects the government of Rivers State is working on, so we are very deeply appreciative of his support.”
Today, Rivers State is one of the few States in Africa that has a worldwide recognition and has hosted many International and World meets including becoming the UNESCO’s World Book Capital 2014! What a feat and what an accomplishment!!!
To commemorate this great feat, literary giant Pa Gabriel Okara not minding his old age of 91 recently visited Port Harcourt to unveil Port Harcourt as the UNESCO’s World Book Capital 2014 together with other giants and literary scholars, such as the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; Elechi Amadi, Prof Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, UNESCO Director/Country representative Mr. Joseph Ngu, who represented the Director-General, Irina Bokova; Veronique Tadjo, Igoni Barrett, Doreen Baingana and Chibundu Onuzo, among others. In fact, the event was a double celebration of a sort: unveiling the city of Port Harcourt’s nomination as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 and the launch of a book, Nigerian Literature, a Coat of Many Colours.
Apart from the above, Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State of Nigeria, played a historic role when it hosted the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission on 16 and 17 October, 2012 thereby becoming the first city outside the Federal Capital Territory ( Abuja ) to do so. This event is a top bill in international rating and the strategic relevance of the Gulf of Guinea area makes the meeting in Port Harcourt even more important. The Deputy Secretary of State for US and two Assistant Secretaries are leading the US delegation. On the side of Nigeria, the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission is viewed with seriousness especially by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) led by His Excellency, Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
Governor Amaechi who based on his innovative accomplishments have won a lot of laurels including Nigerian’s Commander of Nigeria (CON) but that of ‘Leadership Award for Excellence – 2009’ chaired by former Head of State of Nigeria, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Rtd) gave me a lot of inspiration of what this great man stands for. In a citation read by the organizers of the event before the presentation of the award, the leadership Newspaper extolled the sterling qualities, administrative acumen and great achievements of Governor Amaechi, stressing that the award was being presented to him,” for showing selflessness, in leadership, for delivering infrastructure renovation in Rivers State and accountability in governance”. According to them, the award was being given to Governor Amaechi “in recognition of the fact that at a time the other governors in Nigeria are being accused of tampering with Local Government funds – which is an impeachable offence, Governor Amaechi is probably the only governor in Nigeria who has taken over the funding of primary education and Primary Healthcare services which has been the responsibility of the Local Government”.
Not minding all these feats, the Governor is still been vilified, criticized and persecuted and the latest is coming from Abuja even the attempt to undo him by removing some of the oil fields of the State as a punishment for being positioned to play a key role during the 2015 general elections, the fact remains that Amaechi is a shining star from Rivers State no matter the odds!
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt