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Akeredolu’s dilemma on the quest for qualitative education in Ondo State

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By Festus Aladesanmi
One of the major duties of any government is the provision of qualitative and affordable education. As a matter of fact it’s the best dividend of democracy any government can give the citizenry because it’s the only vehicle that drive economic development. Ondo state is one of the states reputable for high level of education of the citizens. The sensitivity of the people to educational matter is therefore understandable. The debate has been on for a long time, raging like unquenchable wild fire on whether school fees of tertiary institutions in Ondo state should be increased or not. It all started during the opening ceremony of Ondo state education summit last year where Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, the Executive Governor of Ondo state disclosed the likelihood of school fees increment across board. The idea has generated more criticism than commendation. Things got heated up again after the inauguration of the governing councils of all tertiary institutions of Ondo state last week. It was assumed and widely reported that one of the first major assignments of the governing council of each institution is to work out reasonable school fees increment for the  institutions. The government in its wisdom is trying not to take unilateral or draconic decision that may negatively affect the students or their parents. That is the major reason the councils were given the assignment, so that all stakeholders in each institution can jointly workout a desirable fee that will enable the institutions to function well without too much inconvenience for parents and their wards. This thought and action of government will be greatly commended in other climes but because we play politics with everything in Nigeria, majority can not see anything good in all these. I am taking this unpopular stand to support the proposed increment because it’s the best thing to do, if we must move forward. There comes a time when silence is betrayal!
We all want to go to heaven but no one is willing to die. We want our government to perform and make life more meaning but we are not willing to make sacrifices. We want our kids to be educated, prosper and excel but we are not willing to make the necessary contribution. Things are tight no doubt but it’s equally tight for the government. Nothing good comes easy or cheap. “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politics? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe, political nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”  I don’t like the idea that the government want to increase school fees across board and stop the payment for NECO or WAEC but I must also be sincere with myself. Will it be right for the government to sustain all the freebies and fail in other areas? I have meticulously followed the debates and I am yet to see anybody who stoutly defends the proposed increment as expected. The usual story of economic situation seems not to be good enough. There is need therefore to address the issue as it deserves.
We all know that things are tight. Federal allocations keep fluctuating. IGR dwindles daily and the responsibilities of government keep increasing.  There is therefore no reason for anybody to remind us of these as the reasons why government cannot sustain the freebies we are used to. In this clime, freebies are part of dividends of democracy. The argument therefore is, if the previous administration could successfully sustain the freebies, there is no reason whatsoever for the Akeredolu-led administration to fail us. Agreed, the previous administration sustained the freebies; Ondo state tertiary institutions charged the lowest fees across the whole country; government paid for both NECO and WASC examinations; provided free shuttle buses for pupils of public schools; government even sponsored pilgrimage to holy lands for Islamic and Christian faith. As good as these gestures were, at what or whose expense were these programs executed and sustained by the previous administration? People talk and draw comparisons without studying the indices. Every state has its own peculiar advantages and disadvantages just like every successive administration witness different challenges and opportunities. This is one of the things that amazed me when people talk about the Akeredolu administration, asking questions about why he couldn’t sustain what previous administrations did. Government is a continuum but policy or focus differs.
Mimiko did his best for Ondo state with the  best of intentions. However, when the economic meltdown unexpectedly hit Nigeria, Ondo state was one of the states gasping for breath to survive. This is one major reason that prevented Dr. Mimiko from initiating, executing or completing any new major project all through his second term of four years in office. Despite the fact that he couldn’t initiate new projects or programs, he left behind huge debts in salaries, gratuities, pensions, loans and contractual settlements all in his attempt to sustain the freebies. Ondo state debt profile kept increasing while the Mimiko led administration struggled to sustain the freebies.   However, can we now objectively encourage the Akeredolu led government to do the same at this time? Should the government continue to give us the freebies (lowest school fees across board, payment for NECO and WASC examinations, free medicals for mother and child, sponsoring of pilgrimages, etc) and continue to owe salaries, pensions, gratuities, loans, contractual settlements without initiating any meaning projects or programs for the next four years? The answer is, NO!
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The decision to increase the school fees, stop the payment for NECO, WASC fees and pilgrimages may not be popular but the positive effects are already out there for us to see. OSUSTEC has been transformed from a glorified secondary school to a tertiary institution of pride. This government has touched every local government with asphalted roads of various length within the last one year. The SUBEB contracts of 2014 / 2016 that the previous administration couldn’t implement due to the unavailability of Ondo state counterpart funding were last week approved to the tune 3.9 billion naira. We have also witnessed countless projects flag off and the signing of several life changing Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) with multinationals who are willing and ready to partner with the government to move the state forward. The Akeredolu-led government is focused and determined to transform Ondo state through its urban and rural development agenda. Provision of water, electricity and access roads to the rural communities will soon kick off. Agriculture is receiving the best of attention from this administration. Salaries, pensions and gratuities are being paid as at when due while the backlog of debts keep decreasing based on the availability of funds. Should the government stop this positive trend in education, agriculture, industrialization (PPP) and infrastructure to focus on sustaining our freebies? Does it make sense for us in Ondo state to spend the next four years without any meaningful life touching project or program from the government just because we want to keep enjoying freebies?
Education is the bedrock of economic development. Therefore qualitative education is very paramount and it is the key to our advancement as a state. However, there can never be qualitative education without proper funding. If we all agree that things are tight right now for government and individuals, there is urgent need for us to workout suitable, reasonable and sustainable school fees that will compliment government efforts and still be bearable for the parents. Right now I don’t envy Akeredolu because of the multiple responsibilities struggling for grossly inadequate resources. Things are definitely not how we wanted it but we can jointly make the best of what is available. “On the other hand, if the future is not the one you chose then you may have to use your willpower to obtain the future of your liking.” What is lacking right now is the willpower. Willpower to look beyond politics, to look at what we missed in the previous four years, to study the indices before making comparison, to appreciate what we have gained in the last one year, to see governance as a partnership and to play our part for the good of all.
My daughters are six and nineteen years old. I am paying about one hundred and twenty thousand naira (#120,000) only per term for the six years old girl in a primary school (one of the average private schools) while paying about thirty thousand naira (#30,000) only for the nineteen years old girl in Adekunle Ajasin University. What an Irony? This can only happen in a clime where education is considered as social service. The world over, education is too essential to be reduced to social service. Government should subsidize education but where the government is having difficulties to carry on alone, we as parents should also partner with government to ensure that our wards have the best of education. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to seeing that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. OSUSTEC is a clear example of what good funding can do to well-funded institutions. Those who studied there two, three years ago and those who are studying there now can tell the difference. The debate therefore shouldn’t be whether or not to increase the fees but on what reasonable, suitable and sustainable fees should be charged. Objectively, stakeholders can still work out school fees that will be comparatively lower than some states, especially in the south west. There is no alternative to fees increment if indeed we want our kids to have qualitative education but the fees should not be astronomically high. I am threading an unpopular path with this write-up but posterity will judge me right. Majority may not see the beauty of my position now. The fact remains that everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. “One of the great liabilities of history is that too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Festus Aladesanmi writes from Oba-Ile, Akure. He can be reached through festusaladesanmi@yahoo.com

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