Comrade Ovuozourie Macaulay, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, says “It is a full scale development in education” in Delta State. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Tony Manuaka, senior associate editor; Folashade Adebayo, senior writer and Paul Kuyoro, photojournalist, the former state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, however regrets that funding is a major challenge in going the whole hog “which is why today, we have some schools not up to the standard of the new ones”
How would you assess the education sector in Delta State?
Education in Delta State, like other sectors, has been one of growth. It has been a gradual work until what I would call outburst some two years back. Before now, the concentration was more on the manpower. And under the Uduaghan administration, 5,000 teachers, about 2,000 non-academic staff, have been employed in schools. There was a stage that we did not really have teachers in the Sciences and Mathematics, and that made the governor to give approval for the employment of 5,000 persons. Of course, we started with that process and what I will call then partial renovation of schools. But in the last two years, there has been phenomenal growth in that area, in the sense that we are now undertaking the full rehabilitation of schools. It is completely 100 per cent renovation, furnished to modern standards, and laboratory materials provided for the students. So, I would say education has really taken a different turn in Delta State.
Is this initiative going with the right teaching staff and materials?
First of all, we ensured that the right teaching staff are put in place. Having stabilised the area of teaching staff, we now went back to school infrastructure development. In any school that the Delta State government is renovating, we renovate completely; in some cases, we build additional classrooms where we find the original ones to be inadequate. For instance, in places where we found that some of the buildings were mud – that is to show you that maybe those buildings have not been touched since after the colonial era. But because they used cement to plaster it from time to time, when you look at it from outside, you would think it is a block work; but it is actually mud that was later plastered. When we found such situations, what we did was to say okay, the initial pricing was based on renovation, but break it down. I had that experience in St. Michael’s, Oleh. What we did was to break down the whole thing and erect a new building even at the same cost. In such cases, we commend the contractors who make sacrifices. As we are putting up the buildings, we are equipping the classrooms with modern benches and desks. We are equipping the laboratories with modern facilities and in such schools, even generators are provided. That is to tell you the extent to which we are going. It is a full-scale development.
What are some of the challenges you encountered in the course of these interventions?
The usual challenges in development – the challenges of funding. I do tell people that left to Uduaghan and his dreams, may be by now, we should be talking of how to put air conditioners on the streets of Delta State. But the resources are not there. The challenge we have today is why we have some schools not up to the standard of the new ones. Today, we have two categories of schools. Some that have been completely renovated up to the level that you will think some of them are even tertiary institutions. And then you have some that are still not there but that is because there is no fund to go round. We are supposed to do Phase I and Phase II. We are done with Phase I. The Phase II is having some setback because of funding.
In that case, is the state government likely to go for a loan or another bond?
That I cannot say. But one thing I can say of the present governor and his policies is the fact that he doesn’t want to leave a huge debt portfolio for the in-coming administration. He is trying to manage the debt portfolio to the extent that we should be able to pay back substantially before we leave office. I am not too sure, depending on the economic situation. Again, talking of facilities, you will recall that for the most part of last year, from the second quarter, I can boldly say that in the third and fourth quarter of last year, the resources were so lean to the extent that most times, states got 60 per cent or 70 per cent of what they were supposed to get. So this really affected the budget of the country not only Delta State. The challenges are multifaceted.
Is the free education policy as well as the payment for WAEC and NECO exams not putting so much pressure on the government?
Of course, it is putting so much pressure, but there is nothing you can give to anybody that you can compare with education. That is the best legacy anybody can bequeath to his children. So if you can do that, government should not do less. The level of bursary we pay in Delta State, the different categories of bursaries, the scholarships, then coming to this issue of no WAEC fees; no form of fees is paid. The burden is much but we feel that is the much we can give to the next generation.
Why have the four new polytechnics not taken off?
They will take off soon. But you see this is where our democracy is not fully ripe. Ordinarily, you don’t leave these types of gigantic projects to government alone. But people feel oh! let government do it. But the effects of government not doing it, the impact would be on all of us because we are talking of a huge amount of money being put in education. If you don’t put that money, then crime will continue to thrive. Today, we are spending so much money addressing crimes. If we don’t begin to engage these young ones coming up now, they will turn to crime and the cost of managing that criminality would be higher. So, everybody should contribute something. You may say the governor is shy; he does not want to ask people to come and give money. It is not him you are giving the money. Yes, the governor has pronounced the establishment of the polytechnics, and I must tell you, there were pressures on him to establish them. What is wrong with me or any one with the means, going to my village, assuming it was sited in my village, and say okay, this my building I donate it. Or even give it to lectures to use temporarily. Before you know it, the school will take off. But everybody is folding his hands for the day government will say okay, we have N3 billion, let us start building. And we all know that the nation’s resources are on the downward slide. But the buildings are ongoing.
What you are talking about can also be done by corporate organisations. In view of the fact that Delta is a major oil-producing state, how are you collaborating with the oil companies to develop education in the state?
I had dealings with oil companies for almost four years. Even in managing their own crises for them, to go back to the swamps, they will not even provide you accommodation. They will say it is against their rule. I returned the companies to the swamps in Warri from 2004 to 2007, when I was in charge of conflict resolution. If you come to work for them, they will tell you that their headquarters said they should not give government officials accommodation; that it amounts to bribe. They will tell you it is a joint venture – they report to the federal government; federal government takes 60 per cent of whatever they are making and that they are hardly able to pay their overhead. So, they are not really helping. Take Uzere for instance because it is very clear in history that after Oloibiri, Uzere, in Isoko South Local Government, was the next place oil was discovered in 1958. What is the status of Uzere today? They cannot even relate with the community because anytime there is flood, the people pack out of the community. That is Shell for you. Let’s come to Chevron, Gulf, as it used to be. They have operated in Ugborodo for almost 50 years now. Go there and look at where their own company is operating, where they call their camp and look at the community itself; it is a tale of two cities. To now tell them to come and fund state project, they will not.
Are you happy with the return of your investments in education in terms of performance of your students/pupils?
That is where this EduMarshal has become relevant. Yes, the state government is putting in much money training teachers, employing teachers and building infrastructure. But how serious are the students or the pupils? You go around the streets of Warri now, you see them hawking when they are supposed to be in school. Parents are encouraging their children not to go to school. Make you first go sell garri for me. That is what most parents are doing instead of saying no, this situation I found myself as a parent, my child will not undergo it. So parents should be encouraged to send their children to school. Secondly, we have lost our reading culture. A child comes back from school and will not read. This is not only happening in primary and secondary schools. There is nothing like variety reading. In those days, we read Mills and Boons, Pace Setters, Shakespeare and all sorts of novels. A child on holiday today will not read his books. He is either watching football, browsing or listening to music. Those are the type of things our children are doing and we the parents are encouraging them. So, I think we should begin to encourage our children to go back to reading. Those are the factors and some other problems that are responsible for this mass failure.
‘In any school that the Delta State government is renovating, we renovate completely; in some cases, we build additional classrooms where we find the original ones to be inadequate… As we are putting up the buildings, we are equipping the classrooms with modern benches and desks’
‘The level of bursary we pay in Delta State, the different categories of bursaries, the scholarships, then coming to this issue of no WAEC fees; no form of fees is paid. The burden is much but we feel that is the much we can give to the next generation’