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Thursday, 11 April 2013 16:27

Wike’s uncommon commitment to service and revival of the basic education sector

Written by Lambert Oparah
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Ezebuwon Nyesom Wike

The Honourable Minister of State for Education, Barrister Ezenwo Nyesom Wike is not your unusual kind of Public Servant. At a time of so much cynicism and so much doubt about Public Service, we do need people like Wike to make us believe again. Wike as Minister of State for Education, oversees the Basic Education sub-sector which prepares and releases the pool of young boys and girls that are expected to hold the reins of leadership in the country in future. Transformation of our education system requires not only huge budgetary allocation but a bold change in approach to navigate the extremely difficult realities of our bureaucratic system.

It requires innovative thinking, sense of dedication, committed leadership above all transparency and accountability.

In the past 21 months since assumption of office as Minister of State for Education, Wike has provided these critical elements needed to turn around the fortunes of the basic education in the country. The success statistics across the country is glaring. From rehabilitation of Federal Unity Colleges, construction and equipping of libraries, provision of books for these schools, establishment of out-school-programmes for children in the South East and South-South to the execution of Almajiri School Projects in the north.

The Honourable Minister in the words of Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State is “a prepared administrator with in-depth experience to deliver on the transformation agenda of Mr. President”.

It is evident that Wike’s administrative knowledge as grassroot man, former Council Chairman and President of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) provided him with the necessary tools to carry out his functions with precision. Evolving the twin strategy of monitoring and evaluation of projects the Honourable Minister of State keeps school managers, contractors and other stakeholders in the education sector on their toes. Indeed it is a parlance amongst them that the “fear of Wike is the beginning of wisdom”. No more truancy among Principals and Heads of schools. Wike’s unscheduled visits to inspect Federal Government projects in schools have improved service delivery. Between July 2011 when he was sworn-in as Minister of State for Education and now have seen fundamental changes for the overall advancement of this critical sector.

In fact if there is one area the administration is beating its chest for measureable success it is the education sector. A look at the score sheets reveal impressive records in infrastructural development, rehabilitation, manpower development, funding, discipline and general provision of learning materials.

In terms of infrastructural development, over 40 Federal Unity Colleges that were hitherto under dilapidation have been rehabilitated. The teaching staff strength beefed up with over 1,305 temporary teachers of these schools converted to fulltime teachers. In an effort to improve the teaching of mathematics, English and core science subjects in these schools the Honourable Minister of State secured approval for the employment of 2,000 teachers to handle the two subjects.

For Wike, restoring the lost glory of the 104 Federal Unity Colleges(FUCs) across the country remains a priority. The Unity Colleges have been subject of intense national debate and concerns were being expressed as to their relevance.

Wike sought to reverse this trend through some reforms. First he institutionalized the culture of merit in the appointment, discipline and promotion of the administrators of the colleges. Appointment of heads of these schools are now based on competence “For anybody to emerge as principal of any of the 104 Unity Colleges, such a person must have to undergo both written and oral tests to determine his/her suitability for the job, we will no longer accept a situation where people are appointed based on patronage and other form of cronism and nepotism” Wike told the principals at the Annual General Meeting in Kano.

Second, the Honourable Minister realized that one major challenge of the colleges is funding. He therefore ensured that funds meant for the schools are released to them on time to handle the execution of projects.

As his trademark of ensuring that everyone is kept on his/her toes Wike reinvigorate the inspectorate unit of the Ministry of Education that ensured that all the schools are monitored and that service delivery is guaranteed.

One of the strategies employed by the Minister of State for Education to get results is the monitoring and evaluation process. At the evaluation meeting which he presides, he never sides any party. Contractors that finish their work and did not receive payments are instantly directed to be paid while those that delay project execution are reprimanded.

Apart from regular meetings with contractors to appraise their level of work and challenges, the Honourable Minister personally leads the monitoring team of all the project across the six geopolitical zones.

This singular approach has kept those executing the projects on track and reduced project abandonment.

Rebuilding schools will not only require physical infrastructure but the needed manpower to develop the minds. Capacity building for teachers in Basic education institutions has received unprecedented attention under the leadership of the Minister of State for Education. A good number of teachers and basic education administrators have been trained in the last two years. These training programmes conducted by the National Teachers Institute (NTI) and the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, were supervised directly by the Minister.

As part of the re-engineering process of the basic education sector the Federal Government is providing infrastructural materials in teaching and learning and this has greatly improved qualitative education. Over

35,000,000 copies of texts books in English Language, Mathematics, Social Studies and Basic Science Technology and library resource materials were distributed to primary pupils across the country in the last two years.

The Honourable Minister of State’s compelling achievements in the basic education sub-sector is his deploticisation of the entire programme. He has carried along with him all the stakeholders including state governors in opposing political camps. He enlisted the support of community leaders, traditional rulers, the civil society groups, the Community Based Organisations (CBO’s), the international community and the business community. In a rare expression of his feelings concerning Wike’s performance Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, Ondo State Governor congratulated President Goodluck Jonathan “for appointing an official who understands the urgency required to address the challenges of basic education and has set out to carry out his functions with rare dedication”. This was during the flag-off of book distribution to primary and secondary pupils in the South West Zone.

By this April, the Ministry will commission series of UBEC projects including libraries and Girl Child projects across the country. The projects were systematically phased to ensure that no stone was left unturned. These include school laboratories, classrooms, hostels, assembly halls, libraries etc.

To ensure that these projects are completed as scheduled, the regular meetings between the Minister, the contractors and relevant parastatals usually presided over by Barrister Wike have been intensified.

Expectedly, the Minister’s modus operandi has been a source of nightmare to those in the system who are used to old ways of doing things. Those who are uncomfortable with his pragmatic approach to solving problems particularly among managers of government schools are kicking. But the Minister will not give in as he once told the Principals of Unity Colleges clearly that “their inability to provide right leadership needed to meet the challenges of administering public schools is partly responsible for the abysmal failure of these schools to satisfy the public expectations particularly in the area of academic excellence.” He further cautioned
that the new policy regime for Unity Schools will demand greater responsibility from principals.

Nigerians across the board appreciate Wike’s hard work and they are lavishing words of encouragements on him for his genuine commitment and service to the nation. From the north, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III commended Wike for the Almajiri school project execution.

From the South East Governor Peter Obi gave kudos to the Minister for the out-of-school programme. From the South West Governor Olusegun Mimiko congratulated President Jonathan for giant strides in the basic education sub-sector. In Edo State, the Government and the traditional ruler of

Benin Kingdom have thrown their weights behind Wike. In Niger and Cross

Rivers States, the stories are the same, the Governors declared their support for the intervention programme of the Ministry of Education being championed by Wike and his team.

While the Honourable Minister is striving on his part to chart a new course in the educational road map of this country through the rejuvenation of the basic education sub-sector, it is the duty of all Nigerians to encourage this effort by lending their support.

We have to change our mindset that education is the responsibility of government alone. We have the mutual responsibility to ensure that our schools are properly funded, our teachers adequately remunerated and our pupils have access to basic and affordable education. It is a wise investment for our future.

• MR. OPARAH is Special Assistant to Honourable Minister of State for Education

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