A recent press statement by the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last general election and former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, on the comparative stewardship of his administration and that of Sen. Chris Ngige, whom he succeeded in office, was a graphic caricature of facts, which has brought up issues very close to the hearts of many.
Ngige had raised genuine concerns over the state of roads in Anambra State and blamed it on Obi and his successor, Governor Willie Obiano. Obi, in response, through his media assistant, Val Obienyem, attempted a poor dismissal of Ngige’s 34-month multi-sector revolution, asking where the comparison would start. He outrageously claimed Ngige offered nothing in education and health, among other sectors.
It is easy to understand such claims in view of the fact that it would ordinarily be incongruous to compare the Obi administration that lasted for full eight years of peace and abundance with Ngige’s 34 months, hallmarked by relentless troubles and meagre state resources. Therefore, that comparison exists in the first place is enough shame for Obi, and the remaining tiny clappers and cat paws of his era. It is understandable hence if they attempt to relegate the rebirth that Anambra witnessed in 33 months under Ngige. But our own Chinua Achebe had cautioned much earlier that “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Fortunately for Ngige, the metaphorical lion of the instance, the renaissance he engineered as Anambra governor almost two decades ago, has continued to rebuff desperation by revisionists to violate it. These solid achievements have turned an undying historian for him, luckily.
Really, Ngige did not only lay the foundation for quality education, he erected the building blocks for the lead position that Anambra currently holds in the sector. The move from the shambles, the bottomless cypher he met in 2003, to the excellence the state records at present can only be explained by his foresight and unwavering determination to rekindle the light and restore the dignity of his people.
It deserves noting at this juncture that the Mission School Law passed by the old Anambra State House of Assembly, under the administration of Jim Nwobodo, could only return St. Charles College, Onitsha, and St. Monica’s College, Ogbunike, while successive governments, military and civilian, dithered. It took the visionary and courageous leadership of Ngige to take the bull by the horns, engaging all the stakeholders in months of ventilated discussions.
A letter addressed to the bishops of all the Catholic and Anglican dioceses in the state on January 4, 2004, declared the cardinal intention of government as adamant commitment to recapturing the value system and morality for which our people were known, prior to the civil war, and the prominent role the church had to play as it did before the war. Involved in the discussions were Rt. Rev. (Dr.) Simon Okafor, then Catholic Bishop of Awka; Most Rev. (Dr.) A.K. Obiefuna and later Dr. Val Okeke of the Onitsha Archdiocese; Rt. Rev. (Dr.) Hillary Okeke of Nnewi Catholic Diocese; as well as Rt. Rev. (Dr.) Maxwell Anikwenwa, Most. Rev. Ken Sandy Okeke, and Rt. Rev. Godwin Okpala – the Anglican bishops of Awka, Niger and Nnewi, respectively. Others included the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, Parent-Teacher Association, chairman and secretaries of Old boys and girls associations and officials of the state’s Ministry of Education.
The Anambra State government had proposed three major models for the programme as follows: outright handover, shared responsibility paradigm and community ownership. Under the first arrangement, all schools were to be totally handed over to the voluntary agencies who would recruit teachers, pay them and oversee the day-to-day running of the schools with government under no obligation to assist. Existing government teachers in such schools would be re-distributed to other schools except where one opted to stay. Shared responsibility as the name suggested, encouraged a partnership, where government keeps to funding, infrastructural development, recruitment, promotion, transfer, payment of salaries and enforcement of standards, while the missions manage and ensure quality education. Community ownership is similar to the first but required the receiver community to establish a trust fund to finance the schools as well as set up a board of directors.
The teachers had raised serious fears over their future, arguing that the current voluntary agencies did not exactly approximate the character of the early missionaries and that it could breed religious discrimination, lead to exorbitant school fees and, through that, defeat the fundamental principles of the Universal Basic Education to offer education to all. They have across the decades formed formidable opposition to the return of schools to the original owners. They held series of protests and in 2004 invited the then president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to bolster their agitation. Their fear was adequately addressed, especially when Oshiomhole learnt that Ngige had cleared the arrears of salaries owed all categories of workers in the state and that, in the model of handover proposed, government would continue shouldering personnel cost.
At an expanded meeting of June 18, 2004, where presidents and secretaries of schools’ old boys and girls associations were also invited , the meeting agreed to give full support to the state government, emphasizing the issue of standard, discipline and values expected to return with the exercise.
It was thus agreed that the first stage of the process would take off on the first term of the 2004/2005 academic session with 25 per cent of the affected secondary schools in each diocese and 11.78 per cent of affected primary schools in mission compounds to be returned, totalling 13 secondary schools and 51 primary schools. It was further agreed that the next stage would take off on the first term of 2005/2006 academic session while the final stage, where all the remaining schools would be handed over was slated for 2006/2007 session.
In a broadcast to the people of the state that day, then Governor Ngige, now Minister of Labour and Employment, said, among others, “I wish to emphasize that this exercise will not be detrimental to teachers. Government will still be responsible for its traditional obligation in education. What the voluntary agencies are going to do is to manage the schools with government to ensure dedication to duty and studies on the part of teachers and students, respectively. At the end of the academic session, we shall evaluate these schools using the memorandum of understanding already signed with the relevant stakeholders. The better days for the future of our children have returned and so shall it continue.”
This is the basis of quality education that Anambra enjoys today. What’s more, Ngige within this short period renovated many secondary and primary schools, paying a counterpart fund of N1.6 billion to the UBEC fund and financially strengthened the state basic education. Refurbished schools, with massively recruited teachers buoyed up enrolment such that Anambra won UBEC laurel as second best state in education foe 2004, 2005 and 2006 period. He also built infrastructures at the state university and decentralized it into a multi-campus system, securing accreditation for 32 courses in 2005. When latter day revisionists, therefore, claim that Peter Obi handed over schools to the mission, you wonder the extent people can go to distort history.
•Obidiwe is an Abuja-based journalist