Education was the most dominant theme in the campaigns for the governorship election in Imo State in 2011. The discourse on education got more attention than the economy, physical infrastructure, payment of salaries and pensions, security, job creation and employment. It got the attention of even the illiterate voters in the state. The discourse was so strong that it divided the voters along two sharp, unbending lines: those who believed that education should be free – because parents would stop paying school fees and it would increase enrollment in the public schools or allow children of the poor go to school; and those who believed that education should not be free, but that the focus should rather be on providing qualitative education.
Many people believed the promise of free education and voted for Rochas Okorocha in 2011. But the free education policy became the albatross of that administration. It became one of the reasons that administration was pilloried. It is sad to note that under the free education policy the entire education sector was messed up with no clear policy implementation. Okorocha’s education policy took Imo State 50 years backward. Today we are back to the same problem, looking at ways to resolve the quagmire in the education sector and avoid the impending cataclysm we might face if we fail to take advantage of the opportunity to right the wrongs.
We cannot deny the fact that education is an essential ingredient in human welfare and existence. To us, therefore, the argument that a free education policy would get so many people into the net appeared appealing because it would enhance the right of every child to receive education, but the thought of a qualitative and affordable education was more appealing. We believe that education is a liberator. It is the best heritage any government can bequeath to its people – it is the best gift from any parent – and any government that truly desires the development of its people will not play politics with their education. A people without education will be eternally condemned to underdevelopment, because the development of a society is dependent on the number of its people that are educated and the quality of education they received.
Education leads to enlightenment, individual and national development, and it has the capacity to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, hunger and ignorance. Educated people have better living standards. Any government that wants equal opportunities for its people would take the education of its people seriously. We cannot eliminate differences in social stratification if we continue to pay lip service to the education of the people. With the right kind of education, therefore, Imo State will leapfrog into her destined future.
No one can over emphasize the importance of education in the development of any individual or society. Education is the bedrock of any development. Modern economies are built around education because it provides skilled labour. With the huge advancement in Science and Technology, unskilled labour is being eliminated on daily basis. To survive in the modern world, therefore, one must acquire the kind of education that equips him with the necessary skillset to be part of the players in the economy. To bastardize education would mean to jeopardize both the development and future of the people.
Addressing a mammoth crowd of supporters at the Freedom Square in Owerri in February 2012, Okorocha announced his free education policy in fulfilment of his campaign promise. He said education would be free from the primary school to the tertiary institutions. The policy was greeted with disbelief, just like in 2011 when it was first promised, as the people insisted that the free education policy was a deliberate effort to destroy the education sector. The free education policy became Okorocha’s popularity contest, and somehow the Imo State University became the center of the contest. He won that contest though, but Imo people lost as the free education policy became a fraudulent enterprise. It lowered the quality of education for political exigency. That policy left the schools without teachers and more than two-third of the schools in the state had decrepit buildings. Only few schools had desks and decent classrooms. And these were few schools in the urban areas.
It was chirpy news when Governor Hope Uzodinma on Friday, May 15, received the report of the Imo State University Visitation Panel chaired by Prof. Chinedu Nebo, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Issues raised by the Panel included: age falsification, need for ICT’ compliance personnel, especially the principal officers, digitization of the University, succession based on academic excellence and passion to deliver, implementation of summary petitions, shortfalls in school fees collected from students, mismanagement of the Bursary Department, unchecked loss in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), lack of knowledge of the exact number of students, over-bloated salaries of some workers and need for forensic audit, etc.
The Panel’s discoveries should rather elicit sober reflection so that we could ask vital questions. How come a university like the Imo State University cannot give account of the actual number of students in the school? How come in this age many principal staff of IMSU are not ICT compliance? How come there are shortfalls in the school fees collected from the students? How come there is unchecked loss in the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the University? How come salaries of some workers are over bloated? Questions of this kind should agitate our minds, and we should join the government in search of workable solutions. We consider it worrisome that instead of asking vital questions some people are diverting attention from the substance and are rather speculating on the free education. They are spreading panic and inciting the people against the government and are behaving as if government’s search for solutions in the education sector is a declaration of war on former Governor Rochas Okorocha. It should not be so.
We believe that there are more earth-shattering discoveries from the IMSU Visitation Panel, but what we have seen so far from their report justifies our long held position that there is need to rejig the education sector in the state. The popularity contest in Imo State should give way to good governance. We want to caution that those portraying government’s effort to reposition the education sector as some sort of warfare against anyone desist from doing so. This is about Imo State, and if there is need to move on from where previous governments left off, so be it. Imo State cannot afford to lose the opportunity to repair her education system over any popularity contest.
We are consoled by the fact that Governor Uzodinma understands that education is the future of the state and he has promised to do all he can to reposition it. He informed the IMSU Visitation Panel that “education, being the pivot through which people acquire knowledge and skill is in hot demand in Imo and that the State cannot afford to lag behind in taking Imo State University to a competitive and admirable height.” He added: “It is either IMSU becomes a University or never.” Any government that will resolve the quagmire in the education sector in Imo State will, undoubtedly, have the unflinching support of Imo people.