Bayelsa’s Educational Renaissance | Independent Newspapers Nigeria

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Governor Henry Seriake Dickson came into power in 2012 with all the accoutrements of a ruthless general going into battle with a gush of accumulated energy to clinch victory. His government came to retrieve, rescue and restore all that was taken away from Bayelsans since creation day in 1996. So the Restoration Programme is the product of a very visionary idealism which has so far recorded high grade successes.

The governor immediately on resumption in 2012 declared a state of emergency in the education sector and followed it up much later with legal bite by signing the education bill into law in Feb. 2018. The law makes it compulsory for every Bayelsan child of school age to have access to compulsory primary and secondary education in the state.

The Dickson administration has jettisoned the antiquated monofactoral alibi of poverty as justification for illiteracy in the Ijaw nation. In all the affected clans of Governor Dicksons free education policy, there is no justifiable apology for any Ijaw child of school age to be out of school even for the minutest reason.

Gov. Dickson truly understood the positive and triple-down effects of qualitative education as enunciated by former President John Fitzerald Kennedy of America who said “our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education”.

The education sector in Bayelsa State experienced an accelerated liberalisation and democratisation rarely seen in present day Nigeria on Governor Dickson’s coming to power. It would not be inappropriate here to compare Gov. Dickson’s unstoppable fervor for education to the legendary Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s days of the 1950s. Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced free and compulsory state-run primary school education in 1955 in the entire Western Region comprising the present Southwestern, Edo and Delta states. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a bookworm, a workaholic and a visionary avatar who read copiously and worked so hard to achieve so many FIRSTS in Africa and was a democratic pride and model not only to his Southwest but also throughout Nigeria and the world.

The logistic challenges of free education for the Western Region then were so daunting and seemingly insurmountable but the young premier of Western region drew sustaining inspiration and strength from Plato’s compact and comprehensive state directed scheme of compulsory education for Athenian citizens 17 centuries ago. Chief Obafemi Awolowo sent ministry officials into all the hamlets and villages in the expansive western region to recruit pupils for his highly criticised but highly successful pet dream. If Awolowo’s recruitment team could reach a small community like Gbenewei in 1955, then all nooks and crannies were covered in the whole of Western Region.

Just like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Gov. Henry Seriake Dickson intends to leave a legacy of compact and comprehensive state-run qualitative education that is self-generative with a capacity to sustain and to recreate itself for generations yet unborn and for eternity.

The educational revolution in Bayelsa state has made it a destination for seekers of qualitative education from all over Nigeria especially the Niger Delta states. The Education Dev. Trust Fund is the engine room and power base of Gov. Dickson’s revolution in education. Thousands of poor Bayelsan students have benefitted from the free and compulsory education programme which includes free boarding, feeding, books, clothing, computers and tuition. No state in Nigeria’s educational history has ventured into such a logistically cumbersome terrain in the educational sector. This surgical operation to revive Bayelsa’s comatose and moribund educational institutions is the driving force for Gov. Dicksons educational machinery.

Bayelsa’s educational investments are gargantuan and colossal both in short and long term financing. These include 600 primary schools built with staff quarters facilities, model colleges in all the local government areas of the state with facilities for a minimum admission of about 1000 students each.

But the flagship of Bayelsa’s secondary school education is the Ijaw National Academy with a capacity for 1300 students and admitted from all Ijaw speaking states in Nigeria including Rivers, Edo, Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Delta and of course Bayelsa state. However, only Ijaw students from Furupagha clan in Ebijaw ward of Odigbo LGA of Ondo state are excluded from this educational largess. This, I am sure, is without the governors knowledge as admission is left to the whims and caprices of politicians and ethno-political organisations like the Ijaw National Council (INC) and Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) who share these slots among their lucky families and their kiths and kins. Governor Dickson can take a cue from the Awolowo armada of ministry officials instead of leaving this life-changing opportunity in the hands of politicians and Elder statesmen. We are confident that the amiable and adorable Bayelsan governor will make amends to include communities like Gbenewei, Tarebor, Zion, Ebijaw and Otumara all in Ebijaw ward of Odigbo LGA in Ondo State. Ebijaw ward has never received even a piece of chalk from Ondo State Government which is now run by an Ijaw-Apoi man in the person of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu. And the irony of it all is that the Ijaw-Apois are “chopping” from both ends of the gubernatorial dining table as they have admission and other slots reserved for them at the Ijaw National Academy in Kaiama, Bayelsa State and also fully represented in all sectors and departments of Arakunrin Akeredolu’s government.

Governor Dickson’s unwavering and steadfast commitment to erudition is demonstrated by the very long and rewarding strides he has so far taken in his vision of building and turning every Ijaw child into a self sustaining infrastructure with great emphasis on the economy and human capital development.

It was Plato the Greek philosopher who said, “if education is neglected, it matters little what else the state does”. Plato also believed that education could transform a beast into a human being and could cast human beings into solid fabrics that can never disintegrate. Some day our great skyscrapers will disappear but the educated mind is the world’s greatest asset and most enduring catalyst for global development and change as typified by the Silicon Valley experiment in California, USA.

I personally believe that education is the only infrastructure that can save a drowning man and resuscitate him. It is the only weapon at the disposal of mankind to challenge the adversities and complexities of nature like hurricanes, climate change, space mysteries, global demystification of hunger and strife etc.

Aristotle who was Plato’s most outstanding student puts it very brutally thus, “Educated men are as much superior to uneducated men as the living are to the dead”.

Governor Dickson’s foray into the arena of education has started yielding fruits even now as the state has moved up from the bottom in both WAEC and NECO indexes to 5th and 3rd places respectively.

And if Governor Henry Seriake Dickson’s successors maintain and keep this golden legacy, in the next 2 decades the Ijaw ethnic group will move up in the index of most educated ethnic groups in Nigeria to 2nd place only next to the Yorubas who have been advantageously placed by the Chief Obafemi Awolowo free education programme of 1955.

But the typical Ijaw man is so fixated on chieftaincy affairs that education is not even on his tertiary list of priorities. The typical Ijaw man feels more comfortable with a mighty bead around his neck than the laurels of academics.

However, my utmost prayer is for the average Ijaw man to have a rethink about his lukewarm and lackadaisical attitude to education so that the Ijaw Nation can be proudly referred to as primus inter pares in the comity of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.

Ben Nanagha, Lagos.

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