Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Anambra State has begun to reap the dividends of the political decision taken by the former governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi, in 2011.
Obi shocked everyone including his close friends and associates when he took the decision to return public schools to missionaries, who are original owners.
It was gathered that the Catholic Church presently has about 400 schools while the Anglican Church has over 300 schools, in the state. Both Anglican and Catholic schools are doing very well academically.
The decision, apparently, did not receive a response the then-governor had expected from the people. But he took the risk, with the conviction of huge benefits in the future, to return the schools to missionaries.
The idea and steps to return the schools to missionaries were first initiated by the former governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju. His successor, Dr. Chris Ngige, kept the dream alive.
He succeeded in returning six schools to different churches as a pilot scheme. But in 2011, the state, under the administration of Obi, returned all the schools to churches that originally established them.
The state chapter of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) took to the streets to register their displeasure with the decision of the state government, apparently expressing fear of job loss and other entitlements.
They approached the court and demanded that status quo be maintained, but the state government won the case, and went ahead with the decision to fully return schools to missionaries.
Afterward, the state retained the responsibility of salary payment to teachers of the returned schools, while regular subvention was being given to school managers.
Some stakeholders agreed that the partnership between the state and the churches, especially in the area of education, worked magic. Dilapidated buildings were renovated while new ones were built, morality, quality, and standard education returned to schools in the state.
There were silent achievements as a result of the decision of the ex-governor Obi. But the students of Regina Pacis Model Secondary School, a Catholic girls’ school in Onitsha, Anambra state, shocked the World last year when they won the Gold medal in the junior team of the World Technovation Challenge which held at the Silicon Valley, San Francisco, USA.
The five girls; Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo, and Vivian Okoye, represented Nigeria and Africa, defeating contenders from America, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China who were among the 10 finalists of the original 115 who started the competition.
The youngsters aged between 12 and 14 developed a mobile application that detects fake drugs. One of them said they were motivated to embark on the project due to the high number of deaths as a result of fake drug consumption.
At Queen of the Rosary College (QRC), Onitsha, the Vice-Principal (Administration), Nwankwo Gloria, confessed that tremendous changes have been made in Anambra state school system since the return of the schools to missionaries.
Nwankwo disclosed that QRC was upbeat and center of academic excellence and moral transformation at inception when it was being controlled by the mission until the government took it over.
She said that the hard work of the mission went down the drain afterward, and that resulted in academic and moral decadence. There were high cases of examination malpractice, immorality, and other forms of indiscipline.
The VP commended Obi for the return of schools to the missionaries who were their original owners, admitting that the move has restored sanity and hope to the educational system in the state.
The Principal of Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha, Rev. Father Celestine Okafor, said the school, which was established in 1933 was the pioneer school in the East of the Niger.
He said the school has worthy alumni including former Governor Peter Obi, the incumbent Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano; former Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili; Olisa Agbakoba and Pat Utomi, among other prominent personalities.
Fr. Celestine added that the buildings in the school are like monuments, stressing that they were built by missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century, adding that the college presently has 1,800 students, all living within the college.
The principal recalled how mission schools in Nigeria were seized by the state government in 1971. “In December 1971, all missionary schools were taken over by the government for unexplained reasons.
“The decision led to the degradation of the school system, drop-in academic and morales. But the situation has changed for good with the return of the schools to missionaries.
“In 2011, the then governor Obi, who was a student of CKC, saw that their own time was different from the current state of schools in the state, in the sense that schools have degraded so much. He began to pump money into education.
“He began to renovate schools and gradually he realised that in those schools where the churches were managing, there was prudent management of resources when compared to the ones being managed by government officials.
“That was what made him thought of returning the schools to missionaries and that was when the process began and the gazette was prepared to hand the school over to the missions. The dividends are there for all to see.”
Celestine confessed that since the return of the schools to mission in 2011, there has been tremendous improvement academically, adding that students’ performance in WAEC and other public examinations have improved.
Anglican Bishop of Aguata Diocese, Samuel Ezeofor, said he was happy with the decision of former Anambra governor, Obi, to return schools to churches. He said the period when the government was in charge of the schools and when the mission was in charge of the schools cannot be compared.
Said he: “There was standard, quality and morality in schools run by the mission. When I was growing up, the schools were in the hands of the mission for a few years before it was taken over by the government.
“Things began to deteriorate. It wasn’t obvious at the beginning but gradually things began degenerating to a point that people began to cry out that we are losing standard and quality.”
In his own contribution, Venerable David Okpalaononuju, who is the Provincial Education Secretary, and supervises all the schools under the Anglican communion in Onitsha, decried lack of enough teachers in the schools.
He recommends the model to other states due to the great transformation and progress it had recorded since the schools were returned.
The story was also the same in Awka, the state capital, as Rev. Fr. Paulinus Ezeokafor, of the Catholic Diocese of Awka, Okpuno, commended the return of the schools to missions. He said when people are working according to their religious belief, the impact is better on the students.
He confirmed that prior to the decision to return the schools to missionaries lifts, indiscipline in the schools across the state was so high, while academic standards was equally nose-diving.
He explained further that when the former governor muted the idea of returning the schools to the missions, the missions were apprehensive because of the level of decay in the schools, but he noted that Obi provided financial and logistics support for the rebuilding of the schools.
He was, however, of the opinion that the partnership between the Church and the state government should be taken to another level, adding that in as much as the government provides support for the returned schools, additional grants should be given as it was done before the civil war.
In the same vein, the Principal of St. John of God Secondary School, Awka, Nwanekie Oriaku, said that the decision was commendable but pleaded with successive administrations to improve on the subvention.
Howbeit, the decision of the ex-governor years ago has successfully returned the state educational system to its glorious days.
The expectation is that it can get better as long as successive administrations continue with the programme.