It is a new dawn in the education sector in Delta State. Never in the history of the state has this critical sector witnessed such a phenomenal growth as in the almost seven years of the administration of Governor Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan. In this interview with the TELL team of Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Tony Manuaka, senior associate editor, Folashade Adebayo, senior writer, and Paul Kuyoro, photojournalist, Uduaghan, a medical doctor turned politician, explains that his huge investment in education is deliberate because “education is the bedrock of development.” He says the human capital development component of the three-point agenda of his administration is important because “the anchor for human capital development is education,” and without a properly educated society, “we cannot have advancement in society.”
The governor however regretted that in spite of bracing all odds to provide state-of-the-art education infrastructure across the state, including the rural communities, “40 per cent of children in the state who are supposed to be in school are not in school because of the values our children now have.” According to him, “They are now using money as a yardstick for measuring success. There are some people in the state who have made money; they didn’t go to school. So, those are the kind of people they are looking up to.” Uduaghan is however confident that with the newly introduced Education Marshall Programme, which is novel in the country, a lot would be achieved in ensuring children of school age in the state are in school. The encounter is much more revealing.
It’s been a harvest of awards for you since last year from prominent national newspapers. The icing on the cake was the one this year from the Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom – the Outstanding Leadership Award. What do these awards mean to you, sir?
Thank you. For me, it is just to say thank God that people are beginning to see what we are doing. In fact, that is the basic meaning for me that people are beginning to notice what we are doing. And it also shows that our strategy of finishing strong is also beginning to make sense to a lot of persons. But let me quickly say that each recognition, each award brings its own challenges – challenge of first to ensure that we even do more; the challenge also of ensuring that our people benefit more from what we are doing because it’s not just the glamour of the award, it’s not just the celebration of the awards but what goes after that like I keep saying. When we were in our quiet corner, nobody recognised us; it was easy to be relaxed. But now that people have started to recognise us, we have to put in a lot more effort to ensure that we remain there. It’s very challenging to remain at the top.
We went round with you to inspect ongoing projects in the state, including schools which are our major area of interest. What is you impression of what you saw?
Well, for the schools, the ones we were able to visit, I am quite impressed with at least the development of the infrastructure. The model secondary school which is the two-storey building is yet to be completed – you know why? Because of the terrain. It was difficult getting to that level. But I must say that I wasn’t too impressed with other aspects, the furnishing for instance in the re-modelled secondary school. The classroom we entered, that was not the kind of furnishing that we have in our secondary schools. They should put the proper furnishing in that particular classroom like in the model primary school. But what is more disturbing was the issue of teaching staff – the principal, I heard, had not been there for the whole week. Yesterday was the second week of resumption. Then, two, even the students themselves; we entered a class where there were only six students which for me was very disturbing. When we got talking, the teacher, very enthusiastic teacher, was telling us the reason; the efforts she had made. That is a big challenge that we have in our rural communities – challenge of our children refusing to attend schools.
When we started our EduMarshall, that is, ensuring that our children go to school, from the estimate that we got from UNESCO, about eight per cent of children from Delta State who are supposed to be in school are out of school. Well, we accepted that rating; but for us as a state, we also believe that it’s more than eight per cent. We believe that up to 40 per cent of the children that are supposed to be in school are not in school and it was very obvious (during our visit) yesterday. I think that estimate may have been from the urban areas but a lot of children who are supposed to be in school in the rural areas are not yet in school. What we now do with the EduMarshall programme is to see how we can concentrate more on the rural communities rather than the urban areas. We need a lot of work to be done to ensure our children in the rural communities go to school. But it also told me something about the values that our children now have. What do I mean by values? They are now using money as a yardstick for measuring success. There are some people in the state who have made money; they didn’t go to school, yet they made money. So, those are the kind of people they are looking up to. So, for them, education does not really matter; whether you have education or not, you can make money. That should not be the case because education is the bedrock of development. Without a properly educated society, we cannot have advancement in our society. So for me, it was very disturbing that the values of our children, especially in those areas, are just about money and not about getting education.
This administration has consistently devoted a greater chunk of the state budget to education. Is this deliberate and why is it so?
Yes, it is deliberate. If you look at our three-point agenda – peace and security, infrastructure development and human capital development – yes, they are interwoven, our human capital development is very important. And the anchor for human capital development is education. Without education there is no way you can have growth in the society. An educated society is easier to convince on a lot of issues; but where the people are not educated, where they are not literate, it takes a lot of efforts to convince them on issues they need conviction on. So for us, our investment in education is very deliberate and it also has to do with my upbringing. I grew up in a rural community where there was no road to the place; you could only get there by boat. There was no electricity, no (potable) water; in fact, it was more rural than what you saw. But there was something there – there was a primary school; no secondary school there, and every adult in the community ensured that the young ones went to school, although sometimes in the morning you still had to go to farms, but you must end up in school. And today, I can safely say that from that little village, we have a lot of persons who have achieved success. At least, that little village has produced two governors and people that are well placed. So, education, for me, is very important.
Does it have anything to do with your Delta Beyond Oil initiative?
Yes, like I said, for anything you are doing to succeed, the bedrock is education. We cannot be talking about Delta Beyond Oil if we have our populace that are not educated. You must educate them first for them to even understand Delta Beyond Oil. But if they are not educated, they will just believe that so much money is coming from oil; so let’s just get the money and share the money. For us to succeed in that development strategy of Delta Beyond Oil, we need our populace to be educated.
You have gone to a great extent to provide these infrastructure and we know a major problem in this country is lack of maintenance culture. Are you not concerned about what becomes of this infrastructure after some time?
Yes, I am very concerned. Even yesterday, I was not happy with the environment in that secondary school. There was so much grass and all that and that was one of the things that I noted and as soon as I came back, I called the commissioner and that was one of my observations. Even keeping the environment clean was a big challenge, not to talk of keeping the buildings and the other equipment. What we are putting up really in some of the schools we are renovating is first the issue of security. He has made a proposal to have more like private security in every school because one of the challenges we have had in some of our schools is that people just go in there and damage the doors and all that. In fact, when we started, we had cases that when I went into a classroom that was still under construction, we found that people had even come there to defecate in the classrooms at night. So, they were using the place as toilets at night. But we have gone beyond that stage now; we have dealt with those kinds of issues. Eventually, we are going to do a community-participation arrangement in terms of maintenance of infrastructure like what we are doing in the case of water. What we have done in water is to set up committees in communities that have water projects. So, those committees ensure that there is adequate maintenance of the water projects, make sure that the water is running. We are also going to set up that kind of committee in our schools. Like that Abigborodo community now, we have a committee that is in charge and responsible for adequate maintenance of the facilities in the school.
With dwindling revenue from federal allocation, how do you cope with the challenge of financing the large number of projects you have embarked upon, especially in the education sector?
Well, it is quite challenging. And of course, if we depend mainly on federal allocation, we will not be able to make it. So, we are stepping up our IGR (internally generated revenue), and hopefully, this year, we will be able to get a lot more. What we are trying to achieve is to see if we can use our IGR for recurrent expenditure; that is, paying salaries and running the government, if it is possible. We have not quite achieved that yet but whatever we are getting as federal allocation will be purely for capital projects. But right now, a lot of what we are getting as federal allocation still goes into recurrent, payment of salaries, cost of running government, so our target is to raise our IGR. Even if it’s just to pay salaries alone, that will free the allocation for us to use in other areas.
At the Town Hall Meeting with the people of Abigborodo, you said there would be sanctions for parents who do not send their children to school, that is through the Education Marshall initiative of the state. Is there any sustainable enlightenment programme for the parents and their wards in this regard?
You know our Education Marshall Programme has just started and we are currently at what I will call test-running phase which is more in the urban areas. We have six zones where we are starting from. It’s still a learning phase and we deliberately said that this phase must be that of sensitising, especially the parents and educating them on what the law is all about, the sanctions and encouraging them to send their children to school. We are yet to get a feedback on that phase. After we get a feedback, we will then review it and move on to the next stage which is that of sanction.
With the number of projects you have embarked upon, which of them would you consider to be dearest to your heart?
I think it is a holistic thing; if you don’t do one, the others will not succeed. The issue of infrastructure where we have intervened; the issue of teachers where we have done a lot of employment and we are still doing more; the issue of even retraining the teachers we are embarking on; the issue of making education accessible to children in terms of funds where we have also done a lot of interventions, ensuring that they do not pay school fees at the primary and secondary levels, and we are stepping up our scholarship schemes even up to the first class graduates. I say it is holistic because…I use myself as an example of what happens when you have infrastructure in a rural community.
Those days, we had committed teachers in our rural communities. Maybe you have not heard my story concerning education. When I was young – I think I was between five and six years old – I went to register to start primary school. In the process of registration, one of the things you had to do was that your right hand must pass over your head to touch your left ear. When I did that, I couldn’t touch my left ear (laughs). So, I was denied admission. My grandmother took me to the school. As we were going back home, I was crying profusely because I was very interested in going to school. The next morning, a teacher from the school came to our house to tell my grandmother that it’s like that your child is so interested that when he was denied admission, he was crying. My grandmother said well, he has to wait for another session. He said ok, although I would not be admitted, I could be following him to school. In the mornings, he used to take me to school. I would not be in the class – he was a primary one teacher – but I would just sit at the door of the classroom and he allowed me to participate such that sometimes he asked me questions.
We don’t have much of that kind of commitment today from teachers. We need to demand that kind of commitment from our teachers. Was it not last year or two years ago we had a programme in our Unity Hall at Government House; it had to do with poetry where children had to come and read. I just randomly brought out children amongst those who were supposed to be participants, to come and make presentations. And there was a particular school where the children that came out, consistently, were very good. And I started wondering, who their teacher was. Their teacher was sitting somewhere in the hall and he came out; looking at him, you could see that he wasn’t expensively dressed, the suit was old, his shoes were worn out. Then I asked him, he was a graduate, yet he didn’t have a car but you could see the commitment in him which showed in the children. So there and then, I had to give him a car. I was carried away by his commitment. And that is the kind of thing I am talking about; the kind of commitment we expect. Teachers say their reward is no longer in heaven, fine. But if you say your reward is here on earth, your commitment should reflect in the children you are teaching. So for me, every aspect of education, everything that we can do to improve our educational standard is very close to my heart.
With the results you are getting especially from performance of candidates in WAEC and NECO examinations, do you think it is commensurate with your investments in education?
I will say for now, no. We still have to do a few things. Like I said, the commitment should not just be from the teachers and the school pupils; it should also be from government – the ministry itself. We are doing a lot of reorganisation in our education ministries. The issue of education monitoring by the ministry, for me, is not encouraging; I am not quite happy with it. All these things have to do with monitoring; if there is no proper monitoring, the compliance level will be very poor.
‘When we were in our quiet corner, nobody recognised us; it was easy to be relaxed. But now that people have started to recognise us, we have to put in a lot more effort to ensure that we remain there. It’s very challenging to remain at the top’
‘The anchor for human capital development is education. Without education there is no way you can have growth in the society. An educated society is easier to convince on a lot of issues… So for us, our investment in education is very deliberate and it also has to do with my upbringing’