The Akwa Ibom State Government has finally come to terms with the reality about the education sector in the state. The government on Thursday organised a summit to seek expert opinions on how to fix the broken school system.
“The scenario of our educational system is characterised by extensive infrastructural decay in our schools, total absence of library facilities, non-commitment of our teachers and trainers, our science labs, technical workshops, and vocational centres have virtually become museums,” the commissioner for education in the state, Nse Essien, told the summit participants, which included the state governor, Udom Emmanuel.
“Basic amenities that create a true learning environment such as dormitories, dining halls, and recreational facilities are luxuries.
“Our curriculum does not train students for the labour market.”
The Akwa Ibom education summit, the first of its kind in the history of the state, is coming about a year after the medium published an investigative series on how corruption, poor government planning, and outright neglect ruined the education sector of one of Nigeria’s richest states.
Akwa Ibom has multinationals like Mobil, an affiliate of the American oil giant, ExxonMobil, drilling oil in the state. And because of its contributions to Nigeria’s oil earnings, Akwa Ibom regularly receives more money from the Federation Account every month than many of the other 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
This is beside the revenue the state generates internally.
In five years alone, between 2013 and 2017, the state received N1.029 trillion (about $2.8 billion) from the country’s Federation Account, for instance.
Yet classrooms in several public primary and secondary schools in the state are shamefully dilapidated and roofless, while pupils and students, in some cases, sit on bare floor to learn, according to a series which won the Journalist of the Year award in the state.
The reports revealed low morale, incompetence, and corruption among ill-equipped and poorly-paid teachers who sometimes go for several months without pay.
The education commissioner, Mr Essien, said at the two-day summit that Akwa Ibom cannot achieve its “lofty” visions when its education system continues to remain in “limbo”.
As noted by one of the speakers at the summit, Udom Inoyo, the vice-chairman of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, it was rare to have a government official speak such truth publicly in front of the governor, as did the commissioner.
But, of course, that was because Mr Emmanuel himself had urged participants, including government officials, to be bold enough to come forward with the truth about how the state was faring in the education sector.
“We are not just doing one of those political gatherings. We are determined to change the structure, the content, and the output of our educational system in Akwa Ibom State,” the governor said at the summit.
Mr Emmanuel, besides participating in the first and the second day of the summit, sat throughout the deliberations and scribbled notes.
He said there was a sense of urgency to the task ahead if the state must tackle the changes in the education sector.
Mr Emmanuel said the way the youth were involved in politics in the state shows that something was wrong with society.
“If we are calling on youth by 2 p.m. on a workday we can get up to 50,000 youth. It shows that something is wrong with society. I shouldn’t be getting 50,000 youth during workhours.
“I should be waiting after work. Even after work, I should be scared if they are tired. They should be somewhere engaged, they should be somewhere managing their businesses.
“If you don’t build the economy, democracy will not stand in Nigeria,” Mr Emmanuel said.
The governor advocated for entrepreneurial studies in the state-owned Akwa Ibom State University and appealed to corporate organisations and individuals to support the government to fix the education sector in the state.
The keynote speaker, Aniekan Brown, a sociology lecturer at the University of Uyo, said the word “empowerment” as used by Nigerian politicians was different from the real meaning of the word.
“Are we talking about somebody who calls himself a personal assistant to a local government chairman, every morning he wakes up, takes his bath, dresses well, hangs at the gate of a chairman, moves with him, the man returns, drops a little pay, and it’s enough for the day. That’s not empowerment!
“Capacity in this sense means to dig deep, to add value to the essence of life, to add value to the society,” Mr Brown said.
“Note that time it was the need of our society was grammar, little wonder it was a common thing to have grammar schools.
“But over time, Nigeria conquered grammar, the challenge became technical, the challenge became vocational, the challenge became commercial, we just found ourselves establishing vocational schools, commercial schools, and the rest of them. But the world has long left that level. The world is now at the level of information (technology),” he said.