Education in Akwa Ibom: The hardworking Prefect’s Touch

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By Victor Umanah

Governor Umo Eno of Akwa Ibom State, amongst other things, in the years past, was a prefect at Victory High School in Ikeja, Lagos, where amidst his daily tour of duty as a hawker and shop minder for his enterprising mother, honed skills in street credibility, leadership, management and the worth of education

Today, as Governor of Akwa Ibom State, his growing up experiences seem to be the driving force behind his resolve to revive public education in the state and give students a feel of what was enjoyed in days of yore.

The strength of his vision and dreams for the sector, as revealed in this ARISE agenda, his all-encompassing blueprint, is not just in words but actions. His vision is a new Akwa Ibom where pupils and students are equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills to compete and excel with their peers anywhere in the world.

He started these interventions from an unscheduled visit some months ago to Christ the King Primary School,(CKS) along Wellington Bassey Way in Uyo, a few metres away from the Government House, which led to his decision to not only renovate the school but birth the idea of building model public primary schools across the state.

That remodeled school has been completed, equipped with modern facilities like a welcome centre and reception hall, fully furnished six classrooms blocks, administrative block, Library, an ICT Centre, laboratories, staff quarters, and sick bay among others.

Some other models schools, including one completed at Ewet, in Uyo Local Government Area and ongoing in Ukanafun, are expressions of his commitment to this cause.

He also announced the distribution of free school uniforms and shoes (produced locally) and one million exercise books to primary school pupils.

In addition, the governor recently paid bursaries to students of the state origin in public tertiary institutions in the state. A total of over N127 million has been paid since the commencement of the exercise.

This is besides the N100 million educational trust fund for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) who are studying in the state. Additionally, Governor Eno approved the payment of N250,000 and N300,000 each to undergraduate and postgraduate students, as scholarship, respectively.

While also approving and releasing various sums to offset the fees of 13 medical students that were on the verge of dropping out of school.

Another N100 million scholarship was given to the winner of the 2023 Heirs Life National Essay Competition and N5 million law school grant to a physically challenged graduate of the University of Uyo.

Governor Eno has equally ended the lamentations of retired primary school teachers who have sacrificed 35 years to lay a solid foundation for elementary education in the state by the payment of gratuities. In addition, the free and compulsory education policy at primary and secondary school levels has been sustained.

He further released an initial N778.9 million for the payment of the 2023/2024 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) fees for 48,797 candidates participating in the sub regional examination in the state.

The payment will cover NIN registration fees, biometric registration, funds for administrative cost, as well as 50 per cent WASSCE fee. In fact, the increase in sundry charges for the examination has raised the yearly payment fee from N1 billion to N1.5 billion, an amount that has not discouraged the government’s commitment to the arrangement.

To ensure Akwa Ibom Children compete favourably with their counterparts all over the world, the governor initiated a United Kingdom Education Exchange Programme, to give foreign exposure to some bright but not-so-privileged Akwa Ibom children and encourage them to believe in hard work.

Over 271 students from public secondary schools across the state were selected for the programme after their participation in a paper-based examination. Justifying the funding of the programme despite the cost, Eno said human capital development and the benefits for Akwa Ibom children outweigh the cost of such investment.

As part of the exchange programme, a two-day capacity-building workshop on Education Skills Upscaling for principals of public secondary schools in Akwa Ibom state which was organised by the Ministry of Education had in attendance the Mayor of the London Borough of Southwark, Michael Situ, and David Bromfield, senior education advisor of Southwark Council.

The UK Education Exchange Programme has been described as the fulfilment of the governor’s promise of creating an exchange programme where participants will experience, learn and adopt global best practices aimed at improving the state’s education system and giving exposure to intelligent students from the rural areas.

School heads, including the Chairman, All-Nigeria Conference of Principals of Public Schools (ANCOPPS), Mr. Stephen Akpabio, affirmed that the value gained from the robust engagements and knowledge sharing sessions have propelled them to a new level of renewed commitment as direct implementers of government policies, noting that schools would perform better as a result of the engagement

Indeed, the training programme opened new vistas of development in the state’s education sector as more human resource programmes were introduced to equip principals and teachers to stay abreast with contemporary trends.

Stakeholders say the Governor’s show of compassion is very commendable. A pensioner, Imaobong Udofia said, ” If nothing, the payment of gratuities and pensions promptly by the Governor has motivated teachers to do more in training children for the future.” A parent, Elder Archibong Umoh, says parents are happy that the burden of paying examination fees for WAEC and the bursary to students has been lifted of their neck.

Commissioner for Education, Idongesit Etiebet, however, believes education, exposure, and experience have guided Governor Eno’s step in the sector.

“When you have a well-educated, exposed, and experienced man as Governor, there is no how the education sector will not thrive.”

That is not all, Governor Eno understands the nexus between education and entrepreneurship, which was why, in his first few months in office, he established the Ibom Leadership and Entrepreneurial Development Centre fondly called Ibom-LED.

This Centre, which was in fulfilment of a campaign promise, is equipped to provide essential business, leadership, and professional skills. Through its Entrepreneurship Accelerator Programme (EAP), it has so far trained 800 participants. The participants have all benefited from a N400 million grant from Governor Umo Eno. His goal is to equip 5000 budding entrepreneurs in four years and send them off with a total grant of N2.5 billion.

That was not all, in spirit of continuity, he has now completed the state-of-the-art Dakkada Skill Acquisition Centre ( DASAC).

The Centre which has the University of Lagos as Consultants, is equipped to train people in agri-business, ICT, mechanical works, woodwork, plumbing, fashion design etc.

With its Governing Council, staff quarters, hostel and other facilities in place, the Centre which is adjudged as first-of-its kind in Nigeria, would certainly reduce the unemployment gap in the state.

For Governor Eno, fighting educational inequality is very critical, and he believes he has a unique opportunity of achieving two key SDGs: 1 and 4 by effectively funding and enabling access to quality education.

*Umannah, a Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Uyo