THE CONTENT OF THE FREE AND COMPULSORY EDUCATION MUST BE DEFINED—- UFUO

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Smauel Ufuo

Recently, the Chairman Committee on Education of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Mr. Samuel Ufuo, granted interview to 1521 media team. He spoke extensively to the head of the team, Abasifreke Effiong, on government’s plans for State Government owned tertiary institutions, technical colleges, the next batch of UBEC intervention for schools, the on-going recruitment of 8000 teachers, among other issues.

Q : You have chaired the Education Committee of the House of Assembly for some months now. What has been your committee’s major achievements so far?

Ufuo: Thank you very much. Last year, after spending a year and some months in the Assembly, the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Barr. Onofiok Luke decided to change House Committee Chairmen. I was moved from Labour and Productivity to chair House Committee on Education. When I came in, the first challenge that was on ground was the retrenchment of Akwa Ibomites from Akwa Ibom State University. So we stepped in as a committee and we discovered that the exercise was not properly done. We discovered that it shouldn’t have been done that way, we passed a resolution based on the report submitted, that those people should be reinstated. And that was done. After that, some lectures who were affected by the exercise came here and express appreciation to the committee and the entire House.

We also stepped into an issue in the State College of Education, Afaha Nsit. Some lecturers too were retired when they were not due for retirement. Because of that, there was problem. They served the institution for some years which they were not paid. Because of that, there were petitions. Those involved were invited at the committee level. We discovered that the exercise was not properly done; part of the mistake came from when they were carrying out biometric exercise to ascertain the number of staff of the institution, and those were due for retirement. During the process, they were erroneously captured as non-teaching staff. So we discovered that; we made a report to the House and the House passed a resolution, and wrote to the State government that they should be restored after consultation with the relevant authorities.

So after that, we visited Akwa Ibom State University to see the level of development because we know the commitment of the State government to that school, at least in terms of monthly subvention. I want to say that we were pleased at the level of development and what the Vice Chancellor is doing. We urged him to do more. That’s the only State University we have, and we want it to compete with Universities in the country. We appreciate Akwa Ibom State Government and stakeholders, because we are aware of the challenges other State universities in the country are facing in terms of revenue. Akwa Ibom State Government does not go to struggle with the institution over their revenues. The university is managing the revenues it generates internally for the development of the school. That goes for all other tertiary institutions in the State.

After that, because of my passion for technical and vocational education, I moved a motion on the need to revamp some of the technical colleges. Skill is more than education because, it gives you the opportunity to become practically productive. Considering the rate of unemployment in the country and the future of children, people must be productive. They need to acquire skills. As we are talking now, Germany is rated number one in technical education, but this is a country that is advanced in technology but it still pays attention to technical education. So for us to develop at a faster pace in this age of technology, people must embrace skills that can help them.

The state of our technical colleges is nothing to be write home about in some aspects. Some workshops, some equipment are lying there waste. Some don’t have electricity to power equipment, and the cost of energy supply too is high. We have planned a tour of all the technical colleges later this month. We want to go round to see things in these schools as they are. We have informed the Technical Schools Board. Those are some of the things we did as a committee.

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Q: You talked about institutions managing their IGR. Heads of these Institutions said they’ve had to use a chunk of their IGR to pay part-time lecturers. Is there any plan on employment for these institutions?

Ufuo: They stated that problem. The State Government is giving Akwa Ibom State University a monthly subvention of N250million since the beginning of this administration, and that is very constant. When you look at their wage bill, there is a challenge. And also, the provision of other materials for day-to-day running of administration. A lot of Departments were accredited, so with the accreditation they need more hands. Recruiting new lecturers is uppermost in our plan; know that the new guideline is that for you to absorb anyone to teach in any Department, s/he must have a Ph.D. So some of those with the qualification are employed in other universities, so if we need them, they must be transferred. At the same time, their emoluments, especially this period of recession, the State Government cannot meet their wage bill. That’s why they were given the free hand to manage their IGR, so that they can take care of part-time lecturers.

By next month, I think there will be another recruitment of lecturers.

Q: Will the recuitment be for all State-owned tertiary institutions?

Ufuo: No, it is only for Akwa Ibom State University.

Q: So, what’s the fate of Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic and others which are short-staffed?

Ufuo: Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic has also complained of dearth of teachers in some Departments. They’ve also used their internally generated revenue to employ some lecturers on part-time. I think I have a petition here where some part-time lecturers wrote to tell us that they are supposed to be absorbed after being on part-time for up to five years. We have discussed that at the committee and have forwarded it to the governor.

There is paucity of funds, there is also need for the employment of more lecturers in Akwa Ibom State University, Polytechnic, and College of Education. There is need for more lecturers in some Departments. We understand that the workload is too much for some of the lecturers.

Q: Still on employment. The Akwa Ibom State Government cancelled employment of 5000 teachers recently. Thereafter, it ordered employment of 3000 new teachers. This number can hardly do enough to improve the student-teacher ratio. Why didn’t the governor order re-employment of another 5000 teachers?

Ufuo: When government cancelled the employment of the 5000 teachers, it immediately ordered re-employment of the same number, 5000, with condition. The truth is that the 5000 teachers whose employment was suspended by the State Government were called upon again for re-test. It was discovered that some of them came with fake certificates. The exercise was not properly done, especially as it has to do with teaching job. Teaching cannot be given to whosoever wants to teach. So the Head of Service is handling it now. The re-employment is on-going. We are waiting for the HOS and her team to come up with the results.

Q: And, that has nothing to do with the recruitment of the 3000 teachers?

Ufuo: No, it has nothing to do with the 3000 teachers. The new 3000 teachers that will be employed are basically for primary schools. The 5000 were for secondary schools.

Q: State Government’s response to emergency needs in schools both in infrastructure, personnel and consumables has been slow. What modalities have your committee made to improve executive interventions in future?

Ufuo: Well, response to infrastructure needs in schools is not poor. The government is trying. So many structures have been put up. The problem we discovered was that some of those who did the nomination for construction and renovation sat in offices without going to find out which school needs what and what. At some point, we will see that some schools have more structures that are unused, while some schools do not.

So when I came in, we had meetings. So I said before any work is done in a school in any community, the member representing that constituency must be involved so that these projects will be sited according to needs.

Let me give you an instance. There is a primary school in my local government; that school has structures that can house a secondary school but it’s a primary school. It’s an old primary school, and a lot of people in the Ministry know it. So whenever they are to put projects, they will allocate a project to the school. So, immediately I took over, that was the first thing that I corrected. I said it cannot be so. Let stakeholders from different communities be involved in allocation of projects.

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Another challenge we had was lack of desks. We have discussed with SUBEB; in the next batch of jobs that will be created through inter-ministerial they will include provision of more desks.

Q: This is the tenth year since Chief Godswill Akpabio declared free and compulsory education to senior secondary level. It seems the demands of the policy are weighing down government finances. Do you think government can still fund this policy?

Ufuo: To every policy there must be a start. Free and compulsory education is a policy of the previous administration inherited by this administration. Despite the economic situation, the State is still striving to ensure that the policy is maintained.

However, there are lapses. I had said in a forum i had sometime ago with some principals of schools, that they need to establish a strong parents-teachers association in their schools. Let them also call meeting of parents. They must begin to know that government cannot do everything for them. They must know that they should take care of their children.

If the government is paying WAEC fee for students, then it’s taking care of books and infrastructure; what stops the parents from providing desks for their children?

I have said that the content of the free and compulsory education policy should be defined, based on the current economic reality. Let’s say, for the free and compulsory education in Akwa Ibom State, this is where we will start and this is where we will stop. If we are saying children will not pay school fees, fine. Or we will say, government will pay WAEC fee, provide books; then parents will do that and that. Let’s define the engagement. We shouldn’t leave it open, expecting government to do everything. So that parents won’t relapse from providing the basic education needs for their children. That’s the problem we’re facing. Everyone believes since its free education, parents shouldn’t provide anything.

However, it is our prayer that the policy will be sustained, because it is a laudable project. It’s one programme intended to take our children out from illiteracy, which is one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
If our children, are given primary and secondary education, they will grow up to be self-reliant. So I don’t see any possibility discontinuing the policy, because any State or Nation that toys with education has no future.

Q: You talked about defining the content of the free and compulsory education policy; is there a plan by the House of Assembly to review the law establishing the policy?

Ufuo: There is no intention as we speak. My position is that as we will continue to face reality, we will need to review it.

Q: On February 6, 2017, the House of Assembly granted the governor permission to borrow N1.9 billion to pay counterparts for the UBE intervention fund. Has the fund been accessed?

Ufuo: Yes. It has been accessed. Jobs were released and a lot of renovations, constructions of new classrooms were undertaken. Some are on-going. Along the line, I think there was a little problem because UBEC demanded for a functional board. The governor has done that. SUBEB was inaugurated and it has taken care of some of the problems that we used to have.

The second batch of the intervention fund for this year is ready. When I met the governor a day ago he told me the State was arranging to release a second part of the counterpart fund.

Q: What special projects will the fund be used for?

Ufuo: We have about 1200 primary schools in the State. UBEC fund is for primary schools and junior secondary and we have earmarked a lot of things, but above all else we will provide sitting desks.

Let me say this, if you look at all the new classrooms we have constructed, they have UBEC design. The classrooms are of the same size, four ceiling fans, and electrical appliances. The doors and windows are made of iron.

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Q: Earlier, you talked about technical education. A lot of our technical colleges are dilapidated. What plans does government have for these institutions?

Ufuo: We made a resolution to the governor to revive technical colleges. We are to visit them and see what could be done to get them to be functional, especially the workshops. We also said that funds should be made available for consumables for those Departments that require that for their daily teaching.

Now, it has become compulsory for every technical college to have a Department of Home Economics. I can recall that Mainland Technical College, Oron, is calling on people to help her complete that Department so that it can be accredited to partake in the next NABTEB exams.

I think the problem is lack of funds, but we really want the government to look in that direction. As we speak we have seven operational technical colleges. We recommended that there should be one in each federal constituency for now. That’s why we have moved a motion that the one in Ibiono should be resuscitated and soon we’re visiting there, because I’m informed that there are equipment that are still lying there unused.
When I made the recommendation, the government decided to make a provision of N50million in the budget to see how the place can be restructured for a take-off. Whenever government releases fund, technical college, Ikot Adaidem would be revived.

Q: There are a number of schools without standard infrastructure operated illegally. Is your committee aware of this?

Ufuo: Yes. We’ve gone round many schools. I have report here that I will tender to the House on illegal schools and those without appropriate infrastructure. There are schools operated in un-condusive environment. We are aware of that, but that basically has to do with private schools.
When i tender the report before the House, there will be a resolution informing the Ministry of Education on what to do to such schools.

Q: There are some school WAEC has threatened to de-register because of dilapidated infrastructure. Is your committee aware of this too?

Ufuo: Well, as I said earlier some of the projects were not properly conceived. We are using SUBEB seriously to address this. In the next batch of projects, we have mandated members to go to their constituencies and look at schools that do not have good structures for external exams. SUBEB has also set up a team to go round the State to check whether schools nominated for projects have such needs compared to others. This is paying off because they have called me to say oh this school has a greater need for this project than the one nominated.

With what we’ve done, i’m hopeful that by next year, we may not talk about some of these problems. If they will exist, it will be minimal.

Q: What’s your last words as we round off?

Ufuo: The governor has passion for education especially science education. We lack teachers in science subjects and one of the things that will encourage people to come into teaching is to improve the welfare of teachers. Some of the best brains we have in the country don’t want to take up teaching because of lack of good incentives.

Part of what I have strongly recommended is improved welfare for teachers. I know that His Excellency the governor will have to do something about it.

Let me use this opportunity to tell the public that part of why government had to cancel the recruitment of the 5000 teachers was that, it was not done with consideration to the needs of the schools. It can’t be that we have enough teachers in commerce and you continue to employ new teachers for the subject. The exercise didn’t give preference to compulsory subjects like maths; and sciences. Preference was not given to people who studied education. In the new engagement, we are considering these.
So, some people will be dropped to create opportunity to take more science teachers. That’s where we have more need.

Thank you very much sir for your time.

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