Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Yinka Odumakin in the eye of Wale Adedayo

As usual, self-styled Afenifere spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, was at his hypocritical best with his comments on our repeated attempts to run an open government in Ogun State. His review of His Excellency, Otunba Gbenga Daniel's, Mr. Governor Explains This, was characteristically a PhD affair (Pull Him Down). The quarterly programme, which is usually broadcast live on radio and TV ensures that residents of the state ask pertinent questions from the Governor without ANYONE acting as intermediary. But I'll reserve my comments about Odumakin's opportunistic remarks for now, while giving you the response of the Ogun State Commissioner for Education, Prof. Segun Awonusi.

Wale Adedayo

Cheap publicity in Awolowo’s name
Segun Awonusi
It is a shame that Yinka Odumakin could misread the import and the ideological mindset of the Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel’s, response to a public discourse. The truth must be said that Governor Daniel remains one of the few who hero-worships the late sage, Papa Obafemi Awolowo, in particular his free primary education policy at a time many other Nigerian premiers and their regions could not face the challenge of education liberalisation.

It must also be pointed that Papa Awolowo's free education was limited to PRIMARY level not because Papa did not wish to go beyond that level but the economic realities of the day did not allow it. The thesis therefore is that it a combination of ideological commitment and economic realities at a particular time that are the twin indices that determine policy costing or more specifically the freedom, a la limited or absolutus of free education.

Given the basic understanding of public policy philosophy outlined above, society should therefore praise the operators of the state apparatus like Governor Daniel who not only assured that PRIMARY education remains free, in spite of its collosal cost that even the federal Government had to come to the aid of states through UBEC (never mind the policy that over centralises fund adminstration in a federal context) and ensures that SECONDARY education is tuition free and in addition in the case of Ogun State, university education fee is kept at a very low level.

An example will suffice. In the last six months the Management of the Olabisi Onabanjo University had insisted that to maintain quality education which had become expensive, it would charge the actual cost (100%) that it takes to provide education as determined by the Nigerian Universities Commission. Governor Daniel said no and said OOU must consult with stakeholders which include students, staff unions, parents associations etc and the Stakeholder' brought the fee down by 50%. When the Governor still listened to the cries of the people he directed his Commissioner of Education (incidentally an academic who also benefited from Papa Awo's free primary policy) to reduce the agreed fee structure. Consequently Gov Daniel's administartion reduced that by another 25% such that at the end of the day the universiity is charging only 25% of the original fees which ipso facto translates into a governmental subsidy of 75% of the fees.

A similar reduction in student fees by Gov Daniel at the state oldest polytechnic (where N17,000 fee reduction was made to bring old students fee to Zero% increase over last year's fees) has suddenly forced the Government to see how it has to address a budget shortfall of over N150 million in that sector. A second example lies in the totality of what is being spent to maintain qualitative education in the state. Ogun State remains one of very few states in Nigeria where the Governor spends over 26% of her budget on education, a policy which clearly meets UNESCO recommended international standard in an age when even the Federal Government (that is awashed with a lot of money) has just moved from 8% to 13% in the 2008 budget.

It is therefore unrealistic to insist on education fees-freedom absolutus unless we want Gov Daniel to spend 75% of the state budget on education so that there will peanut provision for other equally demanding social services like health, environment, housing etc.

The issue of population explosion referred to by Gov Daniel can better be appreciated if one realises that by the projection of the founding fathers OOU was expected to have a population of 15,000 in 2007 but in reality has 62,000. This is apart from Tai Solarin University of Education which has over 8000 students apart from the 5020 NCE students in the same university. Faced with this shocking reality the State Government is committing enormous resources to education. Besides, the Government has employed over 7000 teachers in the last four years in counter distinction to the 600 employed by the previous administration in the same time-span or period. Government has invested a lot in computer education that 92% of secondary schools have computer labs, the years of decay and atrophy in structural dilapidation is now addressed through automatic monthly release of fund that totally eliminate rehabilitation needs within 24 months apart from the investment in tertiary students busary awards and payment of WAEC fees.

Odumakin needs to wake from the lull of unchallenged and economically-untested ideological lull and if has no courage to see and commend Governor Daniel for such giant steps, he should have at least the candour to keep mum in the face openly discernible progress.

Prof. Segun Awonusi is the Ogun State Commissioner for Education.