Since assuming office on May 29, 2007, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, a medical doctor and Governor of Delta State, has repositioned the education sector, not just by providing state-of-the-art infrastructure, but introducing innovations that have redefined education in the state and setting the pace for others to follow
The story of his educational pursuit is an inspiring one and such that is bound to fire the zeal and determination of the younger generation of Nigerians to take maximum advantage of the opportunity available to them to acquire good education. It is one story Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, the indefatigable and visionary governor of Delta State is never weary to tell even at the risk of sounding like a broken record. As a village boy staying with his grandmother at Mosogar, he had secretly admired older boys, dressed in their uniforms, going to school and had longingly anticipated when it would be his turn. Schooling, for him, held a great attraction and he couldn’t just wait for the day he would enrol in primary one. So, happily he went with his grandmother on this fateful day to be enrolled but he came back home utterly disappointed. “I think I was between five and six years old; I went to register to start primary school”, he recalled vividly in an interview with the magazine. “In the process of registration, one of the things you had to do was that your right hand must pass over your left ear. When I did that, I couldn’t touch my left ear. (Laughs) So, I was denied admission… 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 now 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 okay, 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 – I would just sit at the door of the classroom and he allowed me to participate that sometimes, he asked me questions”.
That was over 50 years ago. Since then, his passion for education has not waned. He did not only study hard to become a medical doctor, he is today the governor of Delta State, and therefore well-positioned to give full expression to his love for education by the types of policies and programmes he has enunciated to create a platform for children of his age at that time, to actualize their dreams. The environment he grew up in, and the opportunities he had, no doubt, must have influenced his actions and policy-direction of his administration. As a beneficiary of the free education policy of the old Western Region as pioneered by the late sage and premier of the region, Obafemi Awolowo, Uduaghan had no inhibition whatsoever in implementing the free education programme of his party and even taking it a notch higher by picking the bills of candidates in public primary and secondary schools for such public examinations as Junior Secondary School, JSS, 3, West African Examination Council, WAEC, and National Examination Council, NECO, examinations. All forms of levies hitherto imposed on students by some unscrupulous school heads and teachers were also abolished. Having whet the appetite of the young ones for education, he went ahead to address the problems of manpower to cope with the growing pupils/students’ population, decayed infrastructure, access and of course quality and standards. These posed no mean challenge when considered against the backdrop of shrinking financial resources amidst competing needs. But for the governor, because the will is there, finding a way round it had not been an insurmountable hurdle. Ovuozuorie Macaulay, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, noted that development in the education sector had been a gradual work “until what I would call outburst some two years back”. According to him, the concentration was more on the manpower. Arising from the surge in school enrolment, Macaulay said about 5,000 teachers and 2,000 non-teaching staff were engaged to redress the deficit in manpower. Having done that, it was time to address the problem of decayed and inadequate infrastructure, which the governor applied himself to religiously starting with what the SSG referred to as “partial renovation” of schools. He was however proud to state that, “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 students”. A visit round the state confirmed Macaulay’s claim. Indeed, in his words, “education has really taken a different turn in Delta State”.
From upland to the riverine communities, decrepit school buildings have given way to state-of-the-art model primary and secondary schools. Even impossible terrains like in Burutu, Abigborodo, Bomadi and others now have a sense of belonging with two-storey building model secondary schools and remodeled primary schools adorning the rural landscape. So excited was Paul Enuyi, the principal of Ogbemudein Mixed Secondary School, Agbor, that he described the new school; as “one in a million and the pride of Ikaland”. Professor Patrick Muoboghare told the magazine that 14 of such model secondary schools of the class of St. Patrick College, Asaba are being built across the state. While some are ready for commissioning, others are at different stages of completion. So also are the four newly established polytechnics in Sapele, Abigborodo, the governor’s village, Aboh and Bomadi. Hope Eghagha, professor of English and Commissioner for Higher Education, said the new polytechnics are to address the problem of access to tertiary education by Delta youths in addition to producing graduates who would not have to look up to government for employment. “We need these Polytechnic graduates to drive development. We want to produce graduates that can stand anywhere in the world. The ambience itself will be attractive. This is our dream. Technical education is crucial to development. We need to stress polytechnic education. We are responding to the need of the environment”. And this is already happening in the existing polytechnics in the state. At the Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku for instance, the facilities provided for the students aptly demonstrated this seriousness of producing graduates who would be employers of labour rather than seeking employment. What is on ground at the Machine/Fitting Shop in the Mechanical Engineering Department, Strength of Materials and Mechatronics Laboratory, Welding Workshop, and the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, among others, underscored the primary aim of the school which Edna Mogekwu, the Rector, told the magazine is to produce skilled labour. According to her, “we don’t train them to come out and begin to search for jobs; we train them to be seriously skilled”. The state-owned multi-campus university, Delta State University, DELSU, is also witnessing unprecedented transformation with massive development going on simultaneously at the three campuses – Abraka, the main campus, Oleh and Anwai, in Asaba. Professor Eric Arubayi, Vice-Chancellor, VC, of the university said this had been made possible because the government allows the retention of school fees for the development of infrastructure. This is unlike in many state-owned universities where school fees are paid into government coffers as internally generated revenue. And to ensure high academic standards, the tertiary institutions in the state boast of almost full accreditation for their programmes. While Arubayi says 93 per cent of DELSU’s courses have full accreditation, Mogekwu says all the 25 programmes offered by the Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnic have full accreditation. Same applies in other two polytechnics.
That Uduaghan has made revolutionary strides in delivering quality education to Deltans is not in doubt. Always ahead of his counterparts, the governor scored another first when September 16, 2013, he inaugurated Delta Education Marshalls, (DEM) popularly known as EduMarshal Programme at the GRA Model Primary School, Asaba, the state capital. Stella Blaize, special assistant to the governor on education and coordinator of the programme, says the DEM was in the spirit of the Child Rights Act which has been domesticated in the state and has ensured that the state achieves the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of Education For All (EFA) by 2015. Blaize says the idea is “eradicating street culture and bringing about learning culture”. Some states, the magazine learnt, have also keyed into this unique and laudable initiative.
The Uduaghan administration also blazed the trail in its First Class Scholarship Scheme under which indigenes of the state, paternally or maternally, who make first class in any university at home or abroad, are offered an annual N5 million scholarship to study for higher degrees up to PhD anywhere in the world. One of the beneficiaries, Theodora Ogharanduku, a 2008 graduate of Zoology from DELSU, lauded the programme which she said was transparently done. Ogharanduku, a lecturer at DELSU, said the programme “gave a lot of us the opportunity to see the world because without the scholarship scheme, many of us wouldn’t have left the shores of Nigeria”. According to her, “I had always looked at the brochure of the University of London online. I had always goggled to look at the campus, so, it was a dream come true”.
Returning missionary schools to their original owners was another novel policy initiated by Governor Uduaghan that had been copied by some of his peers. Muoboghare said under this policy, “40 missionary schools have been returned to their owners. And in their places, we had to build parallel schools so that the children now have options between private schools, missionary schools and government schools. But we don’t want to create a situation whereby we say because they are government schools only the children of the poor will attend them because their infrastructure are not good. That is why we are doing what we are doing now.
Undoubtedly, Uduaghan, being on the driver’s seat, knows where he is taking Delta State to and he has a clear vision on how to arrive at that destination – Delta Beyond Oil. He says his huge investment in education has a lot to do with the Delta Beyond Oil initiative of his administration, stating that “for anything you are doing to succeed, the bedrock is education”. According to the governor, “We cannot be talking about Delta Beyond Oil if we have our populace not educated. You must educate them first for them to even understand Delta Beyond Oil. 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 it”. For Uduaghan, the need for good education cannot be overemphasised. His humble background as a village boy bears testimony to this. “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 pipe-borne water. In fact it was more rural than what you saw. But there was something there – there was a primary school… and every adult in the community ensured that the young ones went to 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”, he told the magazine.