From Chinedu Asadu, Enugu
The Executive Chairman, Anambra State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB), Awka, Nzemeka Emmanuel Olisah, no doubt has lifted the academic standards of Anambra State under the Governor Willie Obiano administration.
As he looked at his lofty achievements, as chairman of ASUBEB, Olisah said that his board only keyed into Governor Obiano’s policy of using little to achieve more.
In this chat with Oriental News, he also narrated how his board transformed the teachers in the state, making them to now accept postings to the rural areas.
He also said that Governor Obiano had done marvellously well during his first tenure and deserves a second term.
You have been the ASUBEB chairman for some time now and must have documented your achievements as the chairman of the board; may we know what these are?
My achievements here are many. When I came in as the board chairman, I encountered a lot of challenges, part of which was to improve teaching and learning in our schools. It was not a small assignment. But to the glory of God, we can say today, that teachers now attend schools punctually and regularly and stay in schools till closure time. This I will regard as my first achievement. Previously, teachers were not going to schools regularly. They went on days that they liked. Most of them were into some other engagements outside their primary assignment. Another serious challenge I met on assumption of office was that the rural schools were left with no teachers. Our teachers, then, were concentrated in urban areas like Onitsha, Nkpor, Nnewi, Ogidi and Awka. So, the first thing I did was to take the statistics of teachers and schools we had and from that arrangement, I found out that every primary school in Anambra State was entitled to, at least, eight teachers, for those of them that have single streams. So, we embarked on rationalisation exercise. I’m glad to inform you that when the transfer was done, we faced a lot of stories, hues and cries, but I stood firm to make sure that our rural schools were not disadvantaged. So, that is why I will say that our schools now are better staffed. I want to thank His Excellency, Chief Willie Obiano, for the last recruitment exercise where the policy of recruiting people to teach in their home towns was successfully implemented. When teachers were posted to places that are far from their homes, they complained of no good accommodation to stay in, inconveniences and distance. So, we came out with this policy that teachers can stay in their home towns, manage whatever facility they had prior to their appointment and, I must say that it solved our problems, over 70 per cent. So, with that rationalisation we had, our schools became more lively, children started moving from private schools to our public schools. In fact, in 2013 and 2014, we had over 30,000 pupils that came into public schools and I regard that as another major achievement. In any organisation, if you want your workforce to be up and doing, you must train and retrain them. I have organised several capacity building workshops to enhance the professional performances of our teachers. That again has given a lot of awareness to our teachers. By the time I assumed office here, public service rule, teachers’ service manual and all other rules were thrown away. But gradually we picked them up, made them to understand that the public service needs a harmonized approach to teaching and learning because, as teachers, they don’t regard themselves as public servants. They thought the business was, merely prepare lesson notes and teach. We have brought them into the public service. They now know that, if one is out of one’s duty post without leave he or she is subject to dismissal, depending on how one defends himself or herself. They now know one does not just stay at home and claim he or she is sick. There is provision for medical examination, after which one will gets a sick leave certificate. We have been able to achieve all these because in the world today, if one is not computer literate and compliant, he or she is a bundle of illiterate. We took a commendable step of exposing our teachers to computer literacy programme. Very many of them, actually, had keyed into it because of nature. Change is a difficult thing, except one continues to push. Gradually, they are realising the advantages of all our initiatives. On infrastructure, again I am very grateful to His Excellency for keeping faith with payment of counterpart funding with SUBEB. If you go to our schools now, you find out that the school environment has improved impressively and we will keep doing more. There are some schools which I inherited that have no classroom block. But the situation is not the same now. This time around, we have decided to move into the interior. Those places that are regarded as educationally disadvantaged areas, we now post teachers to them. It’s not true that they are not intelligent, it’s not true that they have been abandoned. Teachers posted to those places, saw that as punitive posting and at the end of the day, they left the children to suffer for it. Again, I will say the situation has changed because of my insistence on teachers doing the right thing. External competitions can X-ray your performances. This board raised the junior debate team that conquered Nigeria, for two or three consecutive years, we have been champions of Presidential Debate. That gave us the ticket to Singapore for the first year. It gave us ticket the second year to Croatia, but for logistic problems, they could not make it to Croatia. So, the organizers sent us to Singapore a second time, where we performed marvelously well with Singaporeans. In all the competitions were been involved, Anambra State had come first, it was just a few of them that we were runner-ups. At each point, we identified course. His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Anambra State recently commissioned our newly built utility hall. On assumption of duty here, one of the challenges that I had was that when UBEC sent instructional material to Anambra State, we don’t have where to secure them. They were littered in the office compound. So, I thought of this hall. As a school setting, we start our day with morning devotion. We were doing that outside, but today; we have a hall where we now pray, whether it’s raining or under sunshine. The commissioning of that project by our governor gladdens my heart and it makes me feel fulfilled. To achieve this, I clamped down on frivolous expenditures. So, with all the criticisms and bad blood we have achieved the feat of constructing some projects for ASUBEB that can be referred to as legacy projects. Furniture-wise, we touched every office. We keyed into Governor Obiano’s policy of using little to achieve more.
In Nigeria, we hear SUBEB being enmeshed in fraudulent scandals. Some of them are under EFCC probe and prosecution, but we have not heard such of your board, so what is the secret behind your success?
By training and policy, I believe in keeping to the rules. There could be little human faults. But the most important thing is doing what is within the ambit of the law. That is my guiding principle. Anything that is out of the rules, I don’t associate myself with it, no matter the person involved. So, it could be part of why we are not found wanting in that direction.
The Aguleri royal cabinet led by HRH Eze C.N. Idigo has decided to honour you with a chieftaincy title, how do you look at that?
I must first of all say glory be to God for Eze Idigbo, Ogalagidi, to have identified me as one of those to be honoured in the forthcoming Ovalla festival. I don’t know his reason for that. But to me, I will say it is because he found what I have done in Anambra education system acceptable for such an honour. I believe he is the kind of person that will not honour people, who have not done well in the society. My family and I accepted that honour with joy. It’s an honour I can’t describe rather than to thank him so much and pledge not to disappoint him and Anambra State. To me, the honour is God’s doing, which is marvelous in the eyes of the living.
In what ways have you impacted positively on the lives of the down-trodden, as ASUBEB chairman?
Well, I will say that I have been giving back to the society in my own little way. Just few months ago, I was honoured with Paul Harris Fellow Award (PHE) by the Rotary Club of Nigeria. I am aware of the fact that for the past two, three years, after the last election, I have more than 28 people under my scholarship scheme. That I’ve kept faith with. About five of them have graduated. Four people came in recently, few months ago, the National Education Secretaries held their opening ceremony here and there was a boy who came up with good drawing. At the end of the event, he approached me telling me that he is an SS3 student, but that he was sent out of school. I asked the principal to give me information about the boy. That boy’s father is dead, the mother is still alive, but she is a peasant trader. I am determined to see that boy through school because from the principal’s assessment, the boy is an intelligent student in science. One funny thing is that the boy is not even from Anambra State. He is from Abia State but resident in Anambra State. That is my own little way of giving back to the society.
The 2017 Anambra State governorship election is around the corner and a lot of people have indicated interest to contest against Obiano; as an APGA chieftain that comes from Anambra North, what is your reaction to this development?
To me, I will say that human beings are insatiable. This is the first opportunity given to the people of Anambra North to govern Anambra State since its creation, 25 years ago. Other zones have governed the state for a long time, especially Anambra Central; they governed the state for 12 years. I don’t see any justification in denying Obiano a second term mandate, especially when Governor Obiano is doing marvelously well. I will make bold to say that Chief Dr. Willie Obiano (Akpokuodike) has made judicious use of Anambra State resources to deliver dividends of good governance to Ndi-Anambra. When you look at His Excellency’s people -oriented policy, you will see the determination to transform Anambra State to a modern State we all can be proud of. Previously, Awka people complained that irrespective of being the Anambra State capital that they had nothing to show for it. But under Obiano’s administration, the situation is no longer the same. Awka has been transformed to a befitting capital city. Since Obiano came into office, you won’t know the difference between celebrating Christmas here in Anambra and abroad. Obiano has put in a lot into governance of our state. On the part of public servant, no person is complaining of non-payment of salaries. It takes more than courage to do a lot of things. The political will to sustain what Obiano is doing in Anambra State is rare in Nigeria. If salaries are not paid, money will not flow. So, I commend him for not owing Anambra civil servants. He is also the first governor that gives out bags of rice to civil servants every December. Leave allowances are paid every November and December. Obiano had done well and in this regard, I request the insatiable to play it down and allow him time to transform Anambra State because as far as I am concerned, he means well for our people. My prayer is for God to see him through. It’s better to deal with a devil you know, than an angel you don’t know. All these people parading themselves as governorship aspirants, we have to look at their track records in their field of endeavours and in Anambra State. What have they done for our people? As Obiano is working, his wife, Osodieme, is assisting him tremendously. She is neck-deep into helping the less privileged. I wish Obiano well and will continue to support and pray for him to succeed.
You are called Okosisi, an Iroko tree, were you conferred this as a chieftaincy title or what?
No, it first started when I was the principal of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Secondary School Abagana, the late Agbalanze Abagana gave me that name as a nickname. Down home, during my Ozo title-taking, I used the same name for my Ozo title.